Editor’s Note: William Burt Pope (1822–1903) was the greatest Methodist theologian of the 19th century. This excerpt from Pope’s Compendium of Christian Theology is lightly edited.
The perfect revelation of the Divine Name or Essence is that which is given by our Lord Himself in the Baptismal Formula of dedication to God and admission into His kingdom. This final testimony of the Revealer declares that the supreme Object of Christian Faith is one, yet existing in a threefold internal personality. As a testimony, it closes a long series of progressive developments of doctrine, all pointing to a Trinity of personal subsistences in the Godhead; and commences a revelation of God which connects Three Divine Persons with the creation of all things, the redemption of the world, and the administration of grace in the Church.
Hence, a doctrinal distinction may be suggested between the Absolute or Immanent Trinity and the Trinity Economical or Redemptional. The latter must be reserved for a future stage. It is with the former that we have now to do; and it will be sufficient to establish from Scripture the essential Unity, the essential Trinity, and the essential Triunity of the Divine Being. This will lead finally to a further illustration of the doctrine by a reference to the controversies through which it has passed, and the dogmatic definitions to which these have given rise.
The Divine Unity
It is impossible to define the Unity of God: the word unity in human language gives no adequate notion, barely serving to defend the doctrine from every opposite error. Hence it is our wisdom to study it in the light of its exhibition in Scripture: marking the uses to which the doctrine is applied, the Scriptural method of stating it, and the confirmations of the truths which may be everywhere found in the one and uniform economy of nature.
Doctrine of Scripture
Consulting God’s own revelation of His unity it is very instructive to observe the forms the doctrine assumes there.
1. It is set forth as the basis of all worship: of devotion and obedience and fear. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:4, 5). This demands a perfect consecration which by the very terms only One Object can claim. “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Thou shalt keep therefore His statutes” (Deut. 4:39, 40). Here supreme obedience is exacted to one sole Authority which can have no rival. “There is no God with Me: I kill, and I make alive: I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever” (Deut. 32:39, 40). There is only one Judge to be reverenced and feared for time and for eternity.
2. It is often urged as the protest of the Supreme against false views of His nature; especially in those parts of Scripture where Divine revelation comes into collision with heathenism. Against the polytheistic creed and idolatrous practice of the nations the one God appeals: “Is there a God beside Me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (Isa. 44:8). Everywhere, down to St. Paul’s testimony, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4), the One Being, Who asserts, but does not prove, His own existence, asserts without proving His absolute unity. Against Dualism, the belief, not known by name in Scripture, which has taken refuge in the notion of two co-eternal elements of being, passively co-existent or struggling for mastery, the Eternal more than once commands His prophets to deliver His own testimony. Having its origin in Persia, this notion passed through later Judaism into the heretical sects of Gnosticism, and spent itself out in Manichæism. The God of Israel condescends to utter His protest against this, perhaps the most natural and widespread of all errors: “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness.” Here the very terminology of earlier and later Dualism is used; but it is only to declare that no independent origin of evil must be conceived. It may be impossible for the human mind to understand how He in Whom “there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) could nevertheless create darkness. The only answer is, “There is none else” (Isa. 45:6, 7). But darkness and light are also to be understood by what follows, “I make peace, and create evil.” The One God is the Abolisher of sin by His peace, and its Punisher by His evil. Against Pantheism, which perverts the doctrine of the Divine unity by making God the sum of all personalities and forces, but not Himself a distinct personality, the Supreme testified: “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” (Psalm 94:9). This is an apostrophe to the ungodly in the form of an appeal to the One Judge; but it is the Lord’s own refutation of Pantheism in all its future or possible forms. Still more expressly, however, is the true unity of God opposed to this system of false unity in all those passages which speak of the One Creator of all things: “l am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself” (Isa. 44:24).
3. In real consistency with all this, though in seeming discord, is the undeniable fact that in many references to the Divine unity there is an undertone of mysterious allusion to a plurality of Persons within the Godhead. St. Paul, in the Epistle which declares the mystery of God “manifest in the flesh,” proclaims that “there is One God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” or “Jesus Christ, man” (1 Tim. 3:16; 2:5) And, in the final revelations of our Lord, He asserts His Divinity in the very words which bespeak in the Old Testament the unity of God: “I am the First and I am the Last: we may add here also, Beside Me, there is no God” (Rev. 1:17). This is more fully seen when we go back to the ancient words: “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and His Redeemer the Lord of Hosts; I am the First, and I am the Last; and beside Me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6). That the oneness or soleness of the Divine essence is consistent with an interior intercommunion of persons is a truth which faith must receive. Human reason is unable to grasp it. It is the mystery of God, parallel with the “mystery of Christ” (Col. 2:2). Christianity is not in conflict with Judaism in this essential principle of the earliest revelation. Even in this it is Monotheistic.
