Incomprehensibility: Its Dogmatic Location and Function in the Second London Baptist Confession

The doctrine of divine incomprehensibility asserts that God’s essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself. While this teaching may be found in several 17th century confessions and theologians, the First (1LBC) and Second (2LBC) London Baptist Confessions of Faith uniquely place this doctrine immediately after affirming God’s existence and aseity. With a slight modification of the 1LBC, the 2LBC continued to confess that God’s “essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself.” The 2LBC later reaffirms incomprehensibility as an attribute, following the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration. In this paper, I demonstrate that the 2LBC statement on divine incompressibility reveals a commitment to the Reformed orthodox doctrine of God and its unique dogmatic location appropriately follows dogmatic reasoning.

I begin with a brief examination of the 2LBC’s statement on God’s existence and aseity. Then, I explore the doctrine of divine incompressibility as historically received among the Reformed. Attention will then be given to a threefold function of divine incomprehensibility in theological reasoning as found in the 2LBC. First, the 2LBC establishes God’s unique knowledge of himself while affirming that God can be known. This distinction between God’s self-comprehension and the creature’s knowledge of God is known as the archetype/ectype distinction. Second, it promotes analogical language. Since God is incomprehensible, language about God cannot be univocal. Since God is knowable, neither can language about God be equivocal. The 2LBC endorses analogical language as evidenced by its historic commitment to incompressibility and the manner in which it continues to speak of God. Third, it develops further statements about the doctrine of God in a manner consistent with the threefold way of knowing: causation, negation, and eminence. The paper concludes by exploring historical factors that may have shaped the 2LBC’s statement on incompressibility. Particular attention will be given to Nehemiah Coxe’s writings against Thomas Collier.

3 thoughts on “Incomprehensibility: Its Dogmatic Location and Function in the Second London Baptist Confession”

  1. historical
    The proposal seems more interested in historical issues than theological issues. It does not seem to move beyond a comparison of historical confessions to an affirmation of the truth now.

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