Chapter 2, Of the Holy Trinity

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1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose Essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, Almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (1 Corinthians 8:4, 6; Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10; Isaiah 48:12; Exodus 3:14; John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:15, 16; Malachi 3:6; 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23; Psalms 90:2; Genesis 17:1; Isaiah 6:3; Psalms 115:3; Isaiah 46:10; Proverbs 16:4; Romans 11:36; Exodus 34:6, 7; Hebrews 11:6; Nehemiah 9:32, 33; Psalms 5:5, 6; Exodus 34:7; Nahum 1:2, 3 )

This chapter of the Confession is very important because a proper understanding of God is the foundation of our very existence.  An accurate knowledge of God is needed if we are to understand the world around us, ourselves, Scripture,[1]  and most importantly if we are to worship God in Spirit and truth.  But how does one acquire this critical knowledge?  Louis Berkhof’s states, in his Systematic Theology, “man can know God only in so far as the latter actively makes Himself known.”[2]  Thankfully, God has indeed made himself known.  He has done so in the Scriptures.[3]  The study of God is not a field of speculation but revelation.  A.W. Tozer rightly states: “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”[4]  Thus we can rely only on the Word of God to understand what God is like.  If we rely upon our own ideas, we will inevitably end up with a deficient view of God, which Tozer rather plainly calls ‘idolatry.’

Chapter 1 of the Confession presented the doctrine of the sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of Holy Scripture.  Based on the character of the word of God, we can come confidently and expectantly to see what our glorious God has said about himself!  However, a word of caution may be in order.  R.C. Sproul states: “Theology distinguishes between a comprehensive (exhaustive) knowledge of God, which we cannot have, and an apprehensive knowledge, which is limited, finite, human, creaturely knowledge that we can have.[5]  So we must understand that there are limits to what we can grasp of God, but even given that reality, a person could never fully plumb in one lifetime the depths of Scripture regarding God.

As we begin our journey through this chapter, it might be helpful to have a basic roadmap.  I have found Robert Letham’s paragraph titles helpful for this chapter: Paragraph 1. The One Living and True God, Paragraph 2. God’s All-sufficient Sovereignty, and Paragraph 3. The Trinity.[6]

The 1689 Confession begins with this foundational statement: The Lord our God is but one only living and true God.  Scripture states:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4 ESV).  The Confession begins with essentially a direct citation of Scripture.  Think of it!  The Lord is our God.  Of all the so-called gods of this world, the sovereign Lord is our God.  As well, this God is one; he is not many.  And God is the only living God.  Scripture states in Jeremiah: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God” (Jer. 10:10a ESV).  All other so-called ‘gods’ are not living, or have they ever lived.  Jeremiah goes on in verse 14 to state: “Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them (ESV). The gods are not alive or real; these idols are deaf—they cannot hear prayers; they are dumb—they cannot speak, and they do not exist—they cannot act.  They are impersonal, inanimate objects made of mere matter—no more.[7] The historical setting of these passages in Jeremiah is that of a polytheistic world; idols were considered to be alive and able to act on behalf of their worshipers.  To Western readers, who are not engaged in the same kind raw idol worship (Western idols are merely in a different form), the contrast between God and idols of wood and stone may not seem as great, or at least seem as relevant.  For Eastern readers these passages likely seem much more relevant.

God is also the only true God.  In other words, the idols or gods worshiped are not truly gods and possess no divinity, whereas God is the only one who is divine.  In contrast to idols which are false because they do not exist and false because to worship them is a delusion, God is true; he exists.  Jeremiah states of these idols: “They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish” (Jeremiah 10:15a ESV). They are not true gods, for they do not exist but in the imagination of the deluded. God is the one who is rightfully called ‘God’ for he is the only one. “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5a ESV). In the New Testament Paul states: “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one. 1 Cor. 8:4 (ESV)[8]  If all of mankind, and particularly God’s ancient people, acknowledged that divinity is only God’s, then these Biblical passages, and many like them would be unnecessary.  But the fact is, mankind by his suppression of the truth does attribute divine qualities to other things, such as the sun, rivers, animals, or to mere material objects.  Throughout history God has persistently reminded his people that he is the only God (i.e. there is no one or nothing else that has any divinity), the true God (i.e. actual and almighty, none is higher or greater).

Immediately after addressing the oneness and existence of God, we see this phrase in the Confession: whose subsistence is in and of himself.[9]  The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsistence as: “Existence as a substance or entity; substantial, real, or independent existence.”  Muller defines it as: “indicating a particular being or existence, an individual instance of a given essence.[10]  In one sense we could say subsistence refers to the existence of God as a person, but while God is a person (i.e. God has personality), yet God is so much unlike a human person that one hesitates to even use the word ‘person.’  The Confession tells us that who God is, he is in…himself.  In other words, God does not need anything or anyone outside of himself to be who he is.  God is not dependent upon anything or anyone for anything.  God is self-sufficient.  As well, God is who he is of himself.  If a thing is of something it means it is from or originating from something. The whole phrase here communicates that who God is comes from within and from him.  No thing or no one adds anything to who God is.  God’s ‘who-ness’ is self-sufficient, self-contained, and self-existing.  To say that God is self-sufficient and self-contained is referred to in theology as the aseity of God—his absolute independence.  J.I. Packer indicates that the old Reformed theologians referenced God’s self-existence and self-sufficiency by calling it God’s independence.[11]  The Lord himself has said: “I AM WHO I AM.” (Ex. 3:14).

