Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 8
Lord's Day 8
How are these articles divided?
Into three parts:
the first is about God the Father and our creation;
the second about God the Son and our redemption;
the third about God the Holy Spirit
and our sanctification.
Since there is only one God,
why do you speak of three persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word
that these three distinct persons
are the one, true, eternal God.
Q. & A. 24 Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- The content of our faith is God's promise in the gospel and this promise is summarized in the Apostles' Creed (see LD 7, Ans. 22). God does not just promise something, even a lot, but he promises himself to us. Gen 17:7 says: "And I will . . . be God to you and to your descendants after you.''
Thus, the content of our faith is God Himself. Our faith and trust are directed to Him, and take hold of Him. Our faith is not just an intellectual conviction that there is a God. But by our faith we rest in God; we entrust ourselves to him. All of the articles, therefore, speak about God and what he means and does for us, and what we expect from him. They speak of God the Father and our creation, of God the Son and our redemption, and of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. We express in this confession that God the Father created us and has since preserved us; that God the Son is our Redeemer by his blood; and that God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and leads us into eternal bliss, the life everlasting.
- That is how God graciously bound himself to us, with that promise. For we were baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Forms for the Baptism of Infants and of Adults (Doctrine of Baptism) explain beautifully that this means that God the Father promises us that he will be our Father and provide us with all good, that God the Son promises us the washing in his blood, and that God the Holy Spirit promises us that he will dwell and work in us to impart to us all that we have in Christ. It is this promise that we grasp in faith. We put our trust in it. And, thus, we confess in the summary of our faith that God the Father is our Father, who as almighty Creator of heaven and earth cares for us; that God the Son is our Redeemer, who bought us with his blood; and that God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and will complete our redemption.
- What is the content of our faith? What did God promise us? What do we do by faith? Of whom do the articles speak?
- What did God promise us in our baptism? What do we, therefore, profess to believe?
Q. & A. 25 How Glorious Is Thy Name!
- In this Answer we acknowledge that we confess the Triune God (as set out in the preceding Answers), because he “has so revealed himself in his Word.” For we know God from his Word and, in the light of that Word, also out of his creation and preservation of all things (BC, art. 2). God has graciously given his Name in his Word. That Name is not just any name; in it we deal with God himself. His Name is God, as he made himself known to us, as he turned to us. We know God in his Name. Scripture uses the expression “the name of the Lord” to denote God himself (see, e.g., Prov 18:10). The Lord has graciously specified the one Name in the many other Names for the one Name of God, which makes known his essence, in Holy Scripture. These Names are like the many colours which together form the light. Yet, in every Name we do not deal with a part of God, but with God himself. We can see this in our own language too. For example, we use the several names: seed, fruit, grain, food, etc., to refer always to the whole kernel of grain.
- We distinguish the Names of God as follows:
a. Proper Names, e.g., God, Lord.
b. Attributes (1 Pet 2:9), or perfections, e.g., the Holy One.
c. Personal Names, e.g., Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- The Proper Names, those which are God's own and which no other has are:
a. God (Hebr.: Elohim; in abbreviations: El, as in Bethel. It is a plural form to denote a fullness of power). This name teaches us to know God as Creator of and Ruler over all.
b. Lord (Jhwh, Yahweh; not Jehovah). God makes himself known to his people with this name as “I Am Who I Am,” the Faithful and Unchangeable One (Ex 3:14; 6:1ff).
c. Lord, i.e., Master, Ruler, Owner.
d.Lord of Hosts (Yahweh Zebaoth). These hosts are: Israel (2 Sam 6:2), the stars (Ps 3:6), and the angels (Isa 37:16).
- The Attributes. These describe what God is, make known his Essence. Article 1 of the BC states that God is:
A. One. There is only one God (Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:4-6). Polytheism, the doctrine that there are many gods, is as foolish as Atheism, the doctrine that there is no God.
B. Simple (as distinct from complex). In God everything is a single perfection. He is not composed of parts, let alone parts in conflict with each other (1 Jn 1:5).
