The Covenantal Trinity of Jehovah
Scripture: Isaiah 48
Text: Lord's Day 8
Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Burlington, Washington, 1985
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 2, No.7
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
If there were a survey conducted in this country to see who believed in God and who did not, I am certain that a large majority of the people would say that they did. There are many people who would then take comfort in thinking that we are still a religious country after all, because most people still believe in God.
But it is at this point where one of our confessions, the Athanasian Creed, cuts in and will take a large slice of that population that say they believe in God and carry them away. For we confess in the Athanasian Creed a very particular belief in God, the trinity in unity, and unity in trinity. At the beginning, in the middle and at the end of that creed it says that unless you believe this confession faithfully, this that God has said, there is no salvation.
There must be no muddiness, sloppy thinking or beliefs about the trinity of God. We confess that the Athanasian Creed is not just a product of some old church fathers 1500 years ago, but that creed is what we believe. Creed comes from a word which means “I believe.” We believe; we confess.
That creed is a sour note in the kind of comfortable toleration which says that anyone who says they believe in God is OK. Not any belief in God is OK. In Lord’s Day 8 we confess in the triune God, and we are very particular in that confession. We are very particular in that confession because God is very particular about Himself and about how we must speak of Him and who He is; for He is God.
God is very particular, and His church has always been very particular, and we might say as we read the Athanasian Creed, that the church has been particular to the point of being ridiculous, as some people have said. It makes so many careful statements, again and again. It says, “God is this, and God is this, but He is not that” — putting fences all over. And yet this is because the fathers believed and were passionately faithful to that triune God who had revealed Himself. It is because they saw that any attack upon the person and being of God was an attack upon God Himself.
You see, from the beginning of the history of the church until the present time, the devil has fought against the belief of the people of God, concerning the persons, the revelation, and the being of God Himself.
Beloved, we consider that confession we make, not only in the Athanasian Creed, but also in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 8, and we consider that under the theme: “The Covenantal Trinity of Jehovah.”
We will note that covenantal trinity in persons, in work, and finally, in revelation.
“How are these articles divided?” asks the Heidelberg Catechism. “Into three parts; the first of God the Father and our creation, the second of God the Son and our redemption, and the third of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.”
You may ask me, “Why do I speak of the covenantal trinity of Jehovah? That word doesn’t even appear in Lord’s Day 8.” I speak of the covenantal trinity of Jehovah, beloved, in two senses. First, that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — three persons — are yet bound up in a relationship which is one. We ask the question in our confession, “How are these articles divided?”, but we do not say thereby, “How is God divided?” God is not divided. He is in a covenantal unity. He is of oneness.
We may speak of creation, redemption, and sanctification. We may speak of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; but yet they are one in love, in harmony, in fellowship, and in communion, which is covenant then. That is in the first place. The work of God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — the work of each person, is never a work in isolation. It is never an existence; never a speaking; never a being in isolation. It is all in unity. That unity is a covenantal unity, a relationship which is a relationship of love, perfect harmony, and peace.
Secondly, I speak of the covenantal trinity of Jehovah because when we speak about God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — when we speak about the work of the triune God, we speak about that in covenant with God. There is never any speaking about God which is not the speaking of confession.
By that I mean this: we must, as the Athanasian Creed says, speak rightly about God, because God has said, “You may not take My Name in vain. You shall worship no other gods.” When we speak wrongly about God, then we take His Name in vain.
The covenantal trinity of Jehovah — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — have been one in love from before the foundation of the world. Jesus Christ, speaking to His disciples and revealing the Father to them, said, “I and the Father are One.” He said, “I have been in the bosom of the Father from before the foundation of the world.” In His high priestly prayer in John 17 he prayed, “Father, show them; bring them to Me that they may know the love which Thou hast for Me from before the foundation of the world.”
So they are three in one and they are bound together in themselves. Because when we speak of love, of covenant, of harmony, or of communion, there is no where else we can go but to God, to get our definitions of what they are and what they mean. When we see Him as He has shown Himself to us, that is what love is. That relationship is covenant.
