WCF Chapter 2 | Of God, and of the Holy Trinity
Most theological and moral failures can be traced back to a wrong view of God. We charge God with being unfair only if we think he must submit to our concept of fairness. We will contentedly live one way in public and another in private only if we believe him to be local and limited like us. We can only believe in universal salvation if deny God’s fierce hatred of sin. To think and live well we need to know God as he truly is.
This is why God gave us his word. Some truths about God are obvious from nature—he exists and is unparalleled in power (Rom. 1:19–20). But to more intimately know his character, his unity and diversity, and how he relates to his creatures, we need the Bible. Scripture is God’s revelation, his self-disclosure. From cover to cover Scripture tells us essential truths about God, and of the Holy Trinity.
God Is Perfect in All His Attributes (2.1)
We may think about God as he is in himself, without relation to creation. We can’t define God; definitions state exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of a thing. Finite creatures can’t define the infinite. But we can summarize what God has revealed to us. We know that there is one God, not many (Deut. 6:4). This one God is alive and true; neither past being nor a figment of our imagination (1 Thess. 1:9). And he is without fault (Job 11:7–9).
Beyond this, much of what we can say about God is a denial of what he is not, or a distinction from what we are. We are visible bodies, made up of parts and passions, subject to measurement and change. We have a beginning and end. We can be studied by dissection according to ordinary laws of investigation. By contrast God is “a pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal” and “incomprehensible.” And of every positive quality God sets the standard. He is “almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute.”
We can also think about God in terms of what he does. He “[works] all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory.” If something has happened God’s hand was in it. He had always meant to do it. It was good. And it brought him glory. More specifically, we can know God from his actions toward people. To the penitent God shows himself to be “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.” Notwithstanding God’s sovereignty our response to who he is matters. He rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6). Not everyone seeks him. In his judgement against the impenitent God reveals his holiness and terrifying justice.
God’s attributes and works put him in a vastly different class from everything else. He is neither part of creation nor in any way dependent on it.
God Is Self-sufficient (2.2)
God has no needs. God created Eve because it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. We too make things to fill needs. But God is all-sufficient. “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself” (cf. John 5:26). Let’s not flatter ourselves. God doesn’t need us. We don’t complete him. And that’s a good thing. A codependent deity is an oxymoron. God loves us best because he doesn’t rely on us; he is gloriously happy and fulfilled without us.
In a similar way, God doesn’t derive glory. We must glorify God; that’s why we exist. But we don’t increase his majesty. We praise him without making him more praiseworthy. We simply recognize and react rightly to his glory.
The self-sufficient God doesn’t come from anywhere. He is the eternal “I AM” (Ex. 3:14). He cannot be sourced. He is the source. So he has “most sovereign dominion over” all things. God’s glorious character alone determines his actions. Our complaints about why God did this or that sound suspiciously like chiding him for not checking with us first. But what question would God ask?
God has no questions. “In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite [and] infallible.” He isn’t forgetful of the past, indecisive in the present, or uncertain about the future. To God there are no contingencies. All things must work together for the good of God’s people; God’s sufficiency guarantees it.
God is not dependent on us or accountable to us. He owes us nothing. We owe him everything. Who God is defines our relationship to him. But what about God’s relationship to himself?
God Is Triune (2.3)
“Trinity” is the church’s best attempt to put in one word the biblical teaching that God is three distinct persons (tri) in one divine being (unity). You won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible. But the truth is everywhere.
There is one God. One God created heaven and earth. Before he created there was nothing but him. From this one God, and for him, and through him all things exist. “For although there may be many so-called gods in heaven or on earth … yet for us there is one God” (1 Cor. 8:5–6). However the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other they are not three Gods.
This one God exists in three persons each clearly distinct from the other but “of one substance, power, and eternity.” We can distinguish between the Father, Son, and Spirit, but we cannot prioritize them—one is not superior to the others in glory or power. None came before the others or after them. And we can learn from Scripture how the persons relate to each other. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14, 18). This doesn’t mean that he was born of the Father but that he always stands in relation to the first person of the Trinity as Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Spirit is God’s eternal agent, whom he sends to do his work and reveal his majesty (John 15:26). To know one of the persons is to know them all—“the one cannot help but reveal and declare the other.”[i]
The Bible alone can give us a right view of God. And it is impossible to overstate God’s greatness. Wrong views of God are always a low views of him. We can’t extol God enough! “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” … “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33, 36). Some would say that this message is impractical, that it lacks application. But it is this verse that sets up the most comprehensive verse of application in the whole Bible: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Only by attempting to grasp God’s immensity can we hope to present ourselves to him in holy service.
William Boekestein pastors Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has authored numerous books including, with Joel Beeke, Contending for the Faith: The Story of The Westminster Assembly.
[i] Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 37.