Josiah Audette

"Aware of the past, curious about the future, ready to argue the present." Tocqueville

Month: November, 2013

The Confession of the Trinity

The theological canon of the Godhead and the Trinity is among the incomprehensible doctrines of Scripture. It is also the doctrine which defines the essence of Christianity from heresies of other religion. In recent times it has been contested, construed, and corrupted by various theologies and philosophies. The doctrine of the Godhead is commonly perceives as irrational or irrelevant. Although the study of the doctrine of the Trinity is salient on three grounds. First, the study of the Trinity is significant because the nature of God and the doctrines of Scriptural pivot upon it. Second, the study of the Trinity is significant because of the antithetical challenges which anti-Christian philosophies and theologies wage. Thirdly, the study of the Trinity is significant because our worship of God and practice in life is effected on a fundamental level and to an interminable degree. B.B Warfield wrote in ecstasy, “The idea of the Trinity, illumines, enriches and elevates all our thoughts of God.” Bavinck wrote, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion.”

Q: How many Persons are there in the Godhead?

A: There are three Persons in the Godhead; The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

LAWFUL DEFINITIONS

Our first inquiry is with regards to the denotation of the word, Godhead. Upon observation we will find that this term and other appellations for this doctrine such as “Trinity”, “Hypostatic”, “Homoosian” or, “Autotheos” are extra-Biblical labels. Meaning, these are words we do not read literally in the Bible. Such use is not unlawful as John Owen defended, “In the declaration of the doctrine of the Trinity we may lawfully, nay, we must necessarily make use of other words, phrases, and expressions, than what are literally and syllabically contained in the Scripture, but teach no other things.” 

BASIC TENANTS OF THE GODHEAD

  1. The Godhead refers to the essence of the one true God in which the Trinity partakes.
  2. The Trinity refers to three distinct persons existing in the Godhead. 1. God the Father. 2. God the Son. 3. God the Holy Ghost
  3. Each Person is a distinction of the Godhead in their manner of subsistence, and their distinction is beyond human comprehension.
  4. While each Person subsist distinctly in the Godhead, they are of the same self-conscious, self-sufficient, uncreated, essence of the one true God.
  5. By subsistence in the Godhead we refer to the manner which the three Persons exist, relate, and operate together.
  6. The distinction of God the Father’s manner of subsistance is His eternal begetting of the Son.
  7. The distinction of God the Son’s manner of subsistance is His being eternally begotten of the Father.
  8. The distinction of God the Holy Ghost’s manner of subsistance is His eternal proceeding from the Father and the Son.
  9. There is no subordination in the Ontological existence of the Trinity. (The essential existence of the Trinity between the three Persons.)
  10. There is subordination in the Economic existence of the Trinity, (The manifestation of the Trinity in creation and redemption where each Person has voluntarily covenanted to different economic offices, modes of operation, and division of labour.)

GODHEAD

Speaking of the Godhead we are referring to the being and essence which the three Persons of the Trinity partake.  As was stated last, God is one, in respect to His being and essence. When I last spoke I was inquired as to the distinction between God’s being and God’s essence. God’s being refers to His existence as one, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Spirit. God’s essence refers to all His holy, divine excellencies which naturally and necessarily appertain to His Spirit. Such as His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. In other words God’s essence is the substance of His being. Thus, the Godhead refers to the being and essence of God which subsists in each Person of the Godhead fully and equally.

TRINITY

There are three Persons in the Godhead. And when speaking of all three Persons together, we call their relationship the Trinity. Trinity simply means, “Three in unity.” The three Persons of the Trinity by the consistent assertion of God’s self-revelation throughout the Old and New Testaments of Scripture are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. As John Owen insisted, “The explication of it [The Three Persons in the Godhead] is to be insisted on, and not taken into consideration until the others be admitted. Revelation then explanation. Let the direct, express revelations of the doctrine be confirmed, then the explication will follow of themselves…. The only way that we rationally can, and that which in duty we ought to proceed in an by, for the asserting and confirming of the doctrine of the Trinity under consideration, namely, that we produce divine revaluations or testimonies wherein faith may safely rest and acquiesce, that God is one, that this God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; so that the Father is God, so also is the Son, and Holy Ghost, likewise, and as such, are to be believed in, obeyed, worshipped, acknowledged, as the first cause and last end of all our Lord and reward.” There is one God the Father, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” John 8:6. There is one God the Son, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. There is one God the Holy Ghost.”But Peter said, Annanias why hath Satan filled thin e heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?… Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” Acts 5:3-4.

