The Confession of the Trinity
by Josiah Audette
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.
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
- The Godhead refers to the essence of the one true God in which the Trinity partakes.
- The Trinity refers to three distinct persons existing in the Godhead. 1. God the Father. 2. God the Son. 3. God the Holy Ghost
- Each Person is a distinction of the Godhead in their manner of subsistence, and their distinction is beyond human comprehension.
- While each Person subsist distinctly in the Godhead, they are of the same self-conscious, self-sufficient, uncreated, essence of the one true God.
- By subsistence in the Godhead we refer to the manner which the three Persons exist, relate, and operate together.
- The distinction of God the Father’s manner of subsistance is His eternal begetting of the Son.
- The distinction of God the Son’s manner of subsistance is His being eternally begotten of the Father.
- The distinction of God the Holy Ghost’s manner of subsistance is His eternal proceeding from the Father and the Son.
- There is no subordination in the Ontological existence of the Trinity. (The essential existence of the Trinity between the three Persons.)
- 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.)
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.