Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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“6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.”1 John 5:6-9; with disputed text in brackets
WSC 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. 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.1 1 Jn 5:7; Mt 28:19.
1 John 5:7 is perhaps the most controversial verse in the King James Version. It even has a scholarly name to it. It is known as the Comma Johanneum. Technically though, the Comma Johanneum is not exactly 1 John 5:7. It is, rather, the second part of verse 7 and the first part of verse 8. If you look at the two verses in the KJV, the Comma is that part of the two verses that reads, “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth.”
Many scholars believe the Comma did not exist in the original manuscript written by the apostle John under inspiration. Indeed most modern bible versions do not have them. However, it has entered into the Westminster Shorter Catechism as the first proof text for Question 6,
“WSC 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. 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.”
Some of the reasons given by scholars for why they do not believe the Comma Johanneum is authentic appear to be very compelling.
However, I must submit to you that they are not necessarily conclusive:
(1) Not every available manuscript with the portion of text has been examined.
(2) There are a few apparent references to it in the writings of the early church fathers, including one that dates to 250 AD.
(3) If the Comma is excised from the text, you will find a grammatical inconsistency, whereas the inconsistency disappears with the Comma in place.
For these reasons, I do not think we should discount 1 John 5:7 so quickly.
But having said so, I should add that 1 John 5:7 does not directly prove the doctrine of the Trinity. You see, in the context, the apostle John is actually trying to prove that Jesus is the Messiah (v. 1) and He is the Son of God (v. 5).
As part of his proof, he argues that we are authorised to believe—and it is not unreasonable to believe—that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God because God has given us two sets of three-fold witnesses.
Moses declared in the law that “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall [a] matter be established” (Dt 19:15). The apostle Paul reiterates this principle in 2 Corinthians 13:1, where he declares that “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”
John’s argument is based on this principle. He tells us that God has provided two sets of three witnesses. The first set is heavenly, comprising the Father, the Word (or the Son) and the Holy Spirit; the second is on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood. These confirm the truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus: He is the Son of God, and He is the Christ.
With this in mind, we must understand that when John says, “these three are one” (end of v. 7), he is simply saying that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agree with one another in their testimony (cf. v. 8).
The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely about agreement between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as if they are members of a project team.
Nevertheless, what John says supports the doctrine of the Trinity even if it does not prove it. Indeed, I would argue that 1 John 5:7 makes proper sense only if we presuppose the doctrine of the Trinity.
But be as that may be the case, we can’t really use 1 John 5:7 to prove the Trinity to a sceptic such as a Jehovah’s Witness. Why? Because he will tell you the verse does not exist in his Bible or in any of the modern versions!
So what shall we do then? Well, thankfully, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only found in one verse, nor five verses, nor ten verses, but in a plethora of verses scattered throughout the Bible! If you like, there is a multitude of witnesses to the doctrine of the Trinity scattered throughout the Bible.
In this sermon, the Lord helping us, we want to look at some of these witnesses, and then we want to conclude by briefly considering why it is vital for us to know and believe in the doctrine.
Now, to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to prove seven propositions: (1) There is one God; (2) There is more than one person in the Godhead; (3) The Father is God; (4) The Son is God; (5) The Holy Spirit is God; (6) The Persons in the Godhead are distinct; and (7) The Godhead is One.
1. There Is One God
We had already seen how there is only one living and true God when we studied Jeremiah 10:10 previously. Jeremiah 10:10a:
“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king….”
There are many other verses scattered throughout the Bible that affirm this fundamental truth. Let’s look at one more, Isaiah 45:5a:
“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me….”
It is indisputable that the Bible acknowledges only one true God.
2. There Is More than One Person in the Godhead
This verity becomes very clear in the New Testament, but it was already hinted at in the Old Testament.
Consider Genesis 1:26a:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”
Similarly, see Genesis 11:7:
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
It is clear from the plural first-person pronoun that there is more than one person in the Godhead. If there is only one person in the Godhead, God will say, “Let me” if He is talking to Himself. Some claim that God may be using the majestic plural or the plural of intensity by referring to himself in the plural, but there is no evidence that this is the case. Instead, whenever God speaks to His people (and is not speaking in conference within the Godhead), He refers to himself as the “I AM”, not “WE ARE.” He says, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (Isa 45:5; cf. v. 6 and 18).
3. The Father Is God
In the doctrine of the Trinity, we understand that there are three persons in the Godhead. They are, as John highlights: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Father is indirectly revealed in the Old Testament when Jehovah speaks of the Messiah as His Son, e.g. Psalm 2.
However, in the New Testament, it becomes crystal clear that the Father is God.
Consider Matthew 6:9, where the Lord Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray:
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”Mt 6:9
If prayer is offered to the Father, then manifestly, the Father is God.
