The Apostles’ Creed (5)

Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

In our preceding article we were calling attention to the fact that Answer 24 of our Heidelberg Catechism cannot be understood to refer to the three divisions of the Apostolic Confession, and that each of the Divine Persons is distinguished and described here. Question and Answer 24 reads as follows: “How are these articles divided (the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed)? Into three parts: the first is of God, the Father, and our creation; the second of God the Son, and our redemption; the third of God the Holy Ghost, and our sanctification.” We noted that this interpretation would teach the heresy of Tritheism. This is our first objection to this interpretation of Answer 24 of our Heidelberg Catechism and of the Apostles’ Creed. We now continue.

Secondly, this interpretation is neither the meaning of the Apostolic Confession nor of the authors of our Heidelberg Catechism. It is true that the Confession speaks of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, and of the Holy Ghost. But we must notice the following. Of God, the Father, we read that He is almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. However, is not also the Son almighty, and also the Holy Spirit? Are not also the Son and the Holy Spirit creator of heaven and earth? Does not therefore this first article of the Apostles’ Creed speak of things which are applicable to all the Divine Persons? And what do we read concerning Jesus Christ? Is it not striking that we read immediately of Jesus Christ? We read this: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ.” It is true that we read of the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, but this we read only because only God’s only begotten Son could be this Lord Jesus Christ. And do not the rest of the articles all speak of Christ as He was and is active in the state of humiliation and exaltation? Do they not therefore speak of Christ as to His human nature and as He is the Head of God’s people? And, although the last five articles call our attention to the Holy Spirit, they speak of Him, do they not, as the Spirit of Christ and as He operates within the church, calling the church into existence throughout the ages, and bestowing upon the church the communion of the saints, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and everlasting life. Moreover, neither is this the interpretation of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. This is also the line that is followed by the Heidelberg Catechism. Besides, the author of this catechism, in his own explanation, declares emphatically that this twenty-fourth answer does not at all purpose to separate the three Persons of the Trinity, and to ascribe anything to the One with the exclusion of the others.

Thirdly, we should also note the wording of the Apostolic Confession. We read: “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ . . .; I believe in the Holy Ghost.” Why is it that the name God appears only in this first article? Why do we not read: “I believe in God, the Father, in God the Son, and in God the Holy Spirit”? The name God appears only in the first article of the Apostles’ Creed.

We may, therefore, conclude the following. In all the works of God, all the three Divine Persons are equally active. The Triune God creates—out of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. The Triune God redeems—out of the Father and through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, although it is true, of course, that the Second Person assumes our flesh and blood. And the Triune God sanctifies out of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, although it is true that the Holy Spirit dwells within our hearts. This is scriptural. Indeed, the Father creates. But Scripture teaches that all things were created by the Son (Colossians 1), and that the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1). And we read in John 17that the Father sanctifies. Redemption, too, is the work also of the Father and of the Holy Ghost.

Hence, we would say that this Apostolic Confession speaks of the Triune God as the God of our salvation and in relation to the believing Church. Fact is, we read, “I believe in God, the Father, etc.” In other words, this confession is the confession, the believing expression, of the Church. We read in the first article, “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” It is true, of course, that reference is made here to the Fatherhood of the first Person in His personal relation to the second Person. But we should notice what the Heidelberg Catechism says of this first article. He is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is that as the Triune God. He is also the Father of creation, and He is that as the Triune God. The Catechism also mentions God’s counsel, and that surely belongs to the Triune God. In addition to this, He is also the Father of His people, and He is that as the Triune God. The first article, therefore, speaks of the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator omnipotent, the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. The first article, therefore, calls our attention to God, the Triune God, our almighty Father, creator of the world, the first world and also the second world, and also as our Triune Savior. The second part of the Apostolic Confession calls attention to the Son, the only begotten to be sure, but preeminently as the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. And the third part of the Confession speaks of the Holy Ghost, primarily the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ and of His church.

