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In a district called Southwark in London was a church called New Park Street Chapel. Here, on 7 January 1855, the pastor C. H. Spurgeon started his sermon like this:
“Someone has said that the best way to study people is to study man. May be that is true, but I think that the best way to study God’s chosen people is to study God. The best study that God’s children can do is to learn all that we can about this great God who they call Father—study the name of God, study what God is as a person, study God’s work, study God’s doings, and study about how there really is a God.
When we focus our mind on the subject of God, our mind improves. The subject of God is so big, that our thoughts get lost in it. The subject is so deep that our pride drowns in it. With other subjects that we understand more, we feel that we are wise, but when it comes to this subject of God, we try to see into its depths but it is endlessly deep. Even with eagle eyes, we cannot see its height. So we end up feeling very small. We think, “I was just born yesterday; I do not know anything.” Nothing can make us more humble than thinking about God.
Ok, so thinking about God makes our mind humble, but then it also expands the mind. The person who thinks about God a lot has a larger mind than someone who only thinks of what is happening in our earth. Nothing can expand the soul like the science of Christ and studying about the Christ on the cross, and about the Godhead, and the glorious Trinity. This kind of sincere, from-the-heart study of God will grow our mind and grow our soul.
So, the study of God humbles you and it makes your mind grow. It also consoles you. To think about Jesus is like balm on a wound. To think about God the Father is like quietness in grief. To think about the Holy Spirit is like healing ointment for a painful sore. Do you want relief from your sorrow and worries? Then go and plunge yourself in the sea of the Godhead and be lost in the bigness of this great God. If you do that, you will get up refreshed, rested, and with fresh energy. Nothing can comfort the soul and calm the rough sea of sorrows than when someone sincerely thinks about God.
It is to this that I invite you this morning.”
When C. H. Spurgeon said these words, he was only 20 years old! But these words were true words. They were true then and they are true today. Isn’t this a perfect way to begin this series of studies on what God is like and what His character is?
Who Needs theology?
Someone may say, during the time of C.H.Spurgeon, people may have loved theology. But today in the 20th century, we find theology boring; surely, we don’t need theology, do we? This is a good question but the questioner is assuming that theology is not useful for us today. Actually, to know about God is the most practical project we can take up. We have been put in this world by God and only He can give us the real answers about everything we need to know. Without information from God, we find the world a mad and painful place, much like a tribal man would feel if you took him suddenly and left him in a crowded place in the middle of a big city like London. If you do not study about God, you are like someone who is blindfolded and with no sense of direction. You can end up wasting your life and losing your soul.
OK, so let’s say we agree that it is important to study about God, then where do we start? Right now, all around us, there is a storm of confusion about the subject of God. People are confused about the idea of God and many say that God does not exist. Remember how the pilgrim in John Bunyan’s story Pilgrim’s Progress put his fingers in his ears, when his wife and children were telling him not to go, and running away shouted, “Life, life, eternal life!” So also you must not listen to all the voices around you that are saying that there is no way we can really learn about God, and instead why don’t you come with me for some distance and see what happens. Imagine that you are walking on a road that is very familiar to you and two people who do not know the area are telling you that such a road does not exist. Their blabbering would not make you doubt would it?
So storm or no storm, let’s start.
First let us look at five important principles that will guide us in our study about God.
1. God has spoken to man; the Bible is the word of God and it is able to show us how we can be saved.
2. God is Lord and King over the universe. He rules for His own glory. He displays His perfections in all that He does, so that men and angels may worship and praise Him.
3. Becausen of His love, God saves people through Jesus. He rescues believers from guilt and sin, to adopt them as sons and bless them.
4. God is a triune God with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three Persons are active in saving believers. The Father purposes redemption, Son secures redemption, Holy Spirit applies redemption.
= responding to God’s revelation with trust + obedience + faith + worship + prayer + praise + submission + service
= seeing life and living life in the light of God’s word
= true religion
Now let us start our actual study of the nature of God and His character. We are like people who, after studying a mountain from a distance and then driving around it, now go straight towards the mountain in order to climb it. After an introduction and after setting out these five principles, we will now begin our study about God.
The Basic Themes
What are we going to see when we climb the mountain?
We’ll shall have to look at all these following things.