We cannot, for instance, talk about God and say, “Well, we will understand God a little better if we look at the relationship of mother, father and children, and in that tri-unity get a little better idea of God” — as if we pattern our God after what we see. No, God says He is. He reveals Himself as a covenant God, three in one, perfect in harmony, love, purity, truth, and power. That, beloved, is what is meant by the covenantal unity of Jehovah — perfect distinctness of persons, and yet perfect togetherness of union; perfect diversity, and yet perfect integration; the three perfect persons, the one perfect Jehovah.
Today we live in a society of horrible and increasing disintegration. We need answers to the problem of oneness. Families have terrible tension, particularly today, as the forces of evil war against the family, the wife is set up over against the husband, the husband wants to react and play the dictator, and the children want to rebel. And how is there oneness again, without having a oneness that is in absolute tyranny? That question is everywhere. How does labor and management work together in unity, without having a tyrant on the one hand, or a tyrant on the other?
That problem is always there because we have forsaken the only perfect expression of the many and the one, the trinity of God and the oneness of God. We celebrate on the wonderful fourth of July over 200 years of independence. In our pledge of allegiance, we have that beautiful statement, “one nation, under God, indivisible…” Although that expression “under God” was added in the fifties, it was added because it was a reflection of what was known to be the understanding of the fathers of this country. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
On the coins and on the great seal of the United States of America are these Latin words E Pluribus Unam — out of many, one. How is that possible? Because that oneness was under God. Because it was only in that triune God they saw the oneness that could be. A nation which has people in covenant with their God — that one God and yet three persons — may begin, as this nation did, to find the answer to how there can be many and yet one. How there can be liberty and at the same time justice? Because it was grounded in the belief in the triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Well, we have forsaken that one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even the major so-called mainline churches of this country are on their way, and many of them ages ago have denied that trinity, even though they keep it as an article of faith in the back of their books. Therefore, when the pattern of covenant life that God has set in His being is abandoned, there is no where else to go. Where else do we look? God is ultimate. We can appeal to nowhere else. He is the source of everything. There is nothing over Him. When He is gone, then families, nations, states, unions, businesses and everything else have no where to go.
Instead of one nation indivisible, there’s one nation splintered into millions of pieces; every man for himself; and today, every woman for herself too; every state for itself, every child for itself, and every corporation and business for itself; every union for itself.
Do we still believe in God as a nation? No. Because God says through James, “You believe in God? Good for you. The devils believe too, and they tremble.” Certainly all men believe in God. They know that there is a God. God says that in Romans 1. God has revealed Himself to all men, and they know there is a God. Romans 1:19 says that which may be known of God is manifest, that is. It is made plain, for God showed it unto them. Well, what happened to the knowledge of God they had? Romans 1:21 says “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened.” That chapter of Romans goes on to say that as they did so, so we have done today — they have taken the work of their hands, and worshipped the creature rather than the creator. Romans 1:18 says men hold the truth down in unrighteousness.
Do they believe in the one triune God? No, they don’t. Beloved, that’s the ungodly and the sinner, not first of all because we’ve looked a round this country and decided that’s the way conditions are, but because God has said that’s the way they are. If we look around to see if man really serves God, then we will make a confession that I’ve heard from a Reformed teacher and missionary, who did good work among the Muslims, but now through the years has come to say somehow, “Yes, the Muslims and the Jews really serve the same God as we do. They really believe the same God; they just need a little polishing up.”
So it’s not only the ungodly and the wicked, but it’s the house of Jacob, the house of Israel. God says it so clearly in Isaiah 48: You know I came to you, and told you beforehand through My servants, the prophets, that things were going to happen, so that when they came, you wouldn’t say, “No, my idol did it.” Since I knew your wicked heart, God says, I didn’t tell you. And when it came to pass, I told you, because I knew that you were treacherous, and still you didn’t believe Me. You didn’t call upon My name in truth and righteousness.
Beloved, the covenantal trinity of God, the revelation of God as Himself, is a revelation that demands the response of His people. God never speaks in an academic, objective way about Himself. And we may never confess in an academic, objective way about God. All our arguing, speaking, reasoning, confessing and living is an answer to God, and speaks to Him about what we say He is. He says, “Don’t take My name in vain.”
Do we understand what we confess? Three persons, one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — none before, none after; none higher, none lower. They are equally God, and yet one God. Each one fully God, and yet not three Gods. No, we don’t understand. Yet, we like to be able to understand. And people say we are foolish for believing something we can’t explain.
