Murder and the Image of God (The Sixth Commandment)

In a previous post we looked at what the Lord Jesus taught about the true meaning and extent of the sixth commandment (i.e. “You shall not murder” – Exodus 20:13), that it prohibits, not just the outward act of unjustly taking someone’s life, but also the inward disposition of hatred. (See Matthew 5:21-26.) In other words, the very root of murder begins in the heart, and such hatred is itself a violation of the sixth commandment. In that sense, we are all guilty of the sin of murder.

But the Bible has much more to say about this subject. For instance, in Genesis chapter 9 (after the great flood of Noah’s day had finally subsided), God told Noah that “every moving thing that lives” (i.e. animals) shall be as food for mankind (v.3). But right after that God also told Noah that for the lifeblood of a man (a human being) He would require a “reckoning” (v.5).

What is that reckoning? In Genesis 9:6 we read,

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” (ESV)

This is not speaking of revenge or vengeance, which belongs only to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19), but of capital punishment. This is a subject that is sure to cause some sharp disagreements among many in our day, but the Scriptures are more than clear on this matter.

So why do I bring it up? Not so much to stir the pot as to make a point. What reason does God give us there in that verse for His institution of capital punishment? What is the reason why “whoever sheds the blood of man” is to have his own blood shed by man (i.e. by the state, which does not bear the sword in vain – Romans 13:4)? He says that it is because “God made man in his own image.”

This is also taught all the way back in Genesis 1:26-27, where it says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

No less than three (3) times in those two short verses we are told that mankind was made in the image of God! God did not create animals in His own image or likeness – only mankind. That is to say that human beings are in an important sense different from the animals, and so are not to be reckoned as mere animals (not even as highly evolved animals). Human beings are created in God’s image, made by God for God, to be in fellowship with Him.

And so the unjust taking of human life by murder (which rears its ugly head in many more forms than we might care to admit) is such a heinous sin before God and deserving of the severest of earthly punishments and even of hell itself because it is, in a sense, ultimately an attack on the image of God in mankind. You could say that every attempt at murder is really an attempt at deicide (the murder of God). It is to wish that God were dead.

As Louis Berkhof writes,

“The crime of murder owes its enormity to the fact that it is an attack on the image of God.” (Systematic Theology, p.204)

So let us learn to take to heart the great biblical truth that every human being is made in the image of God. And may that cause us to examine our hearts when we are tempted to hate or unjustly harm another person.

If we were all more mindful of the image of God that is indelibly stamped on every man, woman and child (even in the womb!), how much differently might we begin to treat each other? How might that knowledge restrain our hate and even the very acts of murder that flow from it?

 

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The Fifth Commandment and Submission to Authority

Institutes CalvinThe fifth commandment (i.e. “Honor your father and your mother” – Exodus 20:12) applies to more than just the relationships and authority structure within the family. This commandment is most commonly understood or interpreted as dealing with all earthly relationships and authority structures in general.

John Calvin, for example, summarizes the intent of this commandment as being “that we must revere those whom the Lord has set over us and show them honor and obedience, acknowledging the good that they have done us” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.145).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that what is required of us in the fifth commandment is “the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several [i.e. various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Q.64).

Some of those various “places and relations” include the family, the church, and the state, just to name a few. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says,

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

And so this commandment continues to have a great deal of practical application for us in a number of ways. For example, employees must learn to honor and obey their employers and supervisors. That is the will of God for you if you are employed by someone – to do your job well and to show proper respect to your employer and supervisors.

If you are a Christian, has it ever occurred to you that you are to serve God in how you do your job, and in how you relate to your boss and even to your coworkers? In Colossians 3:23–24 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

Another way of saying that is that God cares about how you do your job. And how you do your job is a reflection of your love for the Lord. We are to work as if we work for the Lord Jesus – because ultimately that is exactly what we are doing! That should change how we approach our work.

The flip-side is also true. If you are an employer, manager, or supervisor, part of doing your job well involves showing proper care and respect to your employees and subordinates. In Colossians 4:1 Paul writes,

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

“You also have a master in heaven.” In other words, God is every boss’s Boss. How might a right understanding of these things transform the workplace!

