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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. L. Dagg
From The Manual of Theology: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, 1859
By our external senses we obtain knowledge of properties which belong to a class of substances called matter, such as extension, solidity or impenetrability, divisibility, figure, color.
By consciousness, we have knowledge of our own thoughts and feelings, and these we ascribe to a substance, called mind, which is capable of perceiving, remembering, comparing, judging, reasoning, and willing. The distinction between these two classes of substances is recognised in the judgments of all men. We never attribute thought to fire, air, earth, or water; and we never conceive of mind as round or square, black or white.
The properties which we discover in our own minds, we attribute to the minds of others; and we readily conceive the existence of these properties in beings of a different order. The term spirit is used to denote an immaterial and intelligent substance, or being; one which is without the peculiar properties of matter, and possesses properties analogous to those of the human mind. In this sense, God is a spirit. He is not extended, solid, and divisible, like a rock, a tree, or a human body, but thinks and wills in a manner free from all imperfection.
The texts of Scripture which directly teach the spirituality of God are few. It may be inferred from Isaiah 31:3: "Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit." The foundation of the parallelism, in this passage, is that God is a spirit. It may be inferred, also, from the language of Scripture, in which God is called the Father of spirits: "We have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:9)
A father and his children possess a common nature, and, as the fathers of our flesh, are flesh, so the Father of our spirits is spirit. There is one passage which teaches the doctrine expressly, "God is a Spirit.” (John 4:24) and this would be sufficient to prove it, if it were taught nowhere else.
It is no objection to the doctrine of God's spirituality, that bodily parts, as hands, feet, eyes, &c., are ascribed to him. These are manifestly mere accommodations of language, because we have no words more suitable to express the operations of the divine mind. If it were inadmissible to speak of God's eyes, because he has not material organs of vision, as we have, it would also be inadmissible to speak of God's seeing, because he does not see by means of material light, as we do, or to speak of God's thinking, because his thoughts are not as our thoughts.
The practical use of this doctrine is taught by Christ: "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." In offering him homage, it is not sufficient to come before him with a bonded knee, or a prostrate body, but our minds, our spiritual nature, must render the homage, or it will be unacceptable to him.
The spirituality of God is the foundation of the second commandment in the Decalogue: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing 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)
The reason assigned for this commandment is that the Israelites saw no form when God manifested his presence to them at Mount Sinai:
“And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
“And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth.” (Deut. 4:12-18)
He appeared to them in cloud and fire. A pillar of cloud and fire went before the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness, as a token of the divine presence. (Ex. 13:21) This token appeared at the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple built and dedicated by Solomon. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. We are not to understand from these things that God is either cloud or fire. These are material and not spiritual substances.
As what is purely spiritual cannot be perceived by our bodily senses, God was pleased to employ these material symbols to give a sensible demonstration of his presence. For the same reason, he sometimes presented himself in human form.
In all these material manifestations of himself, which are recorded in the Old Testament, there is reason to believe that it was the second person in the Godhead, who thus exhibited himself; the same that afterwards appeared in human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is called the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord's presence, and yet he is called Jehovah, and the reverence due to Jehovah is claimed for him.
A created angel is not entitled to this name or this honour, but they both belong to the Son of God, the Angel of the Covenant, who, after his incarnation, was God manifest in the flesh. This opinion is confirmed by the teachings of the New Testament: "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18)
Of the Father, Jesus says, "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape." (John 5:37) And he said to his disciples, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9) A comparison of these passages may satisfy us, that all the manifestations of the deity to human senses, whether visible or audible, were made in the person of the Son, or Word of God.
The spirituality of God contradicts the pantheistic notion that the universe is God. The universe is not spirit. In its material fabric, intelligence is displayed, but this intelligence does not belong to the material fabric itself, for matter cannot think or know.
To present our religious devotions to the universe is an idolatry no less degrading than that of the most stupid of the heathen nations. They worship sticks and stones, but this philosophy clothes every clod of earth with divinity, and entitles it to our worship.
The heathen render divine honors to a few men whom, for extraordinary merit, they enroll among the gods, but this notion directs our worship to every man, and to every beast of the field. It is a notion perfectly adapted to crush the outflowings of the devotional heart as they rise to the one indivisible spiritual intelligence to whom alone divine worship is due.
The notion that God is the Soul of the universe may not be liable to precisely the same objection. But what does the proposition mean? The only sense in which we can possibly understand that God is the Soul of the universe, is that he sustains a relation to the universe analogous to that which the human soul sustains to the body with which it is connected. But how extensive is this analogy?
The soul did not create the matter of which the body is made, nor did it form the skilfully wrought parts of the wonderful machinery, or contrive their mysterious movements, which it studies with admiration, and comprehends only in very small part. The soul exercises but a very limited control over the body. The muscles of voluntary motion are under its command, and move at its will, and in this fact we may discover a faint analogy to the operation of Him, who worketh all things after the counsel of His will, and in whom every creature lives, moves, and has its being.
An analogy so meager as this is not sufficient to justify the metaphorical language in which the proposition is stated