Presbyterianism believes in the doctrine of the Trinity. By the Trinity we mean that while God is essentially ONE, He exists in THREE distinct persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is, then. a unity and diversity in the Godhead. God is one God (Deut 6:4). He is not three beings or individual gods with the same nature; He is one being with one essence. Yet, God is three as He is truly one. In saying this, God is one in three and three in one. Hence it can never be said that God exists before His Trinity. God has eternally existed as a triune God.
To understand the unity and diversity of God is a great mystery for finite man. We simply cannot grasp the eternal (Isa. 55:8,9). Any illustration, such as the three states of water, to explain the Trinity falls terribly short. There is no human illustration to explain God!
What Scriptural evidence do we have for the Trinity? In the Old Testament God speaks of Himself in the plural (Gen. 1:26; 11:7). In the New Testament the Three persons are mentioned together (Matt. 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; Luke 3-11,22; 1 Cor. 12: 4-6; 1 Peter 1:2).
How are the three persons of the Godhead revealed in Scripture? Even though the persons are not subordinate to the other in their essential being it can be said that the Father is first, the Son second, and the Spirit third. The distinctions of these persons are not differences of essence or being, but they are distinctions within the being of God. The particular property of each is solely theirs, and it is never communicated to the other. Hence, it is wrong to say that the Father is the Son or the Spirit is the Father or the Spirit is the Son, etc.
With regards to the plan of redemption as seen in the covenant of grace, the three persons of the Godhead are singled out as having particular functions. For example, the Father is frequently used to designate the creator of all things (I Cor. 9:6; Heb. 12:9; James 1:17). The name, Father, is usually used with His relationship to the Son as the second person of the Trinity (John 1:14,18; 8:54; 14:12,13). The New Testament designates the triune God as the Father of all of His spiritual children (Matt 5:45, 6:6-15; Rom 8:16;1 John 3:1). Generally speaking, the works of the Triune God are attributed to the works of the Father. The Father is said to be the designer and controlling force in the work of redemption (John 6:37,38-, 17:4-7; Ps. 2:7-9; 40:6-9; Isa. 53:10; Eph. 1:3-6).
The name "Son" or "second person of the Trinity" is used because of His eternal relationship with the Father (John 1: 1-3,14,18). He bears the name, Son, in order to designate Him as the Messiah (Matt. 8:29; 27.-40; 26:63, John 1.49; 11:27). The works of the Son are those of mediation. He mediated the work of creation (John 1:3,10; Heb. 1:2,3; Col. 1:15-17), and He mediated the work of redemption (Heb. 9:15).
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is not merely an impersonal force, as some teach. He is a person (John 14:16,17,26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Rom- 8:26). He has all the characteristics of a person such as intelligence (John 14:26), affections (Eph. 4:30), will (I Cor. 2:1 1), etc. His special characteristic is that He proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26; 16:7-10; Rom 8:9; Gal. 4:6). By the term "proceed" the Scripture means that the Holy Spirit is never seen as operating independently of the Father or the Son. He is called the "Spirit of God" and the Spirit of Christ." But again, in saying this, it does not diminish the truth that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person of the Godhead. His task is to bring to fruition all things in both creation and redemption (Gen 1:3; Job 26:13; Luke 1:35; John 3:34; 1 Cor. 12:4-1 1; Eph. 2:22). He is commonly said to apply the work of redemption accomplished by the Son.
The deity of the Spirit is seen by the names assigned to Him (Acts 5:3,4; 1 Cor. 3:16; II Tim. 3:16), by the perfections ascribed to Him (Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 40:13, 15; 1 Cor. 2:10,11; 12:11; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 9:14), by divine works performed by Him (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Ps. 104:30; John 3:5; Titus 3:5; Rom 8:11), and by divine honor given Him (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 9:1; II Cor. 13:14).
Presbyterians believe that the universe was created by the Triune God (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Ps. 33:6; 104:30; Isa 40:12,13; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17) and out of nothing (Gen 1:1; Ps. 33:9; 148:5; Rom. 4:7; Heb. 11:3). God gave the universe a separate existence distinct from His being so that the universe in no way can be construed to be any part of God. The universe constantly is dependent upon Him being sustained daily by His power. Moreover, He is never withdrawn from the universe, but He is everpresent in His creation (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:24).
Presbyterians affirm the literalnesss of a six day creation. The theory of evolution is seen as wholly lacking in scientific evidence and definitely contrary to Scripture. The concept of "Theistic evolution" is absolutely unacceptable. It amounts to nothing more than a compromise with atheistic scientific beliefs. Theistic evolution says God used the process of evolution to create the universe. The "days" in creation are the millions of years needed for the process. Such a position is untenable in Scripture.
