Chapter 12: The Character of God
by James Paterson Jnr., Scotland
As the previous chapters of this book have unfolded, we have seen the might and majesty of God. The thrill to the believer is to understand that we have a relationship with a living God. "But the LORD is the true God, He is the living God" Jer.10.10. Throughout the Scriptures God is distinguished from created things and seen as One to Whom men turn as they abandon "vanities" Acts 14.15, "idols" 1Thess.1.9, and come to "trust in the living God" 1Tim.4.10. As the living God, He sees, hears, feels, wills, acts; He is a Person. He has to be distinguished from idols which are things, not persons, and from the works of His hands that He formed. As the living God He has a personal, present interest and an active hand in human affairs. He opens a path for His people and subsequently leads them in such paths. In life’s circumstances, He delivers, saves and when required, punishes His people.
Some men fall into the error of Pantheism, which teaches that God cannot exist apart from His creatures. The great verses of Gen.1.1 and Jn.1.1-3 would deny this: and Deism which, while acknowledging God as the Creator, believes He has given the world the ability to develop by itself and He left it to its own devices. This too is shown to be error by such verses as, "These wait all upon Thee; that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That Thou givest them they gather: Thou openest Thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled: Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth" Ps.104.27-30. God is personally and actively present in the affairs of the universe.
It is while looking at Him in His sustaining, governing, caring, controlling and ministering, that we see the character of God displayed. As He comes out toward men, and in particular to His own people, His character is seen in its awful majesty.
While we cannot describe God in a comprehensive way we learn about Him by examining that which is inherently characteristic of Him as revealed in the Scriptures. Chapters have been written in this publication to describe some of His inherent attributes, i.e His omnipotence, His omniscience and His omnipresence. In other chapters He is described through the titles that He bears and, while we seek to describe His character, we must ever remember the clear statement of the apostle John, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" Jn.1.18.
- O, Thou eternal One! Whose presence bright
All space doth occupy, all motion guide.
Unchanged through time’s all-devastating flight!
Thou only God—there is no God beside!
Being above all beings! Mighty One,
Whom none can comprehend and none explore!
Who fill’st existence with Thyself alone—
Embracing all, supporting, ruling o’er,
Being Whom we call God, and know no more!
- (G. R. Derzhavin)
GOD IS ETERNAL
While the word "eternity" occurs only once in the A.V., "For thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, Whose name is Holy" Isa.57.15, He is called the "everlasting God"; for example, Gen.21.33; Isa.40.28; Ps.90.2. He is the One Who knows past, present and future equally, "one day is with the LORD as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" 2 Pet.3.8. As He is eternal, His existence had no beginning and will have no end. He always was, always is, and always will be. He is the "I am" Ex.3.14. His eternity would lead us to understand that He is unchangeable, (immutable) "For I am the LORD, I change not" Mal.3.6. His counsel, character and purpose are always the same. He cannot change, neither in His being nor in His will. In the constancy of His character His essential being is evidenced and that which He does from the creation until the consummation is completely according to His unchanging and infallible plan. His eternity and His immutability define His other attributes of wisdom, mercy, benevolence, graciousness, knowledge and dependability. He knows, He loves, He cares. "God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His Being", Westminster Catechism, 1647.
GOD IS HOLY
"Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory" Isa.6.3. As we begin to look at the moral character of God, the subject of His holiness must be foremost in our minds. God is called the Holy One of Israel some thirty times in Isaiah; often in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and elsewhere in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the Son of God is spoken of as the Holy One in Mk.1.24; Lk.4.34; Acts 2.27; 3.14; 13.35; 1Jn.2.20, and throughout the Scripture the Spirit of God carries the prefix Holy. Holiness is the essential moral attribute of God. In fact the holy character of God is a fundamental truth of the Bible. This is clearly seen in the Mosaic system of washings, the tabernacle order and furnishings, the classification of the people into Israelites, Levites, priests and high priest, who had different degrees of approach to God under closely ordered conditions based on sacrifice as the only means of approach. It is seen in the experience of Israel as God directs Moses as he approaches the burning bush, Ex.3.5; as He speaks to Joshua when he was beside Jericho, Josh.5.15; as God moves in judgment against Korah, Dathan and Abiram, Numbers chapter 16; against Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus chapter 10 and against Uzziah 2 Chronicles chapter 26. These were lessons whereby God was teaching His people His impeccable holiness. The basic meaning of the word, "holy" is "to cut" or "to separate". This means that God is completely separate from anyone, anything, any idea, any measurement, any imagination, any intellect, any power. While the thought may be taken that He is separate from evil, it goes far beyond that single thought. For example, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" Isa.55.8,9. He is saying that He is completely beyond and separate from all that we are or whatever we can think. The holiness of God is seen in various ways in Scripture.
