Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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“1 I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. 2 Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. …”Psalm 145
Q4. What is God? A. God is a Spirit,1 infinite, 2 eternal, 3 and unchangeable, 4 in His being, 5 wisdom, 6 power,7 holiness, 8 justice, 9 goodness, and truth. 101 Jn 4:24; 2 Job 11:7–9; 3 Ps 90:2; 4 Jas 1:17; 5 Ex 3:14; 6 Ps 147:5; 7 Heb 1:3; 8 Rev 4:8; 9 Rev 15:4; 10 Ex 34:6–7.
Psalm 145 is a well-known and well-beloved Psalm of praise. It is the first of the five Psalms, often called the Concluding Hallel. A Hallel is a Psalm of praise. These five Psalms contain no words of petition. It is purely praise. Every statement is a word of praise or a call to praise the LORD.
We may divide Psalm 145 into three parts.
First, from verses 1-7, we are given praise to the LORD, for He is great and glorious. Secondly, from verses 8-16, we praise the LORD, for He is gracious and good. Thirdly, from verses 17-21, we praise the LORD, for He is righteous and near.
In this sermon, however, we intend to refrain from expounding this whole Psalm. We want, instead, to learn something about the perfections of God from it.
We have considered how God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. These are the incommunicable perfections of God. No creature made by God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Both angels and men are limited. Both angels and men are changeable. Both angels and men are creatures of time. We have a beginning, and though we will exist forever, it is because God has determined to hold us in existence.
God alone is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He is transcendent. He is not part of creation.
But God is not only transcendent. He is also immanent. So, He has appointed that man shares some of his perfections. We call these the communicable perfections or attributes of God.
The answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 4 states that “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”
The seven attributes: “Being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth,” are part of God’s communicable perfections.
The LORD helping us, we want to look at how Psalm 145 reveals these attributes of God and how our knowledge of God according to these perfections should spur us to praise Him.
The “being” of God speaks of His existence. God is the alone, self-existent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable being. We are finite beings created and held in existence by the power of God.
God’s existence as a personal, rational and moral being is implied in the first verse of Psalm 145. This is how we can speak to Him, bless Him and praise His name forever.
Because He is a personal being, we can address Him as “my God” and “[my] King” (v.1) and also bless His name (v. 2). Were God non-existent, we could not own Him as our God and King, and it will be madness to bless His name. Only a fool will call something that is non-existent or something that he made with his own hands his god.
If God were an impersonal, irrational and amoral influence, it would be meaningless to praise Him or to speak of His unsearchable greatness (v. 4) or His glorious majesty and wondrous works (v. 5).
Because God is an infinite, eternal and unchangeable, personal, rational and moral being, we can and must praise Him from generation to generation (v. 4).
Consider how we are given to praise God for His “mighty acts” (v. 4) and His “wondrous works” (v. 5). Consider how man will speak of the “might of [His] terrible acts” (v. 6). The word ‘terrible’ must not be taken in a negative sense. It speaks of that which strikes terror for those who know not God, but at the same time, fills the heart with awe and wonder for those who know Him.
God, indeed, is a powerful God. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His power. All things were made by Him and sustained in existence by Him.
He is not only omnipotent; He is sovereign. In verse 10, we are given to acknowledge this fact when we are given to sing of how the saints will speak of the glory of God’s kingdom and talk of His power. To speak of God’s power is to speak of His omnipotence. To speak of the glory of His kingdom is to speak of His sovereignty.
What is the difference between the two words? To be omnipotent is to have the power to do all things. When the Lord Jesus says, “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26), He is declaring that God is omnipotent. God can do all that He chooses to do.
On the other hand, Sovereignty speaks of God’s authority or power to rule over all things. When we speak of God as our king (v. 1), we acknowledge that He is sovereign over us. God alone is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably sovereign. Thus, the apostle Paul reminds us that “In him, we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Not only are we held in existence by God, but we are kept alive by Him; and not only are we kept alive by Him, but even our very movements are also made possible by the power of God.
We are not independent, autonomous beings. We are given a degree of freedom, but it is a freedom that is according to our nature. We make choices, but the outcome of our choices is always according to God’s sovereign ordination.
Thus, Solomon says:
“The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. 2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits” (Prov 16:1-2).
Man may plan and decide, but God sovereignly brings to pass all things by His awesome power. And God brings to pass all things for the glory of His name and the good of his children.
All who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are His children. We believe Him because He sovereignly quickened us while we were dead in sin and trespasses. He sovereignly enabled us to look to Christ for our salvation.
But now, related to God’s sovereignty, we see that God is wise.
If God were omnipotent and sovereign but unwise, there would be chaos in the world, and there would be little reason to praise Him.
But because God is wise, one generation will praise his work to another generation (v. 4). We will speak heartily of “the glorious honour of [His] majesty, and of [His] wondrous works” (v. 5).
God is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably wise. God’s knowledge is perfect from eternity. He does not increase in knowledge along the way. He does not make His decisions along the way, depending on how things turn out, because everything that happens, happens according to His sovereignty. He knows even the thoughts of our hearts.
