by G.H. Kersten
Even richer than in His names and attributes, God has revealed Himself in His Word as the Triune God. In this revelation He reveals the great mystery, far beyond the comprehension of all creatures, that His simple Divine Essence consists in three Persons; and that not in such a way that each of the three persons would possess one part of the Divine Essence, so that by combining they would form the full God-head; but God is a simple Being, and thus is far from being a combination of parts. God consists not of three Persons, but in three Persons; the full Being of God is in the Father, and the same full Being is in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. The Father is God; the Son is God, no less than the Father; and the Holy Spirit is God, of the same eternity, glory, and majesty as the Father and the Son. Among the Divine Persons there is not a first or last; nor is one greater or less. And still there is but one, simple, Divine Being. God is Tri-une
In Art. 9 of the “Belgic Confession of Faith” we have in the Dutch version a word meaning the threefoldness of God, but this word was never generally used. It does not express the unity of Essence. Nor is this expressed by the word threeness, as our old fathers sometimes spoke of the Holy, Divine, Adorable Threeness. It is better to speak of the Trinity (which combines the prefix tri-to unity) The three Persons of the Divine Essence are one. In this connection person means an independent existence. “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person.” (Heb. 1:3)
The Father is independent; the Son by His distinct personal properties is also independent, and the Holy Spirit is likewise an independent Person, so that in confessing the Trinity of God, not only are three distinct names used for the same Essence, but we also indicate that in this one Essence there are from eternity three independent Persons. The Son did not come into being after the Father, nor did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son at a later time, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is the true God from eternity to eternity. “The Father hath never been without His Son, nor without His Holy Spirit.” (Belgic Conf., Art. 8)
This great mystery God has made known in His Word. It cannot be proved from nature. Man has tried to do so by pointing to the unity of a tree which consists of roots, trunk, and branches, and to the essential oneness of water, ice and steam, but these examples prove nothing concerning the Trinity of God. For with a tree we see the three parts that form the whole, and with water we see the three forms, the liquid, the solid and the gaseous forms, but in the Being of God, no parts, nor forms are distinguishable. In the Trinity of God there are three Persons in one Being, and that is a mystery which, although not against nature, is indeed above nature, and therefore cannot be proved out of nature. In the state of rectitude this mystery was not unknown to Adam, but in the fall all true knowledge of God was lost, and only by the special revelation given to us in the Word of God can man know that God is one in Being, but three in Persons.
Also the Old Testament
Also the Old Testament reveals the Trinity of God. This is denied by the Socinians and Arminians, and later by Semler, Herder, Bretschneider, Hofman, e.a., in order to deny the Trinity itself. The Reformed theologians, however, have confirmed with several proofs the Old Testament revelations concerning the three Persons, especially Voetius, Van Mastricht, Brakel, and others. Van Mastricht deals with this very broadly, and discusses the revelations to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, etc. From the days of paradise God has revealed Himself to His people, as much as was necessary to their salvation, and that includes the knowledge of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which was not possible without the revelation of the Trinity of God.
Although Coceeius1 did not deny the revelation of the three Persons in the Being of God, as having been given from the beginning, yet he did not give this revelation its full value, because he withheld from the believers of the Old Testament the privilege of enjoying the perfect remission of their sins because Christ had not yet in the flesh given full satisfaction. Cocceius was led to this consequence by the broken covenant theory, which we shall discuss later, and where the forgiveness of sins is not to be tasted by faith there cannot be a believing knowledge of the Father in Christ, nor of the Holy Spirit as the Sealer of His own. In 1665 Voetius rightly opposed and persevered against Cocceius, maintaining that the revelation of God has been complete from the beginning to the salvation of the elect. Others, such as Dr. A. Kuyper hold an organic revelation, a development of revelation as the consciousness of faith develops. Kuyper writes, “The consciousness of Adam was not imperfect, but undeveloped”. From this standpoint he judges the Old Testament. According to Kuyper, the revelation continued quantitatively, but qualitatively in each period sufficient revelation is given to bring him to whom it came to faith.
