The third Lecture on Faith has to do with God's characteristics, and the fourth has to do with His attributes. There is some overlap in what makes the list, but to be honest, I'm not sure if the difference between characteristics and attributes is significant. Maybe I'll figure it out by the end of this and the next post. Characteristics are something that God is, while attributes are something He has.
We begin with a reminder from the previous lecture that "faith comes by hearing the word of God" (LoF 3:1, JST Rom 10:14). And then this nice summary:
"Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, The idea that he actually exists. Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.--For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." (LoF 3:2-5.)
I need to stop and point out that "fruitful" faith is faith that can save you; faith that results in your personal salvation.
The writers of the lectures also take a moment to stop and give credit to the scriptures as the source of our understanding: "we are indebted to the revelations which he has given to us, for a correct understanding of his character, perfections and attributes; because without the revelations which he has given to us, no man by searching could find out God" (LoF 3:7, Job 11:7-9, 1 Cor 2:9-11).
Psalm 103:6-8, 17-18
1 John 4:8
From the foregoing testimonies, we learn the following things respecting the character of God.
First, That he was God before the world was created, and the same God that he was, after it was created. (LoF 3:12-13, 19.) I interpret this to mean roughly that the guy who was in charge when this world began is still in charge today. There was no takeover, hostile or otherwise, in the interim. We can be confident that the God of the scriptures is the same God we can turn to today. Also, God is the creator of all things, and we should not fear there might be some being greater being who could come in and thwart all God's plans--we can trust that He is ruler over all and will stay that way.
Secondly, That he is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and that he was so from everlasting, and will be to everlasting. (LoF 3:14, 20.) God is benevolent, and always will be. If we didn't believe that He is be good and kind enough to forgive our sins and imperfections, we could have no hope for salvation, and could never truly have faith in Him that would result in our salvation.
Thirdly, That he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday to-day and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation. (LoF 3:15, 21.) This is different from the first point, which was that God has always been God, the person in charge has not been replaced. The third point is that He himself has also not changed. Whatever He was like in the beginning is the same as how He is now, and we can trust that all these other qualities we depend on will remain.
Fourthly, That he is a God of truth and cannot lie. (LoF 3:16, 22.) This goes along with the third point. If God could lie, then that would throw everything else we think we know about Him into doubt. It is interesting to consider that God is limited in certain ways, if you consider not being able to lie a limit.
Fifthly, That he is no respecter of persons; in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him. (LoF 3:17.) The lecture says it better than I can: "It is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellecies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege" (LoF 3:23). I find the use of the word "authority" very interesting. As children of God, every one of us has authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life. Correct faith (correct according to the list of three things above) gives us the authority to act and to obtain promised blessings, regardless of our gender, race, age, or anything else, because every man has an equal privilege.
Sixthly, That he is love. (LoF 3:18, 24.) From the catechism at the end of the chapter: "Would it be possible for a man to exercise faith in God, so as to be saved, unless he had an idea that God was love? He could not; because man could not love God, unless he had an idea that God was love, and if he did not love God, he could not have faith in him." I don't know that I've ever heard a discussion of the connection between faith and love. Maybe there needs to be one. But I think it is an important truth that you cannot believe in someone or something if you do not also love them, and also that true love implies a certain amount of faith in the object of your love.
Read the following post in this series here.
Read the following post in this series here.