Non Sequitur

Although there has been much interchange between orthodox evangelical brethren (and I use “orthodox” as a courtesy) and those who hold to the doctrine of the church as expressed in highly valued church confessions (and rightly so – these confessions, for the most part (depending on the confession) hold the doctrines of Scripture), I have been surprised that there are those who disagree with the established doctrine of God and the Trinity.

After all, what could be more plain than that which all the Reformed confessions – well – confess, about the most important doctrine of our faith?

Let’s review:

WCF — Chapter II: Of God, and of the Holy Trinity SDFO — Chapter II: Of God and of the Holy Trinity LBCF/PCF — Chapter II: Of God and the Holy Trinity

1. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of 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.

1. There is but one only living and true God; who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of 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.

1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of 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.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in, and of himself; and is alone, in, and unto himself, all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures, which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, 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; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service or obedience, as creatures, they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

2. 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; he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth; in his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain; he is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands; to him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

3. In the unity of the God-head there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. Which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence upon him.

3. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolySpirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but 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.

If there is any disagreement with the Nicean understanding of our Triune God in these three statements of our faith, I do not find it.

By the way, the LBCF goes further than the others, but in no manner disagrees with them, nor would our brothers of those confessions find anything to disagree with in the 1689.

It appears that all historical, confessional believers are in agreement on these matters (excepting those who claim to subscribe to a Scriptural confession, but redefine it to their ends – but that is beyond the scope of this bit of blurb article)

The problem, therefore, is a lack of being anchored to what the apostolic doctrine, handed down by faithful men to other faithful men who have passed it down to other faithful men have consistently taught (2nd Timothy, anyone?).

Not all catholic doctrine is to be mindlessly adhered to – in fact, those on this site hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith – but that doctrine which we agree upon with our brethren has been well stated.

When it comes to the doctrine of God – Theology Proper – all the confessions hold to that which was first stated in Nicea, and confirmed again in Chalcedon. There has been no ambiguity regarding the most important doctrine of our faith for years, until the 20th and 21st centuries.

This article is not a scholarly treatment of the questions and arguments which have been put forward, but it does affirm that which has been passed down by faithful men of God to other faithful men of God, up to the present.

When it comes to Scripture, we are quick, as the body of Christ, to affirm there is no error in it, but when it comes to the Doctrine of God, although innovation of the same was handled in the early church, apparently, it is fair game, and we are left to wonder why such is the case.

Mystery surrounds our God, but not in the manner some have re-imagined. He is so clear in His communication to us – His Scripture – that it boggles the minds of we who hold to sound doctrine regarding His self revelation, which was challenged by heretics in the early church, and soundly defeated by good men of God. He stated that He is all that He is, uncreated. He stated that He does not change, and He stated that such is true of Him in all His Persons, undividedly.

He has further stated that the Son and the Spirit are co-eternal with the Father. These are unequivocal truths found in Scripture.

What has been contested is that which was defeated in the early church, namely, that God has any properties aside from His nature, and that in the Trinity, the Son, who is equally God, has been eternally subjugated to the Father.

Scripture, and the orthodox Reformed confessions, are ever agreed on these matters, as should all believing Christians always be.

God, before creation, was eternally, unchangeablely, blessed and happy within Himself. Being perfection, He had no  need of a perfunctory order where either the Son or the Spirit submitted to the Father. As the confessions state, soundly based upon the early creeds, which in turn were based on Scripture, God was complete within Himself. There was no need for subjugation of one divine person to another, nor should we expect such was true of our unchangeable God.

The eternal Son being ever subject to the eternal Father is a man-made construct, based on the understanding of God by equating the Triune Being to those whom He created.

Likewise, as has been said by very many Reformed theologians of the past (and many today) “all that is in God is God.” There is no room for “added properties”, whether they are called “creational properties,” or “covenantal properties.”

Man cannot understand the relations within the Triune God by imposing those relations of the created creature which are made known to man by natural revelation – it simply will not work. God, as He has revealed Himself in Special Revelation – i.e., Scripture – is not subject to the changes and vagaries of man’s existence. God is unique, and man is created.