God has communicated wisdom and knowledge to man. But our knowledge will always be limited. Even in heaven, we will still be learning, for we will forever be creatures of time who will increase in knowledge moment by moment.
God’s perfect wisdom, on the other hand, is revealed in at least five ways:
First, it is revealed in His eternal decrees by which He ordains all things that come to pass (cf. Isa 46:9-10).
Secondly, it is revealed in the variety of creatures He has made. “O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches,” says the Psalmist (Ps 104:24).
Thirdly, it is revealed in His perfect knowledge of the thoughts and intents of all His creatures.
Thus, the psalmist declares:
“Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. …” (Ps 139:1-7; cf. Heb 4:13; 1 Jn 3:20b).
Fourthly, God’s wisdom is revealed in His glorious plan of redemption. Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of the manifold wisdom of God and the hidden wisdom of God as in the plan of salvation (1 Cor 2:6-7; Eph 3:10).
Finally, God’s wisdom is revealed in His governance of all His creatures so that all things work together for His glory and for the good of His elect (Rom 8:28).
O, let us praise Him for His wisdom and trust Him in all circumstances since we know He is infinitely wiser than we are.
God is not only wise and powerful. He is also holy. This is implied throughout Psalm 145, but only made explicit in the last verse, which reads, “let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever” (v. 21). But take note of how the Psalm begins with the words, “I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.”
God’s name is a holy name. God’s name is not just “Jehovah.” In Hebrew idiom, a person’s name is the person and all that represents him, including his works. Thus, the name of God refers to God and all that represents Him. In other words, God is holy since His name is holy. And therefore, all that He does and all that represents Him is holy. Thus, in verse 17, we are given to sing: “The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.”
But what is it to be holy? To be holy is to be set apart or to stand apart. God is holy, for He stands apart from all His creation. He is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably holy. He is transcendently holy. This is what the Seraphim were saying when they cried, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:3). God, as such, is absolutely pure and can never be tainted by sin. Thus, the prophet Habakkuk declares in his prayer: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab 1:13).
God’s holiness inspires fear in our hearts because we are creatures of dust who are sinful and unholy. But thanks be to God, He has reconciled us by His Holy Son, renewed us by His Holy Spirit, and called us to be saints, holy ones; and He has adopted us as His sons and daughters.
Therefore, beloved brethren, let us seek to be holy as He is holy. Let us “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
Not only is God wise, powerful and holy. He is also just. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His justice. His justice is also the subject of our praise. In Psalm 145, we extol His justice by singing of His holiness and righteousness (v. 7), as well as His destruction of the wicked: “The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy” (v. 20).
Old Testament saints clearly understood the justice of God. Moses declares, in Exodus 34:7, that God “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex 34:7). “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Dt 32:4).
But the justice of God should be even more clearly understood by New Testaments saints like you and me. Why? Because Christ Jesus our Lord has suffered and died for us. Why did He have to suffer and die? He had to suffer and die because God is a holy and just God.
God, in His goodness, which we will consider shortly, has decreed that a people should be adopted as His sons and daughters, and enjoy His fatherly love for all eternity.
But He would have us to know Him experimentally to be a merciful God. Therefore, He ordained that we should fall into sin. But God is holy and just. He is of purer eyes to behold evil, and He cannot violate justice by simply overlooking our sin against Him. This is why Christ had to die. The wages of sin is death. Christ died to pay the penalty due to our sins for us. Had it not been so, we could never enjoy a loving relationship with God.
But now, because Christ paid for our sins, we will never be punished again. This is because God is just. It would go against His perfection to punish us twice for the same sin. Christ, after all, has been punished sufficiently for all our sins since He is the Son of God. Moreover, because God is just, He will see to it that all injustice against us in this life will be righted. This is why He teaches us not to take vengeance in our own hands, but to leave it to Him.
Thank God for His justice. But let us remember that the justice of God is a double-edged sword. For those whom Christ represents, the knowledge of the justice of God brings gratitude and comfort at the same time. But for those who remain unbelieving, the knowledge of the justice of God should strike terror.
Today if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, then you must know that you will have to represent yourself on the day of judgement. You will have no choice but to plead guilty and accept the sentence against you. You will then be condemned to suffer eternal death that the justice and wrath of God be for all eternal displayed in you.
But, oh, why will you die? There is salvation in Christ Jesus! Oh, will you not turn to Him? I don’t know if He died for you. But I know that all who go to Him repenting of sin and believing in Him find salvation in Him. Oh, will you not go to Him today? He will not cast away anyone who goes to Him in sincerity.
Go to Him so that you may enjoy God’s goodness.
This is the sixth perfection of God, highlighted in Psalm 145. We are given to sing in verse 7: “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness….”
What is the goodness of God? The goodness of God is the fountainhead of all His moral excellence. In God, there is nothing bad. God is good. “Thou art good, and doest good,” says the psalmist (Ps. 119:68).
