A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.5: The Attributes of God

1689conf

Chapter 2: Of God and of the Holy Trinity, para. 1

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 )

Understanding the Confession

The Attributes of God

I. The Attributes of God (Para 1) 

Paragraph 1 of this chapter of the confession provides a wonderful and balanced presentation of the attributes of God. It would exhaust many hours and blog posts to delve into these attributes in all of their splendor and depth, so we will briefly examine and explain them here. There are primarily 8 distinct attributes of God that is outlined by the confession.

A. The Singularity of God – This simply means that God is One. Christianity is a monotheistic faith (Deut. 6:4; Jer. 10:10; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6). God is One in essence, and the confession opens with this clear truth, “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God.”

B The Self-existence (Aseity) of God –  The confession addresses this attribute when he confesses of God, “whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection.” The self-existence or aseity of God is His attribute of independent self-existence. God is the uncaused Cause, the uncreated Creator. He is the source of all things, the One who originated everything and who sustains everything that exists. The aseity of God means that He is the One in whom all other things find their source, existence, and continuance. He is the ever-present Power that sustains all life. The aseity of God is expressed in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asked the Lord about His name, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” God is the eternally self-existent Being who always was and always will be. The aseity of God is related to His complete independence. God has no need. He is complete in and of Himself and always has been. God did not create man because He was lonely or because He needed to create. He is and always has been complete and self-sufficient in and of Himself.

C. The Incomprehensibility of God – The confession states of God, “whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself.” When we read about the Triune God in Holy Scripture, one of the most common ideas that we encounter is that He is beyond the complete grasp of finite minds (Ps. 145:3; Job 26:14; Rom. 11:33-34). When we say that God is incomprehensible, we do not mean that we cannot know anything at all about God. God has revealed Himself to us and therefore we can know something about Him. We know something of God through both His general and His special revelation. His creation reveals truth about Him (Romans 1:19–21), and His written word reveals truth about Him (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when we say that God is incomprehensible, we do not mean that we cannot know anything at all about God.  What we do mean is that we cannot know Him exhaustively and comprehensively. Why not? Because God is infinite and we are finite. You may have heard or read the phrase Finitum non capax infiniti. This can be translated “The finite cannot grasp (or contain) the infinite.”

D. The Spiritual Nature of God – The confession reads, “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.” In John 4:24, Jesus states, God is a spirit;  and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The spirituality of God is not the easiest virtue of God to write about or to comprehend.  We know that God is spirit, but this does not mean that we fully comprehend everything that is implied in this brief statement of Jesus at Jacob’s well in Samaria.  First of all, let us rid ourselves of several possible misconceptions.  Our subject does not have to do directly with the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Third Person is called the Spirit because He is the energy or breath that proceeds from Father to Son and from Son to Father within the Trinity.  but here we are to understand that Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the entire Godhead, is spirit!  Nor is God spirit in the sense that angels are spiritual beings, but angels are creatures brought forth by the Word of God in the beginning.  Angels are invisible but they can be made to appear, and they have their ground of existence in God.  they are spiritual creatures while God is uncreated, spiritual being.  This implies that the properties of matter are not true of God.  All matter has weight, occupies space, can be touched, weighed and measured, and undergoes change.  Not so with God! Moses told the children of Israel, “And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire;  ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude;  only ye heard a voice.” (Deut. 4:12)  And Jesus said, “Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape,” for God has no form or shape.  What are we to think, then, of those passages of the Bible which speak of God in terms of hands, eyes, ears, mouth, and son on?  In the light of the above, we must certainly understand such revelation of God to us as figures of speech (anthropomorphisms) in which God speaks of Himself in terms of human description in order that we might better conceive of Him.  But this does not mean that we may form images of God!  Who could ever sculpt a Hand that touches everything or paint an Eye that sees all things constantly, even the hearts of men?  In God, heart, hand, eye, etc., are present in the ultimate sense, and what man possesses is but a creaturely reflection of what is perfectly present in God.  But none of the properties of matter pertain to God;  He is immaterial or noncopereal.  God is spirit!

E. The Eternality of God – The confession continues, “who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute.” This is an attribute of God which is true of Him alone.  The God of our salvation does not share this quality with us in any sense.  God alone is eternal; we are not, nor do we become, eternal.  We ought, therefore, to be more careful when we speak of heavenly glory in Christ.  In the risen Savior we have endless or everlasting life, but we do not actually have eternal life.  Even in heaven we are creatures who do not become eternal.  God’s eternity belongs to those attributes which are designated by the word infinity or immensity.  Infinity applied to space is omnipresence;  God is omnipresent in that He is exalted above the limitations of space.  Infinity applied to time is eternal;  God is eternal in that He is exalted above the limitations of time.  the eternity of God is closely related to several other attributes of God.  Only the eternal God can be independent and free.  Only God eternal can be sovereign over all things.  Only the eternal God can be immutable to without any change whatever.  The close relationship between these attributes is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the great name Yahweh (I am that I am) clearly reveals that God is independent, sovereign, and for ever the same.

