The Belgic Confession, Article IX (continued)

Proof from the Old Testament (continued)

This Angel of Jehovah makes his appearance at various crucial times in the history of God’s people of the old dispensation. He appears again in connection with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the salvation of Lot. Thus Abraham recognizes Him, first of all, when the three heavenly visitors come to him in the plains of Mamre. For when “the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom, . . . Abraham stood yet before the Lord,” and to the Lord he made intercession that the righteous should not be destroyed with the wicked. And, in the second place, when Lot has been rescued and led forth from the wicked cities, “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”Genesis 18:16-22Genesis 19:24. Again, when Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law and came to the backside of the desert, to the mountain of God, Horeb, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” But that angel of the Lord is very evidently not merely one of the myriads of the heavenly host, but God Himself. For we read “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses . . . . Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” Exodus 3:1-6. It was for the accompaniment of this “presence of Jehovah” that Moses pleads after the children of Israel had committed the sin of worshipping the golden calf at Sinai. Ex. 33:12, ff. And so, in Isaiah 63:9 we read of this saving “presence”: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them and carried them all the days of old.” It is this same Angel of Jehovah Who also appears to Joshua emphatically as “captain of the host of the Lord,” Joshua 5:13-15, and who evidently is the same divine Angel who warned Moses not to trample rashly on holy ground: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him; and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay, but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.” For in the subsequent part of the narrative, Joshua 6:1-5, where Joshua receives instructions concerning the compassing of Jericho, we read that it is the Lord Who speaks to Joshua.

But there are still more passages from the Old Testament Scriptures which point to the plurality of Persons in the Godhead. Some of these are pointed out for us by the New Testament, so that it is in the light of the New Testament that we can more clearly understand the proof that they give. Thus, in the Prologue of the Gospel according to John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:13. If in the light of this passage we view the creative speech of God as recorded inGenesis 1, we see clearly that the eternal Word was revealed from the very beginning. Besides, we read in Genesis 1:2 that the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. In Psalm 33:6 we read: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (Spirit) of his mouth.” In one of His frequent encounters with the Pharisees the Lord Jesus furnishes a very pointed interpretation of the language of Psalm 110, where we read in verse 1: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The Lord Jesus confronts the Pharisees with one of those questions which they were not able to answer, pointing in unmistakable language to His own deity as it was heady revealed in the Old Testament, Matthew 22:41-46: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto thy Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any questions.” More than once the Holy Spirit is referred to also in the Old Testament. Thus, we read in Psalm 104:30: “Thou sendest forth thy. spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” At Nazareth our Savior quotes Isaiah 61:1 with application to Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord bath anointed me to preach good tiding unto the meek.” In Isaiah 63, in the same connection in which we read of the “angel of his presence,” we read of the Holy Spirit in vss. 10 and 11: “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?” And in the well-known context of the corruption of the pre-diluvian world we read that the Lord said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man . . .” Genesis 6:3.

To two more passages we call attention in this connection. Both of these at least may be said to have a Trinitarian background, even though they do not speak of the Persons of the Trinity directly. The first is found in Numbers 6:24-26, where the Aaronitic blessing is recorded, as follows: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” Not only is the name Lord, or Jehovah, employed here three times; but if we take note of the blessings that are pronounced here, that of preservation, that of grace, and that of peace, and if then we view these in the light of the New Testament apostolic benediction, we may at least say that there is a Trinitarian background to this Aaronitic blessing. The same is true of the Treshagion of Isaiah 6:1-3, where the number threedominates the vision which Isaiah sees of “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” For in vss. 2 and 3 we read: “Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The above quotations do not exhaust the Old Testament references which may be cited. But they are sufficient to show that the truth of the Trinity was indeed revealed in the old dispensation. And while it is certainly true that this doctrine appears somewhat obscure in the Old Testament, nevertheless the fact remains that for the believer in the new dispensation, who has eyes to see, also the Old Testament Scriptures furnish undeniable proof of this doctrine.

Proof from the New Testament

From a merely superficial reading of the proofs which our Confession offers from the New Testament the claim of our Confession that this truth of the Trinity is very plain in the New Testament is substantiated. As we have said, this stands to reason too, and is to be understood in the light of the fact that in the new dispensation the Father sends the Son into the likeness of sinful flesh, the Word is incarnated, and the Spirit is poured out into the church. What our Confession states in its opening sentence is therefore also the more true now than in the old dispensation, namely, that “All this we know . . . . from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves.” Our Confession cites several proofs from the New Testament.

In the first place, it calls attention to the event of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. The event itself is recorded in Matthew 3:13-17Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21, 22. The Gospel according to John records the testimony of John the Baptist concerning the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Jesus at the time of His baptism, John 1:32, 33. Our Confession does not quote any of these passages literally, but calls attention to the revelation of the Trinity in this event: “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 Ghost appeared in the shape of a dove.”

In the second place, the article calls attention to the formula of baptism which Christ Himself instituted before His ascension: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 28:19. This is one of the generally recognized Trinitarian passages. And this instituted formula of baptism is deemed of such importance in the church today yet, that only such baptism as is in the name of the Triune God is recognized as a valid baptism. We should note too that this is a clear proof of the Trinity. Not only the threeness of Persons is expressed here, but also the oneness of Being. The name is the expression of the Being. And that name is one. The text does not say: in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost. But baptism is in the one divine name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We may remark in this connection that the baptism formula expresses a very beautiful idea also, if we bear in mind that literally the text does not read “in,” but “into the name,” so that the idea of fellowship with the Triune God is expressed.

In the third place, our Confession calls attention to the Trinitarian element in the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary of the Savior’s birth. Here the article quotes Luke 1:35, the angel’s answer to Mary’s question, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Two of the Persons of the Trinity are literally mentioned, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Son. And in the name “Son of God” the First Person, the Father, is implied, even though we do not understand the expression “the power of the Highest” as referring directly to the First Person of the Trinity.

In the fourth place, the apostolic benediction, as found in II Corinthians 13:14, is cited: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” We may remark, however, that this passage taken all by itself is not direct proof for the doctrine of the Trinity. It does not speak in so many words of the Son and of the Father; nor does it refer literally to the oneness of God’s Being. But taken in the light of the rest of Scripture, this benediction is certainly Trinitarian in its background and its basis.

The last passage from the New Testament which our Confession cites is that of I John 5:7, a passage which finds little textual support in the Greek manuscripts. The science of textual criticism (not to be confused with unbelieving, higher criticism), which was not a well-developed study in the days when our Confession was written, has discovered that the most and the best of the Greek manuscripts does not support this reading. It may be possible that today it would not have been used in the Confession to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. However, we may remark: 1) That the proof of the doctrine of the Trinity does not rest on this one text. 2) That even though the evidence for this reading is not strong, the passage certainly gives expression to a thoroughly Scriptural truth.

Many more elements of proof for the Trinity may be pointed out in the New Testament. To some of these we shall have occasion to call attention in connection with the two following articles of the creed.