God’s hatred of sin: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart" Gen.6.5,6.
His love of righteousness: "But He loveth him that followeth after righteousness" Prov.15.9.
He distances Himself from wickedness but delights in righteousness: "Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God that He should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that He should commit iniquity" Job 34.10. "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear" Isa.59.2.
The separation of the sinner from Him: Every approach to God is on the basis of shed blood. The truth of atonement is based on the holiness of God, therefore the fundamental reason why "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" Heb.9.22, is that God is holy and sin must be covered before there can be fellowship between God and the sinner. "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" Eph.2.13. There is no basis for forgiveness apart from the blood of Christ. Sin must be covered from the gaze of a holy God, and the only means of covering it, is the blood of His Son.
His punishment of the sinner: God’s holiness and hatred of sin, like all of His other attributes, are active and therefore must manifest themselves. He does not punish the sinner simply because the sinner’s actions and attitude make it necessary. God is holy. He hates sin and His holy wrath against sin is the evidence of that hatred. We must keep this before us in our gospel presentation, for any message on the punishment of sin that omits the thought of God’s holiness, is unscriptural and belittles the truth of His holiness. While we will discuss later the truth that God is love, His love is not the sentimental idea propounded by those of Universalist belief. God’s love to sinners will never be fully appreciated unless seen in the light of His wrath against sin. "Our God is a consuming fire" Heb.12.29.
God’s holy character has never altered or lessened. The attitude of Moses and Joshua in His presence as mentioned above must still mark us. Our appreciation should be as that of the seraphim as recorded at the heading of this section, Isa.6.3. We must draw nigh to God with awe and holy reverence, but sadly today there is not the intense feeling generated by entering the presence of a holy God as was seen, for example, in the expression of Isaiah, " Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" Isa.6.5; or Job, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" Job.42.5,6. Nothing will demolish self-righteousness like one sight of the holy character of God.
- Holy, Holy, Holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
- Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
- Only Thou art Holy, there is none beside Thee,
- Perfect in power, in love and purity.
- (Reginald Heber)
GOD IS RIGHTEOUS
"The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works" Ps.145.17. God’s righteousness is the natural expression of His holiness. As He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin is demonstrated in His treatment of all His creatures. His righteousness demands that His actions towards us are in perfect harmony with His holy character. As holiness seems to have more reference to God’s character as He is in and of Himself, His righteousness is manifest in His dealings with others.
The term God’s righteousness is synonymous with the term God’s justice or God being just. The most common word for righteousness in the Old Testament means ‘straight’ and in the New Testament is ‘equal’, however in a moral sense both mean ‘right’. When we read that God is righteous or that He is just, we understand that He always does that which is right, that which should be done, and that He does it consistently, without any partiality. The word ‘just’ and the word ‘righteous’ are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and at other times ‘righteous’ with no apparent reason. However, whatever word is used, it means essentially the same thing. God’s actions, and therefore His character, are always correct and fair. Thus we understand that the righteousness of God is evident in the way in which He consistently acts in accord with His own character. We should note that God is not defined by the term ‘righteous’, but rather that the term ’righteous’ is defined by God. He is not measured by the standard of being righteous; He sets the standard of righteousness.
In his book "The Joy of Knowing God", A.W.Tozer writes, "It is sometimes said "justice requires God to do this"; referring to some act we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking, for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would be superior to God, for only a superior power can compel obedience. The truth is that there is not and can never be anything outside of the character of God which can move Him in the least degree. All God’s reasons come from within His uncreated being. Nothing has entered the being of God from eternity, nothing has been removed, and nothing has been changed. Justice, when used of God is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation ... God is His own self existent principle of moral equity, and when He sentences evil men or rewards the righteous, He simply acts like Himself from within, uninfluenced by anything that is not Himself."
The righteous character of God is seen in Scripture in two ways. He will act justly against the wicked, but also His justice is manifest to the upright. "The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth. Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright" Ps.11.5-7.
Against the wicked: When He moves in the judgment of the wicked, God operates in His own unbiased way. We see this in the judgment of Pharaoh, who eventually acknowledges the righteousness of God against his sin: "And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" Ex.9.27.
