Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2: God - Blessed for Ever
There is a tendency to become abstract as we apply various qualities to God, classifying them either as 'communicable' or 'incommunicable', and, in consequence, of losing sight of the fact that God is supremely personal, in covenant union and in marriage relationship with His church. It is that covenant, seen in the Person and Work of Christ, that must qualify and garrison all our discussion concerning the being and the nature of God.
Sinclair Ferguson's point is a useful guide in this connection: "The Confession", he says, "draws attention to the attributes of God. It would be a mistake to think that it therefore wanted to emphasise the static rather than the dynamic aspects of his character... Nevertheless what the Westminster divines ransack language to express is the character of God in Him" ("The Teaching of the Confession" in The Westminster Confession in the Church Today, p.30).
To understand what the Confession is saying, therefore, requires us to follow to a certain extent the traditional classifications. We will look at some of the emphases of the Westminster doctrine.
God is Independent
God is described as "most pure spirit … most free, most absolute ... God hath all life ... in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself ... his knowledge is infinite ... and independent".
God has a necessary and self-dependent existence. He is the uncaused cause of all things, the untreated Creator. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made that was made. That means that God Himself is not made. Isaiah asks: "With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgement, and taught him knowledge and showed to him the way of understanding?" To ask the question is to answer it. He is before all things, the alpha and omega.
This takes us naturally into a consideration of the spirituality of God. He is independent of matter, and above the laws of physics and chemistry. Before matter and form came into existence, God was in existence, and remains in existence, as pure spirit. This means that God has no bodily parts ("no attribute of matter can be predicated of the divine essence" — so Charles Hodge), but it also means that God is rational, personal, consciousness. Hodge says that "On this foundation all religion rests; all intercourse with God, all worship, all prayer, all confidence in God as preserver, benefactor and Redeemer".
The Bible demonstrates the independence of God's thought — "who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor" (Romans 11:34) - and of his will - election is according to the 'good pleasure' of God's will (Ephesians 1:5). There is no coercion.
The corollary of this is that we are completely dependent upon Him. With us there cannot be independence. But He is the One upon whom we can rely.
God is Infinite
He is boundless and free. We cannot draw the boundary around God, or confine him to any one space. Hodge reminds us that "a legion of demons dwelt in one man", and concludes from this that our view of the relationship between spirit and matter is itself finite and flawed. But just as God is independent of matter, so He is beyond matter, as the non-measurable God.
Infinity is understood by us in terms of immensity and omnipresence. Solomon built a house for God realising that "the heaven, and heaven of heavens cannot contain him" (2 Chronicles 2:6). Or, as Isaiah has it, heaven is God's throne and earth is his footstool (66:1).
In respect of His creation, omnipresence means that there is no place where God is not. He is, therefore, both transcendent and immanent. He is in His creation, not bound by space, not in any one space, but filling all space.
In respect of time, the boundlessness of God means that He is eternal. One day is to him a thousand years. He sees all things as the present.
Is this just a matter of philosophical speculation? Not at all; it is of the essence of the covenantal revelation of God. The psalmist exults and glories in what he cannot understand - namely, that he cannot fly from the spirit or from the presence of God (Psalm 139). It is on this basis that he pleads with God to lead him in the way that is everlasting. God's people, often hemmed in by events and circumstances, have a God who cannot be hemmed in, with them according to His promise.
God is Immutable
Berkhof says of God that "improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible" - God is without change, the same yesterday, today and forever.
This means, first, a distinction between Creator and creation. Here, as the Greek philosopher put it, everything is in flux, flowing, changing, like the current of the river. But God never becomes anything. He is what He is.
Immutability, secondly, is not immobility. God is active, not passive. He is dynamic, not static. He is moving, not standing still. His actings are always in terms of His unchanging and unchangeable nature.
Scripture pictures God as 'repenting', as changing His mind. These aspects of revelation do not threaten the doctrine of God's unchangeableness. They only heighten it, by showing that God is not at the mercy of human forces. He responds in perfect holiness and justice to the actions and the sins of men, working out His unchangeable purposes, and securing the fulfillment of unbreakable promises.
Immutability, means, thirdly, impassibility. God cannot suffer. To be sure, God is a passionate God: passionate lover of His covenant people and passionate hater of sin. But His passions are not uncontrolled and arbitrary, causing him pain. There is in God perfect blessedness for ever.
This revelation is qualified in Scripture in two ways. First, with God there is the suffering of sympathy. In all the affliction of His people He is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9). He is able to enter into the very need and nature of His people's circumstances, drawing alongside them in a fellow-feeling for their condition.
Secondly, in Christ, a divine person suffers. Our great high priest knows what it is to be compassed about with infirmities. He was tempted, and He suffered, and He died. And He was never anything other than a divine person. And we have no God but the God who suffered with, and for, His own people in Christ.