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THE HOLY TRINITY -
A CHRISTMAS SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, December 16, 2001

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (I John 5:7).

No verse in the Bible is more hated by Satan than this one. The Devil has attacked this verse more than any other I know of - with the exception of the last twelve verses of Mark sixteen and John 8:1-11. But before we accept the reviews of the skeptics in this time of apostasy we should consider the fact that every word and thought of the text is true to the rest of the New Testament. It is true to the Bible that the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are in Heaven. It is true to the rest of the Bible that the three Persons of the Trinity bear record, or witness, in Heaven. And it is true to the rest of the Bible that the three are one.

Matthew Henry gives the arguments against the verse and answers them all to my satisfaction (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, volume 6, Hendrickson, 1996, pp. 879-881). Henry gives an excellent list of six reasons for accepting the text, arguing from the Bible itself, rather than the surmisings of what he calls "the collators of copies" (i.e. Bible critics). Henry's arguments are as fresh and sound today as when they were written, and are well worth studying in this present age of unbelief and apostasy, which now appears even among some who call themselves "fundamentalists." The insights of men like Henry, Wesley and Bengel are a thousand times more important than the myopic stumbling of modern critics.

Henry's six arguments in favor of the text are based on the Bible itself, and the arrangement of the words in the passage, so they are timeless and very weighty.

Johann Bengel, the classical German textual scholar, accepted the verse, after rejecting it at first. Before you reject it, you should read Bengel's arguments in favor of it, given in simplified form by John Wesley in his sermon "On the Trinity" (The Works of John Wesley, Sermons, Volume II, Baker, 1972, p. 201).

A strong argument in its favor is that it was quoted and referred to by Tertullian (c. 160-220) and Cyprian (c. 200-258) (cf. Matthew Henry, ibid.). A verse could not be quoted or referred to if it did not then exist!

Without giving further arguments for accepting the text, I will simply say tonight that everything in the verse is taught elsewhere in the Scriptures, and I will on that ground preach it to you as Scriptural tonight.

John Wesley, in his famous sermon "On the Trinity," said this:

There are some truths more important than others. It seems that there are some which are of deep importance…surely there are some which it nearly concerns us to know, as having a close connexion with vital [living] religion. And doubtless we may rank among these that contained in the words above cited: "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition, Complete and Unabridged, Sermons, Volume II, Baker, 1979, p. 200).

Today, the word "Trinity" is seldom heard in our churches. Yet all will affirm that they believe the doctrine, although, other than the subject of Hell, no doctrine is less preached about in evangelical pulpits. Yet no doctrine is more important, other than the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

I dare to say that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the most important fundamental doctrine taught in the Bible, other than the inspiration of the infallible Scriptures themselves. Why do I say this? Simply because there is no doctrine more important than that which concerns God Himself. We do well to hear Mr. Wesley tell us that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has a close connection with vital, living Christianity.

Our Baptist forefathers well understood the importance of the Holy Trinity. As I prepared this sermon, I had in my hand a book titled Baptist Confessions of Faith, compiled by William L. Lumpkin (Judson Press, 1969). Mr. Lumpkin lists confession after confession of our early Baptist forefathers. In virtually all these confessions, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is presented. For instance, the London Confession of 1644 has these words:

In this God-head, there is the Father, the Sonne (Son), and the Spirit; being every one of them one and the same God, and therefore not divided, but distinguished one from another by their severall properties… (Lumpkin, ibid., pp. 156-157).

The Second London Confession of 1677 has these words:

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word (or Son) and the 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 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 … (Lumpkin, ibid., p. 253).

It is clear from these quotations that our Baptist forebears believed in the Holy Trinity, and often used the term "Trinity" when speaking of God.

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one"

(I John 5:7).

In this sermon I will give two points:

1. The objections to the term "Holy Trinity" answered.

2. The need for preaching on the Trinity outlined.

I. First, I will answer some of the objections to the use
of the term "Holy Trinity."

Some of our zealous friends will remind us that the word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible. To them I give this answer - neither is the word "Bible"! The word "Bible" came to be applied to the Holy Scriptures. "Bible" simply means "book." But the term has been used so long as the name of the Holy Scriptures that every honest person on earth knows that we are speaking of the Holy Scriptures when we say "the Bible." In the same way, the word "incarnation" means that God became human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Although the word "incarnation" is not in the Bible, it clearly speaks of a great truth taught in Scripture. We sing these words every Christmas:

Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King."

("Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

No one objects to Charles Wesley speaking of "the incarnate Deity" in that world-famous Christmas carol! Even though the word "incarnate" does not appear in the Bible, the concept and idea of the incarnation of God in human flesh is certainly taught in the Scriptures.

So it is with the word "Trinity." Like the word "Bible," and the word "incarnation," the word "Trinity" has come to describe something clearly taught in the Scriptures.

