Article 1 (cont’d)
The Nicene Creed confesses in Article 1 faith in the one true God. This one God is further identified as the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
When the creed speaks here of the Father it speaks of the Triune God. Our first inclination may be to understand the Father of this first article to be the first person of the Trinity. That would seem reasonable in light of the rest of the creed. For in succeeding articles we read of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and then of the Holy Ghost. It would appear reasonable to conclude that in this way the Nicene Creed identifies for us the three persons of the Godhead. There is the Father, the first person of the Godhead. Then we have the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead. And finally there is the Holy Ghost, the third person of the trinity.
A closer examination will reveal that this is not the case.
First of all, we must notice that Article 1 is speaking of the one true God. This one God, Who is identified as the Father, is in turn described as being Almighty and the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Certainly this is not true of the first person of the Trinity alone. The first person alone is not the one true God. Nor is He alone Almighty, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. All that is said here of the Father applies equally to all three persons of the Godhead. Consequently, the Father spoken of here in Article 1 is the triune God. This is also in harmony with the Scriptures. Very seldom if ever does the name “Father” refer in the Scriptures to the first person of the Godhead. Rather it designates the triune God. Take for example the Lord’s prayer, where Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Quite obviously, the Father in this instance is the triune God. We pray not just to the first person of the Godhead but to the triune God.
In harmony with this we must understand that when the Nicene Creed speaks of the Son of God it does not have in mind simply the second person of the Godhead as He subsists eternally with the Father and the Spirit in the divine nature. The creed refers rather to the eternal Son as He came into our flesh through the virgin birth. It refers furthermore to the Son of God in our flesh as he subsequently suffered for our sins on the cross, died, was buried, arose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at God’s right hand, and will one day return to judge the living and the dead. In short, the creed is speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is indeed the Son of God, but Who is also our Mediator and Savior.
In like manner when the Nicene Creed speaks of the Holy Ghost it is not speaking just of the third person of the Trinity. It speaks rather of the Holy Spirit as He has been given to Christ at His ascension to be the Spirit of Christ through Whom the exalted Christ bestows all the blessings of salvation upon His people. That this is the emphasis of the creed is evident from the way that the Holy Ghost is described. He is the Lord and Giver of life. This refers to the life of regeneration as worked in the heart of God’s elect by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Furthermore, the Holy Ghost is identified as the One Who spoke by the prophets. The word spoken by the prophets of old was the word of Christ. But they spoke that word by the power and direction and illumination of the Holy Spirit in the service of Christ.
What we have therefore in the Nicene Creed is the doctrine of the Trinity set forth not in some abstract and philosophical way but as it is revealed in the Scriptures. God always reveals Himself in the Scriptures as being three yet one. However, the Scriptures very seldom speak of any one of the three persons as He subsists within the one divine nature as such. Instead the Scriptures speak of God the Father Who is the fullness of time sent His Son into the world in our flesh to seek and to save that which was lost. This same eternal Father also lives in our hearts by His Spirit, and through the indwelling Spirit blesses us with all spiritual blessings from heaven. This is sometimes referred to as the economical Trinity in distinction from the ontological Trinity. In other words, this is the Trinity as revealed in the work of salvation. And this is how the Nicene Creed also confesses the Trinity.
The next question we face is this: why is the triune God called “Father” both in the Scriptures and here in the Nicene creed? In what sense is He Father?
The basic idea of fatherhood is that of procreation, of authorship, of productivity. Thus for example a man becomes a father when he produces children. In a somewhat broader sense we use the idea of father to express that someone is the originator or inventor of something. Thus for example we speak of the father of modern science or of some other branch of science. Or we speak of the father of the printing press or some other type of modern invention.
In like manner we may also speak of the triune God as Father.
God is Father first of all because of His work of creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Out of nothing He brought forth the heavens and the earth in their unformed state. Then, according to Genesis 1 He proceeded in six days to form the light and the firmament and the whole creation as we know it today. Hence, God is the Father of the creation. The whole creation finds its source in Him, proceeds from Him, is His child.
