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.