Today we have the second instalment of our new series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’ books such as Mere Christianity and Miracles. However, that being said I think he has done a wonderful job of describing God in his Chronicles of Narnia series as he describes Aslan. As I read this week’s chapter of the Confession I found it difficult to think about writing anything other than what was written in the Confession as it attempts describing God. Attempting to offer a description of God is incredibly difficult: there are always characteristics that are left out, some characteristics are difficult to convey in human language and the reality is that he is beyond our description. The Confession itself concedes that God’s ‘essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself’ (pg. 32).
The first statement begins with the assertion that there is only one God, and that that God is one; ‘The Lord our God is but one only living and true God’ (pg. 32). This is clearly based on perhaps the most pervasive verse on Scripture with regard to who God is: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one’ (Deut. 6:4). The significance of this verse will become clear when we reflect on the Trinity below.
Good, but not safe!
The Confession proceeds to list numerous characteristics. Inevitably there are some characteristics of God which are omitted, and some termed in a manner in which I (and I presume others) would not term them. The Confession describes God with the following terms: infinite, perfection, spirit, invisible, without body, without parts, immortal, dwelling in light, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, holy, wise, free, glory, loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, good, truth, forgiving, just, terrible, judge, hater of sin, and will not clear the guilty (pg. 32).
What we can observe in this list is that God is good, but not safe. He is good in that he forgives sin, but he is not safe in that he will not clear the guilty. He is good in that he is long-suffering, but he is not safe in that he is a hater of sin. Whenever Aslan appears in the Narnia books the children know he is good, but they also know he is certainly not safe. They are terrified of him, and yet they feel secure with him; they know he could eradicate them with one small swipe of his paw, and yet they are happy in his presence. This is the picture we should have of God in our mind – as Christians we should feel secure and happy with him, and yet we should be terrified at his awesome power and righteous hatred of sin.
God is so much bigger than our tiny minds can comprehend, and I think the confession captures this in some of its language. There are two phrases which appear on occasion before the terms listed above: ‘only hath’ and ‘most’. For example, God ‘only hath immortality’ – it is a characteristic which only he has and thus only he can experience. More than that, he is most wise and most free – he is wiser and freer than we. Therefore, in some ways it is silly attempting to describe God because he is beyond us, and yet I think the Confession makes an admirable attempt.
One’s Company Enough
The Confession proceeds to assert that one is company enough whenever it comes to God because he is self-sufficient, utterly sovereign and Trinity.
The Confession words it this way:
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 (pg. 33).
This is something that one of Job’s friends actually gets right. Eliphaz says ‘Can man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.’ (Job 22:2). God doesn’t need anything, he is self-sufficient.
God has ‘most sovereign dominion’ (pg. 33) over all things, there is nothing beyond his control, there is nothing too strong for him to have mastery over, and there is nothing which has escaped his planning, knowledge and vision. The book of Daniel clearly teaches us this at a number of junctures:
[T]he Most High rules the Kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will…for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ (Dan. 4:25, 35-36)
In other words, he is utterly sovereign.
God is one, but he is three. This truth is evident from even a cursory reading of Scripture, there is one God but there are three distinct persons. That this is evident is then seen in the Trinitarian formulas used in the New Testament. Jesus himself sends the disciples into the world to baptise believers in ‘the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 28:19). There is one name, but three persons. Paul, in closing his second letter to the Corinthians, prays a blessing on the Corinthian church that ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Cor. 13:14). These three are equally referred to here.
Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God and thus equal in power and eternality, they are not equal in all things. For example, the Spirit does the bidding of the Father and the Son. John’s Gospel speaks of both of them sending the Spirit (Jn. 15:26; c.f. Gal. 4:6).
The Confession then closes this chapter with the following lines which reflect the incomprehensibleness of our God:
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. (pg. 34)
The Confession does not reveal who God is in his entirety; however it does begin to illuminate our minds to the vastness, beauty and complexity of the one true and living God. To see him revealed in his entirety we must turn to his own revelation, Scripture, and await the eschaton.