It is widely believed among Presbyterians that the six day creation is to be understood in a literal way (successive 24 hour periods). Support for this interpretation is: 1) the Hebrew word "yom" (day) normally denotes an ordinary 24 hour period and should be interpreted as such unless the context demands otherwise, 2) the repeated mention of morning and evening favor the 24 hour day, 3) It was an ordinary day God set aside and hallowed as a day of rest, 4) In Ex. 20:9-11 Israel is called to labor six days and rest on the seventh because God made heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh, 5) the last three days were ordinary days for they were determined by the earth's rotation to the sun. If the last three days were ordinary days why not the rest?
Presbyterians affirm the historic Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is truly God in the flesh. We believe that Scripture teaches that Christ possessed two distinct natures yet united in one person forever.
The divine nature of Jesus Christ is clearly taught in Scripture. In the Old Testament in the prophecy concerning the coming Messiah He is said to be divine (Isa. 9:61; Jer. 23:6; Dan. 7:13; Micah 5:2; Zech. 13:7; Mal. 3:1). The Gospel account of John provides ample proof of Jesus' deity (John 1:1-3,14,18,25-27; 11:41 44; 20:28). The other gospels testify to this fact also (Matt 5:17; 9:6; 11:1-6,27; 14:33; 16:16; 25:31ff; 28:18; Mark 8:38). And in the Pauline epistles and in Hebrews we see the following (Rom. 1:7; 9:5; 1 Cor. 3; 2:8; II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 2:20; 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1: 1-3,5,8; 4:14; 5:8).
Besides being My divine, Jesus Christ is fully a human being. He possesses a true human nature. Jesus called Himself a man as did others (John 8: 40; Acts 2:22; Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:21). We are told He was manifested in the flesh (I John 1: 14; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 John 4:2), He has the essential elements of a human nature - a material body and a rational soul (Matt 26:26,28,38; Luke 23-46; 24:39; John 11:33; Heb. 2:14). He was also subject to human development and to its frailties (Matt. 4:2; 8:24; 9:36; Mark 3:5; Luke 2:40,52;22:44; John 4:6, 11:35; 12:27; 19:28,30; Heb. 2:10,18; 5:7,8).
Though Jesus possessed a true human nature He was without sin (Luke 1:35; John 8:46; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 9:14, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). He not only did no sin but could not sin. The reason is because of the bond between His human and divine natures. His divine nature precluded Him from and possible sin.
It was necessary that Christ be both God and man in one person. Only as a real man could He be our substitute, suffering and dying for our sin (Heb. 2:17). Only a sinless man could atone for our sins (Heb. 7:26). And only as God could He give a sacrifice of infinite worth and bear God's wrath in order to deliver others from it (Ps. 49:7-10; 130:3).
There is but one person as the mediator and that person is the unchangeable Son of God. In the person of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity did not change into a human, nor did He adopt a human person. He merely assumed a human nature in addition to His deity (Phil 2:6-8). Jesus Christ could be properly referred to as the God-man, possessing all the essential qualities of both human and divine nature.
Scripture testifies to the unity of the Person of Christ. When Christ speaks it is always the same person who speaks not a divine or a human voice separate from one another (John 10:30; 17.5 as compared with Matt. 27:46 and John 19:28). Human characteristics are at times ascribed to the person with a divine title (Acts 20:28. 1 Cor. 2:8; Col. 1:13,14), and divine characteristics are at times ascribed to the person with a human title (John 3:13; 6:62; Rom. 9:5).
Presbyterians assert that Jesus performed the work of three biblical offices - that of prophet, priest, and king. How does He perform His office as prophet? He reveals to us by His word and Spirit what God's will is for our salvation. The spirit of Christ spoke through the prophets of old (I Peter 1: 11; 3:18-20). Christ, Himself, was the prophet promised by God (Deut.18:15-18). Jesus claims to bring a message from the Father (John 8:26-28; 12:49,50; 14:10,24). He foretells future events (Matt. 24:3-35; Luke 19:41-44). He speaks with great authority so that people recognize Him as a prophet (Matt. 21:11,46; Luke 7:16; 24:19; John 6:14).
How does Jesus perform Ms office as priest? Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice to meet the demands of divine justice. In so doing He reconciled us to God and He continually intercedes on our behalf. The Old Testament predicted and prefigured the coming Messiah as a priest (Ps. 110:4; Zech. 6:13; Isa. 53). In the book of Hebrews, He is repeatedly referred to as a priest (3:1; 4:14; 5:5; 6:29; 7:26; 8:1). Other books refer to His priestly work as well (Mark 10:45; John 1:29; Rom.3:24,25; I Cor. 5:7; 1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 2:24; 3: 1 8).
The Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to the one great sacrifice that Christ would make (Heb. 9:23,24; 10:1; 13:11,12). He is called the "lamb of God" (John 1:29) and "our Passover" (I Cor. 5:7). Not only did He become a sacrifice for our sins, but He continually intercedes or pleads our cause before God's throne (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2).
And finally, how does Jesus perform His office as King? As our king Christ subdues all His and our enemies. Christ's office as king is a spiritual one whereby it is established in our hearts and lives. It is increased primarily through the working of the church. His kingship is a present reality (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21; Col. 1:13).
Several key things ought to be noted in this regard. A general meaning of atonement is, "a satisfaction made for our offense." An atonement for sin is a necessity because God cannot tolerate sin in His presence (Hab. 1:13; Ex. 20:5; 23:7; Ps. 5:5,6; Nahum 1:2; Rom. 1:18,32). Moreover, man, being a covenant breaker, must pay the penalty for this violation (Gen. 3:3; Rom. 6:23).
The atonement of Christ accomplished several things: 1) it was a vicarious atonement meaning that Christ paid the penalty, Himself, for our sin that we were liable for. He is our substitute (Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 3: 18; Gal. 1:4), 2) it was a satisfaction for divine justice, 3) it consisted in Christ's keeping the law in every detail in behalf of sinners (Rom 8:4; 10:4), 4) it consisted in Him paying the penalty for sin and the dispensing of the debt against us (Isa.. 53:8; Rom. 4:25; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Col. 2: 13, 14).
Presbyterians believe that Jesus literally rose from the grave on the third day as He predicted (John 2:19,20). In His resurrection, human nature was restored to its original perfection and even raised to a higher status. He became the "first fruits of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20) and the "firstborn of the dead" (Col. 1:18). His resurrection is significant because 1) it declared that the Fathers demands for justice were met (Phil. 2:9), 2) it symbolized the justification, regeneration, and final resurrection of believers (Rom. 6:4,5,9; I Cor. 6:14; 15:20-22), 3) it was the cause for our justification, regeneration, and resurrection (Rom. 4:25; 5:10; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:10; 1 Peter 1:13).
After His resurrection Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 1:6-11; 2:32-36; Eph. 1-20; 4:8-10; 1 Tim. 3:16). The significance of the ascension is that as our great high priest He enters the inner sanctuary, as it were, to present to the Father His sacrifice. He begins His work as intercessor. He ascends to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3). Being at the Father's right hand (a symbol for a position of great power and glory) Christ governs and defends His church; He governs the universe; and He intercedes for His people.
Concerning His second advent Presbyterians believe Jesus is personally and visibly going to return to earth again (Acts 1:11) for the purpose of judging the living and the dead and for the perfecting of the salvation of His people (I Cor. 4:5; II Cor. 5:10; John 5:22,27; Rom. 2:26; II Tim. 4:1; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; II Thess. 1:7-10; 2:1-12; Titus 2:13,14; II Peter 3:10-13).
Presbyterians assert that the Triune God is in absolute control of His universe and that nothing happens outside of His permissive will. His providence can be seen in the following ways: 1 ) God governs and sustains the universe (Isa. 45:7; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), 2) God directs and control all historic events (Prov. 21:1; Ps. 115:3; 135:6, Isa. 55:11; Jer. 27:5; Dan. 2:21; 4:35; Rom 8:28; 13:1,4; Eph. 1:11), 3) God has determined the purpose for all things (Prov. 16.4; Isa. 46:10; Rev. 4:11, 4) God is intricately involved in the details of life (Isa. 46:10,11; Matt 6:26, 10:29,3, Job 1:21; 2:10), 5) God cannot be separated from man's moral choices (Prov.16: 1; Gen. 45:5, 8; 5:20, Deut. 2:30, Ezra 7:6).
If there is one doctrine that Presbyterians are noted for it would be this one. Most people do not understand what this doctrine really teaches. Simply defined, predestination is "the plan or purpose of God respecting His moral creatures."8 Predestination is rooted in Gods providential control over all things. He has not set the universe into motion and then withdrawn Himself awaiting to see what happens. God has a predetermined plan (Isa. 46:10; Ps. 33 11; Prov. 19:21; Eph. 3:11). God has even predetermined the very details of all that comes to pass (Eph. 1:11; Acts 17:26; Job 14:5; Ps. 139:16; Rom. 8:28). This predetermined plan incorporates the righteous acts of men (Eph. 1:12; 2:10; Phil 2:12,13; John 15:16). Finally, Gods predetermined plan involves man's very salvation. This point will be elaborated upon later. And one of the greatest mysteries is that God's predetermined plan incorporates the evil acts of men yet preserving God from any implication in their sinful acts (Gen. 50-90; Acts 4:27,28; John 17:12; Luke 22:22).