Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 8



We derive our knowledge of power from the consciousness of our will or purpose to effect an end, and from our experience that we have accomplished that end.

Over our own bodies our will acts directly, without the intervention of any means known to us. Thus, when we will to move the arm, the arm is moved, but whatever necessity there may be of nervous influence or muscular action, we know of no such connection between these and our will, save the fact that the will puts these into operation.

Over other material objects we can only act through our bodies and other necessary means of contact.

Experience teaches us, however, that mind can act upon mind without such contact, though the mode in which this is done is still mysterious.

The action of our minds upon our material structure and over other minds also suggests that mind, by some subtle connection, may act upon outward matter, as we see, that our minds act upon our bodies.

In this way many of the curious phenomena which have been falsely used for the proof of the spiritualistic theories of the present day will probably be accounted for.

But, whatever may be the power of man, it is evident that it is marked by limitations, not only as to what can be done, but also as to the way in which it may be done.

In ascribing power to God, however, we must exclude all such limitation. Not only is he all powerful (almighty), but he needs not instrumental contact.

But, although this is true, God accomplishes much that he does through secondary means which partake of the nature of instrumental contact. Such action, however, is with him not a matter of necessity, but simply his economic way of doing what he could as perfectly and as easily do by direct action.

Power in God, therefore, may be defined to be the effective energy inherent in his nature by which he is able to do all things. The exercise of that power is dependent upon his will or purpose, and is limited not by what he can do, but by what he chooses to do.

We ascribe power to God.

1. Because we perceive that its possession is a perfection in us, and is therefore to be attributed to the all-perfect being.

2. Because we cannot account for the existence and phenomena of the universe without ascribing to God the power which has produced them.

3. Because our own sense of dependence assures us that there must be power to create, preserve, and protect us, in him in whom we live and move and have our being.

4. The Scriptures also teach us to ascribe power to God.

(a) In such passages as directly ascribe power to him: Jer. 32:17; Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:19; 3:20.

(b) By reference to his unlimited works: Jer. 10:12; John 1:3; Acts 17:24.

(c) By declaring that what he does is done by mere will without labour, by his word; as in the whole account of creation in the beginning of Genesis and in Ps. 33:9.

(d) By denying the necessity of great means and asserting that what he does can be done with the many or the few: 1 Sam. 14:6; 2 Chron. 14:11.

(e) By figurative or anthropomorphic expressions, as “the hand,” “the right hand of God,” “the strong hand,” “the arm,” “the arm not shortened.” Ex. 15 : 6; Num. 11 : 23 ; Joshua 4 : 24 ; Neb. 1 : 10; Job 40 : 9 ; Ps. 98 : 1 ; Isa. 50 : 2 ; 59 : 1.

God’s power may be described as:

I. Absolute, which is equivalent to what he can do, and is measured by his nature.

II. Actual, which is what he exercises, and is measured by his will. It is what is put in action by him.

Knapp makes a division of absolute and ordinate, making the absolute that by which he created the world out of nothing, and the ordinate that by which he continues to create or produce according to the laws he has established, as by secondary causes, as in the production of plants, animals, etc. But these are different kinds of exercise of power, but not different kinds of power.

Our power differs from that of God in three particulars :

1. We cannot do whatever we choose, even if it be right.

2. We cannot do it without intermediate means.

3. We cannot do it at any moment we please, but only when the circumstances favour.

But, while God is not subject to the limitations which thus affect us, he also is limited in his power. These limitations, however, are such as arise, not from without, but from the excellence and perfection of his own nature. Hence the limitations are concurrent with his will, which can never desire to do what his nature does not permit.

1. God cannot create a being or world to which his essential incommunicable attributes can be given, viz. : infinity, embracing eternity and immensity, and self-existence.

2. He cannot create a being whose nature is sinful. The nature he bestows on any creature becomes the law of that creature, so that for any nature to be sinful, it must have been changed from conformity to the law of its creation.

3. He cannot impose laws which are not accordant with righteousness and holiness.

4. He cannot deal with any of his creatures unjustly.

5. He cannot commit sin.

6. He cannot change his own nature.

7. He cannot change his decrees or purpose.

8. He cannot do impossibilities.

If it be asked why he can do none of these things, the answer is, because his own nature is to him the law of what he does, as well as of what he wills and of what he is. He is not just and holy because he wills to be so, but he wills to be just and holy because he is so. His will does not make his nature, but his nature controls his will.

An apparent objection to the infinite power of God is the presence of sin in the universe.

The holiness, justice, and even goodness of God render it impossible that sin can be either created or permitted as something indifferent to God. He must hate it, and punish it wherever it appears.

Its presence therefore is due either to the fact that he could not prevent it, or that he has permitted it for some wise purpose.

What that wise purpose is, ought properly to be shown in proof that the existence of evil is consistent with God’s goodness.

That its presence is due to such purpose, rather than to lack of power of God, appears from the fact that he could have prevented it. This he could have done

1. By not creating beings capable of sinning.

2. By not allowing them to be placed in circumstances which would lead to sin.

3. By sustaining and fortifying them in those circumstances, so as to counteract the temptation and keep them from sinning.

4. And, (as the objection is the rather to the continued existence of sin than its origin,) by the immediate destruction of those who have sinned.

But so far from the presence of sin showing lack of power in God, it has served the more signally to display that power.

1. Over sin itself, in its destruction and punishment.

2. Over its final victims, by causing them to feel and acknowledge the terrible power of his wrath.

3. Over others, by their signal deliverance through his power, not only from the penalty, but from the presence of sin.

4. In the sin itself, by exhibiting that restraining and conquering power, by which God makes evil itself to work out his purposes of good and glory.

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