When studying God’s attributes there are two well-used categories which will be helpful to us: God’s incommunicable attributes and God’s communicable attributes.  The incommunicable attributes are those attributes of God which he does not give to his creatures, such as his: eternality, immutability, omniscience or omnipotence.  Those belong to God alone.  God’s communicable attributes refer to his attributes which he has given, in a finite way, to his  human creatures such as: love, intelligence, or other such human attributes.  As we continue through the Confession you may recognize these two categories.

The Confession states God is infinite in being and perfection.  To say that God is infinite in his being is to affirm that he has no limitation, but it is more than that.  Berkhof indicates that we should not merely think of God’s infinite being as “a boundless extension, as if God were spread out throughout the entire universe, one part being here and another there, for God has no body and therefore no extension.”[12]  These are difficult matters with which to grapple.  As if Infinite in being was not hard enough to grapple with, the Confession adds that God is infinite in perfection.[13]  God is without defect in all his infinitude.  There is not one shadow or even hint of imperfection in God.  The word perfection is a difficult word for us to grasp in our sin-sick world, but when we add to it ‘infinite’ and it is something quite higher than anything we know. Perhaps we have all heard the statement: “no one is perfect.”  That describes all mankind after the fall.  But God, in contrast, is perfect.  Berkhof again is helpful to us here: “It [the perfection of God] should not be understood in a quantitative sense, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all communicable attributes of God.  Infinite power is not an absolute quantum, but an exhaustless potency of power; and infinite holiness is not boundless quantum of holiness, but a holiness which is, qualitatively free from all limitation or defect.”[14] These are things about God of which we are in awe; things that lead us to worship;

The Confession continues: whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself.  Muller states essence means the “the whatness or quidditas of a being, which makes the being precisely what it is; e.g., the essence of Peter, Paul, and John is their humanity; the essence of God is deity or divinity.”[15]  The Oxford English Dictionary defines essence as “what a thing is.” God’s essence is who He is, or what He is—the “whatness” of God.  When we ask the question of something, “What is it?” we are asking what is its essential quality, or what is its most fundamental property?  I remember in a college philosophy class being asked to write about the essence of a pencil.  It is not as easy as it sounds.  Is its essence its material, that is, wood?  Is its essence its function?  Is it its purpose?  What is it?  When it comes to God’s essence it is, well, incomprehensible.   That is, incomprehensible to any but himself.  God’s essence cannot be comprehended.  As Sproul said, we as creatures can only have “apprehensive knowledge” of God.  What do the Scriptures say?  “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One“ (Isaiah 40:25 ESV).  These words of God in Isaiah imply that he is unlike any other, and this puts us mere creatures in a position where we cannot comprehend God’s whatness.  If this is so then should we not simply give up the pursuit of the knowledge of God?  No, but it is helpful to know our limits; limits do not imply that we can know nothing; it implies that we cannot know everything about God comprehensively. Samuel Waldron states:  “The creeds of the church fence this mystery [the Godhead].  They do not explain it.  The incomprehensibility of God means that the doctrines of the faith will involve holy mysteries which transcend human reason and contradict natural wisdom.  Such mysteries must be accepted with humility and reverence by an intellect weaned from the arrogant and foolish notion of rationalism; a rationalism that thinks it must or can fully comprehend the divine Being.”[16]

Having established our limits, we now begin to address the “whatness of God.” The Confession says that God is a most pure spirit.  The word most, a superlative in grammar,[17] does not merely mean that God is the most pure spirit, but that God is spirit unlike any other created spirit.  To say that God is pure spirit, is to say that he is fully spirit; he is not mostly spirit and partly something else.  He is pure or completely spirit.  Jesus said: “God is spirit” (John 4:24a).  This is essential to our understanding of God.  We cannot entertain ideas of God as an old man in a white robe with a long beard.  Since God is a spirit, we cannot picture anything; you cannot see spirit.  And as if to answer our questions along these lines, the confession continues with two aspects that are directly connected and confirm that God is a pure spirit.  The Confession states that God is invisible and without body.  Only a pure spirit is invisible.  And only a pure spirit is without body.  God does not have a body.

The Bible refers to God’s finger, hand, arm, face, ears, eyes and so forth, but we do not take such words to mean that God literally has these body parts.  These are metaphors that teach us something about the unknown by first relating it to something that is known.  For example, when the Bible says that ‘the eyes of the Lord are everywhere’ (Prov. 15:3), it does not imply God literally has physical eyes, but rather it points to the elevated meaning beyond it; there is nothing hidden from God’s knowledge.  If we insist that this use of metaphor (figurative, literary device) is a literal description of God as if he had a body, then, what are we to do with passages that describe God as one who will cover us with his wings (Ps. 91:4)?  Does God also have feathers?  This illustrates the silliness of treating metaphor as if it were non-figurative language or literalistic language.

There are two kinds of metaphor that are especially important in the study of God.  Anthropomorphism “designates the view that conceives of God as having human form.”[18]  Typically this refers to physical human features.  Baker’s Dictionary of Theology helpfully states: “The anthropomorphism of the Israelites was an attempt to express the non-rational aspects of experience (the mysterium tremdum, “aweful majesty,” discussed by Rudolf Otto) in terms of the rational, and early expressions of it were not as “crude” as so-called enlightened men would have one think.  The human characteristics of Israel’s God were always exalted, while the gods of their Near Eastern neighbors shared the vices of men.”[19]  An anthropopathism differs from anthropomorphism in that an anthropopathism describes God as having human emotions or passions.[20]  This also functions as a figurative literary device of analogy or comparison.  Both of these types of metaphor function as language of accommodation to assist us to understand that which is difficult.