F. The Sovereignty of God – This is described by the confession when we read that God is, “most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory.” The sovereignty of God is the exercise of His supremacy.  God is the high and lofty One; no one is greater than He, equal to him, or any where near to Him.  And when this great God acts, when He goes about His divine business, then he does so in perfect freedom!  Sovereignty implies authority, and authority is the right to rule.  It is the right to do what one wishes, to decide what is good and evil, to impose one’s will on others and demand conformance;  authority is the right to reward obedience and to punish disobedience!  In close connection with this, soveriegnty is the freedom to do what one pleases without being answerable to anyone.  No one may question God as to what He is doing!  The Scripture drives this lesson home hard in such passages as Daniel 4:35, “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say to Him, What are you doing?”;  Job 9:12, “Behold, He snatches away, who can hinder Him?  Who will say unto Him, What are you doing?’;  Romans 9:20, “Who are you, O man, that answers back to God?  shall the thing created say to Him that created it, Why have you made me this way?”  Only one can be sovereign.  You can never have two sovereign beings.  How could that ever be? Two that had all power and authority?  Two that were the highest?  Two that are perfectly free to do as they pleased?  Impossible.  there is One that is eternal, independent, sovereignly free, and that is GOD!

G. The Love of God – The confession describes the love of God in the following, “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” If one examines the occurrences of the word love in the Bible, he finds that God’s love is characterized by ten outstanding virtues.  1.) The love of God is sovereign or free, for He did not have to love anyone nor was He influenced by anything when He set His love on certain ones.  2.) The love of God is eternal in that there never was a time when He did not love Himself or His people.  3.) The love of God is unconditional for in its beginning and in its continuance the good or evil in man does not influence it.  4.) The love of God is unchangeable for whom He loves always remain the objects of that love.  5.) His love is particular for it burns not for every man, but for a definite few.  6.) His love is strong, enduring the sternest tests, capable of following the wayward and returning them to the way of life.  7.) The love of God is primary or first, it is a casual, working, producing love; all other love is result of it.  8.) His love is always fruitful, for God never yet loved a man and than man failed to love God, his brother, and his neighbor.    9.) The love of God is always a Father’s love, so that those whom He loves experience that they are His sons and His daughters.  And 10.) The love of God always gives; it belongs to the nature of the loving God always to give.  We’ll return to this idea of giving in a moment. Someone may ask whether it is really necessary for the Church to proclaim that God loves and hates, that He reaches out in love for the men of His good pleasure but is angry with the wicked every day, that He saves and that He damns.  Our answer is, Yes, that’s necessary for three reasons.  First, this belongs to the revelation of God in Holy Scripture so that it would be unfaithfulness on our part not to include this. Second, it is only when a person understands that God does not love every individual that he sees the love of God to be exceeding precious, a pearl of great price, the most astonishing thing in the world!  Believers must view the love of God for them as rare, exquisite, and precious!  In the third place, God would have both His love and hatred carefully proclaimed that the Church is gathered not only, but that the unrepentant are left without excuses as well.  No one may arrive at the great judgement scene saying, I didn’t know, I never heard, that God also hates, punishes, and destroys, nor will they ever be able to say that God never displayed his love clearly.

H. The Justice of God –  The final attribute of God that the confession addresses is his justice. It reads, “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.” Justice is one of God’s attributes and flows out of His holiness. Justice and righteousness are often used synonymously in the Bible. Since righteousness is the quality or character of being right or just, it is another attribute of God and incorporates both His justice and holiness. We cannot begin to understand God’s justice unless we first understand sin. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and iniquity (Daniel 9:4-5; Micah 2:1; James 3:6). It embodies everything contrary to God’s holy nature and is offensive to Him. Thus, sin is a crime against God, and justice demands a penalty of death and separation from Him for it (Romans 1:18-32; 2:5; 3:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay that penalty for us (Romans 5:8-11; 6:23) and made salvation available to all who believe in His name (John 1:12; 3:15-17; 20:31). God’s own righteousness is provided as a gift to sinners who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and is based upon His grace and mercy in response to our faith (Romans 3:23-26; Ephesians 2:3-7). His mercy and grace are not in spite of His justice, but because of it. He loved us so much that despite the fact that our sin demands our death, He sent His Son to be our substitute upon the cross, thus demonstrating that His justice was not violated, but instead satisfied (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). As for the future, the book of Revelation reveals the justice of God in all its glory during the end times. When the saints watch the destruction of the earth, their song will be of God’s righteous judgment upon the inhabitants for their ultimate sin of rejecting Him (Revelation 11:16-18; 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:1-4).

 

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