According to the Scriptures God is Father in even a higher sense. God is first of all the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures speak of this quite often. This is true because of the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary to bring forth the Lord Jesus. This makes the triune God the Father of Christ in a very direct sense. Closely connected to this, God is also our Father for Christ’s sake and in Christ. He is our Father first of all because in Christ and for the sake of Christ He adopts us as His sons and heirs. .Even as it is possible to adopt into your own home and family a child that is not your child and make him an heir of all that you have with all the rights and privileges of a son, so too does God adopt His people in Christ as His sons and heirs. Being adopted by God in Jesus Christ we have all the rights and privileges of sons in God’s eternal home on high. But in Jesus Christ God becomes our Father in a way that no earthly parent can become the father of’ a child whom he has adopted. No adopting parent can give his adopted child his own image. No parent can take a child he has adopted and make it resemble him as a natural child would. But this is what God does to those whom He adopts. According to the Scriptures we who are in Christ are born again; we are in fact born of God. Through this spiritual rebirth we are restored to the image of God in which we were originally created but which we lost in the fall. Being born of God we are made to resemble God in a spiritual way. In this sense the triune God is our Father in Jesus Christ. This is also the emphasis of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 9 where the Catechism explains the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
It was however the intention of the early Christian church to emphasize God as Father from the viewpoint of His being the Creator of the heavens and the earth. This is evident from the fact that in this same article the early church continued to speak of God as the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. Quite obviously the church meant to emphasize that God is Father because He is Creator. This is also verified by the writings of the early church fathers where the emphasis is time and again on God the Father as Creator.
There was good reason for this emphasis. This truth had to be confessed over against two formidable foes that the early church faced: paganism and Gnosticism. In our treatment of this first article of the Nicene Creed we have already seen how that the early church was required to oppose the polytheism of both of these. Now we see that the church also had to oppose paganism and Gnosticism on the question of creation.
It is characteristic of all paganistic religions even as they have survived to today to have some concept of the creation of the world. This is to be explained by the fact that from earliest history the fact of the creation of the world has been passed down from generation to generation either in oral or written form. However, as the fact of creation was passed down through the unbelieving, reprobate generations of the world, the story of creation was altered and distorted to fit into the godless religion which they promoted. The creation of the universe in turn was attributed to the idol gods that they served. It was over against this lie first of all that prevailed in the society in which the early church found herself that she confessed in this first article of the Nicene Creed that the triune God is the Father of the creation. The idol gods of the heathen did not create the heavens and the earth. This great and glorious work is to be ascribed solely to the triune God Who sent His only Son to seek and to save that which is lost.
That the triune God is the Father of the creation was also confessed by the early Christian church over against the error of Gnosticism. We have earlier touched on the Gnostic idea of creation. The Gnostics taught that from God, Who is an impersonal and unknowable force, there emanates or issues forth a series of aeons or spiritual beings. These aeons have divine characteristics and together comprise thepleroma or fullness of divine power and attributes. According to the Gnostics, the weakest of the aeons fell from the spirit world and created the Demiurge or Worldmaker. This Demiurge in turn formed the present visible world from the kenoma, the world of matter which is eternal and intrinsically evil. This Demiurge is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament Jews, who imagines that he alone is God. Over against also this frightful lie of hell the early Christian church set forth in the first article of the Nicene Creed that the triune God Who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is the Father and sole Creator of the universe.
The same confession must still be made today, the same truth defended. The church in our land no longer must contend with paganism as did the early church. And Gnosticism has long ago died out. But the church today is required to contend with the error of scientism and its pet idea of evolution. In the modern idea of evolution we see a development in error. Whereas before the unbelieving world was content to allow the creation of the heavens and the earth by some divine force or being, the unbeliever today will not even allow a creation. Evolution has no room for either a creator or an act of creation. The world as we know it today just evolved from nothing to its present form. Foolishness did not die with the unbelieving generations which opposed the church in her early history. It has been continued to this day and taken a great leap forward! And over against this great foolishness of men (some even call it wisdom) the church today is called to confess, and the faithful church does confess, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”