God: Both Transcendent and Immanent

This week I received my copy of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology via UPS entitled, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. As I glanced through the 1,052 page tome (when something is over 1000 pages, I reserve the right to call it a tome), I came across the following paragraph discussing the name of God:

“On one hand, the revelation of God’s name is a sign of transcendence, measuring the gulf between God’s majesty and the human servant. Misusing God’s name required the death penalty under the old covenant (Ex 20:7; Lev 24:16). Nevertheless, this name is also a sign of God’s immanence, having been given to his people as a pledge of his personal presence, to be invoked in danger and praised at all times.” (The Christian Faith, p. 224)

Our God is truly “wholly other” (to borrow a phrase from Karl Barth) from His creation, and we as creatures will never be able comprehend Him at any level, unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us. He is not “the man upstairs” or our “good ol’ buddy and pal” with whom we interact as we would with Bubba down at the Green Light Café. He is El Shaddai (God Almighty) and is unapproachable to sinful man without the mediation of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

However, He is also a God who has chosen to reveal Himself to man, through His natural revelation (“the heavens declare the glory of God”), and, more specifically, through the special revelation of His Written Word. This holy unapproachable God has chosen to enter into covenant with sinful man as He said through the prophet Jeremiah:

“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)   

We enter into this covenant totally and completely through the grace of this Transcendent and Immanent God. We “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” and now “have access in one Spirit to the Father” through the finished work of Christ, His Son. (Eph. 2) Horatius Bonar said it so well in verse:

Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.

Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.

Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak;
Thy pow’r alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save thine,
No other blood will do;
No strength, save that which is divine,
Can bear me safely through.

I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And with unfalt’ring lip and heart
I call this Saviour mine.
This cross dispels each doubt;
I bury in his tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each ling’ring shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace;
I trust his truth and might;
He calls me his, I call him mine,
My God, my joy, my light.
‘Tis he who saveth me,
And freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me,
I live because he lives.

“Not What These Hands Have Done”—Horatius Bonar

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