Chapter two of the Second London Baptist Confession concerns the doctrine of God in three short paragraphs. That might seem a trifle compared to the ten paragraphs devoted to the doctrine of Scripture, but you will be surprised how much the authors of the confession can fit in these clauses. As we move to the second chapter of the Confession, I will remind that us while these documents are by not binding in themselves, they do faithfully carry the truth found throughout Scriptures and are helpful insofar as they communicate divine truth.
The first paragraph begins with “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection.” When Moses is again giving the Israelites the law, he reminds them that “The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Moses is not only saying that the Israelites only have one God, but that in all creation there has only been and will forever only be one God.
There have been scholarly arguments that the early Hebrews, perhaps even into the time of Moses, were actually henotheists. Henotheists believe in many gods but only worship one god as the supreme being. Because people are sinful and by nature idol-worshipers, the idea that in practice they believed in many gods is feasible. However, the individuals that Scripture pulls out to mention were clearly monotheists, or those who believe that only one God exists. Think of Noah; he did not believe that he was building the ark because one god out of many told him to do so. Jacob told his family to remove all the idols from their homes. Certainly as the Israelites built a golden calf as Moses was “delayed” up the mountain they may have had a tendency toward henotheism, but that is simply a description of what idolators did, not what was true. Even then, they worshiped the calf, not God. They were idolators, not henotheists.
Next the Confession says that God is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body parts, or passions,” and “immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute.” This almost sounds like it comes from Paul’s lists of attributes of God.
God is not made up of parts. Theologians call this “divine simplicity.” “Simplicity” in this sense refers to God being a whole. God is not 25% wise, 25% eternal, and 50% holy, but 100% wise, 100% eternal, 100% holy, and so on. “Holy” does not just describe God as if God does holy things, but God is holy in his essence. God cannot lose or gain wisdom, eternality, holiness, or any of his other attributes.
Why does this matter? Because often our default is to think of God as just the greatest of all created things, even if we know better. In the ocean of creation, we are plankton and God is a white whale. However, this lowers God to the level of a created being, and we start to assign creation attributes to God. God is totally outside of creation and is in no way bound by anything he has created. You and I are made up of parts. We have arms, legs, and fingernails, as well as a soul. As entirely spirit, God is not comprised of parts. I regularly have to do a gut-check on my awareness of God's simple nature.
Perhaps we lose the immensity of God at times. How often do we praise God with our lips but treat God like our buddy? The human condition is to keep God tucked away in a church building or a temple. God does not live in a temple we created (Acts 17:24). The whole world is his temple! The other fallacy is that we can worship God anywhere, which is almost always used to justify not worshiping him at all. The gathered church is the temple of God, where God especially dwells on the earth. This is a foreshadow of the age to come when God dwells among his people without sin. Believers who avoid the gathered church and justify it because they can worship anywhere are in sin and must repent.
God is also “working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory.” God is unchanging and unbending. He determined the course of this world in eternity past. I am not overly fond of describing Christ’s atoning work as a “rescue mission”, because it implies that God was not expecting us to behave this way, although I respect the sentiment. Perhaps from our perspective, we are being rescued. But from God’s perspective, every blessing and every disaster has a role to play God’s righteous and unchanging will.
How does that play out, that good things and evil things alike work to bring about the will of a benevolent God? First of all, we should not be so blind as to think that God is only benevolent. This is why there is usually an order to building a theology of God and why we do not start with the problem of evil. As completely outside the fishbowl of creation, God sees things and orders events in ways that bring about his righteous will.
So people ask, “If I go out and kill someone, which everyone agrees is evil, that could be a part of God’s will?” The better question is, “If everyone agrees that killing is evil, and you are the one who did it, why are you blaming God for your wickedness?” That is not to avoid the question. In faith, we must be like Job, who questioned God’s righteousness and finally put his hands over his mouth and admitted he did not understand (Job 40:4). Job’s sin was that he tried to justify his own anger at what God had done rather than justifying God’s right to order his own work of creation however he pleases (Job 32:2). God is not our servant, here to please us without hesitation. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. While he loves us, we must not lose sight of who he is and who we are.
When it comes to redemption, God is “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” God is also “the rewarder of them 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.”
Along with God’s immensity (what a wonderful word!), postmodern man is also suspicious of a god who judges. There are those who love to point out God’s judgment and yet turn a blind eye to the mercy he shows. It is intellectually dishonest to privilege one attribute over another. What is the fear of a god who judges? What have you done to be judged, that you fear him? If we are wronged, should not you and I use the court system to enact justice? Why should God not be just? If God were not just, he would not be good. A judge who shows mercy can still be good and just. But a judge who lets murderers and thieves go free, turning a blind eye to their evil, is himself wicked.
Not only is God the judge of the wicked, but he is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Psalm 53 and Romans 3 both say that no one seeks after God, but the people in mind in those verses are the unregenerate, made clear by the context. Those who seek after God are those whom God has already sought. You can only seek God if he has renewed your heart for himself. And when we seek him, he rewards us with eternal life.
Next week, we’ll see what the Confession says about God’s self-sufficiency.