“That which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament, is very plain in the New.” (Art. 9) Still God was known in Christ after the fall by the promise of the woman’s seed (Gen. 3:15), and glorified the Triune God in the elect. A distinction is made between the revelation given by God Himself, and the knowledge of faith of those that are born again. The consciousness of faith does not always keep pace with the Divine revelation in the various ministration. Thus we find very powerful witnesses of faith in Christ and His righteousness in the Old Testament, while many of God’s children, living under the richer revelation of the New Testament are much in the dark. Nevertheless, God has revealed Himself as the Triune God of salvation, and His own believed Him, for without faith in a Triune God, no man can be saved. However, we do acknowledge that in Scripture there is a progressively clearer knowledge of God’s Trinity is given. Even in Genesis this mystery of God’s existence is already made known. This we maintain against all those who deny that the Old Testament speaks of the Trinity of God. The Christian Church of ancient times also confessed this, as we can prove from the writings of Justin, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, and others. Indeed, the conviction of the truth of this doctrine, and the necessity of knowing it is so strong that Athanasius taught in Art. 26 of his Creed, “Therefore, he who wishes to be saved must think thus of the Trinity”.
It is remarkable that in Art. 9 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, a two-fold proof is inserted, “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 Confession thus gives an external proof out of Holy Scripture, as well as an internal proof, “Those we feel in ourselves”. Is it not remarkable that our fathers have so expressed themselves in the flourishing time of the Dutch Church? The Neo-Reformed viewpoint, which is making much headway among us, seeks to reduce the value of feeling. Often what proves to be no more than an historical acceptance of Scripture is called a “healthy faith”. Experiential life is called piety wandering away from the right path; it is called mysticism, a sickliness. But now the true Reformed confess that they obtain proof for the greatest mystery of the Holy Trinity from the experience in the hearts of God’s children.
How can this feeling serve as proof? Because God the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, not only reveal themselves objectively in the Word, but also subjectively in the hearts of the elect, out of which blessed revelation the “feeling” arises which is to them an abundant proof that God is one in Essence and three in Persons.
But this knowledge and this feeling would not be possible, if God had not revealed Himself in His Word as the Triune God. From this we derive proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity, out of the Old as well as out of the New Testament.
Proofs out of the Old Testament
“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 with discretion and judgment.” (Belgic Conf. Art. 9) Among them we discern three kinds of texts:
a. From the first group we will consider Gen. 1:26 and Gen. 3:22. “And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us.”
Here God speaks of Himself in the plural. From this it is evident that there is more than one Person in the Godhead, when He says, “Let Us make man in Our image”, and then shows the unity when He says, “God created”. Hence the plural form used here is not the pluralis majestatis (i.e., the plural form used by princes or kings and queens). This manner of speaking is never used in the Bible. The rulers Pharaoh (Gen. 41:15), Cyrus (II Chr. 36:23), Artaxerxes (Ez. 7:12), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:34), and Darius (Dan. 6:26) always used the singular. The pluralis majestatis first was used by the Roman emperors, probably because several offices united in one person, such as consul, tribune, etc.
Before the time of these Ceasars the pluralis majestatis was not used by the rulers, therefore the objection they would take from this usage is without any ground. Nor does an appeal to II Sam. 16:20 prove anything, where Absalom says, “Give counsel among you what we shall do,” for the plural in this text indeed refers to more than one person. This is also the case in Song of Sol. 1:4, “Draw me, we shall run after Thee”. The Shulamite is here speaking of herself and of those that are with her. Nor can we appeal to John 3:11,12, to contradict what we have stated. The Lord Jesus, after repeatedly speaking of Himself in the singular, says, “We speak that We do know,” but then He is referring to what He and the prophets have said. Hence, here also it is a true plural, and not a pluralis majestatis. God never speaks in this form, as is evident in Exod. 3:14 and 19:4. Therefore in the texts mentioned there is indeed proof that in the Divine Essence there is more than one Person.
Nor can we say that God took counsel with the holy angels. By drawing angels into God’s counsel, we would make them creators. Nor was man created in the image of angels. Thus Gen. 1:16, 27, and Gen. 3:22 can only be understood in this proper sense that God speaks in the plural because there is more than one Person in the Essence of God.