In the judgment of Israel into captivity: "Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all His works which He doeth: for we obeyed not His voice" Dan.9.14.
In future judgment when the vials of God’s wrath are outpoured: "And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because Thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy" Rev.16.4-6.
Rewarding the upright: The encouragement to the believer is that the righteousness of God is manifest in His granting reward for faithfulness and in protecting and delivering the faithful from their adversaries. The Psalmist takes up this encouraging theme, "The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed" Ps.103.6; "My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart. God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day" Ps.7.10,11. The hope of the believer is summed up in some of the final words of Paul: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" 2 Tim.4.8.
Often we hear more of the righteousness or justice of God related to the punishment of sinners, and while we use this in the gospel to cause the sinner to understand something of the character of God, it should be noted that in Scripture this attribute is used constantly to cause His people to rejoice with confidence. Among the many verses that confirm this encouraging aspect of His righteousness are: "He shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness and the people with His truth" Ps.96.10-13: "Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and He helped me" Ps.116.5,6: "The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them" Ps.145.18,19. However, in stating the above we do not wish to minimise the need to show that sinful man is unrighteous before God, "There is none righteous, no, not one" Rom.3.10. Men have failed to live up to the standard of righteousness laid down by the law, Rom.3.9-20. God is just in condemning all men to death, for all without exception have sinned and come short of His glory, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" Rom.3.23. All men are worthy of death, because "the wages of sin is death" Rom.6.23. God is just in condemning the unrighteous. However, God is also just in saving sinners. He is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" Rom.3.26. God is just in saving the sinner because His righteous anger has been satisfied. Justice was done on the cross of Calvary. God did not reduce the charges against men; He did not change the standard of righteousness. He poured out the full measure of His righteous judgment on His Son on the cross. In Him, justice was meted out. All those who repent and believe on the Saviour are justified; their sins are forgiven because the full price has been paid. Those who reject the goodness and mercy of God will pay the penalty for their sins because they have not accepted the work done or the price paid. Finally, we as believers enjoy an ongoing benefit from the righteous God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 Jn.1.9.
GOD IS LOVE
"God is Love" 1 Jn.4.16. The understanding of this aspect of the character of God is not based on the fact that God loves, wondrous as that concept is, but the truth of His character is that He is love. Love is the very essence of His moral nature. He is the source of all love. Yet there are many who talk about the love of God but who are total strangers to the God of love. To many, Divine love is often regarded as a type of amiable weakness, some sort of good-natured indulgence, and so it has become a species of sentimentality similar to human emotion. However, for the true believer the love of God is the expression of His character, and the more that we are acquainted with it in all its fullness, the more our hearts will be drawn out to love Him.
While God is the source of all love, God’s Son is the original and eternal object of His love. It would clearly follow that if God is eternal love, that love must have an eternal object. The eternal object of Divine love is the Eternal Son. This eternal relationship and eternal love are seen as the Lord Jesus prays to the Father: "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" Jn.17.24. The declaration of the love of the Father has already been heard after the baptism of the Son, " And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased" Matt.3.17; and again on the mount of transfiguration, "and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him" Matt.17.5. However, not only does the Father love the Son, but He loves all those who are united to the Son by faith and love. We know from Scripture that God loves all men, but He has a peculiar love for those who are in Christ. "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me" Jn.17.23. How blessed the fact that God has the same love to those who are in Christ as He has to Christ Himself, and while we who are in Christ, love the Father, the Father’s love preceded our love to Him. "We love Him, because He first loved us" 1 Jn.4.19.
While God’s love for the unregenerate sinner is different from the love that He has for those in Christ, it is still clearly displayed and spoken of in Scripture. The great gospel verses confirm this: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" Jn.3.16; "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Rom.5.8; "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" Eph.2.5. There is nothing in the objects of His love to attract or prompt it. Human love is awakened by something in the loved one, but the love of God is free, spontaneous and uncaused.
The subject of the love of God is a truth of unfathomed depth. His love is infinite, limitless, unfathomable, eternal, immutable, sacrificial; it is something that is to be enjoyed and explored, but it cannot be explained. However, the love of God brings the believer into responsibility. For this we go back to the verses surrounding the heading that "God is Love". "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us" 1 Jn.4.7-12. God’s love is manifested to us and in us. Just as we are the objects of the sacrificial love of God, so we should display the same kind of love to others. Our expression of love is really the reflection of God’s love to us, and our actions displaying love is a sign of our response to His love. The clear tones of the Lord Jesus in His upper room ministry, sum up the weight of our responsibility: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" Jn.13.35.
