*This post is adopted from a presentation on chapter 4 paragraph 1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
1. In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.2LBCF (1677/89) IV.1
Chapter 4 is a small chapter in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 with only three paragraphs. But there is so much doctrine here that is assumed by the writers of our confession. It is built upon (at the time) over 1000 years of the church’s orthodox confession of theology. The writers were trying to cram as much as they could into this little chapter. Now some things we will be discussing today will be deep. We will have to stretch our minds some as we go through the doctrine of Creation. Keep in mind though that these doctrines were considered basic Christianity to the men who compiled the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. This not considered “high church” doctrine or a 500-level course in systematic theology. This was Christianity 101. These doctrines encompassed the basics of what Christian doctrine entails. Christians need to have this mindset as it should lead us to want to study and gain the knowledge that these doctrines contain. We should not fear them.
However, this is not knowledge for knowledge sake. We ultimately gain this knowledge so we can worship God properly. How can I worship a God that I do not know? I must know Him to worship Him. The more knowledge that is gained of Him, the more I should worship Him. In other words, proper doctrine will lead to proper living if applied. These items are vital if we are to worship God properly. Now, as we go along this will not solely be a post about whether the Genesis account is figurative or literal, but a discussion of the meat behind this doctrine that the writers of our confession packed into Chapter 4, paragraph 1. The Doctrine of God is integral to this chapter and we will be diving into this post and then next weeks post focusing on man being made in God’s image and his state of freedom before sin came into the world. I think there is a tendency to read these chapters in isolation which is not how they are to be read. Of Creation was placed as chapter 4 intentionally. Now why would the authors place this right after the chapter on God’s decree? Would it not make more sense for the doctrine of providence to come after the decree because they are intricately related and inseparable? Maybe at first glance it appears that way, but we must not think this to be the case. Richard Barcellos notes,
“The decree of God is an ad intra divine work, as Richard A. Muller says, “willed by the entire Godhead as the foundation of all [ad extra works]”. The decree is sometimes termed an immanent, or intrinsic, divine work because its termination is in God. The execution of God’s decree, however, brings us into the realm of God’s external, ad extra, transient, or extrinsic, works-works which produce effects, or creatures.”Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, pages 8-9
The doctrine of Scripture is put first to show where our supreme authority for faith and practice comes from: Scripture. Chapter 2 builds upon this by grounding our minds in the doctrine of God who is the creator of Scripture. Then the basis for everything, His decree, is then laid out for us and after that there is chapter 4 being an outpouring of that decree. Chapter 4 could rightly be said to be a “part 2” to chapter 3 since it essentially tells us more about the actual decree of God. He then works out His decree through providence. You can see the systematic way in which this was formulated. I do think, however, that chapter 2 on God and the Holy Trinity is probably more in view here in the first paragraph. Again Barcellos says,
“What chapter 4 does is confess, in particular, the manifestation of the very same God confessed in chapter 2. This manifestation of God comprises the revelatory divine effects in creatures. It is the eternal and immutable God confessed in chapter 2 who manifests divine power, wisdom, and goodness in that which comes-to-be.”Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 10
Notice what is says in the opening paragraph of chapter 4: “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit …” There is this trinitarian emphasis given with respect to God’s working in creation. What the confession says on God in chapter 2 must be in light here or the words used here to describe God make no sense. He is most wise in his acts; He is impassable meaning he does not have passions. He is simple meaning He is not composed of parts and does not change. A solid doctrine of God is needed to understand this chapter, or our understanding of this passage will be hindered greatly. Barcellos notes,
“Since chapter 4 is not the first chapter of the confession, it assumes all the formulations which precede it. Though this is obvious to anyone who reads the confession, it is no small or trite observation. It has mammoth implications of hermeneutics and theological method in the process of formulating Christian doctrine.”Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 9
Another interesting note is that this chapter does differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Sam Waldron notes,
“The 1689 Confession differs from the Westminster and Savoy only in making the last sentence a separate paragraph.”
A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 88
What this shows is that our Particular Baptist forefathers were in complete agreement with their Presbyterian brothers on this topic. If you recall, the Particular Baptists were not looking to create division with their Presbyterian brethren. Far from it. They desired to walk in unity with them, but there was a time to bring forward their differences. But here they show their unity.
Given that, here is what I want to investigate from Chapter 4, paragraph 1:
- What exactly is Creation and what is the Trinitarian activity in the eternal act of Creation?
