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What would you say if an adherent of a heathen religion asked you how your God differed from theirs? Besides the obvious, that our God is the true God and theirs is not, what would be some central points to mention?

Last time we considered two points concerning the oneness of God. First, our God is the one and only Creator who called all things into existence. He alone is “the beginning.” Secondly, He alone is “the end.” He is the goal, who governs and directs all things to accomplish His purpose and glorify His name. The apostle Paul when preaching to the heathen made specific reference to both of these points when he referred to the one true God as the Creator of all who governs and directs all things (Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-28).

Another point to mention has to do with the threeness of God. Only the true God has fellowship within Himself. He alone has communion in Himself and brings His people into communion with Him.

That there is communion within God means that there really is a distinction of persons in the one God.

In this third article on the Trinity we consider this distinction between the persons.

 

Distinguished by what each is called

The three persons in God are “really, truly, and eternally distinct” (Belgic Confession, Art. 8). How each person is distinguished from the others is made known by what each person is called.

The first person is called the Father. He is the only one of the three who begets. The Son does not beget; nor does the Holy Spirit. Only the Father does.

The second person is called the Son. He is the only one of the three who is begotten. The Spirit is not begotten. If He were, there would be two Sons. The Spirit, however, is not begotten. Only the Son is.

The third person is called the Spirit. The word translated “Spirit” or “Ghost” could be translated “Breath.” The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God who is breathed forth from both the Father and the Son. Only the Spirit is breathed forth. The Father and the Son are not.

The begetting of the Son and the breathing forth of the Spirit are eternal activities. Although this doctrine “far surpasses all human understanding” (BC, Art. 9), yet there are points that God has made known to us and that we do understand.

We do know, for example, that the Father has never been without the Son. It is incorrect to say that the Father could have chosen not to beget the Son. The begetting of the Son is an eternal activity. It is characteristic of the Father that He begets the Son, and it is characteristic of the Son that He is begotten of the Father.

It is similar with regard to the Holy Spirit. It is characteristic of the Spirit that He is breathed forth from both the Father and the Son. It could not be otherwise.

Admittedly, this is beyond what we can fully grasp. Our God is incomprehensible. Yet we do truly know Him, and are called to confess what God has told us about Himself.

 

“Incommunicable properties”

We confess that there are three persons in God who are really distinct “according to their incommunicable properties.” This phrase is found in Article 8 of the Belgic Confession, which goes on to explain these properties.

The Father is “the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible.” He who eternally begets the Son is the origin of all things.

The Son is “the word, wisdom, and image of the Father.” When we have seen the Son, we have seen the Father, for the Son is the Father’s image. The Son is also called the Word of God (John 1:1- 3) and the Wisdom of God (Prov. 8). The One who is the Word, Wisdom and Image of the Father reveals the Father unto us. Jesus referred to this when He said: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

The Holy Spirit is “the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.” The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was signified by the sound of a rushing, mighty wind. The Spirit of God powerfully accomplishes God’s purpose, quickening every person whom He intends to save.

 

How this has been made known

How do we know this? How do we know that there are three persons in God who are really distinct from one another?

The first sentence of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession explains: “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 article says we know this from the testimonies of Scripture. It then goes on to quote passages from the Old Testament and the New. From the Old Testament it quotes Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 3:22, both of which refer to a plurality of persons in God. From the New Testament the baptism of Jesus1 and the command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are referred to as proof that there are three persons in God.

The article goes on to say we know there are three persons “from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves.” What are these operations?

Article 9 comes back to this point later and explains what these are: “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.”

The first point, regarding God the Father and our creation, is a point we mentioned earlier when speaking of God as the beginning. Here we consider how the coming of the Son and the sending forth of the Spirit made known more clearly that there are three persons in the one God.

The coming of the Son of God made a number of things very clear. The Father spoke to the Son, and the Son repeatedly spoke of His Father. This made known that the Father and Son are persons distinct from one another.

This also indicated that there is communion within God. The covenant is a relationship of friendship between God and His people in Christ. It was not that God needed to create us to have friends. The three persons in God commune with one another. The true God has fellowship within Himself, and brings His people into fellowship with Him.

The sending forth of the Spirit made more things clear. The Spirit was said to be sent from the Father as well as from the Son. Therefore, the Spirit is distinct from the Father and from the Son.

Furthermore, we know it was the second person who died for us. He is the One who took upon Himself our flesh and suffered and died in our place. It was not the first person, nor was it the third. It was the eternal Son who redeemed us by His blood. We confess this in Article 8 of the Belgic Confession: “the Father hath not assumed the flesh, nor hath the Holy Ghost, but the Son only.”

The third Person, the Holy Spirit, is the One who dwells within us. He is the One who applies to us that which we have in Christ. This operation of the Spirit we “feel in ourselves.” We know He dwells within us. He is the One who works in us faith and brings to our remembrance what our Lord has taught us.

The Son redeemed us and the Spirit sanctifies us. The Spirit works in us a godly sorrow for sin. He comforts us, assuring us that we are forgiven, that we are righteous in Christ, and that we have a right to eternal life. He also strengthens us to fight against sin and Satan, granting us the grace to begin to keep the commandments of our Lord.

Yes, indeed, we know this is true. Our God who has fellowship within Himself has spoken to us. The Spirit dwells within us and assures us He will never leave us nor forsake us. Forever He will abide with us.

May we faithfully bear witness concerning what our God has made known to us. Let us tell others about God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. May we glorify and praise our God, the triune God, speaking also of the joy we have in our heart as we fellowship with Him who has fellowship within Himself.


1 This proof is explained this way: “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.”