************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 20, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 9
"Scriptural Proofs for the Trinity"
My brothers and sisters and I were walking home from the bus stop. It was about a mile with two little hills. It was blowing, cold, and wet outside. A car pulled alongside and a lady I did not recognize said, "Hop in. I will give you a ride home." We said "No" because even back then our parents told us to never go with a stranger. Isn't it sad that we live in such a world?
God is not a stranger. We can trust Him and follow Him. He tells us Who He is and what He does. He has revealed Himself to us. Part of His revelation to us is that He is triune.
In the early church there was a priest-theologian by the name of Arius. Arius did not believe in the Trinity. Arius did not believe Jesus was the eternal Son of God. Arius did not believe the Spirit was part of the Godhead.
The theology of Arius lives to this day. We see this heresy especially in the teachings of the JWs. The Belgic Confession mentions a host of similar heretics: Jews, Muslims, Marcion, and others like them -- which would include the Mormons. Their denial of the mystery of the Trinity tells us they do not know the God of the Bible.
We looked at the Trinity last time. We said God is three in one, God is one, and God is three. This is a mystery we will never understand, but this is how God has revealed Himself as the God Who saves us. For as I said last time, at stake in the doctrine of the Trinity is salvation. Those who desire to be saved must believe in the Trinity.
Now, in Article 9, the Belgic Confession gives scriptural proof for what was said in Article 8. We can formulate all the doctrine we want, but without biblical proof they count for nothing.
I want to raise three points. First, the triune Godhead is revealed in Scripture. Second, the triune Godhead witnesses in the heart. Third, the triune Godhead lives in the church.
I Revealed in Scripture
A The catholic, universal faith confesses that God is one single and simple spiritual being, and that He alone is God. But it also confesses that in this one being there exists three persons who are co-eternal, co-equal, and of the same essence.
The catholic, universal faith also confesses that the three persons are distinguished from one another. They are distinct in their names and order -- the Father is the first person, the Son is the second, and the Holy Spirit is the third. They are distinct also in their works and in their manner of working. The Father works out of Himself, the Son out of the Father, and the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son. The Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies. Furthermore, Scripture records that the Father chose His people to eternal life; the Son purchased the church with His blood; and the Holy Spirit gathers those chosen by the Father and purchased by the Son, and unites them into a church from every tribe and language and people and nation. In this tri-unity there is not one who comes before the others, and there is not one who is more important than the others. In truth, power, goodness, and mercy they are all equal.
B But how do we know this? How do we know this for sure? I ask this question because the word "trinity" is not found in the Bible. Those of you with a King James Bible might argue that 1 John 5 -- quoted by the Confession -- certainly teaches the idea or concept of Trinity:
(1 Jn 5:7-8) For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (8) And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.I hesitate to say this but we find this wording only in the King James Bible; you won't find it in our pew Bibles. Some scholar thought that God needed our help so added this proof text for the Trinity to the Bible.
The fact is, congregation, you won't find a text that spells out the Trinity. You won't find the doctrine of the Trinity neatly revealed in one nice little verse or passage. The Apostle Paul, for example, did not devote a chapter to the Trinity as he did to the significance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Trinity does not stand or fall on the basis of a handy proof text. We have to search the Scriptures to find this doctrine. But, let me tell you, God has indeed revealed this precious truth about Himself: that though He is one He is also triune.
The Belgic Confession mentions the early reference to the Trinity in Genesis 1:26-27 -- "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness." The use of "us" and "our" indicates "there is a plurality of persons within the Deity." Looking at this text from the vantage point of the New Testament we see this more clearly than any Old Testament believer.
The Belgic Confession refers us to the threefold benediction we hear every Sunday:
(2 Cor 13:14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.Compare this to the Old Testament benediction:
(Num 6:24-26) The LORD bless you and keep you; (25) the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; (26) the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.The threefold use of LORD in Numbers 6 is not to be understood as merely a repetition of the one name of God. Instead, in the light of the New Testament we understand this as a reference to the triune Godhead.
Another important passage to consider is the baptism of Jesus. In His baptism, the Lord Jesus publicly accepted His office, and then the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17). After the Father's confirmation, the Holy Spirit settled upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Here we see all three persons of the Trinity. We see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in their work and one in their goal, although their tasks are distinct.
The Confession also mentions the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. Again, we hear all three persons of the Godhead mentioned:
(Lk1:35) The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
One last text Mentioned by the Confession is the Great Commission. It sets the formulary to be used for baptisms:
(Mt 28:19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."This is so striking because it teaches both the unity as well as the tri-unity of God. It teaches the unity of God because Jesus says, "in the name" and NOT "in the names." We are baptized in the one name of God. But it also teaches the tri-unity of God as it is the "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Jesus did not say to baptize in the name of the Father, the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Spirit -- that would be three names. As we did this morning, we baptize in the one name of the one God Who exists in three persons.