Another area of practical application of this commandment is our relationship to the governing authorities. In Romans 13:1 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV)

No earthly government or authority figure is perfect. Frankly, many are far from being so. But that does not mean that we may throw off all due civility, respect, and even submission to the same. Why? Because, like it or not, “there is no authority except from God.” Ultimately God put them there, and so each one must one day answer to Him for the way they rule or govern.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing relevance and practical application of the fifth commandment. I hope that this has given you some food for thought that you can put to use in your daily life. How much better might our lives and even our society as a whole be, if we were to put the fifth commandment into practice as we should? May God help us to do just that.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 10 (The Divinity of Christ)

Article 10 of the Belgic Confession deals with the deity of Christ -that He is the 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.

Article 8 of the Confession stated the doctrine of the Trinity. Article 9 gave the proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. Now here in Article 10 the Confession states the doctrine of the true deity or divinity of Christ, along with the Scriptural proofs for this doctrine. (Likewise Article 11 does the same regarding the true deity or divinity of the Holy Spirit.)

The Doctrine of the Deity of Jesus Christ

The first part of Article 10 states the doctrine of Christ’s divinity:

“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 . . . .”

The Nicene Creed similarly states the divinity of Jesus Christ, that according to His divine nature he is “co-essential” or “of the same substance” with God the Father:

“And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

begotten of the Father before all worlds;

God of God, Light of Light,

very God of very God; begotten, not made,

being of one substance with the Father,

by whom all things were made.”

The Confession uses very similar wording to that which is found in the Nicene Creed, not only because the Creed has endured the test of time, and is worded in a rather careful, clear, and helpful manner; but also for apologetic purposes, to show the explicit connection and continuity between the teachings of the Reformed faith of the 16th century and the teaching of the ancient church. The Reformed faith affirms and teaches nothing new or novel about the Trinity and the deity of Christ, but rather affirms and upholds the true doctrine that the true church has always held regarding these things down through the centuries.

Not only does the Confession specify that that the Son of God is “co-essential” with the Father, but also that He is “co-eternal” with the Father as well. He is said to be eternally begotten, but “not made, nor created (for then He would be a creature).” If the Son of God were a created being (i.e. a “creature”), He could not then be truly God.

When the Confession states that the Son of God is “co-essential and co-eternal with the Father,” it is emphasizing the unity of the Godhead (i.e. that there is only one God in three Persons). To say that the Son of God is “co-essential” with the Father is to say that He is of the very same essence or substance with Him. To say that He is “co-eternal” is to say (contrary to the heresy of Arianism) that there was never a time when He was not.

The Confession then says that “He is the Son of God, not only from the time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity . . . .” This is contrary to the anti-Trinitarian heresy of Adoptionism, which taught that Jesus was basically just a very holy man whom the Christ Spirit indwelled at his baptism, so that God essentially adopted him as His Son. Rather we affirm and confess that the Lord Jesus Christ, according to His divine nature, is the Son of God from all eternity!

The Scripture Proofs for the Deity of Jesus Christ

The second part of Article 10 gives the Scriptural proofs for the doctrine of Christ’s divinity:

“ . . .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. ”

The Belgic Confession teaches that “these testimonies” (i.e the various passages of Scripture cited from both the Old and New Testaments), when taken or “compared together” with each other clearly teach the deity of Christ. Some of these “testimonies” or passages of Scripture that the Confession weaves together in the above paragraph are as follows:

  • “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3, ESV, Italics added)

  • “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15–17, ESV, Italics added)

  • “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2, ESV, Italics added)

  • “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3, ESV)

All of these passages (and others as well), when taken together, clearly teach the true deity of Jesus Christ. As Mark Jones puts it in his book, Knowing Christ, “The Scriptures simply overwhelm us with proofs of Christ’s divinity” (p.35). The Confession here just points us to the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Scriptural proofs for this doctrine.