“Go to, let Us go down, and there confound their language,” Gen. 11:7. Again God speaks in the plural. The Lord does not say that there are three Persons in the Divine Essence, but this manner of speaking proves that there is more than one Person in the Divine Essence.
b. Now we come to those texts where God and God, Lord and Lord are distinguished. Of these we mention Gen. 19:24: “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” Here it not only says that the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but that He rained fire and brimstone from the LORD out of heaven. The Lord, the Son of God had appeared unto Abraham. He had foretold the judgment over Sodom and Gomorrah, and He fulfils it from the Lord out of heaven. Hence there is more than one Person in the Essence of God. Scripture continually points to such a distinction of Persons. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His Anointed.” (Ps. 2:2) “The LORD hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” (Ps. 2:7) “Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” (Ps. 45:7) God the Father anointed the Son. “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand”.
In the New Testament this psalm is repeatedly applied to Christ: Matt. 22:41-46; Acts 2:34; I Cor. 15:25; and Heb. 7:17. Of Him the Psalmist spoke, He is his Lord. The quoted words also mean that the Father spoke to Christ.
“And Babylon ... shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Isa. 13:19) The Lord speaks and says that God shall destroy Babylon.
“Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of His Servant?” (Isa. 50:10) God the Father asks about His fear; the Son as Mediator, is the Servant of the Father.
“But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God.” (Hos. 1:7) The Son shall save them by the Father. Thus the Lord also speaks, that is, the Son: “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”
c. The third series of texts are those in the Old Testament in which the three persons are expressly mentioned and distinguished. They are such texts as Num. 6:24-26, where we find the blessing that Aaron was to lay upon the people in the Name of the Triune God. Who not only revealed Himself three times, but brings the blessing of each of the Persons down upon them in His own way. The blessing and keeping of which verse 24 speaks is related to providence, as the work of the Father. Making His face shine and being gracious, mentioned in verse 25, is done by the redemption of the Son. Lifting up God’s countenance and giving peace is the applying work of the Holy Spirit. (Compare II Cor. 13:14)
The thrice “Holy is the Lord of hosts” that the holy Seraphim cried to one another, according to Isa. 6:3, also indicates the three Persons in the Essence of God. (See also Isa. 33:22.)
“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) The word of the Lord is the Son of the Father; the Breath of His mouth is the Holy Spirit. Thus the three Persons are clearly indicated here.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD hath anointed Me.” This prophetic word the Lord Jesus applies to Himself in Luke 4:17-21. He is the Anointed of the Father with the Holy Spirit. Hence here, too, the three Persons are mentioned. In many places the Old Testament speaks of the Trinity of God.
Proof texts out of the New Testament.
Clearer than in the Old dispensation is the revelation of the Trinity of God in the New Covenant.
“Thy 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.” (Luke 1:35) This text speaks of the three Divine Persons, the Spirit of the Father, and to the Son, Who from Mary shall take upon Himself our flesh and blood.
A second place deals with the narrative of the baptism of Christ. (Matt. 3:13-17) The Father spoke out of heaven; the Son was baptized; the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. This appearance of the Holy Spirit in this form was not something natural as the Modernists teach. They say a dove happened to fly over the water, thereby perverting the words of Scripture. Already in creation the Spirit of God is said to move upon the face of the waters to express His creative work. (Gen. 1:2) And now as Christ commences His public work in Israel, the Third Person appears in the form of a dove. He shall abide upon Christ and on the elect. (John 1:32) We must understand the Holy Spirit’s coming down in the likeness of a dove in a literal sense, and this description of the baptism of Christ is a testimony of the three Persons in the Essence of God.
The following places speak of the three Persons just as clearly: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28:19) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” (II Cor. 13:14) “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” (I John 5:7)
The authority of this last text has often been disputed. Even Luther left it out of his Wurtemberg translation (1522), but he did include it in his later German translation of the Holy Scriptures (1529). The pernicious Bible critics have decided for themselves that these words do not belong in the Bible. But those who acknowledge the Word of God do not doubt that the Holy Spirit here gives a testimony of the Trinity in the Essence of God. In his Gospel John wrote repeatedly that the Father and the Son bear witness (John 5:31,32,36,37,39, and 8:13,14,18) and also the Holy Spirit (ch. 15:26). The same apostle says in his epistle that the three Divine Persons bear record in heaven, and they are one. They also bear record on earth by the spirit, water, and blood, in Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. But this testimony in heaven is greater because it is the testimony of the Triune God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The existence of the three Persons is not only taught in this text, but also the unity of their Being. This Trinity of God is abundantly confirmed in the texts quoted.
