An Exposition of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism
by John Flavel
Question 4. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, Infinite, Eternal and Unchangeable in his Being, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, Justice and Truth.
Q. 1. Can the Nature of God be defined, so as men may express properly and strictly what God is?
A. No: Job 11:7. Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? We do then conceive most rightly of God, when we acknowledge him to be unconceivable; and therefor one being asked the question, what is God? answered rightly; If I fully knew that, I should be a God myself; for God only knows his own Essence.
Q. 2. How many ways are there by which men may know and describe the nature of God?
A. There are two ways of knowing God in this Life. First, By way of affirmation; affirming that of God by way of eminence, which is excellent in the Creature; as when we affirm him to be Wise, Good, Merciful, etc. Secondly, By way of Negation, when we remove from God in our Conceptions all that is imperfect in the Creature: so we say God is immense, Infinite, Immutable; and in this sense we also call him a Spirit, (i.e.) He is not a gross corporeal Substance.
Q. 3. How many sorts of Spirits are there; And of which sort is God?
A. There be two sorts of Spirits, created and finite; as Angels, and the Souls of Men are. Secondly, Uncreated, and Infinite; and such a Spirit God only is, infinitely above all other Spirits.
Q. 4. If God be a Spirit, in what sense are we to understand all those Scriptures, which speak of the Eyes of the Lord, the Ears and Hand of God?
A. We are to understand them as Expressions of God, in condescension to the weakness of our understandings; even as the Glory of Heaven is expressed to us in Scripture by a City, and the Royal Feast. These shadows are useful to us whilst we are in the Body; but we shall know him in Heaven after a more perfect manner.
Q. 5. What may be inferred from the Spiritual Nature of God?
A. Hence learn, that it is both sinful and dangerous to frame an Image or Picture of God. Who can make an Image of his Soul? which is yet not so perfect a Spirit as God is? And as it is sinful to attempt it, so it is impossible to do it; Deuteronomy 4:15-16. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of Similitude on the day that the Lord spake to you in Horeb out of the midst of the Fire; lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven Image, the similitude of any figure, etc.
Q. 6. What else may be inferred from thence?
A. That our Souls are the most noble and excellent part of us, which most resembles God; and therefore our chief regard and care should be for them, whatever becomes of the vile Body. Matthew 16:26. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lost his own Soul. Or what shall a man give in Exchange for his Soul?
Q. 7. What further Truth may be inferred hence?
A. That men should beware of spiritual Sins, as well as of gross and outward Sins; for there is a filthiness of the Spirit, as well as of the Flesh, 2 Corinthians 7:1. Let us cleanse our selves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit; and as God sees them, so he greatly abhors them, as sins that defile the noblest part of man, on which he stamped his own Image.
Q. 8. What also may be inferred from hence?
A. Hence we learn, that spiritual worship is most agreeable to his Nature and Will; and the more spiritual it is, the more acceptable it will be to him. John 4:24. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in Spirit and Truth. Externals in worship are of little regard with God; as places, habits, gestures, etc.
First, To superstitious men, Isaiah 66:1-3.
Secondly, To Children that say a Prayer, but mind not to whom, nor what they say.
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