As article 10 puts it above, “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” and also that He “is that true, eternal, and almighty God whom we invoke, worship, and serve.” And that is the point, after all, isn’t it? The deity of Christ is not just a doctrine for us to affirm, believe, and confess (although it certainly is those things); but rather because of this great truth regarding our Savior we must make it our aim to then “invoke, worship, and serve” the Lord Jesus Christ as our “true, eternal, and almighty God.”

 

Honor Your Father and Your Mother (The Fifth Commandment)

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our study through the ten commandments we now come to the fifth commandment. Despite the relative brevity of this commandment, there are numerous implications and applications that we may draw from it.

The commandment itself simply says,

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV)

This commandment marks the transition to what is often called the second “table” of the law (basically the second half of the ten commandments, so to speak). The first table (i.e. commandments 1-4) deals with love for God, while the second table (i.e. commandments 5-10) deals with love for one’s neighbor.

It is interesting and instructive that when the Lord begins to turn our attention to love for our neighbor, the place he starts is our relationship with our parents. They are typically the first neighbor (i.e. the first people) with whom we come into contact, and so they are the first ones to whom we owe love.

They are also typically the very first authority figures in our lives. And so we first learn (or fail to learn) to honor and obey those who are in authority over us, in the arena of the home or family. Notice that it is “honor” (and not mere outward obedience) that we are to render to our earthly fathers and mothers.

If as children we fail to learn to honor and submit to authority in the home, chances are we will struggle mightily to learn to submit to the many other authorities that God places over us in our various stations in life. For this reason the Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, once wrote, “Nothing sooner shortens life than disobedience to parents.” (The Ten Commandments, p.132)

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul actually quotes this commandment, interprets it, and applies it to believers today. In Ephesians 6:1-4 he writes,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV)

Here Paul clearly teaches (in case anyone had any doubt) that the ten commandments still apply today. And they even apply to children! One of the primary applications of the fifth commandment is that children are to (as Paul puts it above) ‘obey their parents in the Lord.’ Why? Two reasons. First, because “this is right.” We know that it is “right” for children to ‘obey their parents in the Lord’ precisely because God has commanded it.

And so following the Lord isn’t just something for grown-ups, but rather starts very early on in life – even in childhood! A big part of a child following Christ involves honoring and obeying his or her parents.

And not just that, but children are to honor and obey their parents because God has even given a promise with this commandment – “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Notice that Paul clearly teaches that this promise that the Lord annexed or attached to the commandment still applies today. God graciously gives us promises of blessing in order to encourage us in our efforts toward obedience!

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter on the law of God speaks of the usefulness of God’s law for believers, and of the blessings that are promised to us for obedience to His commandments:

” . . . .The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one, and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.” (19.6)

God is no harsh task-master toward his redeemed children. Rather he knows what is best for us, commands us to walk in his ways accordingly, and even gives us blessings along the way in order to encourage us when that way sometimes proves to be difficult. God is good, and even his commandments are given for our good as well!

Are You a Murderer? (The Sixth Commandment)

Murder 2In our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), we now come to the sixth commandment, which simply says, “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) or “You shall not murder” (NKJV, ESV). That sounds pretty short, simple, and straight-forward, doesn’t it? We are not to commit murder.

If we are honest, many of us give this commandment very little thought, at least as far as how it may apply to ourselves. And that is probably because we assume that we have never even come close to breaking this commandment. Are you a murderer? Are you guilty of murder in the eyes of God? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.

The Westminster Larger Catechism includes an extended treatment of the ten commandments, which follows the pattern of stating both the duties required and the sins forbidden in each of the commandments. In that section we are told the rationale for this approach is because, “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded” (Q.99).

Q.136 tells us of the sins that are forbidden in the sixth commandment:

“Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

That is quite the list, isn’t it? Clearly the Westminster divines saw that there is much more involved in breaking the 6th commandment than we might think.

The Scriptures themselves clearly teach us that the sixth commandment is about far more than just the outward act of murder. The Lord Jesus himself made this very clear in his teaching in what we call “the sermon on the mount” (i.e. Matthew chapters 5-7). In Matthew 5:21–22 he says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (ESV)

There Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 (i.e. “You shall not murder.”), and then explains it to us in some detail. And in doing so he tells us that the sin of murder starts with the heart, with hatred. Hatred is the root cause of murder. The outward sin of murder certainly makes one “liable to judgment.” But the Lord Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother” will be “liable to judgment” as well!