DISTINCTIONS OF THE PERSONS

Each Person of the trinity is a distinction of the Godhead with regards to their manner of subsistence, that is to say, the manner in which the Three Persons exist, relate, and operate together. The distinction of God the Father in His manner of subsistence is His eternal begetting of God the Son. “I will declare the decree: The LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten thee.” Psalm 2:7. The distinction of God the Son is  his manner of subsistence in His being eternally begotten of God the Father. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” John 1:13. The distinction of God the Holy Spirit in Hi manner of subsistence is His eternal proceeding from God the Father and God the Son. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” John 15:26.

ACT OF GENERATION

It is important to understand the reality of the Father eternally begetting the Son and the Son being eternally begotten of the Father. When a human father begets a child, the act of begetting is for a moment. Furthermore what the father begets does not receive continued subsistence by a continued act of generation from the father. The begetting is a point in time. Yet with God the Father, he generates the Son by an act of infinite begetting. Additionally, with us we beget another person, and that person is a separate being. Yet with God the Father, his infinite and eternal act of generation takes place within Himself, and the Person of the Son is one in essence with the Father. Now to clarify the action and consequences of begetting versus that of making or creating. C.S. Lewis is most helpful on this point. “We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what theymean. To beget is to become the father of; to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets a human baby, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind than from youself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set – or he may make something g more like himself than a wireless set; say, a statue. If he is a clever carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. it cannot breathe or think. It is not alive. Now this is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God, just as what man creates is not man.”

ACT OF PROCESSION

Far more difficult to comprehend is the distinction between the begetting of the Son and the proceeding of the Holy Ghost. The difference is threefold. 1. The Son emanates by from the Father alone, whereas the Spirit emanates from the Father and Son together. 2 The Son emanates by way of begetting and the Holy Ghost by way of spiration. The clearest illustration of the theological term “Spiration” is breathing. 3. Because the Son is the second Person of the Trinity and the Holy Ghost the third, begetting precedes spiration. Augustine wrote of this difficulty, “There is a difference between generation and procession, but I know not how to distinguish them because both are inexpressible.”

HOMOOSIAN & AUTOTHEOT

Since God is infinitely and immensely self-sufficient, not composed of any parts, incapable of division, each Person of the Trinity partakes fully of the same infinite and immense self-sufficiency. This oneness of substance between each of the Persons of the trinity has been termed as Homoosian which means, of the same substance. The homoosian nature of the Trinity means that the Person of the Son an the Holy Ghost are of the same substance as the Father. Now there is another facet of the Trinity which John Calvin astutely observed. Namely, the autotheotes of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Autotheotes means God-of-Himself. This means that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God in their own right, or God of themselves. Summarily, the Son and the Holy Ghost are of themselves with respect to their Divine Being, and are of the Father with respect to their Person. God the Father does not make God the Son to be God or God the Holy Ghost to be God. And yet without the Father there would be no person in the Godhead who is God the Son. The Son is what He is because of the Father, as is the Holy Spirit in both of whom the Father finds expression. Thus the three Persons of the Trinity are one God equal in power and glory.

ONTOLOGICAL EQUALITY

This simply means that each of the three Persons in the Trinity are essentially exist with equal power and glory. This is the doctrine which throbs the heart of Christendom. Warfield wrote, “The Protestant Reformers saw clear that  a relation within the Godhead between Persons to each of whom the entire Godhead belongs, cannot deprive any of these Persons of any essential quality of the Godhead common to them all. And they were determined to assert the full and complete Godhead of them all.” John Owen summed up their Ontological Equality with these words, “Our conclusion from the whole is, that there is nothing more fully expressed in the Scripture than this sacred truth, that there is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which are divine, distinct, intelligent, voluntary, omnipotent principles of operating and working. So as that we may duly believe Him, yield obedience unto Him, enjoy communion with Him, walk in His love and fear, and so come at length to be blessed evermore.”

