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The Names of God by William Plumer

The Attributes of God and the Doctrine of God

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The Names and Titles of God by William S. Plumer


I. NAMES are often things. They often make very deep impressions for good or for evil. In early times the names of men were sometimes given by inspiration. In almost every case they seem to have been intended to express some hope or commemorate some event. All the names of God found in Scripture are given by inspiration of God. When we translate the Scriptures into any language, we ought to select such words as will most clearly convey the correct ideas found in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. God’s names belong to him as a person. But in Scripture the word name, when applied to God, is taken to include all by which he is known—his titles, Exod. 3:13, 14; perfections, Exod. 33:19; word, Psalm. 138:2; worship, 1 Kings 5:5; Psalm. 76:1; and sometimes for God himself, Proverbs 18:10. The true design of a name is to make known to us better than we knew before, the nature of him who is spoken of.

II. A TITLE has much the same design as a name, and it is sometimes used interchangeably with it. But, strictly speaking, the title arises from the office, rank, or dignity of one to whom it is given.

III. The names of God are many, as Lord, God, the Almighty, the Most High. Very often an epithet is attached to the name of God, as the great God, God only wise. In like manner the titles of God are many, as Father, Master, Shepherd, King, Governor, High Tower, Man of War, Refuge, Portion, Reward, etc. Here also epithets are sometimes attached, as “The King, eternal, immortal, invisible,” “Good Shepherd,” etc.

IV. In the Old Testament the most common name for the Supreme Being in the Hebrew is Jehovah; in the English commonly rendered LORD, and printed in small capitals. The Jews think the true pronunciation of this word is lost, and so when they come to it they either make a solemn pause or in its place use the Hebrew word for God. But this is superstition. Numb. 6:24-27. The word Jehovah teaches God’s self-existence, independence, eternity, and unchangeableness. He has life in himself. He depends on no one for anything. He inhabits eternity. He is the same forever and ever. One could almost wish that wherever this word occurs it were given us entire—Jehovah. Many works have been written on this word. They do not edify the common people. The word Jah, Psalm. 68:4, is a poetic abbreviation of the word Jehovah. Another name of the same import is found in Exod. 3:14, and is rendered I AM THAT I AM. The name Jehovah is incommunicable. It is never fitly given to any creature. Isaiah 42:8; Hos. 12:5.

V. In the Old Testament the next most common name for the Almighty is rendered God. It is found in the first verse of Genesis. Some think it chiefly refers to God as Creator. It is commonly found in the plural number. This name expresses the excellence of God’s nature and authority. It is not incommunicable, for in Psalm. 82:6 it is applied to magistrates, and in Psalm 97:7 to angels. Compare Heb. 1:6.

VI. There is another word applied to God, sometimes rendered Lord, as in Psalm. 110:1; but then it is not printed in capitals. It means Master or Owner. There are several other names given to God in the Old Testament, but it is perhaps not necessary now to explain them.

VII. In the New Testament we have the word Lord as one of the names of God. It is there often used as the translation of the word Jehovah. Romans 10:13. The Greek word from which it comes expresses dominion, right of possession, right of property, authority, excellence.

VIII. The word rendered God in the New Testament probably comes from a word which means to build: “He who built all things is God.” Some, however, give to the word a much more extended signification.

IX. No language has a better word for the name of the Supreme Being than the English. GOD is an abbreviation of the word good, which was formerly written with but three letters. This name is beautifully expressive of correct ideas of Jehovah. Jesus said, “There is none good but one, that is God.” The meaning is, there is none independently, originally, and infinitely good but one. God is good so as no one else is. This name expresses with great force the harmony and loveliness of the divine character: “God is love.”

X. Sometimes two or more names of Jehovah are joined together, as the Lord God, Lord God Almighty. And that we may know historically what sort of a being God is, he is spoken of as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, the Lord God of Elijah. So also God is called the Father of spirits, the Father of mercies, the God of peace, the God of all comfort, the God of love, etc.

XI. While we ought carefully to avoid all superstition respecting the names and titles of God, and ought to employ them whenever truth and edification require, we ought on the other hand carefully to guard against all profane and irreverent use of divine names and titles. As to any man that which he most highly esteems is for a God, so his idols and his appetites are called gods. 1 Cor. 8:5; Phil. 3:19. Even the devil is called the God of this world. 2 Cor. 4:4.

XII. It ought not to hinder us from studying the character of God, to find that we cannot perfectly comprehend his nature or his ways. That fact ought to make us modest, humble, and reverential. God does indeed dwell in inaccessible light. No man has seen him, or can see him and live. And yet he has graciously revealed himself to us in many ways. To the question, “What is God?” the best answer I have ever seen is, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” We know God by his names, titles, word, and works of creation and providence. We best know him as he is revealed to us by his Son. Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 14:9.

XIII. When we say that God is a spirit, we speak justly. Our Savior did the same. John 4:24. We thereby intend to remove from our conceptions of him all idea of his having a body. He cannot have a material nature, else he would be visible somewhere. But the Scripture says he is invisible. 1 Tim. 1:17. If he had a material nature, and we knew what it was, we might lawfully make some likeness or image of him at least in our minds. But he expressly assigns as a reason why we shall not make any likeness of him–that we never saw any similitude of him. Deut. 4:12, 15, 16.

XIV. When we say that God is a Spirit, we assert that he is a substance, not material indeed, but still possessing properties and attributes; not imaginary, but real; not dead, but living; having beyond all other spirits understanding, will, and power. If there is anything real and living, God is. He is often and fitly styled the living God.

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