The Belgic Confession, Article IX

All this we know, as well from the testimonies of holy writ, as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, that teach us to believe this Holy Trinity are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate, as to choose them out with discretion and judgment. In

Genesis 1:26, 27,

God saith: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. So God created man in his own image, male and female created he them. And

Gen. 3:22.

Behold the man is become as one of us. From this saying, let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when he saith, God created, he signifies the unity. It is true he doth not say how many persons there are, but that, which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament, is very plain in the New. For 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. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers. Baptize all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God: likewise, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you. And there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. In all which places we are fully taught, that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless, we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in Heaven. Moreover, we must observe the particular offices and operations of these three persons towards us. The Father is called our Creator, by his power; the Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood; the Holy Ghost is our Sanctifier, by his dwelling in our hearts. This doctrine of the Holy Trinity, hath always been defended and maintained by the true Church, since the time of the apostles, to this very day, against the Jews, Mohammedans, and some false Christians and heretics, as Marcion, Manes, Praxeas, Sabellius, Samosatenus, Arius, and such like, who have been justly condemned by the orthodox fathers. Therefore, in this point, we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nice, and of Athanasius: likewise that, which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.

In this second article on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity our Confession sets forth the proof for the preceding article. And the very first fact that draws our attention is this rather unusual procedure of devoting an entire lengthy article to proving such a basic and, we would say, almost axiomatic truth. I think we may say that if our Confession proceeded in this manner in regard to all the rest of the articles of faith, there would be a good many more than thirty-seven articles, and our Confession would have become a very lengthy and ponderous document. Indeed, Scriptural proof is also offered in other articles of our Confession; but here we see the unusual procedure of devoting a separate article merely to the proof of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Besides, we are probably inclined to think that this truth of the Holy Trinity is so basic and so generally accepted as a most fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith that it is hardly necessary to take pains to prove it. No one can be called a Christian, and no church can be called a Christian church, that denies that God is one in Being and three in Persons. Hence, why all this bother?

This leads us to state some of the reasons which, in our opinion, occasioned an article of this kind. In the first place, there is the obvious reason that just exactly because this doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, it was necessary then, and it still is necessary today, that this doctrine be very plainly founded upon Scripture, and that the faith of the church and of its members should be very articulate on this score. I would emphasize this, especially because of the very common tendency to relegate the truth of the Trinity to the realm of those difficult, abstruse, and abstract theological matters which we can never understand anyway and which we can better accept without going into them too much. Not only should this article of faith be very clearly set forth in our Confession, but it should also be very firmly fixed in the minds and hearts of the children of God. Every child of God should be able to give an account of his faith in the Holy Trinity on the basis of the Word of God. This is highly necessary if the church is ever to maintain and preserve this truth. And let me add: this necessity is a practical one. The denial of the Trinity is more common than is sometimes thought. And the Christian should be able to stand his ground when he comes into contact with these deniers of the Trinity. In the second place, I would suggest a historical reason for this painstaking proof. Our Confession belongs to Reformation times. And one of the primary aims of the Confession was to show, over against Rome and its ecclesiastical and political adherents, that the Reformed believers were not a sect, were not heretics, but held to the Christian faith. And there is no truth, as far as the history of the church is concerned, that is more ecumenic in character, that is more the heritage of the church of all ages as far as its confession is concerned, than the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the creeds of the church this doctrine goes back to the time when there were no denominational divisions at all, when the church was not Romish, but Catholic in the true sense of the word. The latter part of the article makes a point of this too, in its reference to the fact that “this doctrine of the Holy Trinity hath always been defended and maintained by the true Church, since the time of the apostles, to this very day, against the Jews, Mohammedans, and some false Christians and heretics,” etc. Moreover, in this point (mark you well, on the basis of Scripture and its authority) the Reformed churches express their agreement with the “orthodox fathers.” Hence, Rome could never accuse the Reformed believers of departing from the orthodox faith. In the third place, the article gives a clue when it reminds us of the frequency with which this doctrine has been attacked and denied. It was certainly necessary in the past that the church, on the basis of Scripture, should defend this doctrine very explicitly. And this defense even came down to the difference of a single letter when it came to the deity of the Son.

And matters have not really changed since the time that our Confession was written. There have been many varieties of denial of the Trinity since then. There have been the Socinians, from whom have developed the modern day Unitarians. It is a little known fact; but the Arminians also attacked the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. And today there are many modernist churches who do lip-service to the Holy Trinity, who speak the language of Scripture and who employ much of the terminology of Scripture and the confessions, but who in actual fact deny the Triune God. Most of these attacks centered in some way on the Person and natures of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, of course, those who denied the true deity of the Mediator (cf. Article X) at once denied the Trinity also. Besides, today there are various sects, outstanding among which are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny that God is Triune. Some of the disciples of these sects are very zealous about peddling their heretical wares, even from house to house, and rather adept at ensnaring the unwary and sometimes implanting doubts in the minds of people of God concerning such a basic truth as that of the Trinity.

By way of illustration, I may tell a personal experience. As a rule, I will not waste my time with these disciples of the lie when they knock at my door. I have learned to tell them that they are false prophets, to inform them that they cannot even be called Christians in the broad sense of the term, that they do not believe the Scriptures, that they deny the Triune God, and that therefore there is no common basis for discussion between us. For if you allow them to “get their foot in the door,” they will involve you in a long and fruitless argument. But some years ago—in fact, the summer after I graduated from seminary—I rather unexpectedly met one of these over-zealous “Witnesses.” Upon learning that I was a candidate for the ministry, she bluntly confronted me with the challenge that I could not prove the doctrine of the Trinity from Scripture. Some of our readers probably know that many of these people have a rather amateurish knowledge of the original languages and of the various original readings of certain texts. They have not really been schooled in Hebrew and Greek and in textual criticism. But they have learned a few facts about some favorite Scripture texts which they like to use. Suspecting this in the present case, I immediately put this to a test, and cited the text that is also quoted by our Confession, that of I John 5:7, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Now it so happens that this particular text has rather poor backing in the original documents. You will find, for example, that it is completely omitted in the American Revised Version, though it appears in our King James Version. I merely call attention to that now, without discussing the merits of the question. But, as expected, my opponent immediately called attention to the fact and made bold to say that this was a spurious reading and that I could not use it to prove the Trinity. Thereupon I replied: “I thought you would say that. And I want you to understand that the doctrine of the Trinity does not depend on that one passage. But if you want to talk about the original, let me point you, in the first place, to a very strong passage, John 1:18, where you read: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.'” I pointed out that this text is strong proof already as it reads above. But I added that there was very good ground for an even stronger rendering, namely, “the only begotten God,” instead of the “only begotten Son.” And I concluded that I had at least shown that there are two Persons in God: the Father and the only begotten Son. Faced with this first step of my proof, my opponent, who was a private nurse in the same hospital where I was visiting at the time, suddenly had to “go back to her patient,” and did not wait for any further proof.

But the moral of this little story is that the believer should be well-posted as to this truth of the Holy Trinity, and should be able to defend it on the basis of Scripture, because there are all kinds of opponents of this doctrine even today. Some of them are very blunt in their denial; others are more clever, and their errors are more pernicious and deceptive. But over against them all, the Christian must hold fast his profession. And therefore, our Confession is not by any means out-dated in its defense of this truth.