- Was there a change in God because of Creation?
- Is Creation Poetry or History?
What Creation is and the Trinitarian activity of God in the eternal act of Creation
We find the Creation story at the beginning of Genesis which spans the first two chapters of that book. Let us look at Genesis 1:1-8,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. [b]So the evening and the morning were the first day.
Then God said, “Let there be a [c]firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
Now we know the rest of the story. God makes animals and man, placing that man in the garden of Eden to watch over what had been created. Woman was then made from him and they were told to be fruitful and multiply. This is the story of Creation. Given this story, we would tend to think that Creation is just simply God creating all things, right? While that is true, there is more to it than that. Creation is God creating things that are not God. It is God working outside Himself bringing things to be that were not before. Herman Bavinck says,
“[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being.”Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, page 416
This distinction is especially important. I think the tendency to make God like us in our descriptions of Him, flows from a conflation of these categories. While it may be denied that God is creature, the way He is sometimes described assumes a creatureliness about Him.
Herman Bavinck says,
“It is God who posits the creature, eternity which posits time, immensity which posits space, being which posits becoming, immutability which posits change. There is nothing intermediate between these two classes of categories: a deep chasm separates God’s being from that of all creatures.”Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, pages 158-159
Going back to our discussion about Creation, the act also includes the creation of time. Time was created along with other created things as William Ames notes in his work, The Marrow of Theology. Since time is the measurement of change in what is created, it must have been created along with the rest of the world and its contents. James Dolezal notes,
“Properly considered, time is not an entity or an essence but rather is merely a relation between things that change and are liable to change. Time is concreted with all creatures insofar as it is the measure of all their movement. When we speak of time as a realm we do not mean to imply that it is like a container or box in which temporal things exist, rather we denote simply the created order which is populated by beings that are subject to and undergo change and thus are measured temporally.”“Eternal Creator of Time” from Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, 2014
The act of Creation is an eternal act of God and it was not just one or two persons of the Trinity that were involved in said act. They were all participants in the act of Creation. We know that Scripture discusses this in different places. It was the full being of God making the world out of nothing. Now what do I mean that the act of Creation was an “eternal” act of God? How can the act of Creation be an eternal act if it happened at the beginning of time? God exists outside of time. We see this in passages such as 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2.
2 Timothy 1:9
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,
In both these passages God works outside of time. He is not bound to it nor is he measured by it. Dolezal notes,
“Both 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 describe God’s purposeful activity…Literally rendered “before times eternal” or “above times eternal,” the sense is that God’s intrinsic activity is not a temporally indexed event. In the context, the point is that God’s good purposes toward His people are not an afterthought with Him, but are eternally settled apart from the fluctuations of history.”All That Is in God, page 79
This means that God acting as God is not held in place by time or the constrains of this created world. His actions are outside of it are therefore eternal. The conclusion then is that all the acts of God are eternal, including Creation. There was no point where Creation began with God and no point where it stopped. It simply is. With Creation, this means that there is an eternal act of Creation in God that produced a temporal effect in the production of material things (Dolezal discusses this in All That Is in God on pages 100-103). This is the only way to consistently look at all the acts of God with the biblical data that is presented to us. Keeping the principle in mind that Creation is God making things that are not God is important here as we are confronted with this difficult truth. God created the world and therefore He is not bound by time, He must be eternal. If He is eternal, all His acts must be eternal. The truth about God’s eternity is by no means an easy thing to grasp. In fact, we will not be able to fully comprehend it.
John Owen notes,
“How inconceivable is this glorious divine property unto the thoughts and minds of men! How weak are the ways and terms whereby they about to express it… He that says most only signifies what he knows of what it is not. We are of yesterday, change every moment, and are leaving our station to-morrow. God is still the same, was so before the world was, – from eternity. And now I cannot think what I have said, but only have intimated what I adore.”A Practical Exposition upon Psalm CXXX from The Works of John Owen Volume 6, page 662
There is mystery involved. However, that does not mean that we should not pursue greater knowledge of God in things like this. We should seek to know this God more! Mystery should not lead us to timidity. These men who came before us sought to know these things and so should we. This is the God we serve.