Likewise, our Lord, in His high priestly prayer, says:
“Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.”Jn 17:1
Thus, we must conclude that the Father is God.
4. The Son Is God
The deity of Christ is affirmed in many passages. In the Old Testament, the deity of Christ is alluded to in many places. For example, in Isaiah 9:6, He is called “the mighty God”:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”Isa 9:6
But it is in the New Testament that His deity is clearly stated in numerous passages. Consider just a few:
- John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
- Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
- Philippians 2:5-6: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”
5. The Holy Spirit Is God
The Holy Spirit is also clearly God:
- Mark 3:28-29: “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
- Acts 5:4: “Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
Indeed, in Acts 5:4, we see that the Holy Spirit is not only God, but He is a person, for only a person can be lied unto. This refutes the idea of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Holy Spirit is just an influence or a force, rather than a person.
6. The Persons in the Godhead Are Distinct
Some claim that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just the different modes or appearances of God. It is like water, which can exist as ice, liquid or vapour. Or, I am a brother, husband and father. Or like a person with multiple personalities. But all these illustrations are inadequate to describe God as He is revealed in the Scriptures and will involve a heretical idea of God known as modalism.
The Scriptures, instead, teach us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons.
This is taught even in the Old Testament. Consider Isaiah 48:16:
“Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.”
It is clear that the “I” who is here speaking is “from the beginning” and is distinct from “the Lord GOD” and “his Spirit.” Comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can see that the “I” is Christ.
Or look at 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 brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
The speaker is Christ; the Spirit is upon Him; the LORD or the Father sent Him.
And in the New Testament, consider the baptism of the Lord. Notice how as soon as He is baptised, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven:
“And Jesus, when he was baptised, 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: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”Mt 3:16-17
Evidently, the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are distinct.
The three persons in the Godhead are distinct.
7. The Godhead Is One
Although there are three persons, there are not three gods, but one God.
This is the basis of our Lord’s Word when He says: “I and my Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
But the most unambiguous indication of the unity of the Godhead is perhaps in the baptism formula given by our Lord in His great commission, Matthew 28:19:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”Mt 28:19
Notice how our Lord does not say baptising them in the names (plural), but rather the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
This unity and the fact that there is only one God is the basis of what we are taught in our Catechism that the three persons in the Godhead are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Putting together the seven propositions, we essentially have the doctrine of the Trinity:
“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.”WSC 6
This doctrine must have been the basis of John’s statement as it appears in the King James Version:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”1 Jn 5:7
But now, let us consider briefly why this doctrine is crucial. For that, let me give you seven reasons.
1. Only if you know and appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity can you accurately interpret the Scripture. For example, without the knowledge of the Trinity, you will be hard-pressed to explain away those passages that ascribe divinity to Christ. Likewise, you will not be able to appreciate, as you should, the full significance of such passages as 1 John 5:7 or Matthew 28:19 unless you know the doctrine of the Trinity.
2. Only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you genuinely worship the Living and True God. Remember that the God of the Bible is Triune. He is not the same as the god of Islam or the Jews today.
3. Only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you be an authentic Christian, for the Christ of the Bible is the second person of the Trinity. Those who do not believe in the Trinity do not believe in the Christ of the Bible.
4. Only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you truly appreciate your salvation, for all three Persons are involved in salvation. The Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies whoever is purchased by Christ.
Indeed, only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you appreciate how God could accept the punishment of Christ on your behalf without violating justice. If Christ were a third party paying for your sin, and God is not Triune, God would be (and I say it reverently) guilty of injustice against Christ to punish him when he has no sin.
5. Only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you genuinely pray, for we are taught in the Scripture to address our prayers to the Father, in the name of the Son, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
6. Only if you know and believe the doctrine of the Trinity can you properly appreciate your adoption into the family of God—to enjoy God the Father as your Abba Father, and God the Son as your elder brother, and the Holy Spirit as your helper.
7. Only if you know and understand the doctrine of the Trinity can you appreciate the order God has set for the family and society, for as there is an order in the Godhead but no superiority, so it is in the family. There is order but no superiority. The husband is the head of the wife, but he may not lord over her. The same goes for his children. They do not belong to him. They are on loan to him by the Father. There is neither male nor female in Christ. There is neither young nor old in Christ. Each has an economic role, but they are ontologically equal in Christ. Only when we understand this will we learn not to abuse our position of authority that the Lord may give to us.
When societies understand the implications of the doctrine of the Trinity, there will be no caste system. There will be no such thing as nobility versus ordinary people.
Beloved brethren and children, the doctrine of the Triunity of God is unshakable. If you believe in the Bible, you must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. You cannot truly be a Christian if you do not believe in the Trinity.
But if you believe and this doctrine shapes your life somehow, thank God for opening your eyes. Then confess the doctrine wholeheartedly. Amen.