In fact 1 John 3:15 says,

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (ESV)

Who among us can possibly claim to have never hated anyone? And if that is the case, there is no one among us who can truly say that he or she is innocent of the sin of murder, at least not inwardly-speaking. And so we are all guilty of much greater sins than we might realize.

And so that brings us back to the question that I posed above – Are you a murderer? The answer to that question, according to the Word of God, is yes.

That ought to impress upon us the very depths of our sin and guilt before a holy God. We have all sinned in much bigger ways than we might realize.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ died (indeed, was executed and murdered by wicked men – Acts 2:23) to save even murderers – murderers like you and me.

There is abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness to be found through faith in Jesus Christ even for sins such as these. He alone can take hearts that are full of hatred and murder and cleanse them, filling them with the love that only comes from God.

The Belgic Confession – Article 9 (Scripture Proofs for the Trinity)

The first part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the scriptural proofs of the doctrine of the Trinity:

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 teach 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, chapter 1:26, 27, God says: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. 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. It is true, that 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 the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 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. Likewise: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. And (A.V.): There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

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.

Article 8 of the Confession stated the doctrine of the Trinity. Article 9 here gives the proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. Those proofs begin first and foremost with Scripture itself (“the testimonies of Holy Writ”). Notice that the Confession says that the Trinity is taught in so many places in the Old Testament, that it is “not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.” So the Scripture verses listed here are not intended to be exhaustive:

  • “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)
  • “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”” (Genesis 3:22, ESV)

The Confession then states that the number of the persons of the Trinity, “which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New.” It then points us to the accounts of the baptism of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:9-11); the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to baptize all believers (Matthew 28:18-20); the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus (Luke 1:35); and the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, which invokes the names of all three (3) persons of the Godhead; and 1 John 5:7 (part of which is not found in some translations, but which is included in the KJV).

Notice that the Confession plainly states that the doctrine of the Trinity is “fully taught” in the Scriptures, but cannot be fully comprehended in this life. Not only that, but we “expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.” What a comforting and encouraging thought – that we will understand these things much more fully (even if still not comprehensively) when we are in heaven with the Lord, even as Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

The second part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the “particular offices and operations” of the persons of the Trinity as proofs thereof. In his book, With Heart and Mouth, Daniel Hyde writes,

“It has been said that theology that does not become biography is wishful thinking. Christian doctrine and Christian living must go hand in hand. We as Calvinists are often reluctant to speak of experience in case we go to the extreme of Pentecostalism. But we must acknowledge that there is an experiential side of the Christian life.”

The Confession points us to the “offices” (or roles) and “operations” of the persons of the Trinity “toward us” (that is, in our creation and redemption). These things are even spoken of in the ancient ecumenical creeds (i.e. the Apostles’ Creed & Nicene Creed), which state (for example) that we believe in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

God the Father is spoken of as our “Creator,” the Son as “our Savior and Redeemer,” and the Holy Spirit is the “our Sanctifier” who sanctifies us by dwelling in our hearts. These things are plainly taught in Scripture as well. In Ephesians chapter 1 we are told that God the Father chose us and predestined us to salvation in Christ (v.3-6); that Christ Jesus redeemed us by His blood (v.7-12); and that the Holy Spirit seals us and guarantees our inheritance in Christ (v.13-14).

All of this is to affirm and confess that the entire Trinity is actively involved in the work of our salvation, each Person of the Godhead doing what corresponds to His particular office. In other words, we who are saved know the Trinity, not just by Scripture (however primary that may be), but also by personal experience as well!

The third part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with affirmation and defense of the Trinity all throughout the history of the true church:

Notice that it says that the doctrine of the Trinity “has always been affirmed and maintained by the true church since the time of the apostles to this very day.” This is to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is in no way an innovation, but is in keeping with what the true church has always believed.

Lastly, Article 9 states that in this doctrine of the Trinity “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.”