The Three Persons
Before we proceed to speak of what Scripture teaches about each of the three Persons of the Divine Essence, we must observe that we can never speak of the Persons in the Godhead except in the indissoluble connection of the unity of God’s Essence. As soon as we lose sight of this, we fall into tritheism. On the other hand, only Israel to whom the Lord revealed Himself as the only God, (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:5,14,18) had knowledge of the Three Persons. In opposition to this, Mohammed forsook the revelation of God. He taught the existence of one God, but denied the existence of three Persons. Likewise Socinus, and all the Unitarians, who have churches in England and America, do not support the fact of three Divine Persons by the preaching of the Word, but substitute musical programs, and other fleshly recreations. Denying the three Persons leaves a solitary God, in Whom there is no satisfaction in Himself from eternity to eternity. Such a doctrine also strikes at the relationship between Creator and creature, denies the redemption in Christ, and is certainly insufficient unto salvation. (John 17:3)
Pantheism, which through Spinoza revived the disappearing Platonism, knows no more of the Trinity of God than Deism, which developed in England and denies any working of God upon His creatures, and thus confesses a God who is dead.
Only where the Trinity of God is confessed according to Scripture can there be a knowledge of the one true God, as Athanasius confessed: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor separating the substance.” (see also Belgic Conf., Art. 8)
God the Father
The three persons are distinguished from each other by their personal attributes or their manner of existence. The essential attributes, both communicable and incommunicable, the three Persons have in common. Not only the Father is omnipresent, immutable, independent, eternal, simple, etc., but the Son and the Holy Spirit are likewise. Each of the three Persons, however, has His own manner of existence, and is thereby distinguished from the other Persons. The personal attribute of the Father is that He is of Himself, and exists by Himself. This description is formed in relation to the personal attributes of the other Persons. The first Person is the Father; He generates, that is His property, by virtue of which the Father from eternity to eternity gives to the Son the same divine Essence. Against the Arians, who deny the Godhead of the Son, and His generation, and therefore wanted to relate the Fatherhood of the First Person to the Essence of God, the church fathers insisted that this article speaks of the personal property of the Father. The generation of the Son, which is ascribed to the Father, does not at all minimize the eternal Godhead of the Son. The name of Father is not adapted from our human use of the word. No, indeed, Eph. 3:15 tells us that of Him the whole family in heaven and earth is named. Among men there is only a faint shadow of the eternal Fatherhood of God, which is to be distinguished entirely from His eternal Father-being. He generates eternally, otherwise the Son would not be from eternity, and His Father-being is inseparable from the Being and the Nature of God.
Often the name of Father is given to the Essence of God instead of to the First Person in the abstract. “If then I be a Father, where is my honor?” (Mal. 1:6) “A Father of the fatherless”. (Ps. 68:5) “Thou, O LORD, art our Father.” (Isa. 63:16). (Also Isa. 64:8.)
This we also find in the New Testament. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”. (Matt. 5:48) “For one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matt. 23:9)
Although the name of Father is used many times of the divine Being, still it is used more often of the First Person, speaking of the Father. “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee”. (Ps. 2:7) “He shall cry unto Me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation”. (Ps. 89:26)
During His sojourn on earth the Lord Jesus often spoke of the Father. “Wist Ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
The Jews sought to kill Him, not only because they thought He broke the Sabbath, but also because He said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18) The Jews understood this, and it proves that the Trinity of God was not unknown to Israel. “I and My Father are one”. (John 10:30) Under oath Jesus declared before the High Priest, that He was the Son of God. (Matt. 26:63,64)
If we compare the places in the Old Testament which speak of the Fatherhood of God with those of the New Testament, it seems that under the Old dispensation the Name Father was used by the people in general while in the New Covenant usually it is the personal believer calling God his Father. (Compare Isa. 63:16 with Rom. 8:15.)