- God’s love is everlasting love,
- Time never was when it was not;
- The stream is here - the Fount above;
- Who taste it now, blest is their lot.
- ‘Tis like an ocean without shore,
- Whose depth no line can ever sound;
- And to its height no thought can soar,
- ‘Tis infinite- it knows no bound.
- (Douglas Russell)
GOD IS LIGHT
"God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" 1 Jn.1.5. Before John declares that "God is love" in chapter four of his first epistle, he takes great effort to show first of all that "God is light". "This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" 1 Jn.1.5. This verse introduces the central message of the epistle showing us that God’s character demands certain characteristics of anyone who calls himself a Christian. Our life as a Christian will reflect the character of God Who is light. The Greek word ‘Phos’, translated "light", is very descriptive when used in the context of God being light. It describes a light that is never kindled and therefore can never be extinguished. How expressive when describing the character of God.
When the apostle John wrote such a description of God, he was writing in an era when there was great emphasis on the worship of gods that were associated with light. The Roman deity Jupiter had a son, Sol which was the sun god, while his twin, Diana was the goddess of the moon, both hailed as gods of light. Of course the Roman emperor was deemed a god and worshipped as the presence of divine light on earth. Even the gnostics of the day referred to the human soul as light. John then asserted that the Person, God, is light.
In the Old Testament, Jehovah is radiant as light. " Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment: Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain" Ps.104.2; "And His brightness was as the light" Hab.3.4; "For with Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light" Ps.36.9. The Lord Jesus is seen as One dwelling in the light, "Which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen" 1 Tim.6.15,16, and in the future day, "until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" 1 Cor.4.5.
Light symbolises the absolute perfection of God, as well as the revealed truth of God. "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light" Prov.6.23; "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; It giveth understanding unto the simple" Ps.119.130; "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path" Ps.119.105.
Once again the truth of the fact that God is light, brings the believer into practical responsibility. In Scripture, darkness is the absence of light, not as we would describe it as the opposite of light, but it is also the absence of revelation. When Paul describes our situation in the world, he contrasts light and darkness: "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying" Rom.13.11-13. Again he admonishes us, not only to pursue the light, but to reprove the darkness: "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" Eph.5.8. Paul’s description of us is in line with John’s description of our God Who is light. "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness" 1 Thess.5.5. The great practical point is that living in the darkness is incompatible with claiming to be in fellowship with the God of light. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" 1 Jn.1.6,7. Therefore it will become obvious who is of the God Who is light and who is not of God.
Learning about God, we will reflect Him in the way we live. So if we are to love because God is love, we must first appreciate that God is light. He is a blazing glory, a glaring light, a devouring flame, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire.
- Walk in the light, and thou shalt find
- Thy heart made truly His,
- Who dwells in cloudless light enshrined,
- In Whom no darkness is.
- (Bernard Barton)
GOD IS MERCIFUL
"Also unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy" Ps.62.12. In Scripture the mercy of God is expressed in various ways. However, we must remember that God is absolutely sovereign in the way in which He exercises His mercy. This must be so, for there is nothing outside of Himself that obliges Him to act. "For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" Rom.9.15.
Firstly, His mercy is expressed to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the whole creation. "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works" Ps.145.8,9. "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" Acts.17.25.
Secondly, we see His mercy to mankind as He distributes the necessities of life. "... for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" Matt.5.45. However, while the wicked are included in His mercies, that which He bestows is limited to this present life. There is no mercy extended to them beyond the grave: "for it is a people of no understanding: therefore He that made them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will shew them no favour" Isa.27.11.
Thirdly, the display of God’s mercy is to those who believe: those who fear and love Him and walk before Him with all their hearts. These are they who confess and forsake their sins, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" Prov.28.13; those who trust in the Lord, "but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about" Ps.32.10; and those who call upon Him, "For thou, LORD, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee" Ps. 86.5. So it is by His mercy that we are saved: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" Titus.3.5.
Practically we can present the mercy of God as an attribute of God that is attractive to the sinner, and comforting to the saint.
To the sinner He is a merciful and pardoning God. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" Isa.55.7; "Who is a God like unto Thee, That pardoneth iniquity, And passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, Because He delighteth in mercy" Mic.7.18. "The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word" Num.14.18-20.
