THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 6. 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.


Q. 1. Whence is it, that this article of our holy religion has been so much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?

A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John 2:23, -- "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father."

Q. 2. Is this doctrine of the Trinity, then; a fundamental article, upon the belief of which our salvation depends?

A. Beyond all doubt it is: because without the knowledge and belief of the Trinity of persons, we would remain ignorant of the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, in the purchase and application of redemption; without which there could be no salvation, John 17:3, -- "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."

Q. 3. Can the Trinity of persons be proved from the Old Testament?

A. Yes; not only from the history of man's creation, where God speaks of himself in the plural number, "Let us make man," Gen. 1:26; but likewise from such passages, as expressly restrict this plurality to three persons, such as, Psalm 33:6, -- "By the word of the Lord, or JEHOVAH, were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath, or spirit, of his mouth;" where there is mention made of JEHOVAH, the Word, and the Spirit, as concurring in the creation of all things: accordingly, we are told that all things were made by the Word, John 1:3, and that the Spirit garnished the heavens, Job 26:13. The same truth is also evident from Isa 63:7, 9, 10; where we read of the loving-kindness of JEHOVAH; Of the Angel of his presence saving them; and of their vexing his Holy Spirit. A plain discovery of a Trinity of persons.

Q. 4. What is the meaning of the word Trinity, so commonly used in expressing this doctrine?

A. It signifies the same with Tri-unity, or three in one; that is, three distinct persons, in one and the same individual or numerical[15] essence, 1 John 5:7.

Q. 5. Is not a Trinity of persons, in the divine Essence, an unsearchable mystery?

A. Yes; and so is every perfection of God, which infinitely transcends our thoughts, and finite capacities, Col. 2:2; Job 11:6, 7.

Q. 6. Is it not unreasonable to require a belief of what we cannot understand?

A. It is not at all unreasonable in matters that are entirely supernatural; but, on the contrary, it is the highest reason we should believe what God says of himself, and of the manner of his own subsistence, John 20:31:besides, it is the peculiar office of faith to subject our reason to divine revelation, Heb. 11:1.

Q. 7. How has God revealed this mystery in his word?

A. He has in it told us, that "there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one," 1 John 5:7. Or, as our Confession expresses it, "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost," Matt. 3:16, 17 and 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.

Q. 8. What is meant by the word Godhead?

A. The divine nature or essence; Rom. 1:20, compared with Gal. 4:8.

Q. 9. What is meant by a person in the Godhead?

A. A complete, intelligent, and individual subsistence, which is neither a part of, nor sustained by any other; but is distinguished by an incommunicable property in the same undivided essence.

Q. 10. Has each person then a distinct nature, or essence of his own?

A. No; but the same divine nature, or essence, is common to all the three glorious persons, 1 John 5:7, -- "These three are one;" not only united in will and affection, but in one and the same common nature, or essence: it being the transcendent and incommunicable property of the divine nature, to reside in more persons than one.

Q. 11. What was the heresy of the Sabellians, and Tritheists, in opposition to this fundamental doctrine of the Trinity?

A. The Sabellians maintained that there is but one person in the Trinity under three different names; the Tritheists, that the three persons are three Gods.

Q. 12. Is the word Person, as applied to this mystery, made use of in scripture?

A. Yes; for the Son is said to be the "express image of the Father's person," Heb. 1:3.

Q. 13. How do you prove that there are three persons in the Godhead?

A. From the institution of baptism, Matt. 28:19; from the apostolical blessing, 2 Cor. 13:14; from John's salutation to the seven churches, Rev. 1:4, 5; and from the baptism of Christ, Matt. 3:16, 17; where the Father is manifested by a voice from heaven; the Son, by his bodily appearance on earth; and the Holy Ghost, by his lighting on him in the shape of a dove.

Q. 14. How is it farther evident that they are three distinct persons?

A. From the distinct capacities in which they are represented to act; for, in the work of redemption, we find in scripture, the Father "ordaining," the Son "purchasing," and the Holy Ghost "applying it," 1 Pet. 1:2.

