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 Ghost. 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 Ghost 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 Ghost 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 Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed: for the Father hath not assumed the flesh, nor hath the Holy Ghost, but. the Son only. The Father hath never been without his Son, or without his Holy Ghost. 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, Art. VIII
With this article the Confession begins a new section which is commonly called in Reformed Doctrine, Theology, i.e. the doctrine of God. Four articles are devoted to this subject. We ought to notice that this truth follows upon that which the Church confesses in the previous articles concerning the Revelation of God, especially that of the Holy Scriptures. What we are confessing here is not something concocted in the mind of man, not some speculative philosophy concerning the Supreme Being; but it is “According to this truth and this Word of God.” We are confessing the true doctrine of God, therefore, which is according to the Scriptures. We must understand, too, that the doctrine of God must needs be our starting point. This is necessary simply because the doctrine of the Trinity stands as the foundation of the entire structure of the Christian faith. No doubt it was for this reason that this doctrine was the first to be attacked by the devil in the history of the early New Testament Church. The earliest heresies to appear in the church were attacks against the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of these are mentioned in Article IX, and we shall speak of them in our exposition of that article. For the moment, we wish to emphasize that early in its history the church was forced to give definite expression to the Scripture’s teaching concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. Early in its history, therefore, the church definitely established this truth. And it is worthy of note that the church was never seriously troubled by these heresies again, even though they reappear in one form or another throughout the history of the church. Further, there has been no marked development beyond what the early church has said concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. What we confess with Article VIII is what the church has confessed from the very beginning. Thus our confession, too, begins with this foundational truth concerning the triune God. We begin with: “I believe in God,” for apart from that there can be no Christian faith.
This article teaches that God is three Persons in one divine Being or Essence. As to the oneness of God we believe: “. . . in one only God, who is one single essence.” While there are three distinct Persons in the Godhead, this distinction does not mean that God can be divided into three. God is indivisible. The three Persons are together the one only God. We must distinguish the three Persons, but we can never separate them. This is true: “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.” Scripture everywhere emphasizes the fact that God is one and that He is the only God. This is plain from the Law which begins with these profound words: “And God spake all these words saying, I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Because that is true, the very first commandment is: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3) Moses stresses precisely the same when in his addresses to Israel in the plains of Moab just prior to his death and their entrance into the promised land he says: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) In the beautiful forty-third chapter of Isaiah we find Jehovah assuring His people: “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no Saviour.” In Galatians 3:20 Scripture teaches: “. . . God is one.” Thus with the inspired Apostle the church confesses: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:5, 6)
That God is one means there is but one divine Being to which belong all the divine attributes. There are those attributes which Reformed Theology calls “incommunicable,” such as: God’s eternity, omnipresence, independence, infinity, immutability. And there are what have been called “communicable attributes,” such as: God’s knowledge, wisdom, grace, mercy, lovingkindness, etc. In all these attributes God is not three gods or many gods, but one God. There is only one divine, eternal, omnipotent, perfect Being. God’s oneness also means that He is one in nature. By this we mean that God is an intellectual and volitional Being. God thinks and knows and determines and wills. Thus, when the church confesses that God is one, the idea is that there is one divine nature: one mind and one will in God, not three. It is not that there is a will of the Father, another of the Son, and still another of the Holy Spirit. Rather the will of the Father is the will of the Son and the Spirit; and the mind of the Spirit is that of both the Father and the Son. Father, Son,. and Holy Spirit together are the one, only, true God.
The article teaches also that while God is one in Essence, He is distinguished in three Persons. There are: “: . . three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct, according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. . .” By “incommunicable properties” the creed refers to what we commonly call the “personality properties” of each of the three Persons in the Godhead. These are those properties which cannot be communicated from Person to Person in the Godhead. The Article speaks of this distinction as follows: “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 Ghost is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.” The three Persons of the Godhead are, therefore, distinguished as to their personal properties. The Father generates the Son, the Son is the only-begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is evident therefore: “. . . that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son.”
There are, therefore, three distinct Persons in the one divine Being of God. A person is the subject of all the actions of a rational and moral, an intellectual and volitional nature. My person is my “I” which remains the same subject of all my being. That “I” never changes, not really. I am born, I grow and mature, and that same “I” presently departs this life for glory. Now there are three Persons in the one divine essence of God. Three, if you will, that say “I”. And although these are three distinct Persons, each with His own unique “incommunicable properties,” they are not three Gods. God is not divided. He remains the one; only God. Hence among the three Persons of the Trinity there is no separation, division, or subordination. It is not true that the Father is first and highest in rank, followed by the Son Who is a bit lower and Who in turn is followed by the least of the three, the Holy Spirit. The three Persons subsist alike in the whole divine essence. This means that the three Persons are each the subject of all the divine works, the object of all the divine honor and glory. Creation, for example, is not exclusively the work of the Father; but, it is of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Yet each is involved in the work of creation in His own way and according to His own personal properties. The three are co-eternal and co-equal. They are personally distinct; but even so they constitute one complete whole, and their relationship is one of perfect friendship.
This truth concerning the Trinity is not just some abstraction, some theological subtility with no significance for life. The confession of the child. of God concerning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the one, only, true God has rich significance for his faith and life. This means that we do not merely believe in some vague, impersonal, supreme Being which we call God. Nor is our faith in some force, some inevitable fate. That God is three in One means we believe in the living God! And, that we believe in the living God means we believe in the Covenant God. The late Herman Hoeksema put it well when he said: “The doctrine of the Trinity, we say, implies that God is the living God. He is life, and He lives in and through Himself. Life is energy, expressing itself in perfect activity; and it presupposes relationship, harmonious relationship. To live is to act and react normally in that relationship. Life cannot be in solitude; it is always some kind of communion of fellowship. Now, God is the implication of infinite energy; in Him there is an infinite depth of divine power, of wisdom, and righteousness and holiness and goodness and love and mercy and truth incessantly active. And in the Triune God there is also the infinitely perfect relationship and. harmony for this energy to express itself into constant activity. For He is One, and this oneness is the eternal basis of the divine unity and harmony. In God there is no discord, no conflict, . . . Yet He is not alone, though He be One. Were He alone, He could not be the living God in Himself. But now the one God subsists in threeness of Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that sustain the relationship of perfect harmony to one another, and that react upon one another with all the energy of the divine nature in knowledge and wisdom, in righteousness and holiness. . . The truth of the trinity means that God is the living God. . . .
“And so, as the living God He is the Covenant God. For the idea of the Covenant is not that of an agreement, pact, or alliance. It is a bond of friendship and living fellowship. Friendship is that bond of fellowship between persons, according to which and by which they enter into another’s life in perfect knowledge and love, so that mind is knit to mind, will to will, heart to heart, and each has no secrets from the other. It presupposes a basis of likeness, of equality: for only like knows like. And on the basis of that equality, it requires personal distinction: for without this there is only sameness; there can be no fellowship. And both the equality and personal distinction are in God. . . For He is the Triune; the most absolute equality exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For these Three are one in Essence. . . The living God is the covenant God. This is the great significance of the truth that God is Triune, and that these three distinct Persons are the one, only, true, and eternal God.” (Reformed Dogmatics, Reformed Free Publishing Association, pp. 151, 152.)