Results tagged “aseity” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 7.1, Part One

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i. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

What the Confession asserts in section one of Chapter 7 has massive and profound implications, first, for theology proper, then for our understanding of God's activity in history, and the order of these two is crucial. This first section deserves the meditative attention of every serious Christian, and it seems, for the most part, not to have gotten the attention it deserves.

There are three things worth noting in this majestic entree to the Covenant:

Point 1. In a chapter devoted to a summary of God's covenant with man, the first thing that the divines determined to express was the infinite distance between God and man. But just what is this distance? Surely the notion of "distance" must be a metaphor, since, in reality, there never was nor will there ever be a spatial distance between God and man. God is repletively present; he is present, fully and completely, in all places at all times, and into eternity, both in the new heaven and new earth and in hell. So the distance cannot be a spatial distance.

What is it then? It is a distance that has its focus in the being of God in comparison to the being of his creatures. That is, it is an ontological distance. God is, as the Confession has already affirmed, "infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible..." As infinite in being, as immutable, immense and eternal, God is wholly other; he is beyond anything that mere creatures can think or experience. We cannot conceive of what God's infinity is; our minds cannot grasp or contain what God's eternity is. He is limited by nothing, not by space and not by time. So, there is a "distance," a separation of being between God and his creatures. God, and He alone, is independent (a se). Everything else is dependent on Him.

This is no philosophical idea or human speculation. It is rather a necessary implication of the first words of the Bible - "In the beginning, God..." These words affirm that at the beginning of creation (including of time), God was. Given that truth, we confess that God alone is independent; what could God have needed when there was nothing existing but Him alone? He existed before creation and nothing else did. His existence was not dependent on anyone or anything else; it could not be dependent. Before there was creation, there was only God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was no time and there was no space; there was no "when" of God's existence, nor was there a "where." There was only the Triune God.

It is incumbent on the Christian to recognize this before, and in the context of, our thinking about God's covenantal relation to creation. This is why the Confession begins where it does. The problem with any theology that will not confess the absolute independence and sovereignty of God is that it does not begin to think about God's existence and independence prior to his act of creation and of covenant. A theology that begins with "God-in-relationship" is a theology that will inevitably veer from the truth of Scripture, and from a true confession of God's character, as well as His covenant with man

Chapter 2.2

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ii. 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, not 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 He is pleased to require of them.

The doctrine of God's aseity states that God is self-existent. He does not have it in him (whether inclination or power) to stop existing. He exists necessarily. Who made God? a child may ask. The answer is that he had no need of being made; he is always there. Or, for gown ups, God is a se (of or from himself). It is sometimes stated negatively: God is uncaused (the notion of self-causation should be avoided since it requires God to exist to actualize himself); and sometimes positively: he is, in himself, fullness of being. The doctrine is intimately related to divine simplicity (Day 1 above).

Again, the Divines are mimicking Patristic and medieval theology. Thus Aquinas: "But, in no wise does the supreme Nature exist through another, nor is it later or less than itself or anything else. Therefore, the supreme Nature could be created neither by itself, nor by another; nor could itself or any other be the matter whence it should be created; nor did it assist itself in any way; nor did anything assist it to be what it was not before." (Monologium, 6). 

If pressed for Scriptural "proof", the Divines pointed to Jesus' statement: "the Father has life in himself" (John 5:26). As Calvin comments, "God is said to have life in himself, not only because he alone lives by his own inherent power, but because, containing in himself the fullness of life, he communicates life to all things." (Commentary, ad. loc.).