To the saint He manifests His mercy. To protect: "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about" Ps.32.10. In affliction: "the Lord hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted" Isa.49.13. In sickness: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: But Thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: Oh save me for Thy mercies' sake" Ps.6.2-4. In sorrow: "For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow" Phil.2.27. For security: "For the King trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the Most High He shall not be moved" Ps.21.7.
While discussing the mercy of God we should add a note as to the grace of God. In his "Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words" W. E. Vine helpfully explains God’s mercy and His grace: "Mercy is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it ... Wherever the words mercy and peace are found together they occur in that order, except in Gal 6:16. Mercy is the act of God, peace is the resulting experience in the heart of man. Grace describes God’s attitude toward the law-breaker and the rebel; mercy is His attitude toward those who are in distress."
In grace God forgives guilty sinners. In grace He removes us from the sphere of condemnation into the place of justification. In grace the justified sinner receives a new nature, comes into relationship with God, and becomes a citizen of heaven. "But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" Eph.2.4-6. It was grace, God’s favour to guilty and undeserving sinners, that reached down to provide redemption in Christ. We will glory in God’s grace for all eternity. What a glorious prospect.
In concluding this section we raise our praise to a God of mercy. It was His mercy that quickened us when we were dead in our sins, Eph.2.4,5; and saved us, Titus 3.5; and has begotten us to an inheritance, 1 Pet.1.5. Indeed, He is the "Father of mercies" 2 Cor.1.3.
How appropriate are the words of the Psalmist, "I will sing of Thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning: for Thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble. Unto Thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy" Ps.59.16.
GOD IS FAITHFUL
"God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" 1Cor.1.9. The righteousness, mercy and faithfulness of God run parallel, and are all pledged to the deliverance, defence, and complete and eternal salvation of God’s people. The Hebrew root of the words ‘faithful’ and ‘faithfulness’, (aman) means to prop, stay or support. The use of the word signifies to stay oneself or be supported; so the word ‘faithful’ applied to a person, means someone upon whom you may safely lean. The Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘faithful’ and ‘faithfulness,’ (pistos) means trustworthy or to be relied upon. Therefore, both in the Old and New Testaments this aspect of God’s character is clearly seen. The proposition that God is faithful means God is a Being upon Whom we can rely absolutely. Scripture develops the extent of God’s faithfulness which is seen in:
His covenant. "Know therefore that the LORD thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations" Deut. 7.9. "Nevertheless My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips" Ps.89.33,34. "And he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like Thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, Who keepest covenant and mercy with Thy servants that walk before Thee with all their heart: who hast kept with Thy servant David my father that Thou promised him: Thou spakest also with Thy mouth, and hast fulfilled it with Thine hand, as it is this day ... Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto His people Israel, according to all that He promised: there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised by the hand of Moses His servant" 1 Kgs.8.23,24,56. Therefore, God is faithful in fulfilling every word that He utters regardless of what man does.
His defence and deliverance of His servants. Psalm 89 is a great expression of God’s faithfulness causing the Psalmist to rejoice, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations" v1. God is faithful in His unfailing defence in times of trial and conflict. This is an encouragement in the present day also: "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" 1Pet.4.19.
His confirmation of those whom He has called. "Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" 1 Cor.1.8,9. "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" 1 Thess.5.23,24. "But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil" 2 Thess.3.3. The faithfulness of God is expressed in confirming and establishing those whom He has called. He guards them from the evil one, sanctifies them and preserves them. The confidence of God’s people with regard to their future is not in their faithfulness, but in God’s.
Him answering the prayers and forgiving the sins of His people. "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications: in Thy faithfulness answer me, and in Thy righteousness" Ps.143.1. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" 1 Jn.1.9. Our confidence that God will forgive our sins when confessed is based on two facts about God, namely, God is righteous and God is faithful. Doubting that confessed sin is forgiven sin is not humility but rather unbelief. In doubting, we are questioning God’s righteousness, His faithfulness and His truthfulness.
Him presenting His people blameless. "Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by Whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" 1 Cor.1.8,9.
- Though years on years roll on,
- His covenant shall endure;
- Though clouds and darkness hide His path,
- The promised grace is sure.
- Through waves, and clouds, and storms
- He gently clears thy way;
- Wait thou His time; so shall this night
- Soon end in joyous day.