We may say three things about God’s goodness.
First, goodness is an essential perfection of God. He is the original good. We know something to be good because God declares it to be so. There is nothing bad in God, or God will cease to be God because God is the yardstick of what is good. Take away goodness from God, and God ceases to be God, and there is no more absolute right and wrong, good or bad.
Secondly, God is always good. All He decides and does is good. When we are affected by the outworking of God’s goodness, we may feel that it is good for us or bad for us. But that does not affect the goodness of God. Whatever He does is good and right. Ultimately, the righteous will always experience God’s blessing. Ultimately, the wicked will always experience God’s curses. God, out of His goodness, sends the rain and the sunshine on all, but only the righteous will ultimately receive it as a blessing. The wicked who remain unrepentant will find the same benefits for which they refuse to thank God, weighing them down into the lake of fire.
Thirdly, the goodness of God is experienced by God’s children in many different ways that evoke gratitude in our hearts. For example, in verses 8 and 9, we are given to sing in praise of God:
“The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. 9 The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”
Likewise, in verse 14, we sing:
“The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down.”
We experience God’s goodness when we recognise His grace towards us. Grace is unmerited favour. We experience His goodness, too, when we benefit from His kindness, compassion and tender mercies. Again, the long-suffering of God or His being slow to anger also manifests God’s goodness.
Are you, beloved brethren and children, cognizant of God’s goodness?
But finally, let us consider how God is also a God of truth.
God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in truth. This is not so obvious in Psalm 145, but let us remember that when speaking of God’s truth as a perfection of God, we are not talking about His word, but about His faithfulness or sincerity.
God’s word is, of course, perfect truth, but it is truth because God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in truth. That is to say: He is faithful and sincere in all His promises. He will never have us believe a lie.
In verse 13, we are given to sing, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.” In these words, we are acknowledging the truth or faithfulness of God. The LORD is faithful in all His promises. He will keep them from generation to generation even when those He originally spoke the promise to may have passed from the scene. This idea is conveyed in Psalm 100:5: “For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” It is again highlighted in Psalm 146, where we are given to confess that God is He “which keepeth truth for ever” (Ps 146:6).
Because God is faithful and true, His inspired word is perfectly trustworthy. Let us be familiar with it, believe it and live by it.
Because God is faithful and true, He will keep His promises, unlike men who often fail to keep their promises. Let us encourage ourselves in His promises, especially when we face trial and loneliness in our walk.
Because God is faithful and true, let us seek Him and trust Him to hear our cries. Let us “call upon him in truth” (v. 18). Let us call upon Him sincerely with our whole heart, soul and mind.
Because God is faithful and true, let us take His threats and warnings seriously. Are you still walking in sin and hoping against hope that God does not know your sin and will not deal with it? Oh, will you not banish the thought and repent of your sin while there is yet time?
The God we worship is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
I trust that you understand how these truths are revealed in the Scriptures. But you can also see how it is the basis of our praise in Psalm 145.
But most of all, I hope that this exercise of drawing out the character of God from the Psalm has filled your heart with some thoughts of God to shape your view of God in your mind: for ultimately, the knowledge of God is not merely to inform us about God. Instead, it enables us to relate to God—to praise him, to commune with Him, and to enjoy Him.
The story often told of how the definition of God in our Shorter Catechism came about illustrates this point. It is said that when the committee of the Westminster Divines met in 1647 to discuss the question of what God is, they could not agree on where to start and how to go about the discussion. There was just too much to be said about God. So, the chairman of the committee proposed that one of the members come up with a working definition first. This was agreed upon, but when it came to who was to write the first draft, no one volunteered. The chairman then asked the oldest and most experienced member to do it. But he declined, so he asked the next most senior member. But he, too, declined. And so, the task was passed from one member to another until it reached the youngest member, who happened to be George Gillespie, the commissioner from Scotland. Very reluctantly, Mr Gillespie agreed to take up the task since there was no one else to pass the task to. But he requested that the committee join him to seek the Lord’s wisdom as he embarked on this task. So, they bowed their heads, and he began to pray: “Our heavenly Father, thou who art Spirit infinite, eternal and unchangeable in thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth… help us in this awesome task that we have embarked upon.” He had barely said “Amen,” when one of the senior members of the committee said: “That’s it! That is what we are looking for….” They had found a working definition of God in Gillespie’s prayer!
We don’t know if this story is accurate. Historians have surmised that it could be someone other than Gillespie who prayed or that the story could have been embellished over the years.
But I think something like that must have happened, for indeed, it is in our prayers that we come closest to appreciating who God is. Oh, may it be that as we sing the Psalms and meditate on the Word of Christ, our hearts may be filled with wondrous thoughts of God that lift us up to heavenly places to enjoy Him more than we routinely used to!
May it be that our hearts be filled with humility, gratitude, love and awe towards Him for His great condescension towards us in receiving us to be His sons and daughters despite the great distance between Him and us. Amen.