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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 2. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but One only, the living and true God.

Having given us our Lord's definition or description of what God is, and having supplemented that definition by gathering round it a cluster of His scriptural attributes, the Catechism proceeds to ask, God being such, "Are there more Gods than one?" And the answer is made, "There is but One only, the living and true God." "Thus," says an eminent teacher of Christian truth, "we must ever commence in all our teaching concerning the Holy Trinity: we most not begin by saying that there are Three, and then go on to say afterwards that there is One, lest we give false notions of the nature of that One; but we most begin by laying down the great truth that there is One God, in a simple and strict sense, and then go on to speak of Three, which is the way in which the mystery was progressively revealed in Scripture. In the Old Testament we read of the Unity; in the New, we are enlightened in the knowledge of the Trinity." The Old Testament taught that "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." The unity and spirituality of God formed the article of a standing or falling Church in that early dispensation of grace and truth.

One only—"The words ‘one' and ‘only,' ascribed to God in Scripture, are not used in contrast to the Son or the Holy Spirit, but rather with reference to those who are not God, and are falsely called so" (Basil). "One," in this connection, is not used in the sense of numeration; it points to an absolute aloneness rather than to plurality and accumulation. This has been called a transcendental unity, or the oneness of what is indivisible. Thus it has been said: "To apply arithmetical notions to God is as unphilosophical as profane. . . He is not One in the way in which created things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in contrast to two or three and a whole series of numbers. But God has not even such relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of our contrasting Him with them" (Newman's Grammar of Assent). "Our divines, therefore, reckon not God, in point of arithmetic, together with us. They cast not God and us into the same numbering. They suffer not creatures to bear or sustain the repute or account of numbers after Him, or when He is spoken of. They say of Him that He is unicus [unique], the only One, who stands apart by Himself, out of all arithmetic, as His transcendent being comes not under our logic" (Goodwin).

the living and true God. Living in the supreme sense of having life in Himself and thus being the Fountain of life to all His creatures. "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being." "No name is so free from the taint of anthropomorphism, or of anything incongruous and degrading, as the living God" (Goldwin Smith, Bystander, ii. 141). And true as distinguished from all false gods. This doctrine of God was the ground of all the prophetical preaching and controversy in the Old Testament. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord" (see Q. 44). And Paul, treating of things offered to idols, made a restatement of this fundamental position of the Hebrew and Christian faith: "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him."


1. Explain the phrase, A true Jew was a Crypto-Christian

2. What is meant by the saying of a Father, Not number but glory is expressed in the utterance, The Lord God is one Lord?

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