Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST002/10 Relative Attributes.


The Relative Attributes.

The Relative Attributes are not really essentially different from the Absolute attributes; they are the same perfections in a different form. The Absolute Attributes are the ground and basis of the Relative, and the Relative are the expression of the Absolute in relationship to creation.

The attributes to be considered are, "Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Omniscience, wisdom and lastly Goodness, which sums then up in their moral quality as related to perfection on the one hand and the ethical attributes on the other.


The Divine Immensity has to do with the transcendence of God whereas the Omnipresence has to do with His immanence. The word "Omnipresence" implies that "God in His entire Being is present in all the universe".There are one or two points which need to be made clear in connection with this attribute.

The attribute does not mean that God is diffused through the universe as air is. It means that He, as Spirit, is able to be everywhere present with power to act. God is not merely potentially present everywhere, He is essentially present.

  1. Careful differentiation must be made between the Pantheistic idea of Omnipresence and the Christian idea. Bowie sums it up as follows:—"Pantheism represents God as unconsciously immanent, but the Christian revelation makes God freely and voluntarily present. Having the will and the desire to sustain the universe which He has created, God wills to be present in all its existence, Should He withdraw from any portion of the universe, it would mean its destruction.
  2. The line between the Christian idea of Omnipresence and the Pantheistic idea must be carefully distinguished. God is still transcendent, personal and free, even in His Omnipresence. Finite personal beings must divide their powers and activities in order to function in more than one locality, but God is not so conditioned in His being."
  3. When we say that God is essentially present everywhere, it does not mean that He therefore has active part in sin. This again is Pantheistic. It only means that God does not withdraw the power of existence and action from beings that He has voluntarily created with free will, even though they, do sin.
  4. While God is Omnipresent in all His creation, He must clearly be regarded as standing in different relations to His creatures. Bishop Martensen says, "God is present in one way in nature, in another way in history; in one way in the church, in another way in the world; He is not in the same sense; present alike in the hearts of His saints, and in those of the ungodly; in heaven and in hell." (Christian Dogmatics p.94).

The Scriptures relating to the subject are found in Jer.23:24; Isa.57:15; 66:1; Job 28:24; Ps.33:l3,l4. They are rich in their teaching and show us the value of the realisation of the Divine Presence in religious worship. "How it is possible for the Infinite Person to be everywhere is to the finite mind beyond all comprehension, and yet whenever God's people draw near to Him in prayer, they apprehend Him as then and there present in the fulness of His infinite perfections. (Wiley Vol. 1. p.348).


Again in the case of this attribute, care and caution must be exercised in defining its extent. It does not mean that God has some magical power to enable Him to do anything, even contrary to His own nature and unalterable laws.

Clarke`s definition is good and clear, "Omnipotence may be defined as the perfect ability of God to do all things that His nature and character can suggest." The Scripture itself declares that 'God cannot lie', and this declaration gives the key to the solution of the problem.

Any lack of ability in God lies not in any lack of power, but in His nature as God. In the same way God's holiness is incompatible with sin. God can do all He wills to do; in the words of Tertullian, "For God to will is to be able, and not to will is not to be able."

Wakefield, in his Christian Theology, has a helpful paragraph on this point:- "God cannot do that which is repugnant to any of His perfections. He cannot lie, or deceive, or deny Himself, for to do so would be injurious to His truth. He cannot love sin, for this would be inconsistent with His holiness. He cannot punish the innocent, for this would destroy His goodness.

This however, is not a physical but a moral impossibility, and is therefore, no limitation of omnipotence; but to ascribe a power to God which is inconsistent with the rectitude of His nature, is not to magnify, but to abase Him." (pp.l44,l49).

This brings out the fact mentioned previously, that the infiniteness of God is in each of His attributes, and that the attributes exist in the character of God in perfect harmony.
The fact of God's omnipotence and His power to perform all that He wills is exceedingly important to our religious life.

It is the ground and the firm basis and support for quiet confidence and assurance. It is abundantly declared in the Scriptures. See Jeremiah.32:17; Psalm.115:39; Genesis.17:1; Exedous.6:3 (R.V.) Psalm.62:11; 33:8,9; Jeremiah.10:12,13 (R.V.); Matthew.19:26; John 10:29; Romans.4:17; Eph, 3:20, 21; Revelations.1:8.


The Omniscience of God implies that He has the "knowledge of all that can be possibly known, irrespective of time or place." It is "the perfect knowledge that God has of Himself and all things." The Scriptures which give testimony to this are many and the following is a selection -Psalms.147:5; 139:12; Isaiah.46:9,10; Romans.11:33; Hebrews.4:13, 1 John 3:20; Revelations. 2:23.

This subject is a very important one and at the same time it is peculiarly difficult and perplexing to the finite mind, largely because of our inability to think in other terms than those of time. Some points and problems must be noted.