C. Spiritual. God is a Spirit (Jn 4:24). He is above all matter.
D. Being. God exists; he Is, the Only One who proceeds from himself.
E. Eternal. God is without beginning, progress, or end. Time does not apply to him. We miss today what we had yesterday, or will only have tomorrow. God does not (Ps 90:1, 2).
F. Incomprehensible. God exceeds our understanding. But we can know him from his revelation (Job 36:26).
G. Invisible. No one can see him, although he is everywhere (Jn 1:18).
H. Immutable. There is no variation with God (Jas 1:17), not even when he repents of something (Gen 6:6). In that case something has changed with man, not with God.
I. Infinite. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere (Ps 139:7), although not everywhere in the same way. Thus, his presence in heaven is different from his presence here and from his presence in hell.
J. Almighty. God can do everything he wants to do (Lk 1:17).
K. Perfectly Wise. He always chooses the best ways and means to attain the highest goal (Rom 11:33-36).
L. Just. He rewards those who do good and wreaks vengeance on evildoers. He keeps his Word and does not treat the guilty as though they are innocent, nor the reverse (Ex 34:7).
M. Good. He desires the wellbeing of his creatures, especially of his elect, and shows:
(i) love toward people;
(ii) grace toward the guilty;
(iii) mercy toward those in want; and
(iv) long-suffering toward those who deserve punishment. Note also the concluding paean of art. 1 of the BC: He is the overflowing fountain of all good.
We may also mention:
N. Holiness. God is far removed from all sin and hates sin, for he is highly exalted above all creatures (1 Jn 1:5; Isa 6:3).
O. Omniscience. He knows and fathoms everything from eternity.
Now take a moment to think about each of these attributes and answer these questions: (i) what does it comfort me that God is like this; and (ii) what does it motivate me to do?
- The Personal Names. There is one God. But the essence of this God is so great that he exists in (not: out of!) Three Persons. We call this mystery the “Trinity.” You will not find this word in Holy Scripture, but you will find the subject matter it denotes. In fact, it is only to be found in Scripture. For we do not know this mystery from nature, but only from the Word (Ans. 25).
- That there is a plural in the singular of God is immediately apparent from Gen 1:26: “Let Us make man.” See also Ps 110:1: “The Lord says to my Lord.” As one continues, it becomes apparent that this plural is a Trinity (Isa 63:9, 10).
In the NT this Trinity becomes apparent immediately when the birth of Christ is announced. Lk 1:35 says: ''The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.''
Further, at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, it is the Son who is baptized, while the Holy Spirit descends and the Father speaks from heaven. The three Persons are also named very clearly in the benediction in 2 Cor 13:13 and in the Great Commission (the command to baptize) in Mt 28:19.
Yet, art 9 of the BC states: ''All this we know both from the testimonies of Holy Scripture and from the respective works of the three Persons, and especially those that we perceive in ourselves.''
The confession does not, in the last clause, posit a second source of knowledge in addition to Holy Scripture, but makes it clear that Scripture teaches us to distinguish the three Persons not only from various texts, but also by its list of their actions. And we do notice those actions in our lives. The confession of the Trinity is not a dull theory. Every Christian knows God as the Triune One: as his Creator, before whom he is guilty; at the same time as his Redeemer, in whom all his hope is founded; and as his Sanctifier, who himself performs in him both the willingness and the works.
- Therefore, as art. 8 of the BC states, we believe: ". . . in one only God, who is one in essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
The Distinctions between the three Persons become evident in:
a. Their attributes. The first Person fills the position of Father. He exists in and of himself. The second Person fills the position of Son. The Father gives him power to have life in himself (Jn 5:26). He is generated by the Father (i.e., brought forth out of his being). The third person fills the position of the Spirit. He proceeds as a spirit, a breath, from the Father and the Son and returns to them. Through him God lives in all things.
b. Their names. These are never used indiscriminately of the other Persons.
c. Their works. The Father: Creation; the Son: Redemption; the Holy Spirit: Sanctification.