4. Lastly, it is asserted in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity, a combination of the utmost importance. When our Lord has unfolded in His paschal discourse the relations of the Three Persons, and immediately before He asks “for the glory which I had with Thee before the world was,” He declares “This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God” (John 17:3–5). He gives the abiding formula of the Faith in Three Persons as baptism into the One Name. (Matt. 28:19)
It might seem, after what has been said, superfluous to appeal for confirmation to arguments extra-Biblical: especially as it is almost impossible to abstract ourselves for a moment from the prepossessions which the Scripture has interwoven into all our habitual notions of the Divine Being.
1. The human mind is so constituted as to be unable to conceive of more than one Absolute Being. The same sure instinct of man, or constitution of his nature, which prepares him for the disclosure of God is unable to endure more gods than one: the foundation or source of all being cannot, without contradiction, be multiplied. Unity is not an attribute of Deity, not a quality of essence so much as a condition of relation: the Supreme is related to His interior Self, and to His creatures, but, as God, is unrelated. The primary law of thought that predicates the Infinite and the Absolute of the Divine Being demands His eternal unity as a necessary postulate.
2. The term is used only by analogy. Though there is one Divine nature, the unity of God is not a unity of kind, because there are not individuals of the same species; and, therefore, as for other reasons, the word is inapplicable to the Divinity. Of all other objects of thought we can imagine fellows or reproductions. But in God there is absolute soleness, soleitas; though what lies hidden in the mystery of this essential oneness we know but partially. It is wrong to dogmatise upon the nature of a unity to which we have no parallel, and which we cannot define by comparison or illustration.
3. The constitution of nature, both physical and moral, confirms this doctrine by innumerable evidences. Unity is stamped upon the entire creation: so clearly that the whole system of science is based upon this presupposition; its latest conclusions pointing to some one primitive and central force, which some in their blind enthusiasm almost deify as the unknown God. And, as it is in earthly things, so it is in things spiritual and heavenly. There is one conscience in man, suggesting one law and one Lawgiver. There is evil, as there is good; but they both pay homage to the supreme Will behind them, which is their equal standard. Hence, the erring philosophy of the world, in the better tendencies of its error, has seldom been Polytheistic or Dualistic: its universal tendency towards Pantheism declares its indestructible conviction of the Unity of God. This has been its snare, to carry the principle to the extreme of denying all personality or creaturely existence outside of the One and the All.
The Trinity of the Godhead
The Christian faith receives and adores the mystery that the One Divine Essence exists in a Trinity of coequal, personal Subsistences: related as the Father, the eternal Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
In the baptismal formula our Lord has presented to Faith the name and nature of God in its perfect revelation. The commission of the Apostles was to convert all nations from idolatry, and to bring them to the Gospel salvation: that salvation was to be obtained in the economy of redemption, through faith in the One Name “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19), to which all worship must henceforth be offered. Christian baptism is to be administered “into the Name,” εἰς τὸ ὄνομα, into the New Name: not names as of many, but Name as of One. Yet the repeated καὶ, and of, declares a spiritual distinction in the Godhead as the Object of faith, trust, hope and full devotion: for baptism meant all this and nothing less. Men were not to be called to believe in God and two subordinate gods: that would have been only the introduction of a new form of Polytheism. Yet not in God, and a Mediator, and an Influence: the names Son and Holy Ghost are not, the former especially, simply names of office. But this great text, though central and fundamental, does not stand alone. It must be viewed as the consummation of preliminary and imperfect disclosures; as involving and sealing the Scriptural doctrine, otherwise revealed, of the Deity of the Two Persons called the Son and the Holy Spirit; and as the standard for the interpretation of later Trinitarian passages in the New Testament: that is, it must be viewed first as looking backward to a long development, then in itself and its own meaning, and finally as looking forward to the later Apostolical Scriptures.
Development in Scripture
The doctrine of the Trinity, like every other, had, in the mystery of the Divine education of the Church, its slow development. Remembering the law, that the progress of Old-Testament doctrine must be traced in the light of the New Testament, we can discern throughout the ancient records a pre-intimation of the Three-One, “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). No word in the ancient records is to be studied as standing alone; but according to the analogy of faith, which is no other than the one truth that reigns in the organic whole of Scripture.
1. The first distant hint of plurality, “Let Us make man” (Gen. 1:26), is the plurality of Three: “God,” and “the Word” (John 1:3) by Whom “all things were made,” and “the Spirit of God” Who “moved on the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1, 2), brooding over the Chaos. The occasional triple manifestations to the Patriarchs, as when “the Lord appeared unto Abraham, and, lo, three men stood by him” (Gen. 18:1, 2), also yield their suggestions, if no more.
2. But there is more than mere suggestion in the Benediction and the Doxology of the ancient Temple: the former literal, the latter symbolical, both belonging to God alone by the very terms. Blessing may be bestowed by a creature as the agent or instrument of Him Who alone can bless; but whenever the word is thus used in Scripture there is plain indication that it is only ministerial. It is the highest prerogative of the Supreme to pronounce blessings upon His people. So also tributes of honour may be paid to exalted creatures; but God alone is the object of doxology. The former of these distinctions is illustrated by the Levitical office of benediction. The priests were commanded to put “the name of Jehovah upon the people and bless them” (Numb. 