(A Series of Lessons on the 37 Articles of The Confession of Faith, A Reformed Creed usually called The Belgic Confession.)
The Doctrine of God, Articles 8.13.
Lesson 7 Article VIII
God is One in Essence Yet Distin. guished in Three Persons
According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which arc three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each his personality, distinguished by their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.
Hence, then, it is evident that the father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed the flesh, nor has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without his Son, or without his Holy Spirit. For they are all three coeternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for they are all three one, in truth, in power in goodness and in mercy.
The Proof of the Foregoing Article of rhe Trinity of Persons in One God
All this we know as well from the testimonies of Holy Writ as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures that leach us to believe this Holy Trinity are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.
In Genesis 1:26, 27, God says: Let us make mall ill our image, after our likeness...And God created man. in his own image, male and female created he them. And Genesis 3:22, Behold, the man is become as one of us. From this saying, Let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when he says, God created, he signifies the unity, his true, he does not say how many persons there are, but that which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is my beloved Son; the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the shape of a dove. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers: Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God (Lk. 1:35). Likewise: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all (II Cor. 13:14). And (A.V.), There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (I Jn. 5,7).
In all these places we are fully taught that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.
Moreover, we must observe the particular offices and operations of these three persons towards us. The Father is called our Creator, by his power; the Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood; the Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, by his dwelling in our hearts.
This doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been affirmed and maintained by the true Church since the time of the apostles to this very day against the Jews, Mohammedans, and some false Christians and heretics, as Marcion, Manes, Praxeas, Sabellius, Samosatenus, Arius, and such like, who have been justly condemned by the orthodox fathers. Therefore, in this point, we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nicea, and of Athanasius; likewise that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.
In addition to those found and explained in article 9 above, look up: Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 6:4; I Kings 8:60 (God is one); I Peter 1:1, 2; II Corinthians 13:14 (the names of the three persons mentioned together).
1. Does the doctrine of the Trinity have practical value for the Christian Iife?
It is actually true that the entire plan of salvation stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity. Salvation is the result of a covenant made between the persons of the Trinity. The covenantal character of Christianity, which needs to be emphasized especially in our day, is rooted in the tri-personal character of God. There is no more basic doctrine than that of the Trinity. and therefore there is no more scriptural interpretation of Christianity than that indicated by the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace.
2. But isn’t it a contradiction in terms to say that God is one in being and three in persons?
No. It would be contradictory if we were to say that God is one and three in the same sense. Thus it would be an absurdity to say that there are three persons in the Trinity and at the same time declare that there is only one person. The revealed truth is that God is one in one sense, that is, in being, and three in another sense, that is, persons. We must quickly admit of course, that this is a baffling mystery, but we need never concede that this is a logical contradiction. We must not forget that we are mere creatures, and that God, who is infinitely higher than we are, could hardly be expected to be comprehensible for our human, finite thinking.
3. Is there any way to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity?
Several attempts have been made, but all, of course, break down far short of their purpose. An example of such illustration is to be found in C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality where we read:
“In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we can’t fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal-something more than a person” (p. 16).
4. Why do all such illustrations fail in the attempt to explain the Trinity?
The Trinity is a divine mystery, which has been revealed only in the Bible. It has no parallels in nature, and therefore attempts to liken the Trinity to things natural or physical cannot help but fail.
5. Is the Trinity denied by any particular theological system or denomination?
The Unitarians deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They believe that God exists only in one person, the Father, and that therefore the Son and the Holy Spirit arc not divine persons. Unitarianism brought about spiritual devastation in the New England states beginning in the late 18th and in the 19th centuries. As a spiritual force it is weak, having degenerated into a moralistic, “Jesus-is-a-good-example” sort of religion.