ECONOMIC SUBORDINATION

Now while in their essential existence there is no subordination between the Persons of the Trinity there is however a difference in the Economics of the Trinity. Economics here simply referring to their modes of operation, or division of labour, or simply, their roles. Observe the work of redemption for instance. From the beginning of Scripture we observe the three Persons of the Trinity voluntarily entering into a covenant with each other, wherein they agree to subordinate each other to one another in accomplishing the work of redemption. We observe from the testimonies of Scripture that God the Father planned election. God the Son accomplished the work of redemption for the Father’s elect. And finally, we note the Holy Ghost applying the work of redemption to God’s elect. Summarily, God the Father planned salvation. God the Son accomplished salvation, and God the Holy Ghost applies salvation. As one theologian wrote in review of this trinitarian covenant, “It must therefore be plain that without the doctrine of the Trinity the whole plan of redemption falls to pieces. The doctrines of justification and adoption cease to mean anything… We love the doctrine of the Trinity, because it is the very bedrock upon which our salvation stands. The Triune God is the One who has saved us. The Triune God i the God whom we owe love and adore. It would be impossible to love Him without loving truth about Him.”

CLOSING

This Sunday we gather to remember the work of redemption. May we now see more fully that our redemption was the working of a Triune God. May our response be a fuller worship of the one true God.

 

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THE SINGULARITY OF GOD

Continuing in our teaching series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism we come upon a singularly simple and short inculcation of Christian doctrine. Despite its short measure in pronouncement, it’s profoundness in thesis is without measure. For many there is not a more repudiating doctrine to be averred than in all Christendom. The eminent theologian, John Owen wrote, “This is the whole faith’s concernment in this matter as it respects the direct revelation of God made by Himself in Scripture, and the first proper general end thereof. Let this be clearly confirmed by direct and positive divine testimonies containing the declaration and revelation of God concerning Himself, and faith is secured as to all its concern, for it has both its proper formal object and its sufficiently enabled to be directive of divine worship and obedience.” To put it in layman’s terms, this doctrine has the greatest effect on our worship and obedience. But in our egalitarian and pragmatic age such a declaration by the Catechism is interpreted as a doctrinaire parti pris. This one question is the point of departure and indeed many have departed. To the Legal Positivist, monotheism cannot be observed. To the pragmatist, monotheism has no practical outworking. To the existentialist, monotheism is yet another discussion of vanity. To libertarian theology, monotheism is elitist. To the new age cultist, monotheism is a heresy. To the feminist who sings “A Mighty Goddess is our Forte”, monotheism is masculine and stereotyping. Yet, this question is a necessary conclusion of the last question we studied and furthermore the premise for the next question. If one answers this question in any enigmatic terms or with any dubious, dithering dubiety we will have sure cause to be concerned. With a doctrine of this magnitude there is no place for cunctation, but only concurrence.

Q: Are their more God’s than one?

A: There is but one only, the living and true God.

ONE BEING. ONE ESSENCE.

Why only one? Foremost, because He asseverates so. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” John Owen in his treatise on the Trinity taught we are simply to accept this declaration. “It is not to be prostituted to the captious and sophisticated scanning of men of corrupt minds, but to be humbly adored, according to the revelation that He has made of Himself.” Secondly, He forbids otherwise. “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In this last passage God affirms His Aseity, that is, His self-existence. As was stated previously, numerically speaking, only one Divine Being can exist. Furthermore this one Being must have a oneness of inner unity in His essence. He cannot be any more divisible in essence than He can be multiplied in being. There are not parts of God (Essence) and there are not gods in part (Being). We cannot consider God to be composite even to the most exiguous point of essence or that of being. There is not room for more than one God or more than one essence in God because both the essence and the being of God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. There is mathematically not sufficient room for two coterminous beings of such nature. The riposte of the Greeks and Romans was to celebrate multiple gods. But as Francis Scheffer acutely observed, the problem with many gods is they are not big enough. Scheffer wrote that, “Plato understood that you have to have absolutes or nothing has meaning. But the difficulty facing Plato was the fact that his gods were not big enough to meet the need. So although he knew the need, the need fell to the ground because his gods were not big enough to be the point of reference or place of residence for his absolutes, for his ideals. In Greek literature the Fates sometimes seem to be behind and controlling the gods, and sometimes the gods seem to be controlling the Fates. Why the confusion? Because everything fails in this thinking at this point—because their limited gods are not big enough. That is why we need a personal-infinite God.” There is no room for multiple infinite Gods and finite gods are no gods at all.

