Several years ago I began a project of providing a simple commentary of sorts on the Heidelberg catechism. I got up to question 24 before I tailed off. Recently, I have had one of the Father’s in the Church suggest that I should take this back up again. So, I have decided to do so for the benefit of the whole Church. I will try to do a question and answer daily. There may be days I do more. I figure if I can accomplish 5 questions a week I can finish this is less than 4 months (since I already have 24 questions finished.) Those previous entries on the Heidelberg catechism are listed under “Caleb’s Baptism” on Iron Ink for those who desire to peruse those.
I hope this can be of benefit to folks. Allow me to say that there are works out there on the Heidelberg Catechism. Herman Hokesema’s “Triple Knowledge” is excellent but in three volumes it will probably task most families. G. I. Williamson’s commentary is also solid. Current readers will want to keep before them that in the work that is being attempted here I have family devotions in mind. As such I am not going to be all Herman Hoeksema writing three volumes. (Though I highly recommend Hoeksema’s work for mature believers.)
With that let us turn to question 25 today;
Question 25: Since there is but one only divine essence,4 why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?
Answer: Because God hath so revealed Himself in His Word,5 that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.
We know that God in one divine essence from the Scripture’s themselves. In Deuteronomy 6:4, as one example, we have the famous Hebrew Shema. The Hebrew word “Shema” means “Hear” and it opens the passage cited;
4Deut. 6:4, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.
Every Hebrew child would have been taught this from the crib. The reason it was pounded into their head, besides being true, was because the Hebrews lived in and among polytheistic and henotheistic cultures. These cultures owned pantheons of gods and so it was easy for Israel to take up this pagan polytheism. In order to ward such destructive influence off the Hebrew people repeatedly recited the Shema.
In question #8 however, the query is to the Trinitarian character of God. We are taught here that the One God of Heaven and Earth is spoken of as “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” thus introducing plurality into the One God who is and who reigns forevermore. The question asks why we speak this way.
And the simple answer provided is that this is the way that God Himself speaks of Himself in Scripture. Here, Zacharius Ursinus, with assistance from Caspar Olevianus (Authors of the Heidelberg Catechism) teach us that we are to be dependent upon the Scripture for our understanding of God.
They appeal to Scripture as follows for finding plurality in the Godhead. As you read the Scripture here keep in mind that if we had only one verse in Scripture to this end the doctrine might be more difficult to grasp. However, with the cumulative impact of the varied Scriptures we see a constant theme develop in the unfolding of Redemption that there is plurality in the One only God.
5 Gen. 1:26, And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Note the plural pronoun “us” and “our” above. God is singular but the pronouns are plural. Now there are those who will try to diminish the importance of these plural pronouns or who will try to explain them away but doing that becomes more and more difficult as the Scriptures begin to pile up in a Trinitarian direction.
They next cite
Isa. 61:1, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.
Here the plurality is found in the combination of the utterance of the ideal Servant of Jehovah (“upon me” … “anointed me”) speaking. That this ideal Servant of Jehovah is God is seen when this very passage is taken up by Jesus who is the Messiah in Luke 4 at the beginning of His ministry and who is later anointed by God with the Holy Spirit in His Baptism to the end of accomplishing His Messianic assignment.
Here we find a harmony of interests among the members of the One God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, work without contradiction in achieving the same task. The Father anoints. The Spirit of the Lord is the anointing. The Son is the anointed one.
John 14:16–17, And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
Here again we see plurality in the one only God. The Son, who Scripture teaches is very God of very God, prays the Father to the end of being provided another Comforter (a Comforter like Himself) to be with the Church forever. The Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father and and the Son dwells in the body of Christ to the end of glorifying the Son that the Father might be known. Once again we see the divine harmony of interest.
1 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.
Here we have a clear claim of unity in diversity. The Word was one of John’s ways of referring to God the Son. Here God’s plurality, as supported by the other passages, is undeniable.
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Again, note the plurality. Jesus the God-Man is speaking instructs His disciples that God the Spirit will come as sent by the Father in the name of the Son. Again, note the harmony of interests among the members of the Trinity. This is important to keep in mind because other lesser forms of Christianity will often times try to create a conflict of interest among the members of the Trinity.
Matt. 28:19, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Here again is plurality. Jesus the God-Man Messiah is speaking. Jesus uses the Greek singular for the word “name” and yet the singular name that is cited is plural –“Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
2 Cor. 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
We will end here. There are many more passages from Scripture we could easily cite that declares the trinitarian nature of the one only God. Here the plurality of God is explicit.
The doctrine can be a confusing doctrine resulting in significant, even if unintended, errors. For children the best way to teach is by trying to be as simple but comprehensive as possible. As such we would do well to teach our children the summary of the great American Presbyterian Dr. B. B. Warfield:
(1) “there is but one God,”
(2) “the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God,” and
(3) “the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct person.”
“When we have said these three things, we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.”
Naturally, as the children grow there will be a need to explore this doctrine even more. We will want them to understand something of the personal properties of each member of the Trinity which distinguishes each member of the trinity from the other. We know from Scripture, for example, that the Father eternal begetting of the Son, the Son’s eternal generation from the Father, and the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father and the Son. (Known as “paternity,” “filiation,” and “spiration.” We will want them to know about the fellowship they can have with each person of the Trinity (See John Owen’s work).
The doctrine of God as One and Many is a doctrine that one could spend a life in discovering and probing. There is no end to the depths that are found in this doctrine and frankly no exhausting of the errors that can arise from improper understandings.
In conclusion the doctrine of the plurality in the One only God is embraced because it is taught in God’s revelation of Himself in the redemption record of Scripture. In the plurality of the One only God we find God as both transcendent and God as immanent. We find God both High and lifted up and God who shared in our flesh and blood. We find a fuller understanding of the Cross and a deeper appreciation for our ongoing sanctification.
Indeed, without Plurality in the One only God, we would have a religion that is not Christianity and would therefore be some form of paganism.
“We thank thee magnificent God that thou hast revealed thyself as One and Many. We thank thee that a proper Trinitarian understanding colors and forms all of our thinking about all of reality. We beg of thee that you would enlighten those pagan religions which deny your Trinitarian reality. As such we pray for Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who each deny your Trinitarian character. We thank you that because of your Trinitarian character you are a personal God who has not and never will forsake His people. We bless you One only God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
In Christ’s name we pray,