“Of God and the Holy Trinity”
It seems to me that there are few things of which the Christian church and, indeed, our society, in general, need more than a return to the majestic view of God taught in the Scriptures and confessed in Chapter 2 of the 1689 Baptist Confession. Here we have epitomized the Classical Christian theism of the historic tradition of the church. Here we have itemized the specific attributes of that majestic God of the Bible.
And as I said, there is nothing we need more than a renewed view of this God. It seems to me that the term, god, is often and increasingly getting used in a lower and baser way. The danger of this cultural debasing of what godhood means is that the whole foundation of the Christian religion will be eroded in people’s minds.
How does Chapter 2 approach the doctrine of God? It does so in three parts corresponding to its three paragraphs. Paragraph 1 speaks of the attributes of God. Paragraph 2 speaks of the relations of God. Paragraph 3 speaks of the Trinity or tri-unity of God.
Paragraph 1 lists approximately 18 (depending on how you count) attributes of God. This list may be broken down, however, into perhaps 8 subsections. It will be helpful, I think, to think through the paragraph in terms of these 8 subsections. The Confession speaks first of divine …
“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God;”
Here is a great and foundational truth about the divine which was the great emphasis of the revelation of God to Israel. Deuteronomy 6:4 is its classic assertion: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” There is only one God. Only one God is actually alive. Only one God is the true God. It is Yahweh the God of Israel. No one shares His glory as the one true God! Only He is to be loved as God, worshiped as Holy, and sought in prayer.
“whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection;”
Aseity refers to the self-existence of God. This God is absolutely ultimate and derives His existence from nothing prior to Himself. The pagan Greek gods derived their existence from the Titans who preceded them. There is something about absolute ultimacy that runs counter to the way in which we human beings want things to be. Perhaps it is a perverse desire to escape the final accountability we have to the true God. But there is nothing behind or before the one, true God. He is self-existent. Isaiah 48:12 assumes and asserts the aseity or self-existence of God: “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.”
“whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself;”
Such singularity and self-existence are certainly incomprehensible. One classic, scriptural assertion of this is Job 11:7-9: “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth And broader than the sea.”
There is no sounding or measuring the depths of this infinite, divine ocean by the finite mind. The acceptance of ultimate mystery is what goes along with accepting the existence of the God of the Bible. This is a humbling reality which demands that we accept that we are perpetual infants in our understanding of the depths of the true God.
“a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto;”
One of the unavoidable implications of the singularity and self-existence of the true God is the simplicity of God. The simplicity of God means (simply) that God is not composed of any pre-existing elements which brought together make God. If this were true, the God of the Bible would be neither single, self-existent, or truly ultimate. The truly ultimate thing would be that of which He is composed. Now once more this is a feature of God that is absolutely beyond our reckoning. The attributes of God are real and distinct features of His being, but they are all simply distinct ways of looking at the simple, divine essence. They are not a combination of bodies, parts, or passions. One classic assertion of the simple and passionless character of the true God is Job 35:4-8: “I will answer you, And your companions with you. 5 Look to the heavens and see;And behold the clouds—They are higher than you. 6 If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him?Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him? 7 If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? 8 Your wickedness affects a man such as you, And your righteousness a son of man.” Such simplicity and impassibility do not mean that the God of the Bible is some sort of immobile force with whom it is impossible to have a personal relationship. On the contrary, it means that we can have a relationship with a God whose character—unlike those of the people around us—will never change or alter. His love and goodness toward us are an expression of His simple divine essence.
How different is the glorious God of the Bible from the “puny gods” of human imagination! Next time we will continue to meditate on the attributes of God underscored in the Confession.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.