Only one scriptural proof of the Trinity should be enough for true faith. But God has revealed this truth throughout Scripture. The history of salvation unfolds God's revelation of Himself as one and triune.
II Witnesses in the Heart
A The first sentence of Article 9 contains a bit of a strange statement:
All these things we knowAccording to the Belgic Confession, the doctrine of the Trinity is something we feel; it affects our feelings and emotions. Certainly, feelings and emotions cannot be the basis of faith or assurance, but at the same time they are part of our humanity. We are not machines; we are not bits of cold intellect. We do have feelings. We have fears and doubts, hopes and joys. We feel both guilt and forgiveness. We feel the liberating effect of our justification through the blood of Christ. The triune God uses these feelings as He witnesses in our hearts. We should not overreact to religions that emphasize feelings by rejecting all emotion or experience. Where the solid truths of the Word of God are applied, we feel it in our heart.
from the testimonies of Holy Scripture
[to which we all say "Amen"]
as well as from the effects of the persons,
especially from those we feel within ourselves.
B So, what does the Belgic Confession of Faith have in mind? Our form for the Baptism of Children beautifully describes this effect.
Our baptism into the name of God the Father is his assurance to us that he makes an everlasting covenant of grace with us and adopts us as his children and heirs. Therefore, he surrounds us with his goodness and protects us from evil or turns it to our profit.This is so precious and so amazing.
We feel the effect of the Gospel, the promises of the Gospel, within ourselves. The Father takes us, who are estranged from Him, and draws us to Himself with cords of love. We feel this when we realize our unworthiness and that there is no good in us, and yet we long to be delivered from our sin and condemnation. We feel it when we realize that, despite our rejection of God, He calls us back, and we respond as sons and daughters. The Christian, then, feels the presence of the work of the Father.
But the believer also feels the presence of the Son. We confess that "the Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood." There are those who belittle the work of Christ. They say you must first repent before you can be saved; there must be crying and sighing for salvation; you must confess and then you will be forgiven. These people get the order of salvation all wrong. It is all of Christ and not at all anything on our part. In Christ everything has been given and apart from Christ there is nothing but darkness and doom. Those who know the Son as Savior and Redeemer are filled with awe and wonder and love and joy. Their desire is to live with Him and for Him in an intimate relationship. Again, let me quote our form for baptism:
When we are baptized into the name of the Son, we are assured by Christ himself that he washes us in his blood from all our sins. Christ joins us to himself so that we share in his death and resurrection. Through this union with Christ we are liberated from our sins and regarded as righteous before God.Do we feel this? Of course we do!
Not only do we feel this, but we also live it as the believer also feels the presence of the Spirit. Again, we are instructed by our form for baptism:
Baptism into the name of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that the Spirit of God will make his home within us. While living within us, the Spirit will continually work to strengthen and deepen our union with Christ. He will make real in our lives Christ's work of washing away our sins. He will also help us each day to live the new life we have in Christ. As a result of his work within us, we shall one day be presented without the stain of sin among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.Where the Spirit dwells the Spirit works. He brings to life that which is dead. Upon the Spirit's entrance into our heart, going to church becomes something lively, sermons are aimed at us personally, God's law condemns us, scriptural promises entice us, and the Word takes on new life. All of these things we feel. The Spirit's work affects our very heart.
As the Confession puts it, we feel the effects of the three persons. We must feel or ours is not a real and living faith. We must feel or we are simply going through the motions. We must feel or ours is dead orthodoxy.
III Lives in the Church
Article 9 of the Confession concludes by saying "This doctrine of the Holy Trinity has always been maintained in the true church, from the time of the apostles until the present."
During the first four centuries of the New Testament church it was especially the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit that were under attack. Sadly, the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit are still under attack. Much of modern theology is heresy. It does not mind honoring God as God but it resists recognizing Jesus as God and scoffs at the idea of a personal, divine Spirit. Again, I point to the Jews, the Muslims, the JWs, the Mormons. Even some of the major churches in our land hold to this heresy.
Against these attacks, these heresies, resounds the voice of the true church. This church -- built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone -- can not proclaim anything but the truth of the Trinity. Because this is how God has revealed Himself. This is how God is presented to us in the ancient creeds -- the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed (we are going to be reading the Athanasian Creed tonight). All of them clearly trinitarian. All them teaching one God who exists in three persons. Let no one ever take these Creeds from us. Let us never lose this rich inheritance. The triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- lives forever in His church. He lives, not in this building, not in the consistory room, but in the hearts of the church's members.
Let me end by saying we need God to be trinitarian. Because at stake is our salvation. Those who wish to be saved must listen to God's witness in the Bible, in their hearts, and in the true church of all ages.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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