WHAT GOD IS LIKE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-23-64 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled What God is Like. The apostle John in his writings has said three comprehensive, descriptive things of the Lord God. In John 4:24, "God is spirit." In 1 John 1:5, "God is light." In 1 John 4:8, "God is love." Notice the grammatical construction of the sentences that John uses. He did not write, God is a spirit, God is a light, God is a love, but "God is Spirit, and God is light, and God is love."
We address ourselves first, "God is spirit" [John 4:24]. God is not matter. Spirit is not a refined kind of matter. The ancient Greek philosophers, and especially the followers of Epicurus, were persuaded that all things were made out of atoms. The coarser atoms comprised matter. The more refined atoms comprised spirit and soul. But spirit is in nowise akin to matter, or corporeality, or substance. Spirit is immaterial. It is indivisible. It is invisible. It is uncompounded and indestructible. And God as spirit has no relationship in His being to matter or to corporeality. Laplace, the famous French mathematician and astronomer, swept the heavens with his telescope and then announced, "I can find God nowhere."
He might as well have swept his kitchen with a broom, for God in His being is not associated, or delineated by, or described by substance and matter. Recently, a Russian cosmonaut circled the earth, just a few miles above us, and then landing made the announcement to the world that he had searched the heavens and had discovered there was no God. A wag said if he had stepped outside of his capsule, he would have met Him in just a few minutes.
The identification of God with matter or corporeality is inconceivable. The Lord God said to Moses, "Thou shalt not see My face: for no man shall see Me and live" [Exodus 33:20, 33]. And John, quoting that word of Jehovah to the great lawgiver, said in John 1:18, "No man hath seen God at any time." The theophanies that we read in the Old Testament, such as in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, when Isaiah says, "I saw the Lord, high and lifted up" [Isaiah 6:1], these are pre-incarnate manifestations of the Word of God, the Lord Christ.
God is spirit, and as such, He is omnipotent; there is no containment or limitation to the power of the Lord God pantokrator, Almighty [Revelation 11:17]. Our Master said in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, "All things are possible with God" [Matthew 19:26]. God cannot deny Himself: He cannot lie, He cannot steal, He cannot murder. These would not be tokens of power but of impotence, and God is all-powerful.
God is spirit, and as such, He is omniscient, all-knowing. In the sixteenth chapter of 2 Chronicles, it is said, "The eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth" [2 Chronicles 16:9]. Hebrews 4:13 says, "For all things are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." And Isaiah wrote of the Lord Jehovah, "I am the Lord God, and there is none beside Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times declaring what has not come to pass as yet" [Isaiah 46:9-10]. Omniscience, all knowledge belongs to the great Jehovah God. If this was not so, the world is like an express train without headlight or engineer, hurtling itself toward some unknown and possible catastrophic abyss. It is inconceivable that God does not know. For example, when the Scriptures say the Lamb, the Christ, was "slain before the foundation of the world" [Revelation 13:8], this would be a meaningless atonement did God not know. For example, He is a propitiation for our sins [1 John 2:2], providing Adam falls, and providing Judas betrays Him, and providing Pilate delivers Him to crucifixion, and providing the Romans nail Him up between the earth and the sky – God not knowing whether any of these things shall come to pass? No! From the beginning and before the foundations of the earth were laid, God saw all things and provided for our salvation against the day of our sin and judgment [Revelation 13:8]. God is omniscient, all-knowing.
God is spirit. God is omnipresent, everywhere, the whole God, at the same place in the same time, anywhere, everywhere, in all of His vast infinitude.
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he said, "The heaven cannot contain Thee, nor the heaven of the heavens" [1 Kings 8:27].
And one of the most beautiful and meaningful of all of the psalms of David is this:
Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.
If I rise on the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there Thy hand shall hold me, and Thy right hand shall lead me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; for the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both a light unto Thee.
[Psalm 139:7 – 12]
God is omnipresent – in all places, the whole Lord at the same time. That’s why our blessed Savior can say in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"; the whole Christ here with us; the whole Christ with a great, vast multitudinous congregation that call upon His name at this sacred hour around the earth.
Spurgeon one time said, "To the eyes that can love, God can be seen everywhere. And the old saying of rising from nature up to nature’s God is hard for us uphill. How infinitely more meaningful and precious to turn it around and go from God to nature. For those who love Him and adore Him, God can be heard in the music of the waves and in the song of the whispering winds, and His goodness can be seen and felt every place." [Adapted from Spurgeon’s Sermons, Third Series, "Christ the Power and Wisdom of God" p. 386, C.H. Spurgeon, 1857].
God is omnipresent, everywhere. And the Lord God’s spirit is eternal. He is self-caused. There is no beginning, and there is no ending with the Lord God. Moses begins his one psalm, number 90, "O Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place through all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting unto everlasting, Thou art God" [Psalm 90:1-2]. The eighth verse of the first chapter of the Revelation, the Lord speaks saying, "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, saith the Lord, who was, and who is, and who is to come, the Lord God Almighty" [Revelation 1:8]. In a tribute to the great God in the first chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul calls Him the King of the ages, in Greek, the King of the aions [1 Timothy 1:17]. There is no yesterday, and today, and tomorrow with the Lord God. He looks upon the whole story of humanity and creation as an everlasting now. He is the great Eternal.