Beloved, we know that it is in our heart to try to take God as Adam and Eve did, and put Him under scrutiny and say, “Lord, do you fit my conception of what you ought to be?” If He doesn’t, then we will amend Him. Then we do not have Jehovah God, the trinity in unity anymore, but we have something we have fashioned out of the recesses of our own mind. When it’s done today, beloved, as so many people have done throughout the history of the world, they will find to their terror and dismay, that finally the god, whom they have fashioned with their own minds, withers away and behind it is the grinning face of the devil. And it’s too late.
God is as He says He is. Therefore, beloved, all answers that we seek to find about oneness in family, in marriage, in nation, in state, in church — no matter where — find their answer in the three persons who are the one true, and eternal God.
We confess in God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. The beauty of that confession shows that we cannot speak about a covenantal God except in His covenant with us, because He first established it with us. “I will establish My covenant with you, and therefore you may take My name upon your lips, because I have come to you.”
He has come to us. First of all He has created us — God the Father and our creation. That creation too was in covenant. That means it was the work of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father stood in the fore, and yet it was the work of all three. There remained one God. We can’t understand that, but God has said so. He says, “by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made.” Now who was that Word? That Word was Jesus Christ. John 1:1 says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” That Word was Jesus Christ, as John plainly tells us; again in Hebrews 1:2, “His Son, by whom He made all things”; and again in Proverbs 8, which speaks of the wisdom of God, which is Jesus Christ, which was with God in the creation of the world. So God, as a covenantal unity, worked our creation.
It says “God the Father and our creation.” Not only the Father and Son, but the Holy Spirit too, created the world, as it says in Genesis that the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters. Psalm 33 says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” They are one God. Their relationship in their work continues to be the relationship of love, of harmony, of perfect communion.
Beloved, the relationship of the trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in its work, is a relationship that demands a response from us. As God’s work in creation is a covenantal work of the trinity, so He created man in covenant with Him. He made man in the image of God; that is, He made man so that he might respond and live in a relationship of love and harmony with Him.
“God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption.” Redemption, because we rebelled against the relationship which God had established us when He created us, and therefore He sent His Son. He is my redeemer. In that redemption, the covenantal work of the triune God continues. It was the work of love, of harmony, of communion. Read all of what Jesus Christ says of His relationship to His Father and to the Holy Spirit. It is a complete harmony and oneness. God the Father sent His dearly beloved Son. God the Father gave Him our human nature. God the Father poured upon His Son our judgment. God the Father raised Him from the dead and set Him as king on His right hand. So it is that the Holy Spirit, who overshadowed the virgin Mary in His conception, was poured upon Jesus Christ in His baptism.
Again, in the work of redemption, there is that glorious working together. Even though it is Jesus Christ that stands in the foreground, yet it is the covenantal work of the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Again, beloved, that covenantal relationship is not only in that trinity, but by that one God extended to us. God, the covenantal one, not only as creator but as redeemer, says that His work as triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — asks of us a response. We must speak of it believingly. There is no speaking about it without the requirement of belief. We must obey as a result of that belief. We must love and we must fulfill the covenantal requirement of God’s showing Himself to us in His work — in His work of creation, in His work of redemption, and again in His work of sanctification.
Again, in God’s work of sanctification, the Holy Spirit is in no way divided from the Trinity, as so many Christians erroneously seem to believe and practice today. They would believe that the Holy Spirit is somehow an independent power that works in this world. But God has clearly said what the work of the Holy Spirit is. He comes from the Father and the Son. And Jesus Christ has clearly spelled out what the work of that Holy Spirit is.
Here is the work of the Holy Spirit. He gives us the Word, which is the revelation of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Holy Spirit is the one that creates new life in us and opens our hearts that we might receive the words of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes the blood of Christ and applies it to our hearts. He is the one who restores us as sons of the Father. He establishes us as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us and equips us by that Word, as children of the Father, to fight against the world, our old nature and the devil.
Isn’t that beautiful and awesome beyond description? For it is especially in the work of the Holy Spirit that we may know, experience, taste, and joy in possession of that covenantal harmony, peace and fellowship, that perfect love, which is in the perfect covenantal trinity of Jehovah God. That perfect love, joy, peace, harmony, truth, purity, and fruitfulness, which is eternally bound up in the covenantal trinity of God, is put into us. The blessed covenantal work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, redemption and sanctification brings the richness of the triune Jehovah into you and me.