We conclude, therefore, that in the Apostolic Confession the Triune God stands before us, and that He is the Object of our faith, even as He is revealed as our Father in creation, as our Redeemer in Jesus Christ our Lord, and as our Sanctifier in the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Now this is extremely important. Indeed, extremely important. This is due to the fact that it constitutes the possibility of our faith in the Triune God. What does it mean to believe in God, and to believe in God as the Triune God? The natural man will not believe in God. To be sure, God has revealed Himself, unmistakably, undeniably. According to Romans 1:20 the invisible things of God, such as His Godhead, power, and wisdom are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. Besides, the Lord has not left Himself without witness, testifying also within man that He is the living God. Nevertheless, many refuse to believe in the living God. He will constantly change and corrupt the glory of the incorruptible God. He will constantly change God to suit himself, will make of God a graven image, will humanize God, place Him within the framework of his own creaturely and corrupt mind and thinking. Man will refuse to serve God as God, the alone living God. All we need do is think of all the present-day conceptions of the living God. There is the evil and corruption of Modernism. Modernism is humanism. Modernism denies the supernatural, denies the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modernism transforms the living God into the figure of a corruptible man. And then there is also the heinous conception of Arminianism. Arminianism revolves about the free will of the sinner. Arminianism believes in a predestination that is based upon man’s belief or unbelief. Arminianism refuses to allow God to be God, changes Him into a corruptible man, refuses to give unto the Lord the glory and honor which are due to Him alone.

What does it imply to believe in God, the Triune God? That God is God Triune implies that He is God, the living God, the only God, and that He is really God, Who alone does all things for His own Name’s sake, Who rules, alone rules, and is worthy of all adoration. That He is the Triune God implies that, as the living God, He is God, Who is absolute, is what He is alone, the Incomparable One. He is in Himself perfectly and eternally the Self-Sufficient covenant God. He needs no man to contribute or add to His glory. He is in Himself eternally and completely Self-satisfied. He lives eternally in the enjoyment of Himself. That God is Triune implies that He is eternally glorious, infinitely and supremely blessed, wholly sovereign, and worthy of all praise and adoration. He alone must be glorified—our only calling is to call Him great and that even forevermore. We must bear in mind that God is God alone, that He is Absolute Reality, that He alone is the one and only absolute being. And that He is Triune means that, as God Who is one in essence and three in persons, He knows Himself, has fellowship in and with Himself, rejoices in Himself as the alone and all-sufficient One, rejoicing in His own infinite being and fullness. And to believe in Him means that we acknowledge Him, love Him, set all our trust and confidence in Him, worship and adore Him, do all unto the praise and the glory of His Name.

Now we can understand that the possibility of our faith is outlined and set forth before us in this twenty-fourth answer of our Heidelberg Catechism. Of ourselves we will not believe in Him, cannot believe in Him, cannot will to believe in Him, refuse to believe in Him. We love ourselves, seek ourselves and the things of this present evil world. We will not bend the knee before Him; we will not allow Him to be God; we will not acknowledge Him to be worthy of all praise and adoration. And, incidentally, there is no salvation possible for the Unitarian who denies the Trinity and believes in a one-person god. To the Unitarian, God, of course, is not a covenant God. And there is no salvation possible for him, because he denies that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit.

We must believe in God, the Father, Almighty, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and in the Holy Ghost. Our heavenly Father is almighty, revealed when He, by the word of His power, created the heavens and the earth. How tremendously important this is! How could we be saved if this were not true? As that almighty Creator of heaven and earth He must also reveal Himself within my own heart and life. Life must be called out of death, light out of darkness. God must speak in me even as He spoke at history’s dawn. God must speak and it is, command and it stands. Indeed, the word of recreation is surely more wonderful than the work of creation. Immediately prior to God’s creation of the world there was nothing. But, immediately prior to God’s word of recreation there is a dead sinner who is full of sin and enmity and darkness. This sinner must be called out of death into life, out of darkness into the light. This cannot be accomplished through a general well-meaning offer of the gospel, so widely preached and taught today. No sinner can or will or can will to accept such an offer. God must speak as He alone can speak and as He spoke when He created the heavens and the earth. Indeed, I believe, must believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and of earth.