“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”

I have begun teaching through the Westminster Confession of Faith during our Bible Study hour on Sunday mornings and, presently, I am in the middle of the section entitled, “Of God and the Holy Trinity.” As someone has once said, “If you try to comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity you may lose your mind, and if you deny it you will lose your soul.” It is a challenging doctrine to understand, but we must always remember something that John Calvin has written, “The finite cannot comprehend the infinite.” If we could understand all there was to know about God, would He really be God?

In looking for a good Biblical summary of the doctrine of the Trinity I came across this paragraph in Alan Cairns’, Dictionary of Theological Terms:”

Since there is one God, and since the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and since these three are clearly distinguished in Scripture, we are left with the glorious truth of the Trinity—one God eternally existing as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each indwelling the other and each possessing, not in part, but entirely, the infinite essence of the one divine Being. Contemplating such a majestic mystery of revealed truth, we are constrained to cry out with heaven’s seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6:3). (page 417)

Or, if you prefer, you may always fall back on the historic (4th century) Nicene Creed which spells out so beautifully this Biblical truth:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic* and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*catholic: universal, not “Roman Catholic”

While I must admit I do not understand all that there is to understand about this glorious Biblical truth, I am so glad that it does not deter me from falling on my knees and worshiping the Triune God, my Creator and Redeemer.


Tuesday Hymns: “Holy God, We Praise Your Name”

Today’s Tuesday Hymn, Holy God, We Praise Your Name, is based on the ancient hymn, Te Deum, which has been traditionally ascribed to Ambrose and Augustine at Augustine’s baptism in the 4th century. To quote that great reformer, Martin Luther (at the top of “Pilate’s Stairs” in Rome), “Who can know if it is so?

This version was written by Ignace Franz circa 1774, and is a hymn that is full of praise to the Triune God from the beginning to the end. It speaks generally of “all on earth” and “all in heaven” praising God for His sovereignty, and then particularly lists specific groups who join the chorus of praise: “Angel choirs,” “Apostles,” “Prophets,” “Martyrs,” along with the rest of Christ’s church through the ages. It concludes at the glorious pinnacle of the Biblical 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.” (I love the Shorter Catechism!) In The Trinity Hymnal, the lyrics are attached to the tune, GROSSER BOTT, WIR LOBEN DICH.

Holy God, we praise Your Name;
Lord of all, we bow before You!
All on earth Your scepter claim,
All in Heaven above adore You;
Infinite Thy vast domain,
Everlasting is Your reign.

Hark! the loud celestial hymn
Angel choirs above are raising,
Cherubim and seraphim,
In unceasing chorus praising;
Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord.

Lo! the apostolic train
Join the sacred Name to hallow;
Prophets swell the loud refrain,
And the white robed martyrs follow;
And from morn to set of sun,
Through the Church the song goes on.

Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
While in essence only One,
Undivided God we claim Thee;
And adoring bend the knee,
While we own the mystery.

God: Both Transcendent and Immanent

This week I received my copy of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology via UPS entitled, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. As I glanced through the 1,052 page tome (when something is over 1000 pages, I reserve the right to call it a tome), I came across the following paragraph discussing the name of God:

“On one hand, the revelation of God’s name is a sign of transcendence, measuring the gulf between God’s majesty and the human servant. Misusing God’s name required the death penalty under the old covenant (Ex 20:7; Lev 24:16). Nevertheless, this name is also a sign of God’s immanence, having been given to his people as a pledge of his personal presence, to be invoked in danger and praised at all times.” (The Christian Faith, p. 224)

Our God is truly “wholly other” (to borrow a phrase from Karl Barth) from His creation, and we as creatures will never be able comprehend Him at any level, unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us. He is not “the man upstairs” or our “good ol’ buddy and pal” with whom we interact as we would with Bubba down at the Green Light Café. He is El Shaddai (God Almighty) and is unapproachable to sinful man without the mediation of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

However, He is also a God who has chosen to reveal Himself to man, through His natural revelation (“the heavens declare the glory of God”), and, more specifically, through the special revelation of His Written Word. This holy unapproachable God has chosen to enter into covenant with sinful man as He said through the prophet Jeremiah:

“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)   

We enter into this covenant totally and completely through the grace of this Transcendent and Immanent God. We “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” and now “have access in one Spirit to the Father” through the finished work of Christ, His Son. (Eph. 2) Horatius Bonar said it so well in verse:

Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.

Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.

Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak;
Thy pow’r alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save thine,
No other blood will do;
No strength, save that which is divine,
Can bear me safely through.

I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And with unfalt’ring lip and heart
I call this Saviour mine.
This cross dispels each doubt;
I bury in his tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each ling’ring shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace;
I trust his truth and might;
He calls me his, I call him mine,
My God, my joy, my light.
‘Tis he who saveth me,
And freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me,
I live because he lives.

“Not What These Hands Have Done”—Horatius Bonar

“Follow your heart.”

You just need to follow your heart” is the worst advice that anyone could ever tender to another. Countless lives have been ruined by people “following their heart.” Men have left their wives for their secretaries (excuse me, administrative assistants), others have abandoned their children, while some have abandoned the truth of the Gospel to chase after false teachers who have promised them what Francis Schaeffer considered the idol of our present age: “personal peace and affluence.”

Why is “following your own heart” such a bad idea? Because of what the prophet Jeremiah said some 2500 years ago, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our hearts will lie to us. Our hearts will not allow us to think about the future consequences of our present actions. Our hearts will always convince us that we have a “good” reason to do a “sinful” thing. Our hearts will shout loud and long that we “deserve” happiness, contentment, peace, etc., while hiding the irreparable harm our self-centered actions might bring to others.

If following our heart is not the answer then to whom do we turn? I would offer the words of the Christ of the Scriptures as a consideration, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) In resting in Christ one can find the forgiveness of not only our outward sins, but also our inward “heart sins” (remember, it is deceitful and desperately wicked), and His Word provides us with the guidance we need as we live out our lives to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It is only by His grace that we can be victorious over our deceitful and desperately wicked hearts.

Cosmic Treason

I am convinced that every man has at least two blind spots which effect everything that he thinks, says, and does. The first is his inability to understand the height and breadth of the holiness of God, and the second is his inability to understand the depth of the depravity of his own sin. Jonathan Edwards seems to have had a good understanding of both:

“Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.”

The Glory of the Person of Christ

As I was preparing a message on Psalm 139 last week I came across a passage in Calvin’s Institutes (II.xiii.4) (actually, I came across it in Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology who quoted Calvin) which made my head hurt as I struggled to comprehend the two natures and one person of Christ:

Another absurdity…namely, that if the Word of God became incarnate, [he] must have been confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body, is sheer impudence! For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, to hang upon the cross, yet he continuously filled the earth even as he had done from the beginning!

The Westminster divines expressed the same idea in the following way:

The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. (WCF VIII.ii)

Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus also articulated this truth in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 48. But if his human nature is not present, wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?

Answer: Not as all, for since the Godhead is illimitable and omnipresent, (a) it must necessarily follow that the same is beyond the limits of the human nature he assumed, (b) and yet is nevertheless in this human nature, and remains personally united to it.

As I ponder in wonder the limitless glory of our Triune God, I am comforted by the fact that the same omnipotent God who “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, And marked off the heavens by the span, And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, And weighed the mountains in a balance, And the hills in a pair of scales?” will also “tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isa. 40:11-12)