The Nature of God

John 4:24.---' God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.'

'God is a spirit.' We utter the words, yet we know not what they mean. Who can tell what spirit is? We often deceive ourselves in using words till they become familiar and we think we understand them, while their meaning remains wholly vague and undefined. Such common words, for example, as life and death, time and eternity are in use every day, yet when closely examined their meaning is most elusive and we find it impossible to define them with precision. So it is with 'spirit.' From the earliest times, ever since critical thought awakened, it has been the chief topic of discussion among philosophers. They've found themselves unable to determine the relation of the spiritual to the material, and their learned discussions show no signs of reaching a conclusion.

Thank God, we do not need to wait for the conclusion of the philosophic argument. The woman at Jacob's well was no philosopher, but she had, as we all have, a sufficient practical understanding of what is meant by spirit. We recognize that there are things visible and things invisible. We see that the visible is controlled by the invisible, for all the life and energy of the world belongs to the realm of the invisible. Especially do we recognize in ourselves a spiritual presence which is of the very essence of our being. In comparison with our spirits, which are our very selves, our bodies appear external to us, and little more than the instruments which our spirits animate and use. Basing ourselves, then, upon this practical experience which we all have of what spirit is, we may hope to gather something of what our Lord meant when He said 'God is a spirit.' Two great truths in particular He intended to teach.

God is Everywhere.---' The most high dwelleth not in the temples made with hands,' nor is He limited to any special place or nation. This is obviously the first lesson our Lord meant to teach, for the Samaritan woman had questioned Him as to the proper place where God was to be worshipped. Is He to be found in Jerusalem or in Mount Gerizim, she had asked, and His answer signified that God is to be found everywhere. It may have been necessary in the religious childhood of the race to conceive of God as having a local habitation, otherwise men might not be able to realize the presence of God at all. But we see in the history of the Old Testament how this limitation narrowed men's thought of God. We note surprise of Hagar when she found God in the desert, and of Jacob when he met God at Bethel. 'Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.' We hear David lamenting that in being driven out of his native land he is being driven away from his father's God. We hear the despondent prayer of the exiled psalmist, 'From the ends of the earth will I cry unto thee.'

All these devout souls had not yet learned that God is a spirit, that it belongs to His nature to be omnipresent. This truth was indeed discerned in the highest moments of prophetic inspiration. The classical example is found in the 139th Psalm: '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 take wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.' But now it is fully and explicitly proclaimed by our Lord Himself. Not once but often does He declare and illustrate the great truth, assuring us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered and not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without our Father.

God then, is to be thought of as an all-pervading spirit, to be found and worshipped everywhere. The materialist, looking at the world, sees only that which is visible, the mere mechanism of it, and is blind to that animating spirit which pervades the whole. This view, strangely prevalent a generation ago when men's minds were obsessed by the triumphs of machinery, is now felt to be wholly inadequate to explain the intricacy and beauty of the world. Not merely the poet and the artist but also the scientist is becoming increasingly conscious of the spiritual element in Nature, of that invisible Power which Wordsworth in the oft-quoted lines speaks of as,

A presence which disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things. Lines above Tintern Abbey.

God is Personal.---This also our Lord emphatically taught, and it is necessary to a right belief in God as a spirit. Personality is highest form of spirit. Our own spirits are personal, and that means that we are self-conscious, that we have knowledge and will and feeling. In being a self-conscious spirit man surpasses the brute creation and is declared to have kinship with God. The Creator 'formed man of the dust of the ground,' but He also 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.' Most fitly, then, may we think of God as a transcendent personality, having in infinite fullness and perfection those spiritual qualities which we find in man. There are those who believe in a spiritual presence in the world, and would repeat Wordsworth's lines with fervor, but who conceive of that spiritual presence as something vague and unconscious, without will or feeling, a blind power working in the dark. The doctrine of pantheism signifies a belief that God is everywhere, but not as personal. The God of pantheism is identified with the world, entangled in it, diffused through it like an essence or a fragrance, attaining to a limited consciousness in the mind of man, but elsewhere an impersonal force moving through all things as the sap moves within the tree.

The God who is revealed to us in Christ is the personal Ruler and Father of all. Men in olden times, however narrow their conception of God might be, did believe in God as personal, One who could see and feel and act. He was a living God, the supreme Doer whose will was not to be thwarted. In the simplest faith they looked to Him as the ultimate cause of all events. God sent the rain or the pestilence, God gave victory, God in their view did whatever was done. Modern man concerns himself more with what are called secondary causes, which are in reality the agents through which God works. We have greatly extended our knowledge of these and our mastery over them, so that man is increasingly tempted to feel that he is lord of an inanimate world which he may yet learn to bend completely to his will. No one will deny the wonderful progress which has been made in this way, but if we lose sight of the first great Cause the religious loss will be greater than the material gain. For, ever behind all, there stands the will and purpose of God, a God with whom we have to do, the God 'in whom we live and move and have our being.' God is One who rules supreme over the world which He has made, One who wills and acts, who judges human conduct, who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, who hears prayer and is mighty to save. From His presence there is no escape. 'Thou knowest my downsitting and mine up-rising . . . and art acquainted with all my ways.'

In Christ, timothy. Maranatha