The Belgic Confession, Article I (continued)

God’s oneness is that perfection of God whereby He is distinguished from all other being(s), so that no one and nothing is to be compared with Him. God does not belong to a certain class of beings, of which He is one among many. He is not God in competition with many others who also claim to be gods or who are acknowledged as gods. He is not even to be acknowledged as the god who is supreme among all gods. Scripture, and the Christian faith in obedience thereto, is absolutely intolerant. God is God, and there is none beside Him. There is no being beside Him, above Him, next to Him, or even under Him that is in any way to be acknowledged as God. He is the one Lord, the only Creator and Proprietor of all things. His is the sole authority in the entire universe. He is the only Law-giver; and He alone is Judge. His is all the power and the sovereignty. “The Lord our God is one Lord.” A very cursory consideration of this perfection of our God will cause us to see also the relationship of this and the other perfections of God. That God is One implies that He is Self-existent, independent, eternal, and absolutely sovereign. More than one self-existent and independent being, and more than one eternal and absolutely sovereign Lord are inconceivable. And to maintain, to contrive, to have any other object instead of, or besides this one true God, Who has manifested Himself in His Word, is idolatry (Heid. Catechism, Qu. 95). 

The practical significance of our faith that God is one, therefore, is clear and simple; and it has its ramifications for all of life. It is this: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” Matthew 4:10.

2. God is Simple. 

The truth of God’s simplicity means, negatively, that God is not divided and is not made up of parts, and, positively, that God is His virtues, and that all. God’s virtues are perfectly one in Him. Of the creature we commonly say that he possesses certain attributes. He possesses strength. He has the virtue of righteousness, or of mercy, or of longsuffering and patience. But God is pure perfection. His very Being is virtue. And all the manifold virtues of God are one in Himself. God is righteousness, holiness, justice, power, might, love, mercy, grace. These are His very Being. And all the virtues of God are one. There is no division and no conflict in God and in His perfections. Just as God is love, light, life, holiness and righteousness, grace and mercy, truth and justice, so His righteousness is His love, His justice is His mercy, His holiness is His grace. In God there is most perfect harmony and unity. 

If you inquire after Scriptural proof for this perfection of God, a passage such as I John 1:5 may be cited: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Or, with special reference to single virtue of God’s, love, we may mention I John 4:8: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” This same truth is implied when our Lord Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life,” identifying the divine nature with the life itself. John 11:25. Or again, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.”

Also this perfection of God has its practical significance for the believer. In the first place, the simplicity of God requires that we shall never think or speak of God’s virtues in separation from one another. We must not conceive of God’s mercy and His justice, for example, as being mutually exclusive, and say, “God is merciful; but He is also just.” God’s justice is a merciful justice; and His mercy is a just mercy. We must not drive a wedge between God’s love and His wrath, but instead understand that just because God is love, therefore he is filled with wrath against the wicked. We must remember too that there is never any conflict between God’s virtues and His works, or between the works of God themselves. God’s works are the manifestation of His manifold virtues. And also in His works, therefore, there is perfect unity. To teach, for example, that God blesses in time the same men whom He curses for eternity is a contradiction of God’s simplicity. In the second place, the Christian who understands that God is His virtues will see at once that such expressions as “Goodness! Gracious! Mercy!” are tantamount to taking God’s name in vain, and should have no place in a Christian’s speech. 

3. God is a spiritual Being. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. In this passage God’s spirituality is directly taught. This perfection of God is also indirectly taught in various passages of Holy Writ which emphasize that God is invisible, since the invisibility of God follows from the truth that He is a Spirit. Thus, when the second commandment prohibits the making of any graven image or of any likeness of God, this is based upon God’s spirituality. 

Negatively, we may say, in the first place, that this divine perfection does not have reference to, the personal subsistence of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This is a perfection of God’s Being, and therefore has reference to the Triune God, not merely to one of the three Persons. In the second place, that God is a Spirit implies that He is not material, as is the visible creation, and is not limited by form or extent. From a positive point of view, the spirituality of God is closely related to the attribute of His simplicity. God’s perfections do not subsist, inhere, in some other substance, as is the case with the creature. But God is pure Spirit. Man’s strength, for example, subsists in his flesh, in his arm. God is power. He Is His virtues. Even, therefore, when Scripture speaks of God in terms which seem to indicate that God has form and material substance, we must remember that God is nevertheless a Spirit, that we must not think of Him as a creature and as having limited form and conceive of Him materially, but are to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

God is the one only and simple and spiritual Being!

