Lord’s Day Eight

Question 24 & 25

In the Holy Trinity there is a subordination of the Persons as to the mode of subsistence and operation. Hodge, Systematic. The person are not subordinate the one to the other in their essential being. It may be said, however, that in order of existence the Father is first, the Son second, and the Holy Spirit third, and this order also reflects itself in the work of creation and redemption. Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine

Divisions of the creed: God the Father Creator, Christ the Redeemer, Holy Spirit Sanctifier

  1. The Father is not the only Person involved in creation – He exercised His creative power through the Son (John 1:1-3); by Him, through Him, for Him (Colossians 1:16-17). Likewise, the Spirit was involved in creation – hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2), when He sends forth His Spirit things are created (Psalm 104:30).

  2. The Son is not the only Person involved in redemption – the Son purchases redemption for those whom the Father has chosen and predestined (Ephesians 1:3-5), the very ones the Spirit has regenerated (John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5)

  3. The Holy Spirit is not the only Person involved in sanctification – He uses the means of the written Word given by the Father through the prophets (John 17:17), exemplified and taught by the Son and bringing that truth to our remembrance (John 14:26, 15:26) speaking only the truths that are given to Him by the Father and the Son (John 16:13-14)

Define yourself!! You talk of essence, person, hypostasis, trinity, substance, subsistence, words that I can’t find in my Bible. What’s the story?

When it is affirmed, therefore, that there is no “division of nature (the complex of emotional and intellectual attributes that determine a person’s characteristic actions and reactions), essence (something that exists, esp. a spiritual or immaterial entity), or being (the state or fact of existing),” all that is meant is simply that there is but one God; that such is the divine nature that it cannot be multiplied, or divided, or distributed, any more than God can be thus divided in his omnipresence with all things. The divine nature is so possessed, by each of the persons in the Trinity, that neither has his own separate divine nature, but each subsists (to have existence) in one divine nature, common to the three. Otherwise the three persons would be three Gods. So also, in that divine nature, its essential quality is not divided in its relation through the nature to the persons. Were this so, there would be three separate parts of the divine nature. But that this cannot be, is manifest from the identity in God of nature and essence. That it is not so, is declared by the Scriptures, when they teach that there is but one God. In God there is also but one divine being, because there is but one divine essence and nature. There is but one that can have actuality of existence. The being of person (any of the three hypostases or modes of being in the Trinity, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.), not being identical with that of nature, a fact which is true of all natures, created or uncreated, the unity of the nature, and of the essence does not forbid plurality of persons. The threeness of the persons, therefore, does not destroy the unity of the nature or essence, and consequently, not that of the being of God. (hypostasis: one of the three real and distinct substances in the one undivided substance or essence of God; substance: something that exists by itself and in which accidents or attributes inhere)

The Scriptures teach everywhere the unity of God explicitly and emphatically. There can be no doubt that they reveal a God that is exclusively one. But their other statements, which we have been examining, should assure us that they also teach that there are three divine persons. It is this peculiar twofold teaching, which is expressed by the word “trinity.” The revelation to us, is not that of tritheism or three Gods; nor of triplicity, which is threefoldness, and would involve composition, and be contrary to the simplicity of God; nor of mere manifestation of one person in three forms, which is opposed to the revealed individuality of the persons; but it is well expressed by the word trinity, which is declarative, not simply of threeness, but of three-oneness. That this word is not found in Scripture is no objection to it, when the doctrine, expressed by it, is so clearly set forth.”

James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (definitions added, Ed.)

The proposition, God is incomprehensible, is simple and intelligible, and our faith embraces it. God is the subject of this proposition; and, if a full understanding of the subject were necessary to faith, a belief of this proposition would be impossible. Though we do not comprehend God, we comprehend the meaning of the proposition; and this is what we believe. So the doctrine of the Trinity, as an object of our faith, may be expressed in propositions, each one of which is intelligible, notwithstanding the incomprehensibility of the subject.

The view which has been presented, is important, to strengthen our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity. So long as we imagine that a full comprehension of the subject is necessary to the exercise of faith, we must embrace the truth feebly. But let us examine the propositions, in which the doctrine may be expressed, and we shall find each one of them perfectly intelligible. The Father is God;–the Son is God;–the Holy Ghost is God;–there is but one God. All these propositions, we may understand, and receive with unwavering faith; while we are well assured that our understandings fall infinitely short of comprehending the great subject, and that, in harmonizing the last proposition with the preceding three, there is a difficulty which finite intelligence cannot explain.”

J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology

God is incomprehensible and at the same time knowable. Simply because we cannot fully comprehend and explain Trinitarian doctrine does not make it impossible.

