Paragraph 3 of this chapter moves to the doctrine of the Trinity. After decades and even centuries of neglect, the doctrine of the Trinity has become the focus of attention for theologians in recent decades. It is to be hoped that this interest of theologians will trickle down to ordinary Christians. The doctrine of the Trinity is of enormous practical importance to the serious Christian. Here is how that paragraph 3 reads:
“In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is briefly described and affirmed in the first few words of this paragraph. It is important that we begin its study by making sure that we understand what this mystery of the Christian faith involves. The key description and affirmation are found in these words: “In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The three key ideas involved in the doctrine of the Trinity are mentioned in this statement. They are helpfully summarized in the Children’s Catechism’s three questions about this matter;
1st Question and Answer: Are there more Gods than one? No, there is only one God.
2nd Question and Answer: In how many persons does this one God exist? In three persons.
3rd Question and Answer: Who are they? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
The three key convictions regarding the Trinity are that there is on God, in three persons, who exist in a certain order of personal relationships which are epitomized in their names. Let me briefly open up these three things.
First, there is one God.
This means that there is only divine and infinite being as the Confession. The doctrine begins by assuming the great doctrinal foundation of Old Testament religion that there is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 is the classic text: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Tritheism is here rejected. There are not three gods. There is only one.
Second, there are three subsistences.
Why does the Confession use the word subsistence and what does it mean? It uses the word, subsistence, to underscore the point that the three persons are real entities and not merely three roles that one person plays. No, each of these three persons are real subsistences. The term, subsistence, then, is a rejection of what is now called modalism. This is the view that the persons are not real but simply appearances or roles played by one divine person. Often it is said that He is the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the days of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. False! Says the Confession to this view. Perhaps the key passage which undermines such modalism is 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” United Pentecostalism in its various branches and splits teaches Modalism and is condemned by the Confession.
Third, there is an order among these three real persons.
They are the Father, the Son or Word, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are not triplets. They are not identical. There is diversity in the Trinity. Their names distinguish their personal identities and relations in the Trinity. One is Father because he eternally generates the Son. One is Son or Word because He is generated by the Father. One is Spirit because He is eternally breathed out by the Father and the Son. As Matthew 28:19 says, in the one name of God there are three names: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Do you say, “This is all very hard to understand?” Yes, it is a mystery, but it is a glorious mystery which calls for us to bow down and worship and acknowledge our finite smallness. Yet, as we will see, it is also a very practical mystery.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.