Q. 15. How are the persons in the Godhead distinguished from each other?

A. By their personal properties, which are incommunicable to each other.

Q. 16. What is the personal property of the Father?

A. To beget the Son, and that from all eternity, Psalm 2:7.

Q. 17. What is the personal property of the Son?

A. To be eternally begotten of the Father, John 1:14, -- "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."

Q. 18. What is the personal property of the Holy Ghost?

A. To proceed eternally from the Father and the Son, John 15:26 -- "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."

Q. 19. How does it appear that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son, as well as from the Father, when it is not expressly affirmed that he does so, in the above text?

A. Because he is called "the Spirit of the Son," Gal. 4:6 -- "the Spirit of Christ," Rom. 8:9; the Spirit is said to receive all things from Christ, John 16:14, 15; to be sent by him, John 15:26; and the Father is said to send him in Christ's name, John 14:26; from all which, it may be safely gathered, that he proceeds from the Son, as well as from the Father.

Q. 20. What is the difference between a personal and an essential property?

A. A personal property is peculiar to one of the persons only, but an essential property is common to them all.

Q. 21. Why are the personal properties called incommunicable?

A. Because each of them is so proper to one of the persons in the Trinity, that it cannot be affirmed of any of the other two.

Q. 22. Is it the divine essence that begets, is begotten, or proceeds?

A. No; for these are not essential, but personal acts. It is the Father who begets the Son; the Son who is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from both.

Q. 23. Are the terms necessary existence, supreme Deity, and the title of the only true God, essential or personal properties?

A. They are essential properties of the divine nature, and so common to all the persons of the adorable Trinity, who have all the same essence, wholly, equally, and eternally.

Q. 24. May the above terms be taken, or are they, by sound authors, taken in a sense that includes the personal property of the Father, and so not belonging to the Son and Holy Ghost?

A. They may not be, and never are, by sound authors, taken in that sense; for this would be to make the Son and Holy Ghost inferior to, and dependent upon, the Father, for being or existence, which is the very soul of Arianism.

Q. 25. Does not the Father, being called the first; the Son, the second; and the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Godhead, imply an inequality, or preference of one person to another?

A. These are only terms of mere order, and imply no preference or priority, either of nature, excellency, or duration; and therefore we find in scripture, that sometimes the Son is named before the Father, as in 2 Cor. 13:14, Gal. 1:1; and sometimes the Spirit before the Son, as in Rev. 1:4, 5.

Q. 26. Is not each of these glorious persons truly and properly God?

A. Each of these persons is God, in the true and proper sense of the word; though none of them can be called the Deity, exclusively of the rest, in regard the Deity, being the same with the divine nature, or essence, is common to them all.

Q. 27. But does not our Lord say, that the Father is the "only true God," John 17:3 -- "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God?"

A. Our Lord does not say, that the Father only, is the true God, exclusive of the other persons of the Trinity; but that He is the only true God (as each of the other persons is) in opposition to idols, or gods falsely so called.

Q. 28. How does it appear that the Father is God?

A. From his being expressly so called every where in scripture: particularly, 1 Cor. 8:6; and 15:24; Gal. 1:1, 3, &c.

Q. 29. Is it proper to say, that the Father is the fountain of the Deity?

A. The expression is dangerous, and now used by adversaries in an unsound sense, to exclude self-existence and independency from the Son and Holy Ghost, and therefore is to be avoided.

Q. 30. How does it appear from scripture, that Christ, the Son, is truly and properly the supreme God, equal with the Father?

A. From the same names, attributes, works, and worship being ascribed to him in scripture as are ascribed to the Father, and in as full and ample a sense.[16]

Q. 31. What are the names ascribed to Christ, that prove him to be equal with the Father?

A. He is expressly called "God," John 1:1 -- "the great God," Tit. 2:13 -- "the mighty God," Isa. 9:6 -- "the true God," 1 John 5:20 -- "the only wise God," Jude ver. 25; and JEHOVAH, which is a name never ascribed to any, in scripture, but the living and true God, Jer. 23:6; Psalm 83:18.