Change in God and Creation
Given what we have discussed about the eternal act of Creation, why is it so important that we defend this difficult doctrine of Creation? Who cares about how God created the world (whether it is an eternal act or not?). Is it not enough that the world was created? No, it is not. If we are not careful, we can posit things about God that are in fact not true therefore creating a different God. Once it is placed in those terms, it should cause us to be incredibly careful with the doctrine of God. What may seem like trivial technicalities about the being of God to us, were by no means trivial to the orthodox in the church and to the writers of our confession of faith. If we go back to chapter 2, we see a detailed description of who God is (read chapter 2 paragraph 1). We see from this paragraph the careful detail that is given to who God is. One aspect of God’s nature that is of importance in relation to His creation of the world is what is called His simplicity and immutability. Simplicity does not mean that God is easy to understand. It means that God is not composed of parts. This is what is being referred to in chapter 2 paragraph 1 where it is posited that God is “without body, parts, or passions”. God is not “made up” of anything. There are no components to God’s being. He is not dependent on anything outside of Himself to be Himself. He just is. God cannot become anything greater or lesser than He is.
“Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility (WCF/2LCF 2.1) means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable Creator; he is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being.”Trinity & Creation A Scriptural and Confessional Account page 43
Richard Muller notes,
“…God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized.”Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Second Edition, page 11
We see this doctrine by what is revealed in Scripture:
If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him?
Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give Him?
Or what does He receive from your hand?
for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one [a]blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good
For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the [a]immutability of His counsel, [b]confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two [c]immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we [d]might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?
Given what the Bible says about the immutability and simplicity of God, how does that relate to Creation? Because if God cannot change then Creation does nothing to make God something He was not before. God cannot take on new properties to be God. God would not be a perfect being if He is able to take on new properties. There was no time where God was not the Creator. There was no new property that was taken on by Him given the temporal world that was brought into existence. If God could change due to Creation, then He is no longer the God that is explicitly confessed in Scripture as not being dependent upon His creation to be God. We now have a God that is like us. We have fundamentally changed God. The basis for the promises of God found in Word are now shaken. This principle of change in God given Creation has been asserted by some in the Reformed camp (John Frame and K. Scott Oliphint). This view is far from what the writers of what both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith had in mind. They confessed an eternal Creator who was before the world existed and continues to be.
Creation: Poetry or History?
In our final point here this morning, I want to touch upon a topic that Dr. Waldron brings out in his book on the confession. That is the topic on whether the Genesis account of Creation is a historical account or simply poetic, figurative language. There are those who have suggested that the Creation is simply figurative and should not be taken as actual historical record. It has also been posited, that the terms for “day” in Genesis are referring to a time over millions of years. Why are these assertions about the text dangerous? They seek to impose to the text what does not exist. As to the argument raised about the historicity of the Creation account, there are problems with this view. Dr. Waldron brings out some very helpful points. There is no reason to believe the account of Creation is given in any other way than by historical account. The language is given of a record and it is noted within time the events that took place (temporal effect of God’s eternal act). Waldron notes,
“If we take Genesis 12 and following as historical narrative (and it would be a radical critical position to deny the historicity of Abraham), then it cannot be doubted that Genesis I-II is intended also to be understood as such.”A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 90
It would be ridiculous to think that the account given in the Scripture is anything but historical given what follows it. Unfortunately, higher criticism of the Bible leads us to question fundamental truths in the Bible not only on a theological level, but simply on a literary level.
Finally, we will address the falsehood that the term “day” means “age” or “millions of years”. This is probably the most radical view, but one that appears to try to make modern day science and the Bible compatible with one another. There is an underlying assumption that the theory of evolution must be true and therefore for Christians to be consistent, we must assume the text is talking about an “age” when it says “day”. This is preposterous. Waldron notes how it would be foolish to think that a Jew would read this and understand “day” to mean millions of years. Waldron goes on to say,
“Furthermore, the meaning of day is defined in Genesis 1:5 as composed of periods of light and darkness, as well as evenings and mornings.”A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 92
How this translates into “millions of years” is left lacking. This is what is called a non-sequitur. That means it does not follow. Just because A is given does not mean B follows. That is what is being asserted in this argument. Also, historically speaking the theory of evolution did not exist prior to the Genesis account being written. It came maybe close to 3,000 years later. To read a system backwards into a text that says completely the opposite with no other supporting evidence is to create an anachronism that is laughable. The text should be taken as it is. God worked a supernatural miracle to bring about material things that are not God. We should bask in the awesomeness of the power of God. What did we say before? Why is the Creator/creature distinction so important? It keeps us from making God like us. We are more hesitant to make assertions about God based on our experience when we have firmly grounded in our minds that He is distinct from us.