Lewis Sperry Chafer, whom I cite below, was born on February 27, 1871, and died on August 22, 1952. He was an American theologian. He founded and served as the first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and was an influential proponent of Christian Dispensationalism in the early 20th century. One of his mentors was C.I. Scofield, of Scofield-Reference-Bible fame. Chafer, by almost any standard, was a conservative, evangelical Christian professor and author. If anything in Chafer's background offends you, please do not read any further. I cannot assume responsibility for anyone choosing to read this answer in spite of this caveat.
Here, for those interested, is a partial list of his writings (look here). His most famous work is his eight-volume Systematic Theology.
- The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, 1915.
- Salvation: A Clear Doctrinal Analysis, 1917. Reprint, 1955. ISBN 0-310-22351-2
- He That is Spiritual, 1918. Reprint, 1967. ISBN 0-310-22341-5
- True Evangelism: Winning Souls by Prayer, 1919. Reprint, 1978. ISBN 0-310-22381-4
- Satan: His Motive and Methods, 1919. Reprint, 1964. ISBN 0-310-22361-X
- Grace: The Glorious Theme, 1922. Reprint, 1950. ISBN 0-310-22331-8
- Major Bible Themes, 1926. Reprint, 1974. ISBN 0-310-22390-3
- The Epistle to the Ephesians, 1935. Reprint, 1991. ISBN 0825423422
- Systematic Theology, 1947. Reprint, 1993. ISBN 0-8254-2340-6
And now, the
ORIGINAL UNEDITED ANSWER:
Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer, I believe, said something in this regard, though he did not use the term essence. In writing on the attributes of God, he suggested that if there were an attribute of attributes with which we could describe God, it would be holiness.
I am not therefore implying Dr. Sproul had holiness in mind when he used the word essence, but I suggest the two terms may in fact be somewhat interchangeable.
In human terms we often say,
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I suggest reverently that regarding God's attributes, we can say the same thing, with some minor but significant changes. God is not simply the sum of all His attributes, each of which He holds in perfection and to an infinite degree. No, the very essence of God can perhaps be expressed best in the word holy. A pivotal and seminal scripture in this regard is the prophet Isaiah's vision of the throne room of heaven, or more specifically the highest heaven, the very abode of God:
"In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one [seraph] called out to another and said, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory'" (6:1-3).
I suggest Isaiah saw in his vision more than the holiness of God, although God's holiness was certainly the focal point of all he saw and heard and felt. By implication, Isaiah also beheld God's
Rather than pointing out the ways in which the above attributes are revealed in chapter 6, I will simply suggest that the overall impression of Isaiah, which is certainly underscored by the actions of the seraphim who in their declarations of God's holiness covered their faces and feet, was awe in the presence of Holy God. Regarding holiness, God is sui generis. No person even begins to approach Him in holiness.
Angels may be glorious, powerful, wise, pure, and obedient, but they are certainly not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Nor are they in essence, holy. God alone is holy. Amazingly, however, He delights in His children when they reflect His holiness by being themselves, holy. In fact, God even commands us to imitate Him in this regard,
". . . It is written , Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16 KJV).
Think of any attribute of God, whether love, mercy, compassion, righteousness, justice, sovereignty, majesty, anger, jealousy, ad infinitum, and each attribute is bathed, as it were, in holiness.
As inconceivable as it may seem to us, even Jesus shares this sacred attribute--this attribute of attributes--with both the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yes, for a time, he veiled or cloaked His holiness as the incarnate Son of God and son of the virgin Mary. He did this so that His creatures would not be blinded--annihilated even--in His presence, just as surely would the Israelites at Sinai had they dared to touch, let alone approach the mountain of God (see Exodus 19:18-25). Even so, however, despite His approachableness and His willingness to be touched, even by "sinners," Jesus retained that essence of holiness by being and remaining the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
"By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16 NASB Updated Version).