Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 5



HAVING in the last chapter discussed the unity of God, we proceed in this to the consideration of his spirituality. This is the second subject preliminary to that of his attributes. The attempt will be made to prove, not only that God has a spiritual nature, but that he is a pure spirit without outward form or material organization.

I. The one God has undoubtedly a spiritual nature.

1. He is the creator of spirits. But spirit is the highest order of existence and its creator must himself have the nature which belongs to that order.

2. The creation and government of the world give evidence of wisdom, skill, knowledge and purpose, but there are attributes of spirit. God therefore must have a spiritual nature.

3. We arrive at the idea of the perfect being by the exclusion of all imperfection and the ascription of all perfection. But spiritual nature is in every respect a perfection. Therefore we ascribe it to God.

4. The Scriptures ascribe a spiritual nature to God.

It is involved in the abundant language about the spirit of God in which, however, reference is had distinctively to the third person in the Trinity.

It is also presupposed in all the intellectual, moral, and emotional thoughts and acts ascribed to him.

But it is directly asserted in two places: John 4:24, the language of our Lord to the woman of Sychar: “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Again in Heb. 12:9, where fathers of the flesh and of the spirit are contrasted. “Furthermore, we have had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?”

Compare also Acts 17:24, 25. “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything,” &c.

II. But when we ascribe spirituality to God, we do not intend simply to assert that he possesses a spiritual nature, but that his nature is exclusively spiritual. By this we mean that he has no material organization, that he has neither body nor members of the body such as we have, neither shape nor form, neither passions nor limitations, but only a spiritual nature.

1. This is evident from his immensity and eternity (infinity in time and space).

To have an omnipresent and eternal mode of existence is possible for a spiritual nature, because spirit has not of necessity succession of time and specific limitation of location. But these of necessity belong to matter. It is of necessity that it has a here, and not an everywhere; spirit alone can combine the two, the here and the everywhere. It is also of necessity that matter exists in time; we know that it exists now, that it existed yesterday, that it may exist to-morrow. We know that it necessarily has this succession and difference of time. But with the eternal God there can be no succession of time, and consequently he can have no material nature but must be purely spiritual.

2. It also follows from his independence and immutability.

If God have body, he is capable of being influenced from without, for all matter is thus capable of being influenced, of being moved, divided, added to and diminished. But if thus capable of influence from without he is not independent. Therefore the independent God cannot be material.

Again, if he is body, he is mutable, for all matter is capable of change. Therefore the immutable God cannot be material.

3. This may be proved from his absolute perfection.

(a) Negatively. From the idea of absolute perfection we exclude all that admits of limitation or change. But body is both limited and changeable. Therefore the absolute perfection of God excludes a bodily organism.

(b) Positively. To absolute perfection we ascribe the possession of intelligence, will and moral perception. But these do not belong to body. Therefore body cannot be either in part or whole the absolutely perfect one.

4. We realize in ourselves, the defects of a material organization, how it confines us, how it causes pain and suffering, how it imposes on us joy in sensual pleasures, how incapable it is of knowledge and power in itself. Hence we naturally disbelieve that in God is to be found an organism so necessarily imperfect. On the other hand we find our spiritual natures to be of wondrous power and capacity, endowed with intelligence, skill and wisdom, capable of knowing right and wrong, and the true and the false, and possessed of liberty of choice, and we therefore ascribe to God the possession of such a nature to an infinite extent, with infinite intelligence, skill and wisdom, and a will absolutely untrammeled from without.

In apparent opposition to this doctrine of the pure spirituality of God is a large number of passages, which represent God in or with bodily form. This language is partly figurative, and partly used as an accommodation to human thought, and to the incapacity of human language to express exclusively divine things. Such language is called anthropomorphic, and is generally so obviously such, as to make no false impression, even upon the most ignorant.

The following is a corrected list of the passages as collected in West’s Analysis, pp. 17-19.

Those which speak of him as having location: Gen. 4:16; Ex. 19:17-20; 20:21; 33:14, 15.