God’s Attributes 

This first article of the Belgic Confession now makes mention of what are called the attributes of God. Before treating these various attributes one by one, a few remarks must be made. In the first place, we may notice that our confession only mentions some of God’s attributes. It makes no special mention, for example, of God’s omnipresence or of God’s knowledge or of God’s holiness. Nor does it itemize the various virtues of God which are included in His goodness. This does not mean that our creed intends to single out certain of God’s attributes as being outstanding and more important than others. For this would certainly be contrary to the truth of God’s simplicity. But we may remember; first of all, that the very truth of God’s simplicity implies that those attributes of God which are not specifically mentioned here are nevertheless included in those that are mentioned. Secondly, the Confession does not mean to be exhaustive. Rather do we have in this article a very warm expression of faith designed to emphasize that He Who is for us the “overflowing fountain of all good” is the infinitely great and perfect God, Who is really God! And, in the third place, we may also bear in mind that others of God’s attributes come into focus in later articles of our Confession. Our second observation is that the article makes no classification of these attributes of God. Various such classifications have been made by theologians, none of which is without its defect. One of the most common is the distinction between the communicable and incommunicable attributes. God’s communicable attributes, as the name implies, are those which can be communicated, imparted to the creature, or, those attributes of God of which there is a reflection in creaturely measure in man. And the incommunicable attributes are those of which there is no such creaturely reflection in man. Among the attributes mentioned in this article, then, we could classify as incommunicable God’s eternity, incomprehensibility, invisibility, immutability, and infinity. And the communicable attributes would include God’s power, wisdom, justice and goodness. We say once more that the article does not make this distinction even though it mentions the communicable attributes last. More than a convenient and working distinction, however, this cannot be. And the same is true of various other classifications which have been attempted. Generally speaking, they all encounter the difficulty that God’s simplicity would seem to prohibit any such classification. Scripture itself, of course, does not classify God’s perfections, as might be expected. Our third observation concerns the absence of any mention of God’s names. It is to be questioned whether the article even intends to use the name “God” in the sense of the Old Testament “Elohim,” which is translated by “God” in our English Bible, or whether here the name “God” is used in the general sense of “Deity.” But certainly no further mention is made of the various proper names of God which the Scriptures give us. We may mention, however, that in Scripture the various attributes of God are directly connected with one or another of these proper names of God very frequently, so that in these names— Jehovah, Lord, Most High, Almighty, etc.— certain of the attributes are in each case put on the foreground, And thus it is also possible to classify the attributes of God, with no small degree of success, in connection with the divine names. Even here, however, the truth of God’s simplicity limits the success of the classification. Hence, while dogmatically we would attempt a certain classification of God’s infinite perfections, we need not do so in our treatment of this article, but simply give a few words of explanation of each attribute as it is mentioned by our creed.

1. God is Eternal. 

Beautifully and concretely the Scriptures set forth the eternity of God in the well-known words of Psalm 90: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God . . . For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the’ night.” Vss. 1, 2, 4. Again, closely associating God’s immutability and His eternity, the Scriptures state: “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” Psalm 102:25-27. And yet there is something paradoxical about these expressions as they describe eternity really in terms of time, emphasizing that it is really impossible for creatures of time and in the language of creatures of time fully to express God’s eternity. For eternity is not time. It is not even time without beginning and without end. To be sure, the Eternal One is without beginning and without end, and He is not at all subject to a succession of moments, days, years, centuries. But more than this, we must remember that time itself is a creature, and it is the very form of life for every creature. The creature exists only at the moment. He is ever moving out of the future into the past. What he was yesterday he is no more today, and he shall not be any more tomorrow. But time is not for God’s Being and life. God is not bound to any time. God is the eternal I AM. With infinite and constant and unceasing fullness God is all that He is and unceasingly lives His infinitely perfect life with perfect consciousness. He is the uncaused, independent, unchangeable, incorruptible Jehovah! Comprehend Him in His eternity we cannot. Confess Him with a deep sense of humble dependence, and completely trust in Him and hope for eternal glory according to His eternal promises we by His grace in Christ Jesus may. 

—H.C.H.