Other zealous people often say that the word "Trinity" was invented by the Roman Catholic Church. The Jehovah's Witnesses are fond of saying that. Certain Charismatic groups like the United Pentecostals, the Apostolic Churches, and that TV preacher named Jakes, will tell you that the word "Trinity" came from the Catholics. But they are wrong. The word "Trinity" was not invented by the Roman Catholic Church. It came into use through a very famous non-Catholic named Tertullian (d. A.D. 220). He was the first to use the Latin name, "Trinitas," which is translated into English as "Trinity" (cf. Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1949, p. 135). Tertullian was not a Catholic! This famous African theologian left the Catholic church in about AD 206 and "joined the Montanists, a separatist yet largely unheretical Christian sect. Except for separatist ideas on church life, Tertullian remained doctrinally orthodox until his death" (J. D. Douglas, Who's Who in Christian History, Tyndale House, 1992, p. 665). Christian historian J. D. Douglas said, "Tertullian presaged [foreshadowed] Protestantism" (ibid., p. 666). Dr. J. M. Carroll lists the Montanists as Baptists! (See the chart, "The Trail of Blood," by Dr. J. M. Carroll, published by Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky, 1931). If Dr. Carroll was right (although I personally hesitate to say this) then the term "Trinity" was coined by a Baptist! It was certainly brought into use by an early Protestant, as J. D. Douglas points out! So, the word "Trinity" is actually a Protestant term to describe the Godhead, as revealed in the Scriptures.

But I have called God the "Holy Trinity." Is not this a Roman Catholic term? No, it is not. It is a Bible term. The angels in Heaven will say, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" (Revelation 4:8). The Trinity is our thrice holy God! Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit is His name! "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" As the hymn puts it, "God in three persons, Blessed Trinity" ("Holy, Holy, Holy" by Reginald Heber, 1783-1826).

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one"

(I John 5:7).

II. But, secondly, I must bring out the practical need for
preaching on the Trinity in our day.

Most people I talk to have no awareness of the Trinity. Virtually everyone, Catholic and Protestant, that I speak with, who call themselves "Christians," have carried the divinity of Christ to such an extreme that they have no real concept of God apart from Jesus. Thus, they pray to Jesus, although Christ told them to pray to the Father. Christ said:

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven…" (Matthew 6:9).

Although Christ Himself taught us to pray to the Father, many people pray to Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, as though there were no First Person. Many Baptists and evangelicals do that.

I personally believe that this is an outgrowth and by-product of the liberal/fundamentalist controversy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this debate, the liberals said that Jesus was only a man. The Fundamentalists correctly countered them by saying Jesus is fully God. The Fundamentalists were correct, but they stressed the divinity of Christ so strongly, for so long, that many of the common people have come to believe that Jesus is the only divine personage. I believe that in our day, we must preach on the humanity of Christ, and on Him being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity - to correct this overemphasis.

Many people have a Gnostic view of Christ - that He is a spirit, when in fact, the Bible tells us that the resurrected Christ has a flesh and bone body. The resurrected Christ said, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39). Christ has a flesh and bone resurrected body today, and is seated at the right hand of God, up in Heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:12). I say this in almost every sermon to correct the Gnostic heresy of a spirit-Christ in the minds of the average person today.

I also say repeatedly that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. I do this to correct another serious error in the minds of so many - the heresy of modalism. Modalism was taught by the early Sabellians. They believed that there is one God who manifests Himself in three ways. Sometimes He is God the Father. Sometimes He is Jesus. And sometimes He is the Holy Spirit. Thus, in their prayers, people sometimes pray to God, then they pray to Jesus, and then they pray to the Holy Spirit - in the same prayer. Or they will pray to God, and then say "I pray this in Thy name" instead of praying in the name of Jesus, as the Bible teaches. Jesus said:

"…that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you" (John 15:16).

"Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" (John 16:23).

So, a proper prayer is addressed to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, the Son. But many prayers reveal modalistic heresy, ignorance of the Trinity, in every-day praying. Our preaching should correct this error often.

But even more important - although prayer is extremely important - but even more important, is the relationship of the Trinity in salvation. A great deal of error regarding the role of the Trinity in salvation comes from two sources - the Roman Catholic Church and Charles G. Finney.

The Catholic Church holds the correct doctrine of the Trinity in its creeds. But as a result of replacing Christ as the only Saviour with their church as the dispenser of salvation, they have pushed Jesus, in the common mind, to an obscure, distant figure. Christ becomes in the mind of the common Catholic only the judge of man, in the Last Judgment. This is why they feel the need for Mary and other "saints" to intercede for them. The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages lost the practical application of the Holy Trinity in salvation. Luther, Calvin and other reformers sought to preach Christ as the only mediator between God and man. And they were right, because the Bible says:

"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5).

