“Things Which Are Surely Believed Among Us”
The phrase, “Things which are most surely believed among us” is to be interpreted in no sectarian sense. “Food for the Flock” does not foster sectarianism. The phrase has been extracted from Luke 1:1, and, in using it as a caption for a series of articles touching our Faith, we wish to imply that those responsible for the production of the magazine unreservedly believe all that is contained in “the Scriptures of Truth,” and they write for that large body of Christians who share their like faith. All over the world, and at all times, God has those who like Paul say, “I believe God.”
Seeing that our beliefs are based on Holy Scripture, it follows that we should first consider the nature of those Scriptures, in order to satisfy ourselves that our faith is well-founded. Our third paper, therefore, will relate to …
The Doctrine of the Trinity
In our second paper we discussed the being of God and observed that there is only One True God. But we are now to consider the doctrine that God is a Unity and a Trinity — One yet Three Persons. This is a great mystery and defies all human explanation. It is a thing that we most surely believe.
Objection has been raised to the use of the word Trinity because it is not found in the Scripture, but that is no good ground for such an objection. Other words such an ‘Incarnation’ are not found there, but the facts for which they stand are clearly taught in Scripture, and therefore the words, which are comprehensive of so many details, are admissible and free from all valid objection. The word ‘Trinity’ is designed to teach the dual fact of the Unity of God yet the existence of Three Persons in that one Godhead.
Each and every Person is in every respect equal with the other: coequal, co-eternal and co-existent. Someone has written “God is infinite in His being and in all His perfections. But the infinite, by including all, excludes all others. If there were two infinite beings each would necessarily include the other and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical.” And again, “Each Person possesses the whole essence and is constituted a distinct Person by certain incommunicable properties not common to Him with the Others.”
Attempts have been made to illustrate this mystery and to assist us in its apprehension. Three golden rings each linked with the other have been used to imply the eternal (circle) Deity (gold) of each of the Three Persons, each and all inseparably linked with the other so that they are one. Or again, a cube is all height, all length and all breadth, and all three dimensions are in every respect equal yet there is but one cube. Or again, all time is first future, then present, then past, but it is all TIME. Or again, Patrick used the shamrock leaf to teach this doctrine to the Irish — but one leaf in three parts.
Indeed, man has but to consider his own constitution to see the truth displayed—one person, yet constituted of spirit, soul and body. So too, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit constitute the One God, and each and all possess in perfect fulness every attribute of Diety.
The Scriptures do not say in so many words that there are only Three Persons in the Godhead, but it is, like the fact of God, assumed and nowhere do we read of any other person. Sometimes the order of the names are Father, Son, Holy Spirit, but at other times this is varied. In 1 Peter 1:1 it is Father, Spirit, and Jesus. In Luke 15, where the Trinity is spoken of in parable form it is Christ (the Shepherd), the Light (the Spirit). and the Father. And the reader can trace out for himself all such variations of order. The reason for this is that none has supremacy over the other.
Yet we speak of the first, second and third Persons of the Trinity. These terms are not used in Scripture and are not to be commended. The manner in which these terms came into vogue was that the Father was first spoken of in Scripture: He sent the Son: and the Father and Son sent the Spirit, hence the terms relate to the ‘procession’ of the Persons in the Godhead. Provided that our minds are kept free from any idea of the inferiority of any of the divine Persons, the phrases are passable.
Of course, administratively the Son took the place of subjection when He became incarnate, and will retain for ever this subject place. This seems to be the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:28 where the words should read —not “the Son also” — but “then also.” When everything has been cleared from all trace of sin, then also, as ever since the time of Incarnation, the Son will remain subject to the Father. This ‘subordination’ of divine Persons within the Godhead is with the view of achieving the accomplishment of God’s eternal counsels, counsels wrought out through Christ and given effect to in individuals by the Spirit. But we must distinguish between subordination and inferiority: The latter does not exist in the Godhead, the former does. “My Father is greater than I” can only be understood in the sense of His voluntary subjection to the Father in order to do His will.