Although the elect are accepted as children of God, yet Christ alone is the only and natural Son of God. “Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” (Matt. 11:27)
Therefore Christ always speaks of His Father. He confesses before His Father whosoever confesses Him before men. (Matt. 10:32) In the house of His Father are many mansions. (John 14:2) It is by the Spirit of the Son that the faithful will say, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6) This makes it evident that the eternal generation of the Father is related only to the Second Person in the Essence of God, and not to the elect.
God the Son
The personal property of the Second Person is that He is generated by the Father. This generation means that the Father from eternity to eternity communicates the same Divine Essence to the Son. “For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” (John 5:26)
This generation is:
All physical and natural thoughts must be excluded from this spiritual and supernatural generation, for the natural generation is imperfect, dependent, and brings about a multiplication of beings and has a temporal succession. But the Son is not generated at a certain moment, but perfectly, without end. Nor does this generation, as in creatures bring forth new beings, but is immanent in God, imparting the same Divine Essence to the Son without beginning, without end, without ceasing. The Father did not exist before the Son; they are equally eternal.
Herein lies the true Sonship of the Second Person. He is equal with, God. “Making Himself equal with God.” (John 5:18) (Cf. Phil. 2:6) He was in the form of God, that is, very God. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God’. (Phil. 2:6) The fulness of the Godhead is in Him. “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9) He is the express image of His Person. “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person.” (Heb. 1:3)
He is the Son of God, (Matt. 16:16); the beloved Son, (Matt. 3:17); His own Son, (Rom. 8:32); the only begotten Son, (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18); one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Arians deny the Eternal Sonship. They teach that the Son of God was the first and most important creature, the first-created instead of the firstborn. (Col. 1:15) As the first creature He is allowed to be worshiped. Many Ethicists are followers of Arius, while the Modernists will only acknowledge Christ as a good man.
The Son, however is one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him.” (John 5:23)
Of Him we confess with the Nicene Creed “that He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,”
This can be proved by His names, attributes, works and honor.
A. His names. He is called Jehovah, a name that is not given to any creature. “This is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD (JEHOVAH) OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jer. 23:6) Thomas cried out in faith, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) “To feed the church of God: which He hath purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28) “Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever.” (Rom. 9:5) “For had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Cor. 2:8) “God was manifest in the flesh.” (I Tim. 3:16) “But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne O God, is forever and ever.” (Heb. 1:8)
B. His attributes. The Son is eternal. “The LORD possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” (Prov. 8:22) “The everlasting Father”. (Isa. 9:6) “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Mic. 5:2) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, Which is, and Which was, and Which is to come, the Almighty”. (Rev. 1:8) The Son is omnipresent. “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20) “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (John 3:13) The Son is unchangeable. “But Thou art the same and Thy years shall not fail.” (Heb. 1:12) “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) The Son is independent. “For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” (John 5:26) The Son is omniscient. “And needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:25) “Lord, Thou knowest all things”. (John 21:17) “And all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts.” (Rev. 2:23) These attributes are God Himself, and therefore unshakably prove that the Son is very God.
