THE HOLY TRINITY AND UNITY
The Holy Trinity and Unity
Trinity is the term which expresses the unity of three Persons in the one God. The Christian doctrine is:
(1) That there is only one God, one divine nature and being.
(2) This one divine Being is Tri-personal, including the distinctions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
(3) These three are joint partakers of the same nature and majesty of God. This doctrine is preeminently one of revelation. And although it brings before us one of the great mysteries of revelation and transcends finite comprehension, it is essential to the understanding of the Scriptures, and, as we shall see, has its great value and uses.
The Term “Trinity”
- The Term “Trinity”: is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what it expresses as the doctrine that there is one only and true God. In the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons which are the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only by the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only by the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in the solution of Scripture; when it is crystallized from its solvent, it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view.
Or, to speak without metaphor, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture – not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions. When we assemble thedisjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.
Spirit in Johannine Discourses
- Spirit in Johannine Discourses: It is more important to point out that these phenomena of interrelationship are not confined to the Father and Son but are extended also to the Spirit. Thus, for example, in a context in which our Lord had emphasized in the strongest manner His own essential unity and continued interpenetration with the Father (“If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also”; “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”; “I am in the Father, and the Father in me;” “The Father abiding in me doeth his works,” John 14:7,9-10), we read as follows (John 14:16-26): “And I will make request of the Father, and He shall give you another (thus sharply distinguished from Our lord as a distinct Person) Advocate, that He may be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth …. He abides with you and shall be in you.
- I will not leave you orphans; I come unto you. …. In that day you shall know that I am in the Father. …. If a man loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him and we (that is, both Father and Son) will come unto him and make our abode with him… These things have I spoken unto you while abiding with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.”
It would be impossible to speak more distinctly of three who were yet one. The Father, Son and Spirit are constantly distinguished from one another – the Son makes a request of the Father, and the Father in response to this request gives an Advocate, “another” than the Son, who is sent in the Son’s name. And yet the oneness of these three is so kept in sight that the coming of this “another Advocate” is spoken of without embarrassment as the coming of the Son Himself (verses 18, 19, 20, 21), and indeed as the coming of the Father and the Son (verse 23).
There is a sense then in which, when Christ goes away, the Spirit comes in His stead; there is also a sense in which, when the Spirit comes, Christ comes in Him; and with Christ’s coming the Father comes too. There is a distinction between the Persons brought into view, and with it an identity among them, for both of which allowance must be made. The same phenomena meet us in other passages. Thus, we read again (15:26): “But when there is come the Advocate whom I will send unto you from (fellowship with) the Father, the Spirit of Truth, which goes forth from (fellowship with) the Father, He shall bear witness of Me.” In the compass of this single verse, it is intimated that the Spirit is personally distinct from the Son. Yet, like Him, the Spirit has His eternal home (in fellowship) with the Father, from whom He, like the Son, comes forth for His saving work. He is sent thereunto, however, not in this instance by the Father, but by the Son.
This last feature is even more strongly emphasized in yet another passage in which the work of the Spirit in relation to the Son is presented as closely parallel with the work of the Son in relation to the Father (16:5 ff). “But now I go unto Him that sent me…. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away. For, if I go not away the Advocate will not come unto you; but if I go I will send Him unto you. And He, after He is come, will convict the world… of righteousness because I go to the Father and ye behold me no more…. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Nonetheless when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He shall guide you into all the truth, for He shall not speak from Himself. Whatsoever He shall hear, He shall speak, and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I that He takes of mine, and shall declare it unto you.” Here the Spirit is sent by the Son, and comes in order to complete and apply the Son’s work, receiving His whole commission from the Son – not, however, in derogation of the Father, because when we speak of the things of the Son, that is to speak of the things of the Father.
- Paul’s Trinitarianism: When we turn from the discourses of Jesus to the writings of His followers with a view to observing how the assumption of the doctrine of the Trinity underlies their whole fabric we naturally go first of all to the letters of Paul. Their very presence is impressive and the certainty of their composition within a generation of the death of Jesus adds importance to them as historical witnesses. Certainly they leave nothing to be desired in the richness of their testimony to the Trinitarian conception of God, which underlies them. Throughout the whole series from 1 Thessalonians which comes from about 52 AD, to 2 Timothy which was written about 68 AD, the redemption, which it is their one business to proclaim and commend, and all the blessings which enter into it or accompany it are referred consistently to a threefold divine causation.
Everywhere throughout their pages, God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit appear as the joint objects of all religious adoration and the conjunct source of all divine operations. In the freedom of the allusions which are made to them, now and again one alone of the three is thrown up into prominent view, but more often two of them are conjoined in thanksgiving or prayer. Not infrequently all three are brought together as the apostle strives to give some adequate expression to his sense of indebtedness to the divine source of all good for blessings received, or to his longing on behalf of himself or of his readers for further communion with the God of grace. It is usual for him to begin his Epistles with a prayer for “grace and peace” for his readers; “from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” as the joint source of these divine blessings by way of eminence (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 2 Cori 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; 2 Thessalonions 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Philemon 3; compare 1 Thessalonians 1:1).
Conjunction of the Three in Paul
Conjunction of the Three in Paul: In numerous passages scattered through Paul’s Epistles, from the earliest of them (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) to the latest (Titus 3:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:3,13-14), all three Persons – God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit – are brought together, in the most incidental manner, as co-sources of all the salvation blessings which come to believers in Christ. A typical series of such passages may be found in Ephesians 2:18; 3:2-5,14,17; 4:4-6; 5:18-20. But the most interesting instances are offered to us perhaps by the Epistles to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Paul presents the abounding spiritual gifts with which the church was blessed in a threefold aspect and connects these aspects with the three Divine Persons.
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.”
The Question of Subordination
The Question of Subordination: The trinity was at work in the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of the Most High, as He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:30-35). At His baptism, Jesus the Son received approval from the Father in the presence of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22), fulfilling two Old Testament prophetic passages (Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 42:1). The trinity was also present in the temptation as Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness. The devil recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Luke 4:3) but tried to destroy the faithful relationship of the divine family.
14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
15 Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid.
16 What? Know you not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, says he, shall be one flesh.
17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:14-17)