Monday, August 31, 2009

The Doctrine of God

“On January 7, 1855, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, opened his morning sermon as follows:

 ‘It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. . .

But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. . . . The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.

These words, spoken over a century ago by twenty-year old C. H. Spurgeon were true then, and they are true now. But the human dilemma is that man does not want to engage in “the most excellent study for expanding the soul,” nor does he want to contemplate “Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.” Man’s true  desire is he wished the God of the Bible did not exist at all and would rather have the god of his own making. Erwin Lutzer, in his book, “Ten Lies About God,” writes: “‘I believe in God’ is perhaps one of the most meaningless statements we can make today. The word God has become a canvas on which each is free to paint his own portrait of the divine; like the boy scribbling at his desk, we can draw God according to whatever specifications we please. For some He is ‘psychic energy”; for others He is ‘whatever is stronger than I am’ or ‘an inner power to lead us to deeper consciousness.’ To say, ‘I believe in God’ might simply mean that we are seeing ourselves in a full-length mirror” (pp.2-3). Donald McCullough adds: “When the true story gets told, whether in the partial light of historical perspective or in the perfect light of eternity, it may well be revealed that the worst sin of the church at the end of the twentieth century has been the trivialization of God...We prefer the illusion of a safer deity, and so we have pared God down to more manageable proportions” (Ten Lies About God by Erwin Lutzer). How do you see God? Do you see Him as “a safer deity” or a “God of more manageable proportions?” Listen to how these two concepts play out in our society.

Some see God as an eager bellhop. He’s always there when you need him. He carries your baggage. He never argues with you because you’re in charge. His only responsibility is to make you happy. What he gets from you is: a smile, a thank you, and, if he’s lucky, a tip.

Others see Him as a stern school teacher whose destiny it seems is to ruin a year of your life. He’s the ultimate record keeper who monitors all your activities and gives hard tests to see if his students suffer. He has wants and demands, but seemingly never gives or encourages.

Some even see Him as an impersonal scientist. He’s intellectual but not emotional. He spends all his time locked away in his heavenly laboratory working on unknowable wonders.

If not an eager bellhop, stern school teacher, or impersonal scientist. Some see him as a clever magician who must always work through signs, miracles and wonders. If there is no manifestation of power, they conclude God really isn’t involved. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “A wicked and perverse generation seeks after a sign” (Mat.16:4).

You may have heard this one: a heavenly grandfather. Whose presence is acknowledged. Who is visited occasionally. Who “smiles and tells them he loves them” when they misbehave.

Lastly, some see him as Mr. Fix-It. “To view God merely as Mr. Fix-It makes Him worthless for anything else. He’s great when were in a fix; but unnecessary when everything is going well” (Points and article from Masterpiece Magazine, Gregg Cantelmo, 6-7). To view God in this way is painting your own portrait of the Divine,” as Erwin Lutzer says. And to do that is nothing short of idolatry. To view God in any way or manner other than what is given in the Bible is idolatry. “Contrary to popular belief, idolatry is more than bowing down to a small figure or worshiping in a pagan temple. According to the Bible, it is thinking anything about God that isn’t true or attempting to transform Him into something He isn’t” (John MacArthur, Our Awesome God, Introduction, 7).

So for us to understand who God is and what He is like, we have to come to the Bible alone. We cannot entertain, “Well, I think God is like....” and our definition be other than what the Bible gives. We must come to the Bible to understand God. I use that term “understand” only to mean that such is only possible with the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We will spend all of our earthly life seeking to understand the infinite God and that alone will be by faith empowered by His Spirit.

John Owen has a good comment on this when he says, “There are some truths of God that He has taught us to speak of. He has even guided us in our expressions of them. But when we have done so we do not really fully understand these things. All we can do is believe and admire. We profess, as we are taught that God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal; and we know the discussions about His omnipresence, immensity, infinity and eternity. We have, I say, words and notions about these things; but as to the things themselves, what do we really know? What do we comprehend of them? Can the mind of man do any more than be swallowed up in an infinite abyss and give itself up to what it cannot conceive or express? Is not our understanding ‘brutish’ in the contemplation of such things?

We are more perfect in our understanding when we realize that we cannot understand, and rest there. It is just the back parts of eternity and infinity that we see. What shall we say of the Trinity, or the existence of three Persons in the same individual essence? This is such a mystery that it is denied by many, because they cannot understand it. Is it not indeed a mystery whose every letter is mysterious? Who can declare the generation of the Son, the procession of the Spirit, or the difference of the one from the other? Thus, the infinite and inconceivable distance that is between Him and us keeps us in the dark as to any sight of His face or clear apprehension of His perfections.

We know Him rather by what He does than by what He is. We understand His doing us goo, but not truly His essential goodness. How little a portion of Him, as Job says, is discovered in this way! (The Mortification of Sin, 94-5).

Commenting on that last paragraph, John MacArthur says, “To define the infinite God in ways we can understand, we often have to state what He is not for a basis of comparison. For example, when we say that God is holy, we mean He has no sin. We cannot conceive of absolute holiness since we’re all too familiar with sin” (Our Awesome God, 8-9).

So we have to turn to the only Book that can assist our understanding of God and we have to turn to the author of this great Book in order to know Him. “Knowing what God is like is foundational to knowing God Himself. And knowing God is the essence of being a Christian” (MacArthur, 9). The apostle John wrote, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

For the next week or so we will explore the subject of the doctrine of God.

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