All three Persons do act in all three works, but so that One of them takes the principal role. Thus, it is, indeed, the Son who redeems, but the Father sent him to redeem, and the Holy Spirit attributes the Son's work to those given to the Son by the Father.
d. Their order of existence. First, Second, and Third Persons. We cannot, however, assign a consecutive order, or a system of priority. All three are equally and from eternity God. And each of the three Persons partakes of the entire divine Being.
The Unity of the Persons. (See BC, art 10-11). It is apparent from Scripture that the Son and the Spirit are God, equally with the Father. For Scripture attributes to the Son and the Spirit, as well as to the Father:
a. Divine names. The Son is also known as Lord, Mighty God, Everlasting Father (Isa 9:6). And the Holy Spirit is also called God (Acts 5:3, 4).
b. Divine attributes. The Son is eternal and omniscient (Mic 5:1; Jn 21:17). The Holy Spirit is omnipresent (Ps 139:7).
c. Divine works. The Son and the Spirit were both active in creation (Jn 1:3; Ps 33:6).
d. Divine honour. We are baptized also in the names of the Son and the Spirit (Mt 28:19).
- This confession of the Trinity will always exceed our understanding, but it is not contrary to reason. We do not say, as the Muslims mock: 3 = 1. For we do not say that the one Being is three Beings, but that the one Being substantiates itself in three Persons.
- By this confession we understand that:
a. God, who is so rich in himself, does not need creation. He did not need it to overcome loneliness and to have company. For the Father is eternally in the company of the Son and both of them are eternally in the company of the Spirit. God is complete in himself and does not need any creature.
b. Everything that is needed for our redemption is in God. He himself, who, as Father, is our Judge, pays for our guilt as Son and sanctifies us as Holy Spirit.
B. Cross References
- The BC is excellent in its detailed confession of the Trinity. Article 8 states what it means that God is “one single essence, in whom are three persons.” Article 9 demonstrates in detail that this confession is scriptural. Article 10 continues with scriptural proofs of the divinity of the Son and art. 11 does the same for the Holy Spirit.
- In the Liturgical Forms the belief in the Trinity is expressed in a number of places. Thus, in the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and of Adults (Doctrine of Baptism), the promises of God are described in terms of the three persons of the Trinity. See also the prayers before the sacraments and the prayers of thanksgiving after the sacraments in the Forms for Baptism and for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper. In them and everywhere else the church speaks in a trinitarian manner.
- People have tried to categorize the attributes of God in one way or another. Thus, for example, there is the not entirely useless, but also not entirely correct classification of (a) communicable attributes (i.e., those of which the creature also has some aspects), and (b) incommunicable attributes (i.e., those in which the creature does not share).
- Some have supposed that they could discern traces of the Trinity in creation. They mention, for example: the three dimensions of space, the three persons in language, the three temporal relationships, and the three articulations of living organisms. But we know the Trinity only from the Word.
- The terms used by the church are not equivalent to the truth. Bavinck wrote: We should gladly trade them for other words if we could find better ones.
- The doctrine of the Greek Orthodox Church that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father.
- From what do we know God? What did God reveal to us in his Word? What is his Name? How did God give his Name in his Word? What must one always keep in mind for each of the Names?
- How do we distinguish God's Names?
- List the Proper Names and state what each of them mean.
- List seven Attributes and make sure that you can state what each of them mean.
- Does the word “Trinity” appear in the Bible? What does appear there? Do we know the Trinity from the creation and preservation of all things? From what do we know it?
- Give a couple of scriptural proofs for the Trinity. Does the expression in art. 9 of the BC, “the . . . works . . . we perceive in ourselves” indicate that there is a second source of knowledge of the Trinity? If not, what does the art. mean?
- How are the three Persons distinguished? Why is the Father called Father? Why is the Son called Son? Why is the Holy Spirit called Holy Spirit? What is the special task of each of them? Did the Father ever exist apart from the Son?
- Prove from Scripture that the Son and the Holy Spirit are God.
- Can we understand the concept of the Trinity? Is it contrary to reason?
- What do we understand by the confession of the Trinity?