Rev. Miersma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The doctrine of the Trinity stands at the core of our Christian faith as one of the key distinctives which separate us from cults, sects, and heathen religions. The truth that God is one in being or essence, yet three in person, pervades the whole of our doctrine so completely that no doctrine is unaffected by it.
That which is true generally of the Christian church is especially true of our Reformed faith. The Reformed doctrine of the covenant and the covenant life of God cannot be understood except in the light of the truth that God is triune. This doctrine is, moreover, both personal and practical, as it does to the very heart of our worship and service of God.
It is not without reason, therefore, that the doctrine of the Trinity has always been the object of the fiercest attacks of our adversary the devil, both in the past and in the present. The Christian church of the past was called to maintain and defend this doctrine, and we are called likewise to stand for this truth in the world. The Athanasian Creed, one of our ecumenical creeds, is correct when it speaks of the catholic or universal Christian faith and says:
Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith: which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons: nor dividing the Essence (Psalter, new edition, p. 82).
The seriousness of this confession must not be overlooked. To tamper with or defile the doctrine of the Trinity leads to eternal destruction. To turn from the truth of the Trinity is to depart from the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve and worship an idol, a god of our own imagination.
As the terms Trinity and Triune themselves emphasize, we make a distinct confession, that God is three, and yet He is one. He is a tri-unity. Both aspects of this doctrine are important. The essential unity and oneness of God must be faithfully maintained as well as the truth of the three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Both aspects of the truth of the Trinity have been attacked and are under attack in various forms.
The Oneness and Unity of God
The doctrine of the Trinity proceeds from the basic confession of Scripture that God is one. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:5). God’s oneness is a divine attribute which expresses the essential unity of His nature and virtues. There is but one God, one divine essence or being, who is perfectly one in all His divine glory, virtues, and perfections. This oneness is rooted in the truth of God’s simplicity, that God is not composed of parts. His attributes are indivisible. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not three gods or three parts of God, so as to divide the divine nature and glory. The Word of God says, “I am the LORD and there is none else, there is no God beside me . . .” (Isaiah 45:5). He is Jehovah, “The I AM THAT I AM” (Ex. 3:14).
This truth of the unity of God may not be corrupted by our doctrine of the threefoldness of God’s internal triune existence. Both aspects of the doctrine, as we said, are under attack, especially as they are bound up with the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian faith confesses but on God over against paganism with its doctrine of many gods, spirits, and divine powers. Our God is a self-conscious, thinking, willing spiritual being who has one mind and one will, not minds nor wills. The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit are not various sparks of divine energy emanating from a mindless unconscious divine essence. Over against the mindless oneness of the Hindu Brahma, the creative force which manifests itself in various godlike incarnations and manifestations, we maintain that there is one self-conscious living God.
Jesus is the Son of God, true God and true man, possessing the whole of the divine nature of the one only true God, yet as Son in distinction from the Father and the Spirit. Jesus is not a god, a divine-like creature, a divine emanation. Nor is He the highest angelic being, possessing parts of the divine glory, as the New Age cults would have Him or as the Jehovah’s Witnesses implicitly teach. Neither is it true that Jehovah is a god, Jesus a god, and you a god, or one who is spiritually evolving into a god.
This warmed-over polytheism destroys the unity of God. In its various forms it is a doctrine that today seeks to creep into the Christian church from the cults and the New Age movements. It often seeks to twist the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and to clothe its false philosophy in Christian terms. The most notable example of this is the Mormon cult, the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. The Mormons are not Christians. They have taught since the days of Joseph Smith (1805-1844) a plurality of gods, and that each man can become a god. According to them Jehovah is a god, Jesus another god, and Lucifer or Satan yet another god and Jesus’ brother. They even debate among themselves whether Adam was in fact Jehovah.
A Plurality of Persons
It is in the context of maintaining the truth of the essential unity of the one only true God and the divine essence, that the Word of God leads us to confess not a plurality of gods, but a plurality of persons within the being of God. Unto us as creature and as His people, Jehovah God says “I” and speaks as one God. He says, as we have seen, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me . . .” (Isaiah 45:5). God speaks to us as one simple spiritual being. Yet God is revealed as speaking within Himself in the plural, as a plurality. In the account of the creation of man we read, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .” (Gen. 1:26). After the fall we read, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us . . .” (Gen. 3:22). The Word of God points us to a distinction within the being of God, a plurality of persons, which does not destroy the unity of God. This is true of the very first chapters of the Bible. What this distinction is, moreover, the Scriptures make abundantly clear, for God reveals Himself in His Word as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God is within Himself three, and yet one God.
This truth of the threefoldness of God is not founded on a few texts taken here and there in Scripture, but belongs to the teaching of the whole Word of God. It is seen in the creation when God creates the world; speaks His Word and calls into existence all things; and the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the deep (Gen. 1:1-3). It is confessed in the Psalms, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). (emphasis mine—TCM) God created the heavens and the earth, they were created by the Word, and the Spirit or breath of God wrought in the beginning and gave life to the creature. The Creator is God, the Word, the Spirit.
Likewise it is Jehovah who is our Savior and the God of our salvation. He is so as our Father. “Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting” (Isaiah 63:16). Yet he is also revealed as the Son of God, our Savior and king. “I will declare the decree: The LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7). Moreover He is the Son, not only as man of the line of David to be born in Bethlehem, but as the one “. . . whose going forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). He is the eternal Son.
In like manner the Word of God speaks of God’s Spirit, the divine wind or breath of God, as the One who not only quickens the creation but saves us, raises us from death to life, and gives us breath (Ez. 37:5, 9), whom God will pour out upon His people (Joel 2:28).
That which is revealed in the Old Testament is yet more plainly declared in the New Testament, so that we are baptized “. . . in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). There is but one Almighty God, Creator, Savior, and Lord into whose Name we are brought, and He is a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Of this the whole of the Scriptures testify.