Charles G. Finney and the outgrowth of his ministry did something similar to this among Baptists and Protestants. Finney harshly and even viciously attacked the very concept of orthodox theology. He denounced theology as so much outdated dogma. This bred a disdain and dislike for systematic theology among the revivalists who followed him, with the one exception of Dr. R. A. Torrey, who was a brilliant theologian and evangelist, and later Dr. John R. Rice, really the only practical theologian produced by fundamentalism in the twentieth century.

But a dislike for theology is one of the legacies of Finney's "decisionist" evangelism, as we show in our book Today's Apostasy: How Decisionism is Destroying Our Churches (Hearthstone, 1999).

Many preachers today say, "I don't preach theology. I just preach the Bible." This sort of "know-nothing" attitude is sad, because true theology is really only a systematic presentation of what the Bible teaches. Dr. Torrey knew that. Dr. John R. Rice knew that. But sadly many conservative preachers don't know it. So when they come to the Trinity, they make no mention of it, because to them it is just confusing "theology."

It is strange that many of these preachers have a detailed understanding of one branch of theology - eschatology (the study of last things). But they are often not interested in preaching any other aspect of theology. This causes great damage to much of our evangelistic preaching.

They often say, "The Trinity is a mystery. We can't understand it, so why preach about something we can't understand?" Yet these same preachers often speak on "the rapture," and the Bible specifically tells us that the rapture is "a mystery"! The Bible says:

"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed" (I Corinthians 15:51).

There is much in the rapture that is indeed a mystery, beyond our human understanding. Yet these preachers speak on this "mystery" often, while they avoid preaching on another mystery - the Holy Trinity. No wonder so many Baptists and evangelicals know all about the rapture - but very little about true conversion!

I am convinced that you can't know much about conversion without having at least a working knowledge of the Holy Trinity.

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one"

(I John 5:7).

Theologian B. B. Warfield correctly taught that we must understand the basic idea of the Trinity to preach and understand Biblical salvation. He said:

The elements of the plan of salvation are rooted in the...nature of the Godhead [the Trinity], in which there coexists a trinal distinction of the persons with absolute unity of essence; and the revelation of the Trinity was [necessary for] the execution of this plan of salvation, in which the Father sent the Son to be the propitiation for sin, and the Son, when He returned to the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, sent the Spirit to apply His redemption to men (B. B. Warfield, Studies in Theology, Banner of Truth, 1988, p. 113).

What could be clearer - or more important? God the Father hates sin. The Bible says:

"God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11).

A righteous God could not overlook your sin, or excuse your sin. He had to punish your sin. Yet, in His love, God sent the Second Person of the Trinity to pay the penalty for sin by dying to pay for your sins on the Cross. This is mighty clear in John 3:16,

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

God the Father sent God the Son to pay the price of your sin, so you don't have to go to Hell - if you will simply turn from sin and believe in Jesus, God the Son.

But how do you come to Jesus and believe in Him? This is the work of the Third Person in the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. The outline of the plan of salvation is really quite simple if you have a working knowledge of the Trinity:

1. God the Father is angry at you for sinning, and He will punish you for sin.

2. God the Son died on the Cross to pay the penalty that God the Father demands for sin.

3. God the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to these things in awakening you. Then God the Holy Spirit draws you to Jesus. The Holy Spirit actually brings you to Christ for justification from sin.

"But God [the Father] commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath [the wrath of the Father] through him [Jesus]" (Romans 5:8-9).

Warfield says:

The mystery of grace resides just in the impulse of a sin-hating God to show mercy to such guilty wretches; and the supreme revelation of God [shows us] the mode of His procedure in redemption, by which alone He might remain just while justifying the ungodly… the infinite judge Himself becoming the sinner's substitute…God receiving in His own person the penalty of sin (B. B. Warfield, ibid., p. 112).

Without a little knowledge of the Trinity, you could never understand that statement, and therefore you could never really understand John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

May God the Holy Spirit open your eyes to see that you will be judged and punished by God the Father, if you do not become justified by believing in God the Son. These are not three Gods. They are three Persons, of the same essence, in the Holy Trinity. And this is really what the message of Christmas is all about:

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one"

(I John 5:7).

Please stand with me and turn in your song sheet to "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"! Let us sing it together as our Christmas anthem!

Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th'angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of the virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"

("Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon: John 3:16.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Holy, Holy, Holy" by Reginald Heber (1783-1826)/
"The Doxology" by Thomas Ken (1637-1711).

THE OUTLINE OF

THE HOLY TRINITY -
A CHRISTMAS SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (I John 5:7).

I.   The objections to the term "Holy Trinity" answered, Revelation 4:8.

II.  The need for preaching on the Holy Trinity outlined,
Matthew 6:9; Luke 24:39; Hebrews 10:12; John 15:16;
John 16:23; I Timothy 2:5; I Corinthians 15:51;
Psalm 7:11; John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9.