The existence and attributes of God                                            A Review by Jack Kettler


The existence and attributes of God

Stephen Charnock

Klock & Klock reprint 1979 originally published 1797


Author’s Bio:


Charnock was the son of a London solicitor. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and in 1649 became a minister in Southwark, England. In 1650 he became a fellow of New College, Oxford, and in 1652 received his M.A. 1655; he was appointed chaplain to Henry Cromwell, governor of Ireland, and achieved an acclaimed reputation for preaching in Dublin. He returned to London in retirement, but from 1675 he ministered in Bishopgate Street Presbyterian Church in London as a joint pastor with fellow Puritan, Thomas Watson. As a Puritan divine, his concern was foremost the fundamental themes of the Gospel. His magnum opus was titled The Existence and Attributes of God, originally printed in 1797.


Other titles by the author:


·         The Existence and Attributes of God

·         Christ Crucified

·         Christ Our Passover

·         Not I, But Christ

·         Doctrine of Regeneration

·         Knowledge of God


A review:


The Existence and Attributes of God is a magnificent exposition on the doctrine of God, His existence, and attributes. God’s sovereignty is paramount in the book. Charnock’s treatment of God’s existence and attributes are enunciated lucidity and with incredible profundity.


The original work by Charnock is two volumes and is over eleven hundred pages. This review from the Klock and Klock addition does not contain all of the discourses in the two-volume set.


To gain an understanding of the scope and magnificence of Charnock’s work, consider the chapters.
















This work a feast of profound learning. The Puritan Divines earned the description of “divine” because of their intense learning and the ability to convey the knowledge of God in ways rarely seen before in the history of the Faith. 


In the opening of the first discourse on the existence of God, Charnock observes:


“The psalmist first declares the corruption of the faculties of the soul, “The fool hath said in his heart;” secondly, the streams issuing from thence, they are corrupt, &c.: the first in atheistical principles, the other in unworthy practice; and lays all the evil, tyranny, lust, and persecutions by men, (as if the world were only for their sake) upon the neglects of God, and the atheism cherished in their hearts.” (p.1)


After an incredible display of exposing the causes of atheism, Charnock concludes the first discourse with this assessment:


“It is made the black mark of an ungodly man, or an atheist, that “God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). What comfort can be had in the being of God without thinking of him with reverence and delight? A God forgotten is as good as no God to us.” (p.67)


On discourse IV regarding God’s Omnipresence:


1. “I fill heaven and earth: he doth not say, “I am in heaven and earth,” but I fill heaven and earth; i. e. say some, with my knowledge, others, with my authority or my power. But, the word filling cannot properly be referred to the act of understanding and will. A presence by knowledge is to be granted, but to say such a presence fills a place is an improper speech: knowledge is not enough to constitute a presence. A man at London knows there is such a city as Paris, and knows many things in it; can he be concluded, therefore, to be present in Paris, or fill any place there, or be present with the things he knows there? If I know anything to be distant from me, how can it be present with me? For by knowing it to be distant, I know it not to be present. Besides, filling heaven and earth is distinguished here from knowing or seeing: his presence is rendered as an argument to prove his knowledge. Now a proposition, and the proof of that reposition, are distinct, and not the same. It cannot be imagined that God should prove idem per idem, as we say; for what would be the import of the speech then? I know all things, I see all things, because I know and see all things. The Holy Ghost here accommodates himself to the capacity of men; because we know that a man sees and knows that which is done, where he is corporally present; so, he proves that God knows all things that are done in the most secret caverns of the heart, because he is everywhere in heaven and earth, as light is everywhere in the air, and air everywhere in the world. Hence the schools use the term repletive for the presence of God.” (p.146)


Charnock’s defense of God’s Omnipresence is extensive and goes on for 36 pages covering numerous lines of argumentation.


From discourse VII On God’s Power, Charnock addresses questions similar to “can God make a rock so big He cannot pick it up? Charnock demolishes these and other absurdities raised by infidels with logic and Biblical precision:  