The Confession continues stating that God’s essence is without…parts.  This refers to the simplicity of God.  R.C. Sproul says: “This is one way to affirm the simplicity of God.  God is a simple being, rather than a complex being who can be divided into parts.”[21]  J.I. Packer states of God’s simplicity that it is “the fact that there is in Him no elements that can conflict, so that, unlike man, He cannot be torn different ways by divergent thoughts and desires.”[22]  For example, God is not part love and part justice; he is fully love and fully just at the same time—without conflict.  Again Sproul states:  “Every attribute we ascribe to him applies to the whole God.  His attributes all exist mutually in a kind of reciprocity of attributes.” [23] Berkhof states: “When we speak of the simplicity of God, we use the term to describe the state or quality of being simple, the condition of being free from division into parts, and therefore from compositeness.  It means that God is not composite and is not susceptible of division in any sense of the word.”[24]

The Confession continues: without… passions.  Here is its immediate context: “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.”  Just in case it was not clear in the prior commentary on this section, this portion contrasts what God is like over and against what man is like: only God is pure spirit, and while man also has a spirit, yet that spirit is connected forever to a visible body.[25]  God is not divided into parts; man is.  God is not passionate; man is.   God only has immortality; man does not.  Only God dwells in unapproachable light; man cannot approach it.  This contrast is especially relevant to the wording that God is without…passions, because it is in the midst of a section that provides a series of Creator/creature distinctions; thus man has passions; but God does not have passions.

It is important that we understand what is meant by passions.  In our modern age, the word passion is often used in a positive sense to refer to someone who is energetic (i.e. passionate) about something.  But here the word carries a different sense.  The doctrine that God is without passions is commonly referred to as the impassibility of God (i.e. the un-passion-ability of God).  What is meant?  Here is a formal definition: “Impassibility is that divine attribute whereby God is said not to experience inner emotional changes in his state whether enacted freely from within or effected by his relationship to and interaction with human beings and the created order.”[26]  Since God is immutable, it is not possible for God to change, and thus it is not possible for him to experience emotive changes, that is, passions.  Since God is fully actualized or fully active, he does not take on something new or different; for what God is, he is already.  There is nothing within God that is merely potential; he is already completely actualized.  If God were able to experience passions it would mean that God was not fully all he could be, for he then would ‘become’ something he was not previously; God would be moving, in such a case, from less actualized to more actualized, rather than being already fully actualized.

But, one may ask, “What about Jesus?  Do we not see him in the Gospels emotively reacting to various situations?  Do we not see him hungry, angry, reacting, and suffering as a result of his creatures?”  Indeed we do.  But Jesus, the divine Son, added to his divine nature a human nature.  He has two natures in one person.  The Confession, chapter 8, paragraph 2 states of Christ that the “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”  When the Son took on a human nature, it was added to the divine nature; the divine nature was not diminished in anyway.  These two whole, perfect and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person.  But while that is true, it is also true that those two natures are without conversion, composition, or confusion.  Thus, the emotive changes and suffering Christ experienced were in his human nature, not his divine nature.  I realize that this is an abbreviated explanation.  You may want to look ahead to chapter 8, and read the commentary for paragraphs 2 and 7 for more details about Christ’s two natures in one person.  Much more could be said on the topic of God’s impassibility.  I have only briefly touched on a subject for which entire books have been written.

The Confession continues: who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.  This wording is directly from Scripture, 1 Timothy 6:16:  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (ESV).  So we observe that no one has immortality but God; man cannot be immortal for he would have to have always existed.   The Confession states in chapter 4, paragraph 2 that man was created with an immortal soul, but there it means that once man’s soul is created by God, and from that point forward it will not cease to exist.  This is not immortality in the same sense as is meant here of God.  God is eternal and uncreated.  Scripture, and the Confession following suit, state that God dwells in unapproachable light.  What an image this is for us mere mortals to consider.  It is a light that is so intense that man cannot approach it—his glory, his holiness, his essence so pure and so powerful.

The Confession continues: who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite.  God is immutable means he is unchangeable.  This is a foundational truth about God; God will never change.   J.I. Packer describes God’s immutability as “entire freedom from change, leading to entire consistency in action.”[27]  If God was changeable, the ramifications would be devastating.  All God has revealed of himself would be unreliable, for it could change; there would be no point in a Confession for it could become obsolete at any moment; the study of theology would be a useless pursuit because the moment it is put to paper it could change.  But the fact is, God is immutable.  This brings great stability and comfort to our lives because all that God has revealed of himself will never be untrue or be altered.  All his goodness and grace and mercy will never change; his holiness and justice is constant; his love is steadfast.  Charles Spurgeon once said: “Rest also in his immutability, that sure anchorage amid the troubled sea of life.  You have changes every day; he never changes.“  Volumes could be written of the significance of this attribute for it undergirds all other attributes—not that God is more immutable than any other attribute, but a mutable God would undermine all his other attributes.  God’s essence has always been what it is now, and it will remain so for eternity for God is immutable.

