A Wesleyan Witness to God and His Attributes

A Wesleyan Witness to God and His Attributes

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What follows is an account of the biblical doctrine of our trinitarian God, with a particular emphasis on his attributes. It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

10. With faithful Christians throughout the ages, we confess our faith in one God made known to the creation he loves fully and finally in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In Christ, God has been revealed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because the Methodist tradition stands within the universal Church, there is no distinctively Wesleyan doctrine of God. Instead, in what Wesley called the “catholic spirit,” our confession is the same in substance as all orthodox communities who seek to adhere to the faith of the apostles. That is the doctrine we describe here.

11. It is in God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). He is the beginning and end of all things. So God must be the foundation for any faithful account of the Christian life. As Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, we confess that our primary knowledge of God comes both from the apostles who received it from Jesus Christ and from Scripture. But who is the God whom Jesus called “Father” and who together with his only Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified? The Church confesses that God is one, yet in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This revelation is found in Scripture and provides the means to interpret Scripture faithfully.

12. The purpose of true religion, Wesley wrote, was to restore in us the Image of God in which human beings were originally created but that has been distorted by sin (A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion). Centuries before Wesley, Augustine of Hippo wrote that God made us for himself that we might find our highest fulfillment and happiness in worshipping him (Confessions). So in order to understand what it means to be human, to be the people God intends us to be, we must know who this God is in whose Image we are being restored.

Attributes of God

13. Human beings are incapable of fully comprehending God. Yet because God lovingly makes himself known to us, we are able to know what and who God is. God can be known in part by reflecting on the creation and even through rational thought. Who God is, however, is made known in Scripture and, ultimately, in Jesus Christ, God with us.

14. We begin to answer the question “What is God?” by referencing the classical attributes. Taken as a whole, the classical attributes reflect what is commonly understood by the word God.

Eternality and Immutability

15. God is unchanging: “As he ever was, so he ever will be; as there was no beginning of his existence, so there will be no end” (Wesley, “On Eternity”). This is the foundation for the distinction between the Creator and creatures. Creatures are dependent on God for their existence and are created. They are subject to change. By contrast, God is not caused by anything external to himself. God is eternal Being, the great I AM who is entirely self-sufficient and free. Because God is eternal, God is unchangeable, or immutable: “I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6).

16. Because God is eternal and immutable, he is also impassible, meaning that he is not subject to the sufferings that we experience as creatures (e.g., sickness and loss). Although impassible and self-sufficient, God is full of compassion and sympathizes with his creatures in our sufferings, hardships, and tragedies.

Perfection, Necessity, and Simplicity

17. God is perfect. God’s greatness has no limits, and his goodness has no boundaries. God’s goodness and greatness are necessary. Indeed, God’s very existence and essence are necessary; it is not possible that God could ever cease to exist or fail to be great or good.

18. God is simple, which means that God is not composed of extended parts or pieces. God is not built out of elements or attributes that are distinct from him. God is his goodness and greatness.

19. God is necessarily and perfectly good. God does not just happen to be good; God is “light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). There is no possibility that God is anything other than perfect goodness. And “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God loves the world. Because of his divine nature, God’s very essence is holy love. Charles Wesley wrote: “Thy nature and thy name is love” (“Wrestling Jacob”).


20. The omnipresence (everywhere-present) of God is closely related to his eternality. Just as God exists infinitely, so he exists throughout infinite space: “God is in this, and every place” (Wesley, “On the Omnipresence of God”). Since God is everywhere at once, he also acts everywhere at once. But while God is everywhere and everywhere working, he does not work coercively. Wesley says, “God acts in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, throughout the whole compass of his creation . . . strongly and sweetly influencing all, and yet without destroying the liberty of his rational creatures” (Wesley, “On the Omnipresence of God”).


21. Just as God is present throughout his creation, so he is all-powerful over it. God’s power is boundless in scope; he is able to do whatever he wills (Wesley, “The Unity of the Divine Being”). God’s power is manifest both through his creation of all things (Genesis 1) and through his providence over all that he has made, such that all creation is dependent upon God’s power not only at its beginning, but also continually and forever.


22. As God is present throughout his creation, he knows all that happens within it. Since God is eternal, and thus not limited by time, “he sees at once whatever was, is, or will be to the end of time” (Wesley, “On Predestination”). God has intimate and personal knowledge of his creation and its creatures. Therefore, Christians gratefully affirm that God is “all-wise.”


23. God is holy. He is perfect goodness, a goodness that is not tainted in any way. In him there is no blemish, only absolute purity and self-consistency. Though such holiness is distinctive of God’s absolute perfection, God invites creatures to share in his holiness.
God Is Spirit

24. The eternal God is not merely a super-powerful creature. God is spirit, meaning, first, that God is not part of the material creation and, second, that God is superior also to the spiritual creation (“seen and unseen,” as stated in the Nicene Creed). God is beyond all categories and all definitions.

25. “God is spirit,” Jesus says, “and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Simply by being who God is, and apart from anything God has done, God is worthy of our worship and reverence.

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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