The Trinity

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.

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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)

 

Almost God?

Machen

Some wise words from J.Gresham Machen on the subject of the deity of Christ:

“[T]he church hurled anathemas at those who held that Christ, though great, was less than God. But those anathemas were beneficent and right. That difference of opinion was no mere trifle; there is no such thing as “almost God.” The thought is blasphemy; the next thing less than the infinite is infinitely less.” (J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, p.116)

For anyone (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) to claim that Jesus is “a god” (but not fully God) or that He is “almost God” is utter nonsense.  As Machen astutely points out, there is no such thing as “almost God” or almost infinite.  It is not only nonsense, but blasphemy as well. Jesus is either God or He is something far less that that. There really is no middle ground.

 

The Ultimate Cure for Discontentment

cure

How many of us struggle with envy and discontentment? To put it another way, are we truly content and at ease with our present circumstances?  Are we anxious about the future?

How many of us are content with our income? Our automobiles? Our homes?  Our families? Our social status? No matter how much we have, we always seem to focus on what we do not have.  There is always someone around us who has more (or something better) than we do.  We are an envious lot.

It is not without reason that the 10th commandment not only prohibits envy, but does so at great length and in great detail.  The 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17) is much longer than the commandments against murder (v.13), adultery (v.14), theft (v.15), or bearing false witness (v.16).  Rather than simply saying, “Thou shalt not covet.”, the 10th commandment specifies a number of the various ways that we are tempted to covet:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV – emphasis added)

We covet the estate or place of others, the family of others, the possessions of others, and all kinds of things.  The green-eyed monster is a many-headed hydra.

So what is the cure for discontentment?  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes,

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

How are we to guard our lives from the love of money?  How are we to learn to be content with what we have?  Take a vow of poverty?  Lower our expectations?  Think about those who have less than we do or are worse off than we are? (And do that instead of focusing on those who have more than we do?)

All of those things may sound like good advice, but is that what the writer of Hebrews is saying?  No – not even close.  We are to guard our lives from the love of money; and we are to be content with what we have, not because we just need to bear down and get used to not having as much, but because we need to see with the eyes of faith how much we actually do have!

Concerning Hebrews 13:5, John Calvin writes,

It is quite certain that lack of faith is the source of greed. Anyone who has the firm conviction that he will never be forsaken by the Lord will not be unduly anxious because he will depend on His providence. Therefore when the apostle wants to cure us of the disease of greed he properly recalls us to the promises of God by which he bears witness that He will always be present to us. (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries Vol.12, p.207).

So faith in the providence of God (God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11) is part of the cure for envy and discontent.  When we believe that God Himself is working all things together for our good and is providing for our needs according to His power and wisdom, it is then that we will be able to rest from our anxiety about the future; it is then that we will be able to be content with our present circumstances.

But Hebrews 13:5 not only encourages us by pointing us to the providence of God; it also encourages us by pointing us to the God of providence.  We may be tempted to think that we do not have much in this life.  But in telling us that God Himself has promised His people that He will never leave us or forsake us, the writer of Hebrews is reminding us that we can be ‘content with what we have’ (v.5) because what (or rather who) we have is God Himself!

If you are in Christ by faith, you have God Himself as your God.  God has blessed you not just with things, but with Himself!  You have God Himself as your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:5-15).  You have Jesus Christ, the Son God Himself, as your Savior and mediator, who not only died for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25), but who is also reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty and interceding on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). And You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 6:19), who also intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27).

So if you are a Christian be content with what you have, because you truly have more than anyone on this earth without Christ can even dream of having – you have the one true and living God, the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable triune God as your God. And He will never leave you or forsake you!

That is the ultimate cure for discontentment.