God is immense.   This is to speak about God’s omnipresence; God is everywhere, but it also addresses more than that.  Louis Berkhof helpfully states: “In a certain sense the terms “immensity” and “omnipresence,” as applied to God, denote the same thing, and can therefore be regarded as synonymous.  Yet there is a point of difference that should be carefully noted.  “Immensity” points to the fact that God transcends all space and is not subject to its limitations, while “omnipresence” denotes that he nevertheless fills every part of space with His entire Being.  The former emphasizes transcendence, and the latter, the immanence of God.”[28]  The immensity of God, in this transcending sense, is even more difficult to comprehend than God’s omnipresence.  1 Kings 8:27 states: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”

In thinking about God’s omnipresence, in terms of God’s immanence,[29] Stephen Charnock argues, “Those that would confine the essence of God only to heaven, and exclude it from the earth run into great inconveniences.  It may be demanded whether he be in one part of the heavens or in the whole vast body of them.  If in one part of them, his essence is bounded; if he moves from that one part he is mutable, for he changes a place wherein he was, for another where he was not.  If he be always fixed in one part of the heavens, such a notion would render him little better than a living statue.  If he be in the whole heaven, why cannot his essence possess a greater space than the whole heavens, which are so vast?  How comes he to be confined within the compass of that, since the whole heaven encompass the earth?”[30]  God’s immanence is the necessary deduction from his immensity.  Charnock goes on to discuss “the influential omnipresence of God.”[31]  “As everything in the world was created by God, so everything in the world is preserved by God; and since preservation is not wholly distinct from creation, it is necessary that God should be present with everything while he preserves it, as well as present with it while he created it.”[32]  And so, God’s immanence is necessary for both our creation and ongoing existence.  We think of Hebrew 1:3b: “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”  And then there is Acts 17:28: “In him we live and move and have our being” (ESV).

The gravity of this doctrine in the Old Testament is seen by the contrast of the immense God, and the gods of the nations believed to inhabit only particular places.  They were not immense, omnipresent, and therefore were not immanent.  I am still borrowing from Charnock here,[33] when he cites 1 Kings 20:23: “And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (ESV).  In contrast to the gods of limited special occupation, the Lord God is transcendent beyond space and immanent in every space.  As well, we think about the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18: “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.  And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (ESV).  Elijah understood that in the minds of the Baal prophets, their god was not immense; he was not omnipresent, and therefore was not everywhere at the same time.  If Baal had gone on a journey, that would explain why Baal was not replying to his prophets; Elijah mocks them for in contrast their god, the Lord God is everywhere at the same time.  If Baal was immanent, he would have heard the prophets’ prayers which carried on from morning to noon.  The contrast between the absent Baal and the immanent Lord God was painfully obvious.  Elijah prayed, and instantly the immense and immanent God answered!

It is hard not to think of Psalm 139:5-12: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?   If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (ESV).  The Psalmist’s point is, of course, not that he had not yet found a place God was not, but that anywhere he could go or imagine going God would be present!  As this provided much comfort to the Psalmist, so it provides comfort to us.  Perhaps, this doctrine may also encourage us resist temptation since God is always present everywhere—the God both immense and immanent.

God is eternal.  Eternity is a difficult concept, for it is a concept that is infinite; the finite cannot comprehend infinite.  And it is nearly impossible to explain eternity without reference to time conceptions.  Stephen Charnock states: “We must conceive of eternity contrary to the notion time; as the nature of time consists in the succession of parts, so the nature of eternity in an infinite immutable duration.”[34]  This is a definition by way of negation.  It is to think of eternity as “not time.”  It hardly defines what it is, but often that is the best we finite mortals can do.  We can use analogy, but whatever form the analogy takes, it will still be a mere illustration which utilizes the finite to seek to describe the infinite.  What eternity is and what infinity is cannot be arrived at by way of the temporal and finite analogy; these only help us to make comparisons, not to define it or comprehend it.

It is one thing to discuss what eternity is, but that is not exactly the same as saying God is eternal.  God is described in Scripture as the Ancient of Days.  “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (Dan. 7:13 ESV; see also 7:22). We understand that the phrase ‘ancient of days’ is a metaphor which references something that has existed for a very long time, but the metaphor points to something higher—God’s eternality.  We think of passages like Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (ESV).  From everlasting refers to eternity past, and to everlasting refers to eternity future.  These passages explain that God is eternal.  Eternity is the absence of time, and speak of such things is to speak of things beyond our experience.  To speak of God as eternal in essence presses us beyond our comprehension.  This moves us nicely to the next attribute.

God is incomprehensible.  This follows the prior statement in the Confession: “whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself.”  There are things about God that we can apprehend in a limited way and with a finite perspective, but such a finite grasp is not comprehensive.   In all our study of God’s attributes, we must understand that our grasp is finite.  We may indeed have grasped what God has intended us to grasp, that is, we may have grasped his revelation, but God is even greater than that revelation.  While God is ultimately incomprehensible, it does not mean that we can know nothing about him.  Sproul states: “When we say that God is incomprehensible, we do not mean that he is so obscure that we can know nothing of significance about him.  Luther said that God is not only Deus absconditus, “the hidden God,” but also Deus revelatus, the revealed God,” who has been pleased to unveil things about himself to us.  To whatever degree it is possible for his creatures to apprehend him, God has made himself known.”[35]  So we must keep in mind that apprehension is possible, not full comprehension.[36]

God is almighty.  This attribute refers to God’s omnipotence, meaning that God is all-powerful.  God is all powerful and there is nothing he cannot do.  We see this title of God throughout Scripture; for example, “And God said to him [Jacob], “I am God Almighty (Genesis 35:11a ESV; brackets mine).  I remember the fool-hearted question as a youth: “Since God is all powerful can he make something so heavy that he cannot lift it?”  This question is full of erroneous presuppositions, and is rarely a sincere question.  Along these lines A.A. Hodge’s definition of almighty is helpful: “The omnipotence of God is the infinite efficiency resident in, and inseparable from, the divine essence, to effect whatsoever he wills, without any limitation soever [whatsoever] except such as lies in the absolute and immutable perfections of his own nature.”[37] The attribute of omnipotence is not to be separated from any other of God’s attributes.  To ask the foolish question above is to ignore that God’s power is consistent with his will.

