The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section II.1-2
The authors of the Confession realized the obvious, that contrary to the popular view of some, one must begin with the question of how we know anything, especially as it pertains to theology and philosophy from a Christian perspective. They grounded the Christian worldview in the revelation of God, both natural and special, but with the preeminence given to the scriptures. It is laughable that in the area of apologetics, for example, a Christian should supposedly argue for a generic theism, when everyone knows that such a theism is really one founded upon scripture. Besides being duplicitous, it is an insult to any thoughtful person that it presupposes what it seeks to prove from some supposed objective standpoint. The fact is there is no neutral facts as such, for all humans bring to the data given a certain worldview about truth and reality. Therefore, besides being the teaching of scripture, it is also the honest position to state that this is in fact our starting point, our one chief axiom of all thought.
So the fathers begin with epistemology (the study and ground for knowing anything), before moving on here in chapter two with ontology, or the study of being. To this end, the scriptures teach that God is the supreme being, the Creator of all things, and the Redeemer of some. The first thing to acknowledge is that this God is one. Moses, by divine inspiration, reiterated to the covenant community that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Dt. 4:35; 6:4; 32:39; Mk. 12:29-32; I Cor. 8:4-6; I Tim. 2:5). He is also the ‘only’ God, therefore the first commandment was given, namely “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:2; Dt. 5:7; Is. 43:10; Gal. 4:8). Furthermore, unlike other gods and idols, the LORD is living and true. All human conceptions of a god and idol are but lifeless products of a fallen imagination. We also learn here that the LORD is truth itself (Jer. 10:10; I Th. 1:9). The true God “is infinite in being and perfection” (Job 11:7; 26:14). The biblical God “is a most pure spirit” (Jn. 4:24), “invisible” (I Tim. 1:17).
Our God is also “without body parts” (Dt. 4:15-16; Jn. 4:24; Lk. 24:39), “or passions” (Acts 14:11, 15), “immutable” (Mal. 3:6; Js. 1:17), “immense” (I Kgs. 8:27; Jer. 23:23-24), “eternal” (Ps. 90:2; I Tim. 1:17), “incomprehensible” (Ps. 145:3). As indicated by the psalmist, this incomprehensibility refers to God’s greatness. In this sense our knowledge of God can never, in a quantitative way, grasp in totality the depths of everything about God, or in any of our knowledge per se. However, since God is true, and truth itself, what he has revealed to us is true, and in this sense our knowledge of something is the same qualitatively as God’s, otherwise we would have no true conception of anything. Our God is also “almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8), “most wise” (Rom. 16:27), “most holy” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8); “most free” (Ps. 115:3-7), “most absolute” (Ex. 3:14), “working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will” (Eph. 1:11).
God’s sovereign will is absolute (Dan. 4:35), and “for his own glory” (Pr. 16:4; Rom. 11:36). He is also “most loving” (I Jn. 4:8, 16), gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7; Nu. 33:19). He is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), “and withal most just and terrible in his judgments” (Dt. 32:4; Ne. 9:32-33; Rom. 7:12), “hating all sin” (Ps. 5:5-6), “and who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7; Nah. 1:2-3). From these sections, it was important for the fathers to make clear that the one and only God of scriptural revelation is decidedly not some generic general theism to be conceived in the human imagination. Our God is not lifeless idol, but rather, he is living and powerful, as is his word (Heb. 4:12). In all these descriptions of the attributes of God, it must be understood that each is also defined by the whole, the comprehensiveness of the whole being such that we need the revelation to truly understand each.
The second paragraph of this chapter carries forward the authors treatment of theology proper, namely the person and work of God, with particular emphasis on his unique attributes. Again, we must remind ourselves that this conception of God comes from the Holy Scriptures, although there is indeed a true knowledge of God in the heart of every man, and in the whole of creation, which although not sufficient for salvation, does leave people without excuse for the suppression of that knowledge. For this reason the authors rightly began the Confession by positing the Scriptures as the primary axiom of all thought, especially as it concerns how we are to understand natural revelation, and here the being of God more particularly. In him is all “life” (Jn. 5:26), “glory” (Acts 7:2), “goodness” (Ex. 33:18-19; 34:6; Ps. 33:5; 106:5; 119:68; 145:9), “blessedness” (Rom. 4:5; I Tim. 6:15), “in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he has made” (Acts 17:24-25).
Robert Shaw in his commentary, gave what amounts to a primer on systematic theology concerning this chapter, one to which the reader would surely prophet from (60-80). Suffice here to highlight the scriptural proof given for these various attributes, and some high points as it were. Of particular note is the subject of the attributes of God, which Shaw sees in the word ‘perfection’. “The perfections of God are called his ‘attributes’, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature. They have been called incommunicable and communicable attributes. Those attributes are called incommunicable, of which there is not the least resemblance to be found among creatures; and those are called communicable, of which there is some faint, though very imperfect resemblance to be found among creatures.”1 Should one wish to expand on these attributes further, one can hardly do better that Charnock’s work by this title.
“As he has life in himself, so he is the author of that life which is in every living creature. ‘In him we live, and move, and have our being.’ All the life of the vegetative, animal, and rational world, the life of grace here, and the life of glory hereafter, are of him, and derived from him. ‘With him is the fountain of life’ – of all sorts of life. ‘Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things’ (Rom. 11:36).”2 God does not derive his glory from any of his creatures, although our chief and highest end is to give him glory (Job 22:2-3). “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” (Rom. 11:36), and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleases (Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:25, 35; I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11).
In his sight all things are open and manifest (Heb. 4:13); his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature (Ps. 139:2-4; Pr. 15:3; 147:5; Rom. 11:33-34), so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain” (Ez. 11:5; Acts 15:18). “He knows the most contingent events: the actions of free agents, and all events concerned in them, were always known with certainty to him; so that, though they be contingent in their own nature, or ever so uncertain as to us, yet, in reality, nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.”3 We can also add, that he is aware of all contingencies, because everything is subject to his own sovereign will and purpose, as already noted. “He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands (Ps. 89:35; 145:17; Is. 6:3; Rom. 7:12). To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them (Rev. 5:12-14).”
1. (Ibid., 63)
2. (Ibid., 64)
3. (Ibid., 67)