- (P. Gerhardt)
GOD IS SAVIOUR
"I, even I, am the LORD; and beside Me there is no saviour" Isa.43.11. While we associate salvation with the Lord Jesus Christ, Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, depicts God as being Saviour. In the Old Testament God’s salvation is seen mainly, but not solely, in relation to Israel. Many times in Isaiah’s prophecy He is described as Saviour.
- Isa.43.3 - His Supremacy as Saviour: "For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour";
- Isa.43.11 - His Singularity as Saviour: "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside Me there is no saviour";
- Isa.45.15,17 - His Secrets as Saviour: "Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour ... But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation";
- Isa.45.21,22 - Scope of His Salvation: "a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside Me. Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else";
- Isa.49.26 - His Severity as Saviour: "And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob";
- Isa.60.15,16 - His Strength as Saviour: "Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob";
- Isa.63.8- His Succour as Saviour: "For He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not lie: so He was their Saviour".
In the New Testament the term Saviour is used mainly in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, with some interesting exceptions. It is used of God the Father in the words of:
Mary, as she rejoices in anticipation of the birth of the Son of God: "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" Lk.1.47. This is the only time the personal pronoun is used in the New Testament describing God the Saviour.
Paul, as he confirms his apostolic authority: 1 Tim.1.1 and Titus 1.3. Then as he describes the desire of God with regard to the prayers of His people and the salvation of all men, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" 1 Tim.2.3,4; and as he gives the reason for engaging in service, "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" 1Tim.4.10.
Paul, in his epistle to Titus. In this little epistle the title Saviour is used six times. Three times it relates to the Lord Jesus Christ, and thrice to God. These references to God are, 1.3 as above; in relation to servants, "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" 2.10; and finally in relation to our salvation from what we once were, "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" 3.4,5.
Jude, as he concludes his epistle gives us the final reference to God our Saviour. It is a fitting conclusion to this section, "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" Jude 24,25.
- Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,
- How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
- (Stuart K. Hine)
As we bring this chapter to a close there are many descriptions of the Divine attributes that we have omitted. To look at the character of God brings upon us such a feeling of inadequacy that we feel so like Job, "O that I knew where I might find Him" Job 23.3; and as he describes God, "Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number"; and like the Psalmist, "O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain" Ps.104.1,2.
While there is so much for us to appreciate of His moral glory and character, there is also a great depth of truth concerning Him Who brings encouragement to believers who lift their eyes from the world and focus on Him. How blessed to appreciate that He is:
The God of my Salvation. Seven times in the Old Testament this statement is made. He is my stability, Ps.18.46; my teacher - Ps.25.5; my helper - Ps.27.9; my adoration - Ps.51.14; my deliverer - Ps.88.1; my confidence - Mic.7.7; my joy - Hab.3.18. While He brings salvation to the individual, He is also called The God of our salvation five times in the Old Testament.
The God of Peace. Five times in the New Testament, the apostle Paul describes Him as the God of peace. We read of: The Presence of the God of peace, "Now the God of peace be with you all" Rom.15.33; the Power of the God of peace, "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" Rom.16.20; the Promise of the God of peace, "and the God of peace shall be with you" Phil.4.9; Purity from the God of peace, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly" 1 Thess.5.23; Perfecting by the God of peace, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" Heb.13.20.21. He is also described as the God of love and peace, 2 Cor.13.11.
To troubled saints He is: The God of all comfort, 1 Cor.1.3: The God of all grace, 1 Pet.5.10: The God of hope, Rom.15.13. To those who pass through the difficulties of physical sickness He is, "the Lord that healeth thee" Ex.15.26.
As we have sought to look somewhat at the character of our God, His glories shine forth. Therefore we raise our praise to Him as the "God of glory" Ps.29.3.
- Thou glorious God of Majesty supreme,
- Great in Thy being, holiness unstained;
- Unknown, to men, eternally unseen,
- Dwelling in light to which none can attain.
- Thou the eternal, uncreated, alone,
- Whose glorious presence everywhere doth shine
- Which speaks of light peculiarly Thine own,
- Intrinsic Godhead which is ever Thine.
- But were this all, my heart dare not intrude,
- Nor find relief for all its creature need,
- Greatness alone might humble but exclude
- Creatures like me from Thee and all that’s good.
- Impersonal Essence, far beyond all ken,
- Unknown to all in searchless Majesty,
- But yet revealed in Love’s Divinest form,
- To Thee my soul draws nigh in ecstasy.