God is every way infinite.  We have already hit upon the theme of infinite several times, but here it covers the entire gamut; God is in every way and in all his attributes is infinite.    Perhaps we could say it this way: All that God is, is infinite. The 1689 Confession continues: God is…most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory.  Here we enter into a series of attributes which have the superlative ‘most’ in front of them—‘superlative’ is a grammatical term that refers to the highest degree possible of comparison (e.g. good, better, best).  The word ‘most’ before each word in this series indicates these are God’s communicable attributes.  God has communicated or given these attributes to men; these attributes are of such a higher degree of quality in God that the word ‘most’ is appropriate before them.  Let there be no doubt that since God is in every way infinite, each of these are of an infinite quality above mankind’s attributes.

God is… most holy. “Leigh speaks of holiness as the “beauty of all God’s attributes, without which his wisdom would be but subtilty [i.e. cunning, craftiness], his justice cruelty, his Sovereignty tyranny, his mercy foolish pity.”[38] The holiness of God is perhaps the most stated attribute of God.  When we look at the Biblical texts, we conclude that there seems to be two aspects of God’s holiness.  One is related to God’s transcendence—his otherness in relation to creation.  He is so “other than” his creation that he is most holy.  God is often referred to as ‘the Holy One of Israel’ throughout Scripture; this usage is especially prominent in The Book of Isaiah.  We also think of Isaiah’s vision in the temple where the seraphim cry out: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6).  Charles Hodge states of these seraphim, “They are the representatives of the whole universe, in offering this perpetual homage to the divine holiness.”[39] The second aspect of God’s holiness has to do with the ethical or moral dimension.  God has told us to be holy for he is holy (Lev. 11:44; 20:26).  God is moral perfection—perfect righteousness and holiness.  In both senses God is most holy.

God is most wise.  God’s wisdom is infinite; it knows no bounds.  We see in Scripture multiple references to the most wise God.  For example, “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:27 ESV).  God’s wisdom is more than omniscience; it goes to the quality of the knowledge.  We see passages such as this: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7 ESV).  The wisdom of God is evident throughout all of creation in the ethical sphere, and in making and preserving creation.  The wisdom of God is seen in God’s execution of his decrees in providence.  What wisdom that must involve!  In the study of the works of creation (i.e. the sciences), we see evidence of this the infinite wisdom of God.  But while the wisdom of God is evident to us in creation, yet creation is only the manifestation that God is most wise; God is wisdom in his essence.

God is most free.  This applies to every aspect of God and his actions, whether his decrees in general, his decree in election, the execution of his decrees, or any other aspect of God; he is most free to do as he pleases. God is most free in his essence.  Psalm 115:3 states: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (ESV).  And, God is most free in relation to his creation; Psalm 135:6 states: “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (ESV).  In all the attributes that we have studied it is evident that what God is he is in and of himself; he is most free; he depends not on his creatures to determine his will; he does not determine what to do based upon something that must first happen, whether in nature or in a free-will agent.  He is the first cause of all things, and He is most free to determine those decreed causes freely.

God is most absolute.  The idea of the Absolute in philosophy does not always correspond to that of theology, but in some regards they coincide.  Louis Berkhof states: “But when Absolute is defined as the First Cause of all existing things, or as the ultimate ground of all reality, or as the self-existent Being, it can be considered as identical with the God of theology.  He is the Infinite One, who does not exist in any necessary relations, because He is self-sufficient, but at the same time can freely enter into various relations with his creation as a whole and with his creatures.”[40]

The Confession continues: Working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory.  God does all things solely as a result of his counsel.  Since God is who he is, and is in his essence all of these things listed above, therefore everything God does or works follows from his own counsel.  Before God works (acts or takes action), he has in eternity takes counsel within himself and determined what he would do.  This counsel is God’s will, and God’s will is unchangeable (immutable).   God’s will is not something that God will change, relent of or undo. As I cited above, Packer states of God’s immutability that it is “entire freedom from change, leading to entire consistency in action.”[41]  God’s will is also most righteous—both morally and judicially.  All of God’s will is for his own glory.  God acts according to his own self-interests, and while man’s self-interest is selfish, it is not so for God; his self-interests are according to his attributes and can only bring about his own glory.  We see in the Confession a reflection of Scripture’s own words here: “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:9-11 ESV).  We will address this topic in more detail in chapter 3, Of God’s decree.

God is…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.  It would be easy to attach the superlative ‘most’ to each of these attributes.  I will not insert it in each of my comments below, but it is implied.  Again, most of these are communicable attributes of God.  I touch on each of these very briefly, but they are each worth meditating upon at length.

