Question Six of the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Question: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer: There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Thomas Watson said, “The Trinity is purely an object of faith, the plumb line of reason is too short to fathom this mystery; but where reason cannot wade, there faith must swim…. This sacred doctrine, though it be not against reason, yet it is above reason”. James Fisher asks, ‘Is not a Trinity of persons, in the divine Essence, an unsearchable mystery?’ He answers, ‘Yes; and so is every perfection of God, which infinitely transcends our thoughts, and finite capacities.’
Here upon earth, we can never expect to, nor will we fully understand, or grasp this great and glorious doctrine; one must wait for heaven, not till then, with perfect minds will we really begin to understand, and grasp it in a fuller way. However, we must believe it and defend it.
In 325 AD the Nicene Creed was formulated. The Creed fenced the doctrine of the trinity against the anti-trinitarian heresies; particularly at that time the heresy called, Arianism. Arius taught, and promoted, that there was only one person, of the divine nature, and, that the Son was the highest created being. It left the conclusion that the Son and the Holy Spirit were not truly God. Later in 381 AD at the Constantinople Council the Nicene Creed was strengthened, the deity of the Holy Ghost was affirmed and certain heresies were condemned, particularly Apollinarianism. Apollinarius had taught erroneous things concerning the humanity of Christ, denying that Christ had no human spirit.
Many heresies have arisen over the centuries; the truth of the Trinity has often been under attack. Today many of us are confronted on the door with the attack by the J.W.’s on the doctrine of the Trinity.
This glorious, true and great mystery must ever be defended, reverently and wholeheartedly here upon earth.
The Shorter Catechism states, There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Opening it up, simply consider,
1stly. the ‘Godhead’, and 2ndly. the ‘Persons’
1stly, the Godhead. The Apostle Paul at Athens said to the people, in Acts17: 29, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” Paul writes to the brethren at Rome, in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”, and then finally, in Colossians 2: 9, “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” We have here this word, ‘Godhead’, a word which is often used and thought upon. What actually does the Godhead mean? The Godhead is, the ‘divine nature, essence or being of God’. As we consider the Godhead, we fundamentally declare in light of Scripture that there is only one divine nature, essence, or being: the Godhead.
2ndly, The Persons, This word, I suggest is to be treated with utmost care. In using this word in reference to man, we readily think of one individual human being or essence. However, in considering the Persons of the Trinity, they are not three individual divine natures, or three gods as the Tri-theists believe. Each person of the Trinity is of the same substance; that which stands behind all three of the Persons, is the one Divine essence. All three are the Godhead. John Brown of Haddington writes, ‘every created person is a distinct being….but all divine persons are and must be, one being’. When using the word Person in reference to the Trinity, one must never speak of an individual God. However, one can rightly speak of a ‘distinction’, ‘distinct existence,’ ‘subsistence’, or ‘hypo-sta-sis’. There are three persons in the Godhead.
From this, we affirm, firstly, that all three exist and can all say individually, “I”, and then, secondly, they all can have communion with one another, and enjoy the fellowship and love of each other.
Firstly, They all exist, and can individually say, “I”. The Father, in John 12: 28, said, in responding to the Son, in view of His name, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The Son said in John 17:4, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” And then finally, we read of the Holy Spirit in Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’.”
Secondly, they all can have communion with one another, and enjoy one another’s fellowship and love. In John 17: 24, we read, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.”
John writing in 1 John 5:7 writes, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” They are in unity and agreement in their testimony. It implies fellowship and communion with each other. Finally, in Revelation 1:4 & 5 we read, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: ‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness’,” Oh such intimate, love, fellowship and communion they have; enjoyed from all eternity and will be enjoyed for all eternity to come.
As the Scripture plainly reveals in many places, there are three distinct existences in the Godhead. For a few moments, let us consider some of those passages of Scripture.
1stly, Christ in Isaiah 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 broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
2ndly, At the baptism of Christ, recorded for us in Matthew 3: 16, 17, we read, “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
3rdly, In Matthew 28:19, Christ said to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
4thly, Consider then the apostolic benediction in 2 Corinthians 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.”
5thly, John makes the doctrine abundantly plain in 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.”
6thly, and finally, (however, not being a comprehensive consideration of the texts), Revelation 1: 4, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.”
Moving on, consider what are called those ‘personal properties.’
James Fisher questions, ‘How are the persons in the Godhead distinguished from each other?’ He answers, ‘By their personal properties, which are incommunicable to each other.’ John Owen writes, ‘What mean you by person?’ and answers, ‘A distinct manner of subsistence.., distinguished from the other persons by its own properties.’ John Brown observes, ‘chiefly by their personal properties.’ He goes on to remind us, amongst other things, that their names distinguish them from one another. A personal property is, as Robert Shaw writes, ‘something peculiar to each.’
1stly. It is the personal property of the Father to beget the Son, (Psalm 2. 7, “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.”).
2ndly, It is the personal property of the Son to be eternally begotten of the Father, John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” We speak whole heartedly of the eternal generation of the Son.
3rdly. It is the personal property of the Holy Ghost to proceed eternally from the Father and the Son. In John 15:26, Christ said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me:” and then, in Galatians 4:6, Paul writes, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
Finally, the confession states, ‘equal in power and in glory’.
Firstly, ‘equal in power.’
Consider 1stly, the Father. Christ prayed to the Father in Mark 14: 36, “And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
2ndly. The Son. In Philippians 3:21, speaking of Christ, Paul writes; “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.” In Rev 1: 8, we read, “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.”
3rdly. The Holy Spirit. Isaiah writes, Isaiah 11: 2, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD”.
In Luke 1:35 the angel said to Mary, “The 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”.
Equal in power, and then, secondly, ‘equal in glory.’ All three distinct persons equally shine in Excellency, for they are of the same divine nature.
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”
The doctrine of the trinity is essential to the faith. One who rejects this great doctrine, is not saved, and therefore does not belong to the true Church of Jesus Christ. John writes in 1 John 2:23, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.”
We are as believers to firmly, and whole-heartedly believe in the doctrine of the trinity. Thomas Watson said this, ‘We can be no good Christians, without the firm belief of the Trinity’.