The Lord God is spirit. He is one, indivisible, eternally and forever, numerically one. The conception of two or more Gods that are immutable and omnipotent is inconceivable. Polytheism – tri-theism, three gods – dualism, two gods – are impossible conceptions. The great ringing statement of faith of Israel through the centuries has been, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God" [Deuteronomy 6:4]. The great fundamental fact of all Scripture is this, that God is one and that He subsists in three persons. We know Him in three persons.
It had been my hope to incorporate in the message this morning the Trinity. I cannot encompass it. I have prepared a message next Lord’s Day on the mystery of the Trinity. God is one God, in essence one God. We know Him in experience as the Trinity – the holy Father, the holy Son, and the Holy Spirit – but God is eternally one.
God is personal, personal. God is not the eternal, God is not the infinitude, but God is the eternal and infinite Being. God is a person. When the Lord Jehovah appeared unto Moses on the back side of the Sinaitic desert in the flaming and burning bush [Exodus 3:1-2], the Lord said, "My name is." Not "it is" or "it was," but, "My name is I Am" [Exodus 3:14] – the great I Am. God is a person of knowledge, of intellect, of understanding, of feeling, of will, of emotion. God is like a man, and a man is like God. In the twenty-sixth verse of the first chapter of Genesis, the Genesis story says, "And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness" [Genesis 1:26]. So the Lord God created man after His image and in His likeness [Genesis 1:27]. That is, a man differs from God not in kind but in degree. A man differs from God, not like mind differs from matter or darkness differs from light, but God and man differ in the sense that a little piece of space differs from all space, or a little part of time differs from all time. A man is like God, and God is like a man.
God is sensitive to good and evil; so is a man. God can think, and God can love, and God can judge, and God can will, and God can choose, and God can act; so can a man. A man is sensitive to moral living and moral life, to good and evil, and a man can think, he can think God’s thoughts after Him. And a man can love, and a man can choose, and a man can will, and a man can act. A man is created in the image of God, and a man differs from His Maker only in degree.
Many times in my studying I come across authors who scoff at the anthropomorphic allusions that are in the Word of God. The Bible will speak of God’s hand, and God’s eyes, and God’s heart, and God walking, and God talking, and these anthropomorphisms are offensive to the sophisticated academician. Ah, how folly wide the mark! God to reveal Himself to us must condescend to our estate, and He must speak our language. And what is the highest conceptions we know of in this earth? They are spiritual, and they are personal. And when God is revealed to us as a person who thinks, and talks, and wills, and loves, He is revealed to us in the highest conceptions of which our minds are capable of understanding. If God is not personal, if God is not somebody, then we are forced to be atheists or pantheists, it matters not which. A blind force has caused this earth and us, and reason is without destiny, and existence is without purpose. But God is personal, and we have been created in His image. "God is spirit" [John 4:24].
The second avowal of the apostle: "God is light" [1 John 1:5]. To me, that would mean two things. One: God is truth. Like you say, a man saw the light – vision, understanding, wisdom. God is light; God is truth. Then the second part it would mean to me: God is light, God is pure and holy and removed from sin, of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13]. Let us speak of them. God is light; He is truth and wisdom and understanding. All truth, all truth, whether astronomical or theological, whether chemical or ecclesiastical, whether mathematical or anthropological, whether geological or historical, all truth has its ground in the character and in the being of Almighty God. And all truth is a part of the great truth, the great light which is Almighty God. Two plus two equals four. Vice is condemnable. Virtue is commendable. These are truths that have their ground in the being of Almighty God.
The latest philosophical sophistry that has cursed this earth has been the theory of moral and philosophical relativism. That is, there is no absolute, but things are in every nature and in every age relative. What was wrong tomorrow may be right today. What was [wrong] yesterday may be correct and acceptable today. There is no norm, there is no primary, there is no fundamental, there is no absolute, but things are relative. This is a lie! What was true yesterday is true today, what was right yesterday is right today, for God is immutable and unchanging, and truth is founded in the being and in the character of Almighty God, and God never changes [James 1:17]. God is light. God is truth.
The second part of that: God is holiness; God is purity; God is high and removed from sin and evil and iniquity [Isaiah 57:15]. The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer is not, "Thy kingdom come," but "Hallowed" – sacred, holy – "be Thy name" [Matthew 6:9]. The incomparable and greatest of all of our systematic theologians, Dr. Augustus H. Strong, says that the greatest attribute that includes all the attributes of God is His holiness, His purity, God’s moral excellence and righteousness. Without exception this is the presentation in the Scriptures of the Lord God. "Holy Father," prayed Jesus in the high priestly prayer of John 17:11 – Holy Father. And the seraphim above the throne cried one to the other, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" [Isaiah 6:3] – holy Father. The Son is holy. "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that Holy being that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" [Luke 1:35], the Holy Child Jesus. And the Spirit is called the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes I can almost argue for the inspiration of the translation, the King James Version of the Bible. And those men of God who translated it out of the original languages placed on the outside of its cover, "Holy Bible." In the first chapter of the first letter of Simon Peter, quoting the great adjunct, and admonition, and mandate of the Old Testament Scriptures, Peter says, "Be ye holy, for I am holy" [Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16]. And the author of the Hebrew says, "Follow after holiness, without which no man shall see God" [Hebrews 12:14].