ONE GOD. ONE LAW.

Because there is on infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God there can only be one infinite, eternal, and unchangeable law. Morecraft noted, “To abandon God’s law revealed in the Bible for another system of law and morality is to change gods.” Rushdoony wrote, “The strength of man is in the absoluteness of his God.” Law is the revelation of righteous character and consequentially the outward expression of inward holiness. Man has denied the righteous character and holiness of God by renouncing his law in various and sundry manners. The legal positivist claims the only absolute is there are no absolutes and consequentially in denying infinite, eternal, and unchangeable law, must in return deny it’s infinite, eternal, and unchangeable lawgiver. The pragmatist is one who holds himself as his own law-system because there is no universal order in his worldview. The pragmatist in his anarchy denies the King of kings in His monarchy. The libertarian in affirming his own economic order denies God’s created order when it is in contradiction to his. As Rushdoony wrote, “Men’s social applications and approximations of the righteousness of God may alter, vary, and waver, but the absolute law does not.” The new ageist confuse the separation between God and man and thus abjure God’s exclusive law order. The feminist in throning her own social order dethrones God of His in the process. Two infinite Gods is one to many and two law orders likewise. Many little gods are not enough and many law orders either. You cannot abandon God’s law without abandoning the God of that law first.

ONE GOD. ONE TRUTH.

Rather than their being a nimiety of hierologies there is one truth. Only God sets the terms of the law. Man does not set the terms of obedience, repentance, salvation, and peace with God. Only God sets the terms of reconciling us lawbreakers to Him, the lawgiver. Only God sets the terms of both the present remedial judgment and ultimate, final judgment of lawbreakers. Because there is one God there is one truth, the Gospel of God. Whosoever will may come, but he must come according to the one God’s terms in His one Gospel.

ONE GOD. ONE OBEDIENCE.

God does not require our ceremonial sacrifice but rather our obedience to His law. Those who worship God must worship him in Spirit and in truth. David Chilton in his excellent book, “Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulation”, stated “The mark of a Christian movement is its willingness to submit to the demands of Scripture.”  Some would attest my approbation of Biblical law and obedience would border on legalism. This misjudgment is due to an incorrect understanding of true legalism. If indeed legalism was an ardent and zealous application and maintenance of the law, then Jesus Christ would be the prevailing legalist of all times. Legalism, rather, is based on justification by works and obedience to man-made regulations. Righteousness is based on God’s one Law, or to state it in reverse, God’s Law is the basis of righteousness. Whereas, legalism is based on man’s myriads of laws. Righteousness is the response to grace. Legalism is a response of antinomian rebellion. You may reasonably question how I can logically annex legalism with antinomianism. As one understands, that Antinomianism seeks to dispose of God’s authority in human affairs. Furthermore, Antinominaism can only replace the void of God’s law with the legalism of man’s. Legalism and antinomianism are not diametrically apposed, but fundamentally agreed in the rebuffing of God’s law. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20. Without obedience to God’s law we only face obedience to man’s law. It takes Biblical wisdom to connect all of life to God’s laws. It takes a fool to disconnect all of life from God’s laws. Otto Scott wisely wrote, “The figure of the Fool is widely misunderstood. He is neither a jester nor a clown nor an idiot. He is, instead, the dark side of genius. For if a genius has the ability to see and make connections beyond the normal range of vision, the fool is one who can see – and disconnect.”