Q. 32. What are the divine attributes ascribed to Christ, that prove him to be the supreme God?

A. Eternity, in the strict and proper sense of the word, Mic. 5:2; unchangeableness, Heb. 13:8; omniscience, John 21:17; omnipotence, for he calls himself "the Almighty," Rev. 1:8; omnipresence; "Lo," says he, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world," Matt. 28:20; and supremacy, Rom. 9:5.

Q. 33. What are those works which manifest Christ to be the true God?

A. The creating and preserving of all things, Col. 1:16, 17; the obtaining eternal redemption for us, Heb. 9:12:the working of miracles by his own power, Mark 5:41; the forgiving of sins, Mark 2:5; the raising of the dead at the last day, John 5:28, 29; and his judging the world, Rom. 14:10.

Q. 34. What is that worship ascribed to Christ which proves him to be the supreme God?

A. The same divine worship and adoration that is given to the Father, John 5:23; we are commanded to believe in him equally with the Father, John 14:1; and we are baptised in his name, as well as in the name of the Father, Matt. 28:19.

Q. 35. In what sense does Christ say, John 14:28 -- "My Father is greater than I?"

A. He does not speak in that place of his nature, as God, but of his office, as Mediator; in which respect he is the Father's servant, Isa. 42:1.

Q. 36. How do you prove the supreme Deity of the Holy Ghost?

A. From the same arguments, by which the Deity of the Son was proved; for, (1.) He is expressly called God, Acts 5:3, 4. (2.) Attributes, which are peculiar only to God, are ascribed to him, Heb. 9:14; 1 Cor. 2:10; Luke 2:26; Psalm 139:7. (3.) Works which can be accomplished by none but God, are performed by him, Psalm 33:6; Job 26:13; Luke 1:35; 2 Pet. 1:21; John 16:13; Rom. 15:16. (4.) The same divine worship is paid to him, as to the Father and the Son, Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.

Q. 37. Could the Trinity of persons, in the unity of essence, have been discovered by the light of nature?

A. By no means: for then it would be no mystery, seeing divine mysteries are such secrets, as the wisdom of man could never have found out, Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:9, 10, 14.

Q. 38. Is it lawful to explain this mystery by natural similitudes?

A. No; for there is no similitude amongst all the creatures, that has the remotest resemblance to this adorable mystery of the three one God. By making similes or comparisons of this kind, men have become vain in their imaginations, and their foolish minds have been darkened, Rom. 1:21-26; and therefore, as this doctrine is entirely a matter of faith, it becomes us to adore it, without prying curiously into what is not revealed.

Q. 39. Does the asserting of three persons in the Godhead, with distinct personal properties, infer any separation, or division, in the divine essence?

A. No; for the persons in the Godhead are not separated, but distinguished from one another, by their personal properties. As the unity of the essence does not confound the persons, so neither does the distinction of persons imply any division of the essence, 1 John 5:7.

Q. 40. Can any worship God aright, without the faith of this mystery of the Trinity?

A. No; "for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is," Heb. 11:6; namely, that he is God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Q. 41. How is our worship to be directed to this three-one God?

A. We are to worship the Father, in Christ the Son, by the Spirit; and thus, when we pray, we are to ask the Father, in the name of the Son, by the Holy Ghost, Eph. 2:18 and 5:20.

Q. 42. Will not this mystery be more fully known and displayed in heaven?

A. Yes; for, says Christ, "at that day ye shall know, that I am in my Father," John 14:20; See also 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2.

Q. 43. What comfortable instruction may we learn from this doctrine of the Trinity?

A. That the gift of eternal life, in the promise and offer of the gospel, to sinners of mankind, is attested by the three famous witnesses in heaven, who are above all exception, 1 John 5:7, 11; and consequently, that a portion infinitely rich, is insured by the covenant of grace to all those who believe, when it makes over all the three persons to them, as their God, Jer. 31:33.

Q. 44. What is the duty of the judicatures of the church with reference to Arians, Socinians, and Deists, who deny this fundamental doctrine of the Trinity?

A. It is their duty after the first and second admonition, to reject them as heretics, Tit. 3:10.


[15] That is, particular.

[16] Larger Catechism, Q. 11.


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