Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
24. How are these articles [of the Apostles’ creed] divided?
Into three parts: the first is of God the Father and our creation; the second, of God the Son and our redemption; the third, of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.
We can see how the Apostles’ Creed is based on the truth of the Trinity, the most basic truth of all (Matt. 28:19). “The Creed is divided into three parts, one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Jones, Study Helps, 55). These three Persons are indivisibly one God, having in common all the divine attributes (characteristics). Each Person is equally “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good” (Belgic Confession, Article 1). All three Persons create, redeem, and sanctify, but in a different order and manner of working. God the Father made all things through His Son (John 1:3) and by His Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Psalm 33:6; 104:30). “The work of creation is attributed to the Father… because He is the fountain of Divinity, and of all divine works, and so of creation [John 5:17, 26]; …Redemption is attributed to the Son… because the Son is that Person who immediately [most directly] performs the work of redemption; for the Son alone was made a ransom for our sins [Mark 10:45]”; and “sanctification is attributed to the Holy Spirit,” because He “is that Person who immediately [most directly] sanctifies us [1 Pet. 1:2]” (Ursinus, Commentary, 120). For example, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts” (Galatians 4:6).
25. Since there is but one Divine Being, why do you speak of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word, that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.
The term Trinity (“three-in-one”) is used by the Christian Church to summarize the biblical truth that there is “one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three Persons, really, truly and eternally distinct” (Belgic Confession, Article 8). It is simply a matter of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. There are Scriptures which reveal that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4; cf. Isaiah 45:21; 1 Cor. 8:4); and there are Scriptures which reveal three distinct divine Persons. For example, “when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is My beloved Son (Matt. 3:17); the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the shape of a dove” (Belgic, Article 9). Jesus promised His disciples: “when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26). The church’s benediction is this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14). The prayers of believers are Trinitarian: “through [Christ] we have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). God is one in essence, three in Person. People often object to using theological terms like essence and person. “Indeed, I could wish they were buried, if only among all men this faith was agreed on: that Father and Son and Holy Spirit are one God, yet the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but that they are differentiated by a peculiar quality” (John Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.5).