Beloved, we confess that that work is the work that God does in us, because we believe the revelation of God. Those three persons, that one God, is our creator, redeemer, and our sanctifier. It is awesome, beautiful, and it is incomprehensible.
Do you know what incomprehensibleness is? We spoke of it in the Athanasian Creed. -prehend has to do with grasp; it has to do with fingers. You know what apprehend is — a policeman puts his hand on your shoulder, and you’re apprehended. Comprehend means to get your hands around. Incomprehend means “not able to get hands around.” Well, the incomprehensibleness of our God, means we cannot get the hands of our minds around Him. He is the one who is the ultimate, the only one. He says, “I am the beginning and the ending, the first and the last, and besides Me there is no other.“ That one, that perfect trinity, is our Father, our creator, our redeemer, and our sanctifier. Those three persons in all their power, love and harmony work out our salvation, redemption, and sanctification.
The words of the apostle who writes to the Hebrews, are doubly loaded for us: “How can we ever escape if we neglect so great a salvation, given to us by that God, who has established covenant with us?” He is a Jehovah, who reveals Himself.
‘Since there is but one divine being, why do you speak of three — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word that these three distinct persons are the one, true, and eternal God.” That beautiful answer, which must always be the answer of God’s people, is simply this: “God said so.”
Somebody may poke fun of your circular reasoning when you get into learned circles. If you go back one page in the catechism, it says, “What’s necessary for the Christian to believe?” And we say, “All that’s promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our Christian faith teach us.” Well, what do the articles of the Christian faith say? They say “God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.” How do you know it is true? Because God said so.
So you start from God’s Word, go all the way around, and come back to God’s Word. The learned of this world poke fun of you and say, “Yes, but that’s no way of reasoning. That’s no way of arguing. You need some outside proof.”
Outside proof? But you’re on the inside. You’re living in the arms of your triune God. He has circled you with His covenant work of creation, redemption and sanctification. You live there, and He said so. You are His child.
It is the confession of a covenant child. If I asked one of your five- or six-year-olds, “Who’s your dad?”, they would say, “That’s my dad.” And if I said, “How do you know?”, they would look kind of funny and say, “What do you mean, ‘How do I know?’ He told me so. You go and ask him.”
That is also the confession of the child of God who lives in and is surrounded by the creating, redeeming, sanctifying work and love of our covenantal trinity of Jehovah. It is the knowledge of a child who believes and knows because his father has spoken.
Beloved, may that — by the grace of God — always be our knowledge as we confess in one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — because He said so. We say to the world that our Father says this: “It’s the fool that says that there is no triune God.” God never comes to us and says “Here is the proof of what I am.” God begins by saying, “In the beginning, God...” That’s all He does; He just flat out tells us. He doesn’t begin by saying, “Here is the proof of the existence of God.” He just states Himself.
And so the believer must always simply confess. With Paul, we may know, as we face the Greeks or Jews of this world, that “It will always be foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.” The Jews wanted to see some power — “show me! show me!” and the Greeks say, “I have to understand it — reason it out for me. Prove it. Let’s get some reasoning and logic involved.” The Greeks and the Jews of this world will never understand. Because God has said only by the Spirit of God will they understand.
Beloved, don’t ever try to prove the existence of God to people. Preach, confess, and state it. Don’t prove it. You cannot prove it to their satisfaction. They believe it and don’t see it.
But for the believer, believing is seeing. We have heard, therefore we speak. The believer confesses in the covenantal trinity of Jehovah. Beloved, the revelation of God as Himself, those three persons, in His being and in His work, is the revelation of our God Jehovah. He tells you, His people, that He never says anything to you about Himself without holding you responsible.
You know what responsible means, don’t you? It comes from the word “response.” It means you must answer. Not only in words, but also in deeds.
The triune Jehovah has revealed Himself to us. He asks us to give answer. For that answer, beloved, we have the triune God as our Father, Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. He gives us, in Jesus Christ, the answer that we may give Him.
May we always pray, “Oh Father, Oh Son, Oh Holy Spirit! Give us that answer of faith, that we may simply believe, confess, and live our confession.” Amen.