C. His works. His works are the works of God. The immanent works, that is, the decrees of God, are ascribed to the Son (Prov. 8:22-31), as well as the Divine works in time. He is Creator. (Ps. 33:6; John 1:3; Col. 1:16) He is the Deliverer. (Rom. 11:26) He forgives the sins of the elect, (Matt. 9:6) and sanctifies them (Heb. 2:11). He sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. (John 15:26) He executes final judgment. (John 5:22; Acts 17:31)
D. His honor. The final evidence of the Godhead of the Son is the Divine honor that must be ascribed to Him.”That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him.” (John 5:23) “And again, when He bringeth in the first begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Heb. 1:6)
Every knee shall bow to Him. “That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” (Phil. 2:10) “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever”. (Rev. 5:13)
He is worthy that we should believe in His Name. “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” (John 14:1) “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
This honor can be given to no creature, but only to God Who will not give His glory to another, (Isa. 42:8) so that we must conclude that the Son is very God. To this fundamental doctrine, of which Scripture testifies abundantly, we must cling firmly, because when it is denied, the entire salvation of sinners is brought to naught. Satisfaction to God can only be made by God; the eternal penalty of sin can only be taken away by the eternal One; and the Son is the eternal and true God, the Second Person in the Divine Essence, the Word, and the Word was God. (I John 1:1)
God the Holy Spirit
The personal attribute of the Holy Spirit is that He proceeds from the Father and from the Son. Since it is far beyond the comprehension of man, the distinction between the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit cannot be defined. God’s Word, however, indicates a difference by ascribing the generation of the Son to the Father, (Ps. 2:7) and the procession of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things.” (John 14:26) “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth.” (John 15:26)
The Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son, and the Son sends Him from the Father. Father and Son are one in sending the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit proceeds from both. Christ also said that the Holy Spirit “shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:14) “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, ... He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak. He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of mine.” (John 16:13,14)
Because the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son, He is called the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Son. “Now if any have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” (Rom. 8:9) “God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father”. (Gal. 4:6)
A bitter controversy arose in the sixth century concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, which led to a break between the Eastern and the Western Church. The Eastern Church would acknowledge that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father by the Son, but not that the Spirit proceeded from the Son. They could not entirely break away from the Greek philosophical idea from which Athanasius broke away in his conflict with Arius. They considered the Son and the Holy Spirit inferior to the Father with respect to the degrees of glorification, and for them to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit proceeded also from the Son would signify that the Spirit was inferior to the Son. The Western church opposed this, adding the well-known ‘Filioque’, meaning “and from the Son”, at the Synod of Toledo (589).
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in truth, in ability, in goodness, and in mercy. When we deny the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, then the work of the Spirit appears to be loose from the work of the Son. Then the work of redemption is relegated to the background, and becomes valueless, for it becomes a kind of sanctification of the Spirit, loose from Christ’s mediatorial work. The Lord Jesus, however, emphatically teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is built upon His work as Surety, and therefore the Spirit did not come because Christ was not yet glorified.
However, the procession of the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Essence of God is to be distinguished from His being sent in the day of the New Testament, of which Christ speaks in the texts we have already quoted. (John 14:26; 15:26) These texts speak of the Holy Spirit, who from all eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son, personally coming down to dwell with those who are purchased by the blood of Christ. There indeed were also under the Old Covenant operations of the Spirit, without which no sinner could believe in Christ, and by which the holy men of God have spoken. (II Pet. 1:21) But in Person the Holy Spirit did not descend until after Christ was glorified, just as the Son of God was first revealed in the flesh in Bethlehem’s manger, although He had already wrought His work of redemption when He saved Adam.
The Holy Spirit was sent on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2), but the procession of the Holy Spirit is from eternity to eternity. John 7:39, where we read, “For the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified,” does not speak of His eternal procession, but of the Third Person being sent. He is the Spirit, and thus is revealed as an individual Person in the Essence of God.
The entire Being of God is Spirit. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
This text speaks of the Being of God. The Being of God is spiritual, not material. But that is something different than what is said of the Holy Spirit that He is the Third Person in the Divine Essence, and is especially called the Spirit because of the manner of His procession by breathing. Therefore He is called the Breath of His mouth (Ps. 33:6), and Jesus breathed on His disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:22)
A different conception of John 4:24 leads to a Socinian denial of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person in the Essence of God. The followers of Socinus still teach that the Holy Spirit is only a power or attribute, or gift of God. To confirm their error they appeal to Luke 1:35, which, however, does not speak of the person of the Holy Spirit, but of the working of the Holy Spirit as a power of the Most High, which shall overshadow Mary, while of the Person Himself it is said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.”