God is most loving.  God’s love is the highest, and of such a height beyond our so-called love that any other love is only a dim reflection of God’s love.  We see in 1 John 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (ESV). God is love in his simplicity; God is all love, alongside all his other attributes.  God’s love is the source of all true love, and God defines what love is and what it is not.  Therefore, God defines how humans are to love each other.  For example, the adulterer does not get to define love as that which they feel for someone who is not there husband or wife; the gay community has no authority to define love as that which includes homosexual relationships; those who promote polygamy do not get to define love as that which can be shared by more than one wife; the single person does not get to define extra-marital sexual activity as an expression of love.  The list of perverse love is virtually unending, but since God is our Creator and is the most loving, he defines what love is; any so-called love other than what he has designated is not actually love, but a selfish perversion of it.

The attributes of God that follow in this next section come from Exodus 34:6-7: “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (KJV).[42]

God is gracious.  God does not restrict giving his gifts based on what his creatures deserve; rather he gives to them good things that they do not deserve.  We see this attribute which God revealed about himself in the above passage of Scripture.  It is hard to overestimate the gravity of this proclamation; God himself proclaims his name to Moses, and within God’s name is the revelation of his gracious essence.  God himself has unequivocally declared himself to be gracious, not merely by gracious action, but it is his very essence.  The essence of God is grace.  It is almost too much to take in.  Of course, while God is gracious in his essence that is not all he is in essence.  The whole revelation of God’s name lists other attributes which are just as much his essence as the others.

God is merciful.  God not only gives us things which we do not deserve, but he often does not give us the judgment we do deserve.  It is as if grace and mercy are one coin with two sides.  Mercy withholds God’s judgment, and grace provides us with God’s blessings.  Can we underestimate the glory of this divine attribute of mercy, and its wonderful twin, grace?

God is long-suffering.  This means that God is patient, or slow to anger.  God does not always instantly judge sin as he has the right to do.  He is patient with all men; he often gives sinners time before judgment that we might repent of sin.  We see again that this attribute was revealed directly by God in his very name in the above citation of Exodus 34:5-6.  Slow to anger in the modern versions of the Bible correspond with the long-suffering wording in the King James Version.  Jonah echoes this revelation from Exodus, when Jonah explains why he did not go to Nineveh: “And he [Jonah] prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  We see in the New Testament God’s slowness to anger (judgment): “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).[43]

God is abundant in goodness and truth.  God is abundant in goodness.  God is good, and abundantly so. God’s abundant goodness overflows onto his creation.  In Psalm 145:8-9 we also see an allusion to Exodus 34: “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (ESV).  Are we seeing here just how the revelation of God’s name in Exodus 34 was significant for God’s people in the Old Testament and beyond?  Jesus reflects on the goodness of the Father: For he [the Father] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV).  God is abundant in truth.  God is truth, and he is abundant in it.   God deals in truth, and he acts in truth.  There is nothing in God that is untrue, insincere or false.  The KJV word truth is translated by the ESV as faithfulness.  This may help us avoid thinking of truth as merely something that is not false.  God is truth, and as such he is faithful to whatever he says of himself and his actions.  If God says he will do something, he is faithful to do it.  He will not be truthful or faithful in one area, and not in another.  Both of these attributes are God’s essence, and as such they flow from him to his creation.

The Confession continues from Exodus 34:  forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.  The previous list has been of God’s attributes, but here we see the prior attributes of God (i.e. gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant goodness and truth) flowing out into God’s actions—things that does.  God forgives.  What an astounding thing!  If God did not forgive, any hope for mankind would be lost because every single person who has ever lived, except for Christ, has needed, still needs, or will need God’s forgiveness.  What needs to be forgiven?  The sinner needs forgiveness for iniquity, transgression, and sin.

God also is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.  Here we depart from Exodus 34.   Here the Confession follows Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (KJV).  In this biblical text we see how faith is related to seeking God, and so it is not just that man does good by seeking God and God rewards him, rather the rewarding is inextricably connected with the faith that brings about the seeking.  But since our topic here is theology proper (the study of God), and not soteriology (the study of salvation), we will look at this now only in relation to God.  God not only forgives sin, but he rewards those that seek him by faith.  Can we see here God’s two fold act in justification: 1) pardoning sin and 2) crediting Christ’s righteousness?  I certainly think so. God forgives and God rewards, by faith alone.

The Confession states: and withal most just.  The Confession is saying that along with (i.e. withal)[44] his forgiving and rewarding, he remains most just.  This may be a specific reference to the meaning of the portion of Exodus 34:7 which states: “but who will by no means clear the guilty.” While all the attributes we have discussed, particularly from Exodus 34, are God’s essence, yet in all those attributes, God still remains just.  Indeed while God is merciful and forgives sins, yet he remains fully and most just because that mercy and forgiveness he shows to mankind is only found in Christ upon whom the justice of God was poured out as a substitute for those whom the Father elects and justifies. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26 ESV).  While mankind has a sense of justness given to him by God, mankind exercises it very poorly and discerns it imperfectly.  But God is most just—far beyond, infinitely in every way beyond the creaturely attribute of justness.