  • Because God is omnipresent, His knowledge is immediate and this is true of His knowledge of all things. It is not acquired like ours by gradual processes. "Also there can be no confusion, vagueness or incompleteness in His knowledge. He has therefore perfect command of the numberless details of the universe. (Psalms,147:4 and Matthew l0:29).
  • This immediate knowledge extends to every detail, not only of activity but also of hidden thoughts and purposes of the heart. Everything is open like a book to Him. (Psalm 139:2, 15, 16; Matthew.9:4).
  • The most difficult part of this truth is to understand how God`s knowledge transcends the divisions of time. Memory is an essential part of our make up, but God views the past, not from the point of view of memory, but of transcendence. When the Scriptures speak of God forgetting our sins, it is really a figure of speech, and means that He remembers them against us no more.

The most difficult side of God's Omniscience for us to understand is that which concerns the future. How can God know that which does not exist and what is the relation of His knowledge to the actual occurrence of events? Would not the fact that He knows the events cause them to come to pass? The Scriptures clearly assert that God has foreknowledge and likewise omniscience would mean nothing unless the realm of time means no restriction.

The Scriptures also clearly take for granted the fact of man`s free will. These various facts have to be incorporated in any idea of the omniscience of God without producing contradictions. This leads us to our next point.

   4. There are three types of knowledge as far as God is concerned. There is the necessary or eternal knowledge that God clearly has of Himself. There is the free knowledge which God has of persons and things outside of Himself; the third type arises as a result of the way in which we view the second.

Those who hold the Calvinistic point of view assert that the foundation of God's free knowledge lies in His own decrees, and therefore God knows because He has decreed, and nothing takes place that God has not decreed.

Those who hold the Arminian point of view, however, maintain that God's knowledge is not dependent upon His decrees, but that God has a knowledge of pure contingency. Contingent events are those that are liable but not certain to occur. They are events that are dependent on what man calls chance or upon mans free will.

Calvin held that "God foresees future events only in consequence of His decree that they should happen. But surely this is diametrically opposed to the conception of free will and therefore must be rejected.

Van Oosterzee's statement of the case seems to be the right one, "The divine knowledge is divided into a natural knowledge, which He has of Himself; and a so called free knowledge which He has of all that exists beyond Himself. 

And then again, from these two is further distinguished the conditional knowledge, by virtue of which He is exactly acquainted, not only of all which will happen, but also of all which would or would not happen under certain non existent conditions. That this last also is known to God, will certainly not be denied: it is simply an insignificant part of that great whole which lies naked and open before Him, absolutely nothing is excluded from the divine knowledge."

      5.This leads us to the last point, the relation of this foreknowledge to predestination. This will have to be dealt with again but a word here is necessary. The Calvinistic point of view is that God foreknows who will be saved and who lost because He has decreed certain to be saved and certain to be lost.

This again is hardly compatible with any conception of free will. The most reasonable argument by which to reconcile God's foreknowledge and man`s free will is best shown by three quotations on the subject.

The first is from Dr.Pope, "It is not the divine foreknowledge which conditions what takes place, but what takes place conditions the divine foreknowledge. Predestination must have its rights; all that God wills to do is foredetermined. But what human freedom accomplishes, God can only foreknow; otherwise freedom is no longer freedom." (Comp. Christ.Theol.Vol.l,.p31 ff).

The second is from A.M.Hills, "Some deny freedom as contradictory to Omniscience. But the more knowledge of God influences nothing, nor changes the nature of human choices in any way; for the simple reason that it is knowledge and not influence or causation.

It was known by God as certain a million years ago, just how A.B. would make a free choice this afternoon. He knows that he was free in making it, and might have made it otherwise. But if he had, God would have foreseen it the other way. The foreknowledge of God takes its form from man`s free choice and not the free choice from the foreknowledge.

What a man freely did this afternoon, decided what his onlooking neighbours saw him do; it also decided what God foresaw him do. How God thus foreknows the future free decisions of man is a mystery like all the other infinite acts of His nature." (Fund.Christian Thool.Vol.l p.209).

The third is from W.N.Clarke, "In fact no one practically believes that God's foreknowledge of events is the real cause of the events, or destroys the reality of other causes. "All men know practically that it is not so, God must know whether the apple blossoms of a given year will fulfil their promise, but no one supposes that His Knowledge takes the place of the natural forces that produce the fruit or prevent its production.

So in the realm of free action, we should go against all experience and common sense of mankind if we affirm that God's knowledge of our action renders that action unfree. To say that God's knowledge destroys the efficiency of the forces whose operation He foresees, especially when those forces are human wills.

Is to assert that there is only one will in the universes the will of God, and thus to embrace humanity in a genuine fatalism. This has sometimes been maintained, and is sometimes implied in arguments for the sovereignty of God, when no such doctrine is intended. But no doctrine that abolishes the human will, can possibly he true." (Outline of Christ.Theol f. p.85) .

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