“We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” (Article 1)
The Singularity of God
The Belgic Confession rightly starts with the doctrine of God. And the very first thing that it affirms and teaches us about God is that there is only one true and living God. That there is only one God in many ways is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Consider just a handful of the passages of Scripture that affirm this truth:
- “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)
- “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV)
- “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6, ESV)
- “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV)
- “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9, ESV)
The Simplicity of God
The next thing that the Confession affirms and teaches is that God is “simple.” Now when the Confession speaks of God as being “simple,” it is not saying that God is easy to understand, much less that we are able to fully comprehend Him. Rather, this is referring to the doctrine of the simplicity of God. This doctrine is practically unheard of in our day, but has always been a hallmark of Reformed orthodoxy’s doctrine of God.
God’s simplicity basically means that God has no parts and so He is not to be thought of as consisting in the sum of His parts.1 This is what the Westminster Confession of Faith is speaking of when it says that God is “without body, parts, or passions; immutable” (2.1).
Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) defined the simplicity of God as follows:
“Whatever God is he is completely and simultaneously. “God has no properties but merely is essence, God’s properties are really the same as his essence: they neither differ from his essence, nor do they differ materially from one another.””2
The simplicity of God also means that God’s various perfections or attributes cannot be pitted against each other3 as if they contradicted each other or even as if one or another were primary or controlling of the rest. In other words, God’s love is a holy love; God holiness is a loving holiness; etc.
The Spirituality of God
The Confession says that God is a “spiritual Being.” This means (among other things) that God is not physical – He does not have a body. Nor is He in and of Himself visible. Daniel Hyde writes,
“The spirituality of God and the simplicity of God go together, as a spirit does not have flesh and bones, and a spirit cannot be cut up into parts.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.42)
The spirituality of God also helps to explain the infinity, immensity, and the omnipresence of God. God could not be fully present everywhere if He were physical.
- “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV)
- “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV)
- “To make a true image of God is impossible.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, p.60)
The Incommunicable Attributes of God
The “incommunicable” attributes of God are those attributes or perfections of God that we cannot and do not in any way share with or reflect of God. The list of these attributes found here in article 1 is certainly not exhaustive: “ eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty.”
We are creatures (i.e. created beings), and so are not eternal, but rather have beginnings. God has no beginning and no end (Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 1:8; 22:13). His infinity also applies to what we sometimes call the “omni’s” of God (i.e. omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience).
We are creatures, and so are finite (having limits), whereas God is infinite (without limits in His being, wisdom, power, etc.), and so He is incomprehensible to us. In other words, we can know God truly and rightly as He has revealed Himself to us, but we cannot know Him completely or exhaustively.
God’s immutability means that He is unchangeable in all of His perfections. Any change in God would imply a change for the worse, from utterly perfect to imperfect.
The Communicable Attributes of God
The “communicable” attributes of God are those attributes or perfections of God that we in some way share with or reflect of Him. These include (but are not limited to) such things as: “perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.”
We in some way share in or reflect God’s wisdom, justice, goodness, and truth, among other things. This is surely related in some way to mankind being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). These are things that separate us from the animals, who are not made in God’s image.
2 The Doctrine of God, p.121 (The quotation marks within this quote are in the original and are unattributed.)
3 See Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, p.41.