These innovations by contemporary theologians trying to explain God’s relationality and the Son’s subjection to the Father according to human philosophies, and/or seeking to exegete the Scripture as if it contradicted itself (which is contrary to orthodox Reformed hermeneutics) in order to match those philosophies (which really results in eisegesis), are simply misplaced. When Scripture states that God does not change, and another passage in Scripture seems to say that He did change, in contradiction to the fact that God does not change, the primary passages which define God’s being, substance and character take precedence over those passages defining things about God in human language, for this – human language – is accommodated to our finite understanding in order to communicate to us things which are true of God in a manner which we would normally associate with other finite beings, not to inform us that God did, indeed, change. Thus, we may view His anger as abating, His love as increasing or decreasing, and such things, when in fact, these are simple finite expressions of His infinite, unchanging existence and being. Since this is a brief article, we will not go more into this now. (There are other articles on this site which speak to this a bit more, as well as books recommended which speak to these things extensively.)

Returning to the main thrust of this article, to say God changes and does not change, and that the Son has the same relation to the Father from everlasting as He took on as the God-man through the incarnation, as the title of this article says, simply does not follow from Scripture. Non Sequitur.

 

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“Just Click”

Certain doctrines should “just click” with those who seek to know God as He has revealed Himself in His special revelation to those who are His people.

For instance, that God is immutable (unchangeable) should preclude any teaching on the Doctrine of God that even comes close to suggesting that He has made Himself mutable (changeable) in any manner. The Scripture is just too clear on the fact that God does not change, period, and any suggested relational or analogical arguments to the contrary are based on a number of philosophies of man that, while seeking to guise themselves in the veneer of being based on the Biblical facts, in fact, ignore the overall context of His Scriptures.

There are some Scripture passages that actually do “stand on their own” (Although I would be one who is quick to assert that although some passages stand on their own, no single passage of Scripture stands alone). Among them are passages we value greatly, to our finite and eternal comfort and standing.

Malachi 3:6:  “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

How does one circumvent such a passage as this with appeals to isolated anthropomorphisms and/or anthropopathisms, even when such an appeal is to various Scripture references that those so proposing these malleable qualities to our God are multiplied, without consideration of the overall context of Scripture?

The answer is, of course, that such a plain passage cannot, in fact, be circumvented, and no matter the character of those who seek to do so in the pursuit of understanding our relationship with God, there will not come any Scriptural evidence to the contrary that our God, indeed, “does not change.”

Please notice, although a large body of literature by past and present biblical scholars exists, I do not make my appeal to them. It is not that there would not be many more in defense of the classical doctrine of God, or that there are some in defense of various forms of the modified doctrine of God; no, rather, I do not wish to bias the appeal to Scripture at this point with an argument from authority, for I believe (as any unbiased reader of the Scripture must believe, at this point), that there is no ambiguity or verifiable change wrought by the corpus of the entirety of Scripture to this simple statement of our God: “I do not change.”

Wherein, then, inclusive of the entirety of the body of Scripture, are we to understand that our God means, by this unequivocal statement (that He does not change), as to His unique essence, or being, but that He does change as to His relation to His creation? Where is this distinction of ontological meaning given us in the Scripture, if it indeed is given (which I purport it is not)?

As a “for instance,” in Genesis 6:6, we are told, “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This seems to indicate an actual change in the manner in which God viewed those He created, but in view of His proclamations that we are saved because He does not change, are we to see this statement as if it were indicative of His changing relationally to those He has created? In other words, do we manipulate the Scriptural data in a manner wherein God seemingly contradicts Himself?

Is not the very fact that our God does not change the foundation of our comfort in His promises?

This is not intended to be an exhaustive article on the various anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms of Scripture; rather, it is an invitation for us to view our God as He has presented Himself within that Scripture, for our comfort and benefit.

What it boils down to is whether or not God changes in His intrinsic character – all arguments from anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms in Scripture do, and indeed must, not only pale, but become the finite representations of aspects of God which they are intended to be, if God, as He presents Himself in Holy Writ, in reality, declares that He does not change, whether intrinsically (as to His infinite, eternal self), or relationally (as those who argue that the anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms given to us to describe characteristics of our God insist is the case, thereby differentiating between God’s eternal, infinite character, and the manner in which He relates to His creation after He, in fact, created).

This is, after all, the crux of the matter: if God changes, those who are His cannot expect His infinite, eternal promises to be effectual, regardless of explanations of His relationship with His creation being in flux because He has, indeed, created. The foundation of our hope is that God cannot lie, and cannot fail to keep His promises, in accordance with His character. If, at any time, His attributes can ebb or increase, or He adds new attributes to Himself to relate to us, our foundation has become that which we are: mutable, like the creation, not the Creator.

The plain fact of the matter is that, despite analogical language (wherein God reveals eternal, infinite aspects of Himself to us by use of terminology we understand in relation to ourselves), we have the assurance of Scripture that tells us, quite plainly, our God does not change.