Some have suggested that herein lies the explanation of the words, touching the day and hour of the second advent, that it is unknown to all, the Son included, save the Father. But whatever the true explanation of this phrase may be, it is certain that each Person in the Godhead has His own peculiar territory of action. “Times and seasons” the Father hath put in His own authority (see Mark 13:32 and Acts 1:7) so that they are not in the Son’s domain. In that sense He does not know. Much as a partnership firm, made up of three partners, each of whom has full knowledge of all the firm’s affairs and equal shares in it, yet each partner has his own special sphere and neither impinges on the other’s functions, so it is in the Godhead. The Father elects: the Son redeems: the Spirit is the seal. It would be wrong to ascribe these actions to other Persons: and so with other functions.
It is in the New Testament that there is a full disclosure of the doctrine of the twin unity, though it clearly was existent in Old Testament times. God is there spoken of as separate from His Spirit: and the Lord Jesus is referred to as an historic Person in the various Theophanies wherein there were Appearances in human form, yet words are used to show that the Person concerned is Himself God.
Each Person is inseparable from the other and none acts independently of the other. As the sunbeam cannot be separated from the sun, no more can the Son of God be separated from the Father. “I and My Father are One.” “God has sent out the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Yet, despite this inseparability and equality, the Son can do nothing of Himself: He does not speak from Himself. Neither does the Spirit. There is no independency in the Godhead. So inseparable are they, that Scripture itself is attributed variously to ‘the LORD’ (Jehovah), or ‘the Lord’ (Adonai), or to the Holy Spirit. The word spoken is the word of all Three. This is so in all the doings of God. Indeed, right at the beginning of Scripture, we have the breach of grammar in that a plural noun has a singular verb: “In the beginning Elohim (p1) created (sing).”
The only One of the Three Persons of the Godhead who has been or yet will be seen is the Son. Just as all future and past time is unseen, and it is only the Present that is seen, so too the Father and the Spirit are eternally invisible. “No man hath seen God at any time: the Only Begotten who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
We are not to imagine that the relationship denoted by the words ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ are either unreal, or are non-eternal, not that they only commenced with the Incarnation and the Descent of the Spirit. Christ is the eternal Son of God, the timeless participle, “being in the bosom of the Father,” declaring this. If, indeed, there were an eternal Father, there must have been an eternal Son, for the word ‘Father,’ is meaningless in the absence of a Son. The Son was given by God: He did not become Son when given, but was Son prior to His being given. He is the “Only begotten” in the sense that He is unique: an object of love, precious. The writer knows of no such thing as an ‘eternal begetting,’ but regards Psalm 2:7 and its various uses in the New Testament as all referring to His being begotten in the womb of the Virgin.
The Spirit of God is distinctly called “the eternal Spirit,” a phrase which, it would seem, could not relate to the human spirit of our Lord Jesus when become man. That human spirit was part of the humanity which He took, and just as His body was prepared and had a beginning, so it would seem, too, is this true of His human spirit. But the Holy Spirit is seen active as far back as in Genesis 1:2, and continues so throughout the whole of Old Testament history. We shall consider other details when dealing with the “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” so do not pursue this matter further now.
The names used are to be interpreted consistent with the holy subject in hand, and not in accordance with everyday use. “Father” denotes the eternal source: “Son” denotes the equality of nature and relationship: “Spirit” denotes the invisible yet effectual energy of the Godhead. But neither is to be regarded as unreal and impersonal, however difficult it may be for us to understand personality as connected with “Spirit.” In common usage the word ‘son’ implies juniority and temporary inferiority, but these ideas are not to be imported into its use when applied to “the Son of God.” The Sonship of Jesus connotes equality of nature, and loving and mutual affection with the Father. The Spirit is called both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of His Son.” The separation of the human spirit of man from the body involves death, but of God it is said, “Who only hath immortality”: there can be no separation of the Spirit from God. Great is this mystery. Each is a distinct Person, but each is inseparable from the other. So at one and the same time Jesus is called “Immanuel,” that is God with us, and the Spirit of God abides on Him: three, yet One.
The new Testament abounds in such allusions, but we may merely cite Luke 4:18, where the Lord Jesus quotes Isaiah, 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me.” Note the Persons: The Spirit, the Lord God, and “Me.” And so we might go on. Think also of Matthew 28:20, “Baptising them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is not “names,” but “name.” Consider also this: that of the Church it is said that the “Spirit of God dwells” in it; that “Jesus Christ” is in it; and that “God is in” it.
But let this suffice. The doctrine is to be found everywhere in the New Testament in particular, and in the Old as well.