6. What do we believe when we confess that there is “one only God, who is the one single essence?”
“First of all, this means that we confess that the God of the Scriptures is the only God. Christianity is in this sense a monotheism, that is, a system of religion which believes in only one God. The opposite of monotheism is polytheism, or belief in many gods. Secondly, to confess belief in one only God” means that we believe that God is a unity. This is stressed throughout Article 8. The three persons are “not divided, nor intermixed the Father has never been without his Son, or without his Holy Spirit they. arc all three co-eternal and coessential…they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.”
7. Aren’t the Son and the Holy Spirit subordinate to the Father in the Trinity?
No. There is perfect equality between them. Each is absolutely necessary to the other. It appears that many Christians feel that the Father is really first, and the other persons inferior to him. Perhaps this is due to the fact that often in Scripture the entire godhead, all three persons, are referred to as “Father.” This is the case, for example, in Galatians 1:3, where Paul writes: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” “God the Father” refers to the entire Trinity, and “our Lord Jesus Christ” designates not the second person of the Trinity but rather Jesus Christ as our mediator. Actually there is no inferiority whatsoever in the Trinity.
8. Is the doctrine of the Trinity well-founded in Scripture?
Without exception, the consistent teaching of Scripture with reference to God is that he is a triune, covenant God. Thus he is always represented as a sovereign, independent divine Being, without beginning or ending, limitless in power and glory. This triune God is a living God, first of all with respect to himself active in the perfect love—life possible only to those divine persons who are perfectly united and yet completely distinct. And, secondly, this triune, living God is really interested in his creation and creatures; will judge them for their works and in behalf of his elect will sacrifice his only begotten Son as a ransom from sin.
9. Has the doctrine of the Trinity required faithful defense on the part of the Christian Church?
The history of Christian doctrine reveals that Satan has been most eager to pervert the Trinity doctrine, thus indicating that he had great appreciation for its importance. Article 9 makes passing reference to certain groups outside the Christian tradition and certain heretics within the Christian tradition as opponents of this truth. You might want to look up certain of these references in such a book as B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, available from book stores or from its publishers: The National Union of Christian Schools, 865 28th St, S.E. , Grand Rapids 8, Michigan.
10. How must we respond spiritually to the truth of the Trinity? The Confession is very beautiful at this point. It states that “although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.” Faith accepts the scriptural testimony that God is one in being, three in persons; hope longingly anticipates that heavenly day when we shall know, not in part but in full, the meaning and the blessedness of this great truth.
Jesus Christ is True and Eternal God
We believe that Jesus Christ according to his divine nature is the only begotten Son of God, begotten from eternity, not made, nor created (for then he would be a creature), but co-essential and co-eternal with the Father, the very image of his substance and the effulgence of his glory, equal unto him in all things.
He is the Son of God, not only from the time that he assumed our nature, but from all eternity, as these testimonies, when compared together, teach us. Moses says that God created the world; and St. John says that all things were made by that Word which he calls God. The apostle says that God made the world by his Son; likewise, that God created all things by Jesus Christ. Therefore it must needs follow that he who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by him. Therefore the prophet Micah says: His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. And the apostle: He hath neither beginning of days nor end of life. He therefore is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve.
Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:23; John 1:1; John 20:28; Philippians 2:5, 6 (The deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God); Psalm 2:7; Micah 5:2; John 1:18; John 5:26 (Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is eternally “in the bosom of the Father” as his only begotten Son).
1. Why is it of real importance to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ? Because no mere creature could possibly satisfy for our sins. “No mere creature could sustain the burden of God’s wrath against sin, and deliver others from it” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 5, q. 14). If Jesus Christ is not God he can not he our Savior.
2. What do we mean when we affirm that Jesus Christ is “co-essential with the Father?”
By affirming that Jesus Christ is “co-essential with the Father” we mean that as the Father is most assuredly God, so also the Son is “very God.” There is only one God, and Jesus Christ is this one God as truly as the Father is this one God. That Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “co-essential” means that the Son is not merely “like” God; he is God, the only God that there is. Therefore Paul could say, “for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
3. What do we mean when we confess that Jesus Christ is “co-eternal with the Father?”
When we confess that Jesus Christ is “co-eternal with the Father” we mean that he is and has always been the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Some have taught that he became the Son of God when he was born, or after his life of meritorious service and devotion.