We must accept, however, that despite all attempts at a philosophical interpretation, the doctrine of the Trinity is entirely a matter of revelation, and to our understanding largely a mystery, but, notwithstanding, a mystery that helps to explain many other mysteries. It is a biblical doctrine for which the Bible as a whole must be studied, and though we recognise the doctrine in the Old Testament, we do so only when we read the text under the illumination of the New Testament revelation.

The two considerations requiring careful definition are the Unity of God and the Diversity in that Unity.

The Unity of God

The difficulty confronting the Church has ever been to preserve both the Unity and the Diversity within the Trinitarian Doctrine, the Unity within the Diversity. It is well known that Polytheism attributed a plurality of powers to deity, but separated them and worshipped each of them in isolation. Thus it was that there were altars put up to healing, fertility, prowess in battle, and so on. This emphasises the difficulty of conceiving of diversity in unity.

There is unity of nature or essence

The word used is substance: ‘Three Persons in one substance’ – substance here being non-material and incapable of partition or distribution. The divine nature is possessed alike and equally in all three Persons. Thus we do not have three individuals living independently of one another, even when they possess the same nature. With us, to take an example, we have a case of identical twins sharing the same nature, but they are two individuals. But with regard to God this is not a case of merely possessing the same nature, but the one nature, the one divine essence. Whatever we can predicate of God’s nature exists equally in each Person.

There is unity of character

The nature contains all attributes of the character in such a way that they belong to the very essence of God’s nature, and God would not be God without them. Since each Person shares in the fullness of God and therefore of His attributes, then each attribute is a true and full manifestation of God. Thus there can be no division, let alone conflict, between the revealed attributes [So much has been written about the ‘attributes’ of God, and so much confusion has ensued, that one is inclined to agree with John Calvin that the divine attributes should have been left unclassified. While it is true that since God’s character is moral it must be distinguished by certain attributes which belong to moral character wherever it exists, it has to be borne in mind that God’s nature is infinite, and that, therefore, His character does not permit of definition in terms of certain attributes. God is infinitely more than the sum of all His attributes. and His whole nature is present in each of the qualities that may justly be attributed to Him. Perhaps it would be better to understand the attributes of God as the special manifestation of God in each situation He is dealing with. In the presence of wrong He manifests Himself as just; in the presence of wickedness righteous. It must be remembered that God in the entire plenitude of His infinite nature is present in each manifestation He gives, so that we cannot say that His greater than His justice, or His righteousness is greater than His mercy. Where God is, He is all there. His mind, His heart, His will.] of God, nor can any attribute be weaker or stronger than another. There is a full expression of God in each.

There is unity of will.

The unity of God means that there is in God one will and everything in the universe is derived from the personal will of God. It animates the universe, throbs at the heart of every atom, and every form of life. Thus there can be no dualism in the universe, for there is but one mind, one purpose, and one self-expression This will of God is the final ground of existence and of everything that happens: He either brings it to pass, or permits it to come to pass.

The Diversity in the Unity of God

It is quite consistent with the unity of God’s will that there should be diversity in the expression of that will.

There is Diversity of Persons

The word ‘person’, first used by Tertullian, is not altogether self-explanatory. In the case of mankind a person is an individual in his own right, distinguishable from every other individual. Person in our case is the individual substance of a rational nature, possessing self-existence as well as self-consciousness. But ‘person’ applied to the Trinity does not mean individual self-existence. The three Persons rather suggest a three-fold existence, a three-fold self-distinction within the divine Being, and these distinctions are personal, so that there is an ‘I-Thou-He’ relationship, constituting fellowship, a genuine communion, and authentic love. In our worship we are taught to address God in His personal distinctions as Father, Son and Spirit.

There is a Diversity of Properties

This means that the Persons are not only distinct, but that they differ from one another in regard to their particular properties and their eternal relations, the Father begetting the Son, the Son begotten, the Spirit proceeding from Father and Son.

It Means that there is Diversity of Operations.

It is said that the Father originates: He is the source of all there is.

The Son, coming forth from the Father, is the Word who communicates the divine thought. He is eternal rationality, ‘the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ (John 1:9).

The Spirit is the quickener and life-bringer, the executor of the divine will who puts it into operation. He is the Holy Spirit who conveys the radiance of God’s holiness to the moral universe.”

R. A. Finlayson, God In Three Persons

Sura 4:171ff; Sura 5:72ff Denial of Trinity, deity of Christ

Sura 6:101 For Christ to be Son, God must have had consort

Sura 4:47 The crime of shirk (by association) is unforgivable

Sura 9:5 Kill the idolaters

The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity by Benjamin B. Warfield

An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity by Jonathan Edwards

God In Three Persons by R. A. Finlayson



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