Moving right along through the historic Belgic Confession, a trove of biblical and theological wisdom on which I’m offering brief commentary and reflection. This week, thoughts on the ninth article. [This article is a longer one, and since it’s whole point it to show the biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity, I have included the Scripture citations which many versions appended to this article.]
THE PROOF OF THE FOREGOING ARTICLE OF THE TRINITY OF PERSONS IN ONE GOD
All this we know, as well from the testimonies of the Holy Writ (1 John 5:1-12; Jude 20-21; Rev 1:4-5) 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 the book of Genesis, 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” (Gen 1:26-27). And: “Behold, the man has become as one of us” (Gen 3:22). 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; 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 (Matt 3:16-17). 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” (Matt 28:19). In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel thus addresses Mary, the mother of our Lord: “The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High will overshadow thee; wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Likewise: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 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” (1 John 5:7).
In all which places we are fully taught that there are three persons in the 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 (Ps 45:7; Isa 61:1).
Moreover we must observe the particular offices and operations of these three persons towards us. The Father is called our Creator, by His power (Eccl 12:1; Mal 2:10; 1 Pet 1:2); the Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by His blood (1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 1:7; 4:14); the Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, by His dwelling in our hearts (1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 1:2; Gal 4:6; Tit 3:5; Rom 8:9; John 14:16; 15:26; Acts 2:32-33).
This doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been affirmed and maintained in the true Church since the times 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.
While the nature of these blog postings is to consider one article at a time in the confession, the articles are not meant to be read in isolation. All that is contained in this article, therefore, rests and builds upon what was said before. To wit:
How do we know who God is and what God is like? General revelation, though insufficient, is the starting point–but must be augmented and clarified through special revelation. This inspired revelation is authoritative and sufficient to reveal all that is necessary for our faith and salvation. It is in Scripture that the doctrine of the Trinity is revealed. Therefore, we turn to Scripture for the evidence and confirmation of these truths.
Despite the word “trinity” never appearing in Scripture, this article affirms that the doctrine itself is so widely and broadly attested that its contours, implications, and characteristics can be found all throughout the Old and New Testaments. To paraphrase the opening: it’s not so much that we have to list where or if the doctrine is found, but that we need to select, out of an abundance of material, which references best and summarily buttress the necessary points. That the confession turns to the Old Testament indicates not only a belief in the unity of Scripture but also refutes the notion that the Trinity is a novel concept introduced by the apostles or early Church.
So examples from the Creation accounts onward are held up as places where we catch glimpses, so to speak, of the Triune nature of God. The verses above lead to the doctrinal parameters reaffirmed, i.e. “that there are three persons in one only divine essence”. It is with biblical warrant, however, that we may still speak of “particular offices and operations” of the three persons, and the confession gives as examples the familiar appellations of Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier.
Lest we imply that we understand or can explain away this three-in-one mystery completely, I appreciate then article’s reminder that “we now believe it by the means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven”. Or to use the words of Paul, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).
Though the ‘we disagree with these people’ list might seem harsh, it is not uncommon for confessions and catechisms of the day to specifically identify divergent and heretical positions. (One of my favorite examples of this is in chapter six of the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560, which, when speaking of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, calls out “the damnable and pestilent heresies of Arius, Marcion, Eutyches, Nestorius, and such others as either deny the eternity of his Godhead, or the verity of his human nature, either confound them, either yet divide them.”) Confessions or catechisms today, which tend to be very irenic in nature, typically avoid doing anything of this sort. I don’t think there is a need to try to pick fights with theological opponents, but I admit that I do appreciate the seriousness with which the Reformers took these matters. If a group or their teaching explicitly contradicts core doctrine (such as the doctrine of the Trinity), then it can be necessary to note where these core doctrines are absent, rejected, or denied. Perhaps the ire of the Scots is too extreme, but saying that a confessed belief differs from another group’s confessed belief is a duty we have when we teach and confess the truths of Scripture.
So the confession lists examples of those non-Christian yet Abrahamic faiths (Jews and “Mohammedans”, which is how Muslims were referred to at that time) that deny the doctrine of the Trinity. It also names various groups who would self-identify as Christian yet deny, in some way, orthodox Trinitarian formulations. Each of those names listed is significant in historical theology, though I won’t take the time to detail their respective views. The common denominator is that they articulated some belief which rejects the formulations outlined in article VIII.
Finally, the confession affirms the historic theological articulations found in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. To use the words of the Vincentian Canon, these Creeds reflect “that which is believed everywhere, at all times, by all” when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Belgic Confession seeks to intentionally align itself with this stream of historic orthodoxy with regards to belief in the Triune God who is revealed to us in Scripture.