4. Is the doctrine of the deity of Christ denied today?
The doctrine of the deity of Christ suffers widespread denial in our day. The modernist denies it because of his unwillingness to accept by faith the testimony of the Scriptures as the supernatural revelation of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose representatives you may have met at your door, also deny the full-fledged deity of Christ.
5. How do men go about denying that Jesus Christ is God?
In his exposition of The Westminster Larger Catechism the Rev. Johannes G. Vos reduces the types of denial of the deity of Christ as follows:
“(a) The doctrine of the deity of Christ is denied by those who say that Christ is divine because all men are divine. If aJl men are divine, then for Christ to be divine is nothing out of the ordinary.
“(b) The doctrine of the deity of Christ is denied by those who, while calling Christ ‘the Son of God,’ still refuse to say that he is of the same substance and equal with the Father. Such people consider it a sin to worship Jesus Christ.
“(c) The doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ is denied by those who accept his deity only as a ‘limiting concept;’ ’that is, when they speak of Christ as divine, or call him ‘the Son of God,’ they do not mean that this is really the absolute truth about Christ; they only mean that Christ’s ‘deity’ is a convenient label for classifying Christ for the time being; in calling Christ ‘God’ they do not mean that he really and truly is God, but only that he is ‘God’ for us human beings—that he may occupy the place of God in our human thinking at the present time. It is obvious that the idea of Christ’s deity as a ‘limiting concept’ is something very different from the faith of orthodox Christianity in Christ’s deity” (Blue Banner Faith and Life, Vol. 1, No.7).
6. Is it a serious error to deny the deity of Jesus Christ?
The Scripture is very emphatic on this point. It declares that those who deny the Christ have “the spirit of antichrist” (I Jn. 4:3). Earlier in the same epistle the inspired writer speaks as follows: “Who is the liar hut he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist even he that denieth the Father and the Son” (I Jn. 2:22). The doctrine of the deity of Christ is something of crucial importance for mankind. To deny it is to deny the integrity of the Scriptures, God’s Word, the integrity of the Christ, God’s Son, and the only possibility of salvation through Christ. To deny the deity of Christ is to call God a liar; certainly this denial is a terrible error!
7. Why should men seek to deny the deity of Christ?
There is no reason, of course, except that which stems from the thorough-going depravity of sinful man. Sinful man would rather philosophize about “character building” than to exclaim “God be merciful to me, a sinned.” And so he reasons that if Jesus Christ was such a good man, if he could draw forth such great moral achievements out of human nature, then we may conclude that all human beings are really endowed with such power. We need, on that basis, not the blood of Christ, but a “social gospel” which will instruct men in the techniques of spiritual and moral self-improvement.
8. How docs Article 10 establish the deity of Christ from Scripture?
It links Genesis 1:1 with John 1:1–3, and concludes that since it is biblically established that God created all things through the Word, who is Jesus, the Son of God, it must follow that Jesus Christ “did exist at the time when all things were created by him.” This is but a small sample of the consistent scriptural teaching in which divine names, attributes, works, and so forth, are applied to our Lord Jesus Christ.
9. Does the divine Sonship have rich spiritual significance for us, his people?
The spiritual significance of the divine Sonship is inestimably great for everyone of his people! By virtue of his incarnation in which he took upon himself our human nature, he established the basis for the everlasting union of the elect with the triune God (Jn. 17:21) . Still more, by virtue of the fact that Jesus Christ is “the only begotten” Son of God, we are children by adoption, through grace, for Christ’s sake (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 13, q. 33; Rom. 8:32).
10. What is the practical obligation for us who confess that our Savior is the Son of God?
The practical obligation is that we must serve him faithfully in all that we do. For he “is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve.”