God is terrible in his judgments.  This logically follows from God being just.  It means that God’s judgment of sin is most terrible.  Hebrews 10:31 tells us: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (NASB). Terrible refers to the severity of God’s judgment which is a terrifying thing to behold.  Despite the fact that God forgives sin, yet he also judges it.  Why does God judge it?  Because God hates all sin.  God is holy and he created the world good; any sin is an affront and an act of treason and rebellion against the rulership of the Holy One.  As such God will by no means clear the guilty.  Here we return to the wording of Exodus 34.  God’s essence, his whatness, requires perfect justice and as such God will not clear or overlook the guilty.  God will not clear the unrepentant sinner.  It is a matter made most plain by God.

trinity5

  1. God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any Creature which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth; in his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the Creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain; he is most holy in all his Counsels, in all his Works, and in all his Commands; to him is due from Angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as Creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whateverhe is further pleased to require of them. ( John 5:26; Psalms 148:13; Psalms 119:68; Job 22:2, 3; Romans 11:34-36; Daniel 4:25, 34, 35; Hebrews 4:13; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 15:18; Psalms 145:17; Revelation 5:12-14 )

As stated at the beginning of this chapter, Robert Letham entitled paragraph two: God’s All-sufficient Sovereignty.  The 1689 states:  God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any Creature which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. The series here of life, glory, goodness and blessedness are all attributes of God which show how God is self-sufficient.  God has all life, in and of himself.   This is a matter separate from and unrelated to the life of creation.  Before creation and on into eternity past God had all life in and of himself.  It is difficult for us to conceive of life outside of creation, but God will always have life unto himself and as such is never in need of creation or the creatures.   God has all glory, in and of himself.  Creation brings God glory, but in making it there was no glory was taken from God; creation, by its existence does not add glory to God’s essence.  Why?  Because God already had all glory in and of himself—there was no more glory to add; God was fully, already glory.  God has all goodness in and of himself.  As with life and glory, God is already fully goodness, and nothing or anyone can take away or add to that goodness.  God is already goodness.  The goodness of creation, before the fall, as good as it was, added no more goodness to God.  God has all blessedness in and of himself.  God is blessed, but this blessedness comes from him; we could say that God is self-blessed.  When we think of passages that tell us to bless God, it does not mean we add any blessedness to God; it is simply due to God and so we must bless him.  We are reminded of the Scripture which states: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV).  Whether life, glory, goodness, or blessedness, all things are of, through, and to him.  Contrary to man-centered theology, God is not standing in need of any creature which he hath made.  In fact, even though He made us for His own glory, yet He is not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them.  This addresses God self-existence and self-sufficiency, or as we touched on earlier, God’s independence. What do the Scriptures say? “Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?” (Job 22:2-3 ESV).[45]  Or as we have already cited in part: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34-36 ESV).

“The Confession continues: and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.  The Confession has already established that God does not need anything of his creatures, and that God does not derive any glory from them, but here it makes the point that God is fully within his rights to do to them, for them, upon them whatever he pleases.  What do the Scriptures say on this point?  Nebuchadnezzar testifies after having taken all the credit for his dominion and glory was judged by God and made eat grass, crawl on all four limbs like a mere animal for a period of time.  After that judgment this is what the Babylonian king said: “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34 ESV).  God had control of the great and powerful king who ruled much of the known world, and in the end, the king was made to acknowledge that dominion belongs ultimately to God alone.  We see in Psalms, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3 KJV).  Or, “Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psalm 135:6 KJV).  Or, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1 ESV).  Let his creature never think that God is not most sovereign over them or he will demonstrate to them their error.

The point is further made: in his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.  God’s sovereign dominion means that he knows all things (in his sight all things are open) and nothing is hidden; it is all revealed (manifest).  The Confession reflects the wording of Scripture here: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13 KJV).  We also see this passage: “And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind” (Ezek. 11:5 ESV).  The Confession states: God’s knowledge is infinite—there is no knowledge that God restrains himself from.  God’s knowledge is infallible; God cannot misunderstand.  God’s knowledge is independent upon the creature; God is not dependent on what we reveal to him, and God’s knowledge of us is not restricted too what know of ourselves; he knows us completely better than our own limited knowledge of ourselves.  This means that for God, nothing is contingent or uncertain.  Nothing is dependent upon his creatures in order for God’s will to happen, and nothing is uncertain.  This important subject will be addressed in the next chapter, Of God’s Decree and chapter 5, Of Divine Providence.

In terms of God’s sovereign dominion, he is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands.  God is most holy in relation to his counsels and morally perfect in those counsels.  The same is true in all God does (i.e. his works), and in all his commands.  God’s sovereign dominion is a rule that is most holy in every way.  God deals with his creatures according to his own self-interest, but his interest is most holy.  The Scripture says: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Psalms 145:17 ESV).  God has sovereign dominion over his creatures, to him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.  Since all God’s counsels, works and commands are most holy, there can be no objection from the creature as to the warrant of obeying the Creator.  God is both Creator and most holy; he is to be worshiped, served and obeyed by his subjects, and to do whatever else God is please to require. 

 trinity5

  1. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole Divine Essence, yet the Essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him. ( 1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6 )

COMMENTARY FOR CHAPTER 2, PARAGRAPH 3 UNDER CONSTRUCTION AS OF 5.31.17

 

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[1] An accurate understanding of God is a necessary interpretive grid for interpreting Scripture.  Scripture is to be interpreted in light of its own theology (i.e. the principle of the ‘analogy of Scripture).

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 34.

[3] This is not to deny the role of general revelation by the light of nature, creation and providence.

[4] Aiden Wilson Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1961), 3.  Tozer also wrote:  “If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end up with an idol, made not with hand but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”  Ibid., pg. 8

[5] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006), 42.

[6] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009), 159-73.

[7] I am taking a generalized approach and lumping gods and idols into one category.  I realize that there may be a distinction in some cases, and not in others, depending on the religious system.

[8] Paul appears to be citing a familiar saying of the Corinthians, “an idol has no real existence.” But nonetheless Paul affirms the saying as correct; Paul takes issue with the insensitive way they applied its truth.