Neither does Luke 24:49 give the Socinians any ground. The promise of the Father refers to the sending of the person of the Holy Spirit, which is to be distinguished from the promise. Neither does Paul deny the Holy Spirit as a Person, although he says of His preaching in I Cor. 2:4 that it was “in demonstration of the Spirit and power”. He did not say that the Holy Spirit is a power of God, but that the apostle’s preaching was spiritual and powerful. Thus God’s Word distinguishes the Spirit as another Person than the Father and than the Son. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28:19) “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.” (I John 5:7)
Christ emphatically calls the Holy Ghost another Comforter. (John 14:16) Only of a Person, not of a power or an attribute, can it be said that He is a Comforter, that He proceeds from the Father, and that He testifies. Every word Christ speaks here is of the Person of the Spirit. “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you in all the truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He shall show you things to come. (John 16:13)
The words “Who” and “He”, His guiding into all truth, His speaking of Himself, His hearing, and showing—all this cannot be said of a power or attribute or gift of God, but only of the Person of the Holy Spirit. We can also quote the following texts that contain the same powerful proof against Socinus and the Modernists, who entirely deny the Spirit:
“The Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” (Acts 15:28) “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities ... but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us. ... He that searcheth the hearts.” (Rom. 8:26,27) “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (I Cor. 2:10) “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. (I Cor. 12:11)
How is it possible that anyone can still deny the personal existence of the Holy Spirit in the light of such strong texts? Furthermore, God’s Word also speaks of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, (Matt. 12:31) of lying to Him, (Acts 5:3) of tempting Him, (Acts 5:9) of resisting Him, (Acts 7:51) of vexing Him, (Isa. 63:10) and of doing despite unto the Spirit. (Heb. 10:29) The Holy Spirit witnessed (Acts 20:23) and spoke. (Acts 28:25)
Finally, the names, attributes, works and honor ascribed to Him prove His divinity.
A. His names. (Compare Ex. 17:7, and Ps. 95:7, with Heb. 3:7-11.) Acts 5:3,4: “... to lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
B. His attributes. The Holy Spirit is eternal. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” (Heb. 9:14) The Holy Spirit is omnipresent. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there.” (Ps. 139:7,8) The Holy Spirit is omniscient. “Even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God.” (I Cor. 2:11) The Holy Spirit is sovereign. “Dividng to every man severally as He will.” The Holy Spirit is holy. “Where is He that put His holy Spirit within him?” (Isa. 63:11)
C. His works. (1) His works in nature: He is the Creator and Upholder. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2) “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens.” (Job 26:13) “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) “Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth.” (Ps. 104:30)(2) His works in grace: Christ is anointed with the Holy Spirit. (Isa. 61:1) The Spirit regenerates a man. (John 3:5) He sends ministers. (Acts 13:2) He prays and makes intercession for the elect. (Rom. 8:26,27) The Holy Spirit seals unto the elect their salvation. (Eph. 1:13; 4:30)
D. His honor. Men must pray to Him. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send laborers into His harvest.” (Matt. 9:38) He must be obeyed. “But they rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit.” (Isa. 63:10) People are baptized (Matt. 28:19) and benedictions are pronounced in His Name. ((I Cor. 13:14)
From what we have considered we conclude that the Holy Spirit is very God, one in Essence with the Father and the Son; the Third Person, who must be likewise believed, obeyed, known and worshiped unto salvation. In vain the Arminians and Anabaptists argue that faith in the Holy Spirit was not required of the eunuch (Acts 8:37) and that it is written: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (John 3:36, see also Rom. 10:9) Faith in the Son, however is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and those who believe in Him, have set to their seal that God is true. (John 3:33) Thus, faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one and Triune God, is necessary unto salvation, and to Him all praise, and honor, and thanksgiving is due to all eternity.
1. Cocceius was born in 1603 at Bremen. In 1636 he became Professor of Oriental languages in Franeker, and in 1643 in Theology. As such he went to Leiden in 1650, where he died on Nov. 5, 1669.
Gerrit Hendrik Kersten, (born 6 August 1882 - died, 6 September 1948) was a Dutch theologian and pastor of the Reformed Churches (in the Netherlands and North America) and politician for the Reformed Political Party (SGP). This political party came about mainly through his efforts.
Rev. Kersten wrote numerous books and brochures of theological, canonical nature, and political issues. His most famous book is The Reformed Dogmatics for Municipalities Explained (1947). This handbook is the classic Reformed doctrine explained and defended. He used for this work especially the dogmatic works of Bavinck , Honig and A. Marck, The Guidance and Discipline in the Church Christi (1908). He also took care of several reissues of important theological works he found to be under the spotlight, such as the work of Alexander Comrie, Consideration of the Covenant of Grace.
This article is from Kersten’s Reformed Dogmatics, Chapter VI, pp. 91-105.
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