“Though God hath an absolute power to make more worlds, and infinite numbers of other creatures, and to render every creature a higher mark of his power, yet in regard of his decree to the contrary, he cannot do it. He hath a physical power, but after his resolve to the contrary, not a moral power: the exercise of his power is subordinate to his decree, but not the essence of his power. The decree of God takes not away any power from God, because the power of God is his own essence, and incapable of change; and is as great physically and essentially after his decree, as it was before; only his will hath put in a bar to the demonstration of all that power which he is able to exercise. As a prince that can raise 100,000 men for an invasion, raises only 20 or 30,000; he here, by his order, limits his power, but doth not divest himself of his authority and power to raise the whole number of the forces of his dominions if he pleases: the power of God hath more objects than his decree hath; but since it is his perfection to be immutable, and not to change his decree, he cannot morally put forth his power upon all those objects, which, as it is essentially in him, he hath ability to do. God hath decreed to save those that believe in Christ, and to judge unbelievers to everlasting perdition: he cannot morally damn the first, or save the latter; yet he hath not divested himself of his absolute power to save all or damn all. Or suppose God hath decreed not to create more worlds than this we are now in, doth his decree weaken his strength to create more if he pleased? His not creating more is not a want of strength, but a want of will: it is an act of liberty, not an act of impotency. As when a man solemnly resolves not to walk in such a way, or come at such a place, his resolution deprives him not of his natural strength to walk thither, but fortifies his will against using his strength in any such motion to that place. The will of God hath set bounds to the exercise of his power, but doth not infringe that absolute power which still resides in his nature: he is girded about with more power than he puts forth (Psalm 65:6). (pp.374-375)


There is a gold mine of Biblical knowledge the reader will take away from this discourse.


On God’s Dominion from discourse X, the reader will encounter:


“There is a threefold dominion of God. 1. Natural, which is absolute over all creatures, and is founded in the nature of God as Creator. 2. Spiritual, or gracious, which is a dominion over his church as redeemed, and founded in the covenant of grace. 3. A glorious kingdom, at the winding up of all, wherein he shall reign over all, either in the glory of his mercy, as over the glorified saints, or in the glory of his justice, in the condemned devils and men. The first dominion is founded in nature; the second in grace; the third in regard of the blessed in grace; in regard of the damned, in demerit in them, and justice in him. He is Lord of all things, and always in regard of propriety (Psalm 24:1): “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and all that dwell therein.” The earth, with the riches and treasures in the bowels of it; the habitable world, with everything that moves upon it, are his; he hath the sole right, and what right soever any others have is derived from him. In regard also of possession (Gen. 14:22): “The Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth:” in respect of whom, man is not the proprietary nor possessor, but usufructuary at the will of this grand Lord.” (p.665)


After spending time in this theological classic which produces wonder and praise in the reader’s mind, one can only wonder why studies of this magnitude are rarely produced in the modern world.


Other notable quotes:


“Let us look upon a crucified Christ, the remedy of all our miseries. His cross hath procured a crown, his passion hath expiated our transgression. His death hath disarmed the law, his blood hath washed a believer's soul. This death is the destruction of our enemies, the spring of our happiness, and the eternal testimony of divine love.” - Stephen Charnock


“God knows all that is done in the most secret caverns of the heart. No place is deprived of his presence.” - Stephen Charnock


“God doth not govern the world only by his will as an absolute monarch, but by his wisdom and goodness as a tender father. It is not his greatest pleasure to show his sovereign power, or his inconceivable wisdom, but his immense goodness, to which he makes the other attributes subservient.” - Stephen Charnock


In conclusion:


But when, unexpectedly, the essence and attributes of God are called into question, to whom else can we better go than to Stephen Charnock?


Is our knowledge of God mainly negative, or do we have positive information? Is there a positive sense in the words eternal, immutable, and spirit? Or are they merely denials of their temporal and sensory opposites? Can man’s mind possess an adequate or suitable conception of God? Is the impossibility of having a mental image of God the equivalent of the impossibility of having a mental concept of God? And is it true that all human knowledge originates in sensation, as Charnock seems to say in one place; or, as he says elsewhere, has God impressed innate knowledge on man’s heart from birth and by creation?...


If a minister of the gospel is to introduce people to his Lord, the triune God, he ought himself to know the Lord. The deeper, richer, more extensive this knowledge is, the better. And what impatient Christians are inclined to castigate as the dry bones of theology is this knowledge of God and His attributes. Must one labor to emphasize the obvious importance of knowing what sort of Being the Divine Being is? He is not the Deus sive Natura of Spinoza’s philosophy; He is not the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle; nor is He their modern counterparts. Then what is the nature, the essence, the attributes of God? Charnock wants his readers to become acquainted with God…


Both the Old Testament and the New Testament therefore emphasize these two things: we should study the whole revelation, not just some easy or favorite parts of it; and, this study is not dry as dust theology, but is ‘practical’, i.e., it leads to righteousness. Gordon H. Clark from the introduction to Charnock’s work (pp.5-7)


The rational, systematic nature of Charnock’s thoughts on the existence of God proves the intellectual impossibility of holding to the contrary view of atheism even possible.


With many hardcover and paperback reprints and electronic versions available, every serious student can own a copy of the magnificent work. 


Stephen Charnock, The existence and attributes of God, (Minneapolis, Minnesota, Klock & Klock reprint 1979), the best of the two volumes in one volume.


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: