The Incomparableness of God in His Being – George Swinnock
The following is excerpted from The Incomparableness of God by George Swinnock, which the Banner publishes as a Puritan Paperback, and which appears in Volume 4 of Swinnock’s Works.
The incomparableness of God in his being. It is from itself, for itself, and wholly independent.
The incomparableness of the divine being will appear in several particulars.
First, His being is from himself. No being in the world, beside his, is its own cause or original. Angels, men, the highest, yea, the lowest creatures, are derivative beings. They have what they are from another, even from God. They are drops that flow from the ocean of all beings; they are rays derived from the sun, the fountain of light and entity. The apostle tells us that men are beholden to God for their beings, Acts 17:28. In him we have our beings. They were nothing till he spoke them into something. He formed and fashioned their bodies, Psa. 139:13-15. He created and infused their souls; he put that heaven-born inhabitant into the house of clay, Gen. 2:7; Job 10:11, 12. The whole visible world is his workmanship, Acts 17:24. God that made the world, and all things therein; the invisible world are also the effects of his powerful word. Angels, as well as men, may thank him for what they are. The greatest angel is as much bound to him for his being as the smallest atom; Col. 1:16, ‘For by him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers.’ But God is beholden to none for his being; he was when none else was, even from eternity, Psa. 90:1. Therefore none could contribute the least to his being. I am Jehovah, and there is none else besides me, Isa. 45:4, 6. I am he that gives a being to himself, that am what I am from myself and of myself, and there is no such being beside me.
Second, God is being, that is, for himself;* ‘as he is his own first cause, so he is his own last end; as he is wholly from himself, so he is wholly for himself. All other beings are not for themselves, but for another. ‘All things were created by him and for him,’ Col. 1:16. Since all are from God, it is but reason that all should be for God. The rivers that run from the sea return to the sea again, owning and acknowledging their original, Eccles. 1:7. Good men are for God. ‘None of us liveth to himself, or dieth to himself; but whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; and whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s,’ Rom. 14:7. Good angels are for God, for his glory, Isa. 6:3. Evil men, evil angels are for God, though not in their intentions and purposes, yet in his intention, and by his wise, powerful government of them and their practices; Prov. 16:4, ‘The Lord made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of slaughter.’ Good beings are for him intentionally, and evil beings are for him eventually. Nay, all beings are for him, of him, and through him, and for him are all things, Rom. 11:36. But God is altogether for himself, as his highest end, and not for any others. He is his own end, as well as his own beginning; who never had a beginning, nor shall ever have an end, Rev. 1:8. As all God does is for himself; Rev. 4:11, ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’; so all God is, is for himself; his infinite, wise, almighty, everlasting, unchangeable, holy, righteous, faithful being, is for himself. It is the profaneness of some men to be somewhat for God, more for the world, and most of all for their carnal selves. But it is the perfection of God to be somewhat for the world in general, more for his elect in special, and most of all for himself. Nay, in all that he is for the world or his elect, he is still most for himself. It is the excellency and purity of saints and angels to be what they are, and to do what they do, for God, to make him who is the efficient, the final cause of their beings and actions; but it is the excellency and purity of God to be what he is, and to do what he does, for himself. He who is his own happiness must be his own end.
Third, His being is an independent being; he is by himself, as well as from and for himself; none ever in heaven or earth contributed the least towards the maintenance or continuance of his being; neither the creatures’ goodness nor their goods do him the least good. Not their goodness; men may be advantaged by the goodness of men, but God cannot: ‘My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are on earth,’ Psa. 16:3. Not their goods; he is the lord proprietor of the whole world, and if he wanted anything he would not ask the leave of any; for all is his own, but he is above all want: ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof,’ Psa. 50:12 – i.e., I declare to the world that I am incapable of the least want; or if I needed a meal’s meat, I would scorn to go to the creature’s door to beg it. I could supply myself out of my own store, if there were need; but there is no need at all. He challenges all the world to produce any being that ever obliged or engaged him in the least: ‘Who hath prevented** me that I may repay him?’ Job 41:11. Where is the man, where is the angel, where is the creature that can say, he ever did me the least kindness, that has been beforehand with me in courtesy, to whom I am the least in debt for my subsistence? I am here ready to make him amends; ‘Who hath prevented me, that I may repay him?’
But all other beings are dependent; the highest, the strongest of them are not able to bear their own weight; but, like the hop or ivy, must have somewhat to lean upon: ‘By him all things subsist,’ Col. 1:17. He preserves them in their beings and in their motions: ‘In him we live and move, and have our beings,’ Acts 17:28. As the beams depend on the sun, and the streams on the fountain, so do the creatures for their beings and actions depend on God. ‘He upholdeth all things’ (as the foundation the building) ‘by the word of his power,’ Heb. 1:3. He is the Atlas*** that bears up the whole world, without whom it would fall to nothing. ‘Thou preservest man and beast,’ Psa. 36:6. Dependentia est de essentia creaturæ [‘Dependence is of the essence of a creature’].
God is to the world as the soul to the body; he animates and actuates everything in it, and enables his several creatures to all their motions. Men are apt to think that fire can burn of itself, it being so natural to the fire to burn; yet if God do but suspend his influence (actum secundum****, as they speak), a furnace heated seven times hotter than usual burns no more than water, Dan. 3:27. We are ready to conceive that it is easy for a man to see, when the organ is rightly disposed, there is a fit medium, and a due distance of the organ from the object. But yet, if God deny his concurrence, though there are these three requisites to sight, a man can see no more than if he were stark blind, Gen. 19:11; 2 Kings 6:18. Angels themselves must have their Maker for their mover; or, as active spirits as they are, they must stand still.
* Qu. ‘God’s being, that is for himself ’? – Ed.
** That is, come before, led.
*** In Greek mythology Atlas the Titan was condemned to carry the heavens upon his shoulders.
**** ‘Secondary actuality’ – a term from scholastic philosophy. Often contrasted with ‘actus primus’ (primary actuality) the contrast being between a thing considered in itself as distinct from its operations.
This article is excerpted from The Incomparableness of God (Puritan Paperback) by George Swinnock, Chapter 3, ‘The incomparableness of God in his being. It is from itself, for itself, and wholly independent.’
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