There are those who appeal to the incarnation, wherein God the Son took upon Himself human form, to show that God, prior to the incarnation, after creating, also took upon Himself relational attributes in order to properly communicate Himself to His creation. However, again, going to the Scripture, we have a plain statement, as to the divinity of God the Son:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

That this verse is speaking about our Lord’s divinity is apparent, because even during His incarnation, as to His humanity, He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) This does not presuppose any change to the divine, but rather, the human nature. Our Lord, living as a man, was subject to temptations, suffering, and eventually, death on the cross, as ordained before the world began. All these things establish the fact that our Lord, as to His humanity, was fully human (though without sin), but when we consider His divinity, we are assured that He does not change.

Since this is a short and simple article, at this point, one wonders, why would anyone wish to prove that God, whether the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, indeed does undergo change, in relation to His creation?

One brother whom I respect greatly said that he thought such a modified version of the doctrine of God better explained the biblical data. He then went on to address the passages where God demonstrates aspects of Himself to us in terms which we would use to describe ourselves as proof that such analogical language surely could not be used to simply show us that God does not change, but, in fact, shows us that He does have changes (such as mutable emotions). Passages such as God repenting (being sorry, regretting) that He had made man (Genesis 6:6) and being grieved in His heart for doing so, certainly must mean that God had emotions similar to those we experience, right?

Also, are we not told we can grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)?

We certainly are, and certainly God intends us to understand from such passages that He has emotions (this will be further addressed below), but the question would be, at this point, that although God uses such anthropopathic expressions to define aspects of His eternal, infinite, immutable being to us, are we to assume He intends us to comprehend such as contradicting those other passages which tell us he does not change?

Again, going to the Scripture, we find God stating the difference between Him and His created creatures, through the prophet Balaam:

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

The point of the passage is rather obvious. Although God uses analogical language to describe aspects of His eternal, infinite, unchanging character to His creatures, He is not like His creatures in any aspect or respect. Therefore, when we read again that He is not a man that He should repent (have regret) in 1 Samuel 15:29, and that statement comes after God telling Samuel that He regrets having made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11), we do not understand this as God having emotions such as those He created experience, nor do we understand it as God contradicting Himself. Consequently, because God states so categorically in His Scriptures that He cannot change, and that He is not like His creatures, we must look for evidence in those Scriptures that inform us what, exactly, He means by using such analogical language to define those aspects of Himself which are definitively not like man’s.

Isaiah 46:9-10Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.

Psalm 50 is very instructive in showing the difference between God and those He created. After reciting that which is proper before Him, and that which is not, and what He, as the only One who can and will judge the peoples, He makes this statement:

 

Psalm 50:21:  These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

This is the verdict from God, who is not such a one as those whom He is judging, to those who lived in a manner where they said they served the Lord, yet were themselves liars, spurned His precepts, agreed with and practiced thievery, and spoke evil and slandered all those around them. His judgment is based in who He is, which never changes, and so is righteous, against those who are the epitome of inconstancy.

Furthermore, God declares He has decreed the end from the beginning, and that His counsel will stand. In that counsel, we know that He decreed, at a certain point and time in redemptive history, to have His Son pay the penalty for the sins of His people. Is it so difficult to understand that God expresses those divine emotions He defines in a manner which sounds similar to His creatures according to decreeing so from evermore? Is it so difficult to believe that this God, who has unequivocally told us that He does not change (and that such immutability is the reason that His decreed mercy keeps us from being consumed by His decreed wrath), has purposed, within that eternal counsel, to express divine anger, love, etc. at specific times and points in His creation, towards various of His creatures, in accord with His will?

In this way, we understand that although God expresses emotions, these are not mutable expressions of change in His being, but decreed expressions of His willed intentions towards various of His creatures, and in this way, we may, indeed, understand that He is not like us whom He created. These decreed expressions are, according to His omniscience, given to interact with His creatures at specific times, in specific places, according to that same active foreknowledge of all the events He decreed coming to pass at those intersections of finite time and space, in order to communicate His will and Himself to His finite creatures, to accomplish His willed ends.

This is perfectly in accord with the language of His decreeing the end from the beginning, and makes perfect sense of the biblical data, so that we do not have to seek to accommodate His manner of being, which has no beginning or end, and cannot be acted upon by an outside agent or force, with the finite means of our understanding.

Indeed, with the apostle, all we can do is behold the infinite, eternal, unchanging God with awestruck wonder, and it seems fitting to end this short article with his words:

Romans 11:33-36: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

SDG – Bill