[9] The Westminster Confession does not include “whose subsistence is in and of himself.”  The 1689 Confession adds it from the 1646 First London Baptist Confession.

[10] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from the Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995). 290.

[11] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 89.

[12] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 59-60. In terms of spatiality, see below regarding God’s immensity.

[13] The absence of ‘infinite’ before ‘perfection’ is accounted for by the use of an ellipsis. The Confession means infinite in being and [infinite in] perfection.

[14] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 60, brackets mine.

[15] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from the Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 105-6.

[16] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 56.

[17] A superlative is a word that modifies another and expresses degrees of comparison.  For example: degree 1) John is active in his community; degree 2) John is more active in his community than others; degree 3: John is the most active in his community. There is no higher degree of comparison regarding John’s activity in the community than most. Thus for God to be the most, is for him to be of the highest degree of comparison.

[18] Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), pg. 45-46.  Muller defines anthropomorphism as: “having a human form.”  Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from the Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 38.

[19] Baker’s Dictionary of Theology helpfully states: “The anthropomorphism of the Israelites was an attempt to express the non-rational aspects of experience (the mysterium tremdum, “aweful majesty,” discussed by Rudolf Otto) in terms of the rational, and early expressions of it were not as “crude” as so-called enlightened men would have one think.  The human characteristics of Israel’s God were always exalted, while the gods of their Near Eastern neighbors shared the vices of men.” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 45-6.

[20] Muller defines anthropopathism as “having human feelings, affections and passions.” Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from the Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1995), 38.

[21] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006 ), 36-7.

[22] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 89.

[23] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006 )36-7.

[24] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 62.

[25] Forever the body and spirit are connected, though at death the body is separate from the spirit for a time until the Last Resurrection.  See 1689 Chapter 31:2.

[26] New Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by Thomas Carson, 2nd ed., vol. 7 (Farmington Hills, Mi.: Gale Publishing, 2002), 357.

[27] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 89.

[28]  Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 61.

[29] God’s Immanence refers to God’s close proximity to creation and his creatures (see Acts 17:27b).

[30] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (1853; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 372.

[31] Ibid., 369.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., 368.

[34] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (1853; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 280.

[35] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006), 41.

[36] See footnote 4 for Sproul’s explanation of these two terms.

[37] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 52; brackets mine.

[38] Edward Leigh, Treatise of Divinty, 2:104.  Brackets mine.  As cited by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), Kindle location 2685.

[39] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. I, Theology (1873; reprint, Peabody, Ms.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 413.

[40] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 56.

[41] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 89.

[42] When we study the Confession it is helpful to note the English Bible versions they had access to.  Of course, they also had access to the Hebrew and Greek, but it is likely they relied heavily upon English versions.  The following is a list of relevant English versions: Tyndale-1526, Coverdale-1535, Thomas Matthew 1537, The Great Bible-1539, The Geneva Bible-1560, the Bishop’s Bible-1569, and the King James Version-1611.  There were no major English translations of the Bible after this one until the 1885 English Revised Version.  The King James Version made use of all these prior translations, and while the Geneva Bible was very popular in 1611, eventually the King James Version exceeded it in popularity.  We can safely assume that the most used English Bible at the time of the 1646 Westminster Assembly was the 1611 KJV.  The same applies to the 1677/1689 Confession.  Thus it is helpful to note that biblical wording in the Confession was more than likely the phraseology of the King James Version.   This is relevant to the interpretation of confessional wording, for example “abundant in goodness and truth,” is the exact wording of the KJV.  The English Standard Version (ESV), which I use often in this commentary, says, “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” All Biblical allusions in the confession help us understand the meaning of the Confession, but such allusions can easily be missed by those not familiar with KJV phraseology.

[43] In context the “all” is limited to the repentance of elect.

[44] Usage of ‘withal’ is seen in the 1611 KJV: Acts 25:27 (KJV) “For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.”  In other words, it seemed unreasonable to send a prisoner and not also or along with to state what the charges were against Paul.  This usage correspond with the Confession; while God is gracious and merciful, he is also (along with) those attributes most just. See Oxford English Dictionary which also supports this usage.

[45] One must be mindful of before taking a statement from Job as true; not all that Job’s comforters say are to be taken as true doctrine.  Some of the things Job’s comforter say are untrue, and are meant to be interpreted as such.  In this case, we know from other places in Scripture that this is a truthful statement by Eliphaz, and so it is appropriate to cite this in support of God’s self-sufficiency or independence.  Interestingly, the Apostle Paul also cites Eliphaz from Job 5:13 in 1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness.”” So I feel I am in good company hermeneutically speaking, but nonetheless, not just any citation from the Bible is to be taken in support of a particular doctrine; after all, Satan is cited in the Bible; it is usually unadvisable to cite Satan in support of a moral or doctrinal point—enough said.

[46] This means absolute free-will outside of, or without regard to, God’s decreed will.  God is sovereign not man.

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4 Responses to Chapter 2, Of the Holy Trinity

  1. Mike says:

    This is excellent work. And very helpful. Thank you. Looking forward to the Trinity – a lot of work required.

    • Hi Mike,
      Thank you for the kind words. I posted the commentary on chapter 2:3 (Trinity) a while back, but it needed more clarity regarding the phrase “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.” We are talking about God here–not a chapter I want to get wrong! I have books spread all over my desk as I do a deeper study of this important element of the Christian faith.
      Thanks again for the encouragement.
      Gary

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