- Godhead of God, the God qualities—that make God the Creator different from men and distant from us—such as:
- God’s self existence
- God’s infinity
- God’s eternity
- God’s unchangeableness
- Powers of God, and under this we will look at:
- God’s almightiness
- God’s omniscience
- God’s omnipresence
- Perfections of God, and under this we will look at what we can learn about God’s moral character from His words and actions:
- God’s holiness
- God’s love
- God’s mercy
- God’s truthfulness
- God’s faithfulness
- God’s goodness
- God’s patience
- God’s justice
- And we shall also have to note:
- What pleases God
- What offends God
- What awakens God’s wrath
- What gives God satisfaction and joy
These ideas are known as the attributes of God. These days not many know much about God’s attributes. But in the past, Christians used to know more about such things because children in churches were taught the Catechism.
There is a Catechism called Westminster Shorter Catechism, and in that the fourth question and answer goes like this.
What is God?
God is Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
The great Charles Hodge said that this is probably the best definition of God ever penned by man. [Charles Hodge was a Presbyterian theologian and principal of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1851 and 1878].
1, These days very few children are taught from the Westminster Catechism. And 2, very few today would know about Charnock’s big sermon series about God, This was a series that Stephen Charnock, a 17th-century English Puritan clergyman, preached called Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (1682). Also, 3, hardly any other literature is available that teaches about God’s nature in a simple straightforward way, So because of all this, I think we will find many new ideas to think about and digest, as we do this study.
Before we start the climb, we have to ask ourselves why we want to do this study? What is our goal here? What are we going to do with the new knowledge of God that we are going to get? This is something we have to ask every time we start a study from the Bible. Knowing things intellectually will only make us proud. Also, in this case, this subject—the knowledge of God—is so wonderful that it will intoxicate us. We may then start looking down on others who do not have this knowledge.
The bible says, “Knowledge puffs up . . . the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” (1 Cor 8:1f).
To study the Bible just to know answers is the direct route to being self satisfied and to fooling ourselves. We need to pray and guard our hearts against this. It is true doctrinal knowledge is needed to be healthy spiritually. But the motive for the knowledge has to be right. Otherwise doctrinal knowledge can actually be dangerous for our spiritual life. Paul was telling the Corinthians to be careful and we too have to be careful.
But someone may object to this call for caution and say that the desire for the word of God—is a sign that we are born again—something that is natural for God’s children. They would point to scripture verses like these in Psalm 119.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
that I may know your testimonies!
Isn’t this love for God’s word a sign of our rebirth? Then why should we be cautious about studying the Bible? Should we not seek to satisfy that desire to the full?
Yes we should. But look at Psalm 119 again. The Psalmist’s desire to know more about God and God’s word was not theoretical but practical. He wants this knowledge as a means to an end. He wants this knowledge of God’s truth in order that his heart might respond to it and his life be conformed to it.
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
So David’s interest in the knowledge was not for knowledge’s sake but so that he could grow in spiritual life, grow in godliness, and grow in service to this God about whom he was learning about.
This should be our attitude to this study too—not so muc-h to know teachings about God—but to get to know this living God more and more. God is the subject of this study; God will help us in this study; God is the purpose of this study.
Meditating on the Truth
How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowing God. The way to do this is simple but requires effort on our part.
We may all know something about what prayer is, but what is meditation?
- Calling to mind all that we know about the works, ways, purposes, and promises of God
- Thinking over all that we know about the works, ways, purposes, and promises of God
- Dwelling on all that we know about the works, ways, purposes, and promises of God
- Applying to oneself all that we know about the works, ways, purposes, and promises of God
Meditation is an activity of holy thought:
- Consciously performed in the presence of God
- Consciously performed under the eye of God
- Consciously performed by the help of God
- Consciously performed as a means of communication with God
The purpose of meditation is:
- To clear our mental and spiritual vision of God
- To let His truth make its proper impact on our mind and heart
- Talking to myself about God and me
- Reasoning with myself and taking me out of any moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear understanding of God’s power and grace
Remember how we started this chapter with a part of a sermon preached by young C.H.Spurgeon? In that sermon, he went on to talk about how meditating humbles and lifts us up. Meditating on God’s greatness and glory and about our littleness and sinfulness humbles us. But when we are in that state of feeling our smallness, the meditation also lifts us up, encourages us and reassures us. It comforts us in the old strong bible way as we think of the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this way when we meditate, we are humbled and then lifted up, humbled and then lifted up, again and again, and our knowledge of God increases.
And with this knowledge we also find
May God help us to put what we KNOW ABOUT GOD to this use, so that we may truly KNOW THE LORD.