God is light [1 John 1:5]. He is holiness and purity. What kind of holiness? What kind of light? What kind of purity? Is God like a faultless marble statue? Is God like a pure, dead white? No! For the author of the Hebrew says, "For our God is a consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:29]. The holiness of God is implemented by the almightiness and by the energy of the Lord God. When the Lord came down on Sinai to deliver to Moses the Ten Commandments and the moral law [Exodus 20:1-17], the Scriptures say that the mountain quaked and shook, and the rocks were rent, and the whole earth was on fire, so mighty the holiness and the presence of the Lord God [Exodus 19:18].
And when Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, made his journey to Damascus to hale them into prison, he met the Lord, and there was a light from His face above the radiance of the meridian Syrian sun, and he fell to the earth, blinded by the glory of that light [Acts 9:1-9]. The whole energy of the being of God is behind His moral law, and His terrible arm upholds it and defends it in sovereign power throughout the universe and throughout the history of mankind.
That is why in the Book of the Revelation, in the fifteenth chapter, when John sees those who are perfect standing before the Lamb of God, he saw them standing on a sea of glass; just that? The quiet, burnished, beautiful crystal sea of glass? No, he saw them standing on a sea of glass that burned with fire, the holiness, the purity, the energy of the moral God [Revelation 15:1-3]. In the chapter before, in the fourteenth, when he sees the one hundred forty-four thousand that are without fault who stand before the Lamb on Mount Zion, they are described as "they who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" [Revelation 14:4]. The holiness of God is not inert, and inactive, and dead, but it is virile and alive, and it burns, and it consumes, and it judges, and it upholds by the terrible might of His right hand. God is light; God is truth; and God is holiness.
And the last, and the last: "God is love" [1 John 4:8]. God is love, and law is the way that He loves us. God is law, and love is the way that He rules us. God is love. Were it not for the sympathy, and the remembrance, and the love of God, His holiness and His judgment would consume us as with flaming fire. But God is like a man; God feels, God understands, God suffers, God can be hurt, God sympathizes, God is moved in grace and in mercy and in remembrance. When the Bible describes in the sixth chapter of Genesis the evil of the whole earth, one of the verses says, "And it hurt God at His heart when He looked upon the earth filled with violence and sin" [Genesis 6:5-6]. And the holiness of God, the almightiness of the purity of God demands judgment, demands death; "For the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And the purity of God burns against evil, and the holiness of God consumes evil! And the whole race of mankind would be destroyed and lost were God just holiness. "But God is love" [1 John 4:8], and He looks upon the afflictions of men, and God is moved in His soul.
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy toward us who fear Him. . . . Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.
[Psalm 103:11, 13 – 14]
You who are fathers, did you ever look down into the face of your child; he is sick? Ever hear him cry? Some of you looking in the face of a child, yours, crippled, hurt; "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" [Psalm 103:13-14].
The incomparable prophet Isaiah said in all our afflictions He was afflicted [Isaiah 63:9]. He hungered with all those who hunger. He suffered with all those who suffer. He is emulated in all those who lay down their lives in death. He bore our infirmities and carried our illnesses [Isaiah 53:4]. This is the love of God.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen could ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from all his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How infinite and strong.
It shall forevermore endure –
The saints’ and angels’ song.
["The Love of God," Frederick M. Lehman]
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see.
["Amazing Grace," John Newton]
"God is love" [1 John 4:8], and we know Him and are saved by Him in the tears, and the sobs, and the blood, and the suffering, and the death, and the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 27:32-50].
I close. I had just one other part of the sermon. May I say it briefly? It is such a comfort, such an encouragement. The love of God – God is love. God’s love is like God Himself, immutable, and unchanging [James 1:17]. And all of His purposes for us are for good. When God seems to be against us, immutable and unchanging, He purposes for us that holy and better thing [Hebrews 11:40]. When Jacob wrestles with God at Peniel, it seems that God’s against him. No! For when Jacob turns, God has blessed. God did not change; Jacob changed [Genesis 32:24-30]. When we change, God seems to change. No! We have just come to see the grace and love that lie back of purposes that maybe now we do not understand or can explain. This is our Lord and our Savior.
And while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of this church, would you stand by me? "Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." At the front, at the back, there is a stairway. In this balcony, you come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, you come. "Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children; all of us are coming today." Or a couple you, one somebody you, as the Spirit shall lead in the way, make it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.