As having motion: Gen. 17:22; 18:33; Ex. 19:20; Num. 12:5; 23:4; Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:4; 1 Sam. 4:7; Ps. 47:5; 68:7, 8; Ezek. 11:23; Micah 1:3; Hab. 3:3; Zech. 2:13.

As using vehicles: 2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10; 104:3; Hab. 3:8, 15; Zech. 9:14.

He is said to dwell on the earth: Ex. 25:8; 29:43, 44; 1 Kings 6:13; 8:12, 13; 2 Chron. 6:1, 2; Ps. 132:14; Mic. 1:2, 3; Hab. 2:20.

He dwells with man: Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:11, 12; 2 Chron. 6:18; Zech. 2:10; Rev. 21:3.

He dwells in men: 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19.

He has face: Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:11, 20; Deut. 5:4; 34:10; Rev. 20:11; eyes: 2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 22:12; nostrils: 2 Sam. 22:9, 16; Ps. 18:15; mouth: Num. 12:8; Ps. 18:8; lips and tongue: Isa. 30:27; breath: Isa. 30:28; shoulders: Deut. 33:12; hand and arms: Ex. 33: 22, 23; Ps. 21:8; 74:11; 89:13; 118:16; Isa. 52:10; Hab. 3:4; fingers: Ps. 8:3; back: Ex. 33:23; feet: Ps. 18:9; voice: Ex. 19:19; 20:22; Lev. 1:1; Num. 7:89; 12:4; 22:9; Deut. 4:12, 36; 1 Kings 19:12, 13; Ps. 29:3-9; 68:33; Jer. 25:30, 31; Ezek. 43:6.

His voice is spoken of as dreaded: Ex. 20:19; Deut. 4:33; 5:24-26; Joel 2:11; 3:16; Amos 1:2; Heb. 12:19, 26.

He is said to exercise laughter: Ps. 2:4.

He appears to men: Gen. 35:9; 48:3; Ex. 3:2-6; 19:9; 1 Kings 9:2; Job 42:5, 6; Amos 9:1.

His appearance is described: Ex. 24:10; Deut. 31:15; Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 8:1, 2, 4; 43:2; Dan. 7:9, 10; Rev. 4:5.

He is in human form: Gen. 18:1; Ezek. 1:26, 27; Rev. 4:2, 3.

III. The value of true ideas as to the spirituality of God may be seen from the important consequences which follow from this characteristic of God.

1. It involves concerning the nature of God:

(1.) That he is invisible and intangible, or incapable of apprehension by the bodily senses.

(2.) That he is unchangeable, incorruptible and indestructible.

(3.) That he is simple and uncompounded.

(4.) That he is a living personal being, intelligent, moral, free and active.

(5.) That he is infinite and eternal.

2. Upon it depends in the relation of God to creation:

(1.) His knowledge of all events, and especially of his spiritual creatures.

(2.) His control of all events.

(3.) His purposing all things that shall come to pass.

3. Because of it, he must receive spiritual worship:

(1.) Not that of the body only.

(2.) Nor of the outward form.

(3.) Nor of pretended service.

(4.) But of genuine emotion.

(5.) Because of it, he cannot be represented in that worship by outward forms or images. He is to be approached, not with the bodily senses, but with the communings of the heart. Hence the second commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” Ex. 20:4, 5.

IV. Spirituality has been by some classified as one of the attributes of God. This has possibly arisen from the twofold sense which the word spirituality has. It is used among men as a description of character, when it means that that character is exalted to an extraordinary sense above the fleshly appetites and passions, and devoted to spiritual affairs. In this sense spirituality would be an attribute of character, and therefore of the person possessing that character. But when spirituality is spoken of with reference to God, it is used in the sense in which man is spoken of as a spiritual as well as material being. It is declarative of God as possessing a spiritual nature in the sense that his nature is that of a spirit. It is, therefore, a simple declaration of what his nature is, and not a statement of an attribute of that nature. It is, consequently, no more to be classed among the attributes of God than is his unity. These two subjects have, therefore, been treated separately and as preliminary questions to the consideration of his attributes.

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