It may seem strange that the Definition of Chalcedon is not named here. That is because it is not a creed, but more properly a definition or statement, written to clarify and affirm what was written in the creeds themselves. Chalcedon would fall under the category here of “that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

Again, as the Confession was in some ways intended to be an apologetic (or defense) of the Reformed faith as being fully in line with the true faith that the true church has always confessed and maintained, it is important to affirm the ancient creeds of the Christian church.

That being the case, we should be careful to avoid the spirit of this age, which has a tendency to reject anything from the past as somehow being irrelevant. God does not change (Malachi 3:6); the Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); and His Word does not change (Matthew 5:17-18).

Therefore the Christian faith does not change, and so the creeds and confessions are useful to us, not just for teaching and instruction, but also as a safeguard and protection against false teachings and heresies. We neglect the ancient creeds & Reformed Confessions to our own detriment and peril.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 8 (THE Trinity)

Article 8 of the Belgic Confession holds forth the biblical doctrine of the Trinity:

According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are 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 co-eternal 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 Belgic Confession begins with an article about God (Article 1), followed by a series of articles about Scripture, which is the means by which we come to know God rightly (Articles 2-7). Now here in Article 8 the Confession circles back to deal with the doctrine of God, specifically the doctrine of the Trinity (articles 8-11). Article 8 states the doctrine of the Trinity in some detail, while Article 9 gives the reader the scriptural proofs for that doctrine.

And so Article 8 explicitly points back to the Articles that preceded it, saying that it is, “According to this truth and this Word of God” (i.e. the Scriptures as the inspired, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God as detailed in Articles 2-7) that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (i.e. the Trinity). All of that is to say that we believe and confess the doctrine of the Trinity primarily because the Scriptures plainly teach it.

Only One God

The Confession states that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence . . . .” So we believe in only one God, “who is the single essence” (or substance). This is also what the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) affirms when it says that the Lord Jesus Christ is “of one substance with the Father.”

That there is only one true & living God is taught throughout Scripture. For instance, Deuteronomy 6:4 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (ESV)

Likewise Isaiah 45:5 says,

“I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;” (ESV)

The New Testament teaches this as well. In James 2:19 says,

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (ESV)

As Christians, we believe and confess that “There is but one only, the living and true God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.5).

One God in Three Distinct Persons

Nevertheless, in this “one only God, who is the one single essence” there are “three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

This too is plainly taught in the Scriptures. For example, the baptismal formula in the Great Commission says,

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

We are to baptize disciples “in the name [singular = not “names”] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v.19).

Likewise the benediction found in 2 Corinthians 13:14 says,

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (ESV)

That the Persons of the Godhead are “distinct” from each other (while in no way separate) is emphasized by the use of three descriptive terms – “really, truly, and eternally.” In other words, the distinction between the Persons of the Godhead (i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is real and true, and not merely imagined or apparent, as was taught by the heresy of modalism, which holds that there is one God who appears to take turns (so to speak) revealing Himself as being the Father one moment, and as the Son the next, etc.

Not only that, but the Persons of the Trinity are also “eternally” distinct. The one true and living God has always been one God in three Persons. That being the case, we are not to conceive of God as if the Persons of the Trinity were so distinct as to be separate (which would be tri-theism or polytheism). That is why the first paragraph of Article 8 goes on to say:

“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.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums this up quite nicely for us when it says,

“Q.6. how many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”

When the second paragraph of Article 8 says that “these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed” it employs similar language to what is found in the Athanasian Creed, which states:

“That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

Article 8 closes with the following statement:

“The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.”

So the biblical doctrine is that there has never been a time when there was not a Trinity. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not created beings, but are eternally-begotten and eternally-proceeding from God the Father. And, lest that be misunderstood, the Confession goes on to say that “There is neither first nor last.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise affirms this very truth when it states that the three Persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Q.6).

Speaking of the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, which the one true holy, Catholic church has always confessed throughout her history, Daniel R. Hyde writes,

“Catholicity is expressed in no better way than in the confession of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. One of the purposes of the Belgic Confession was to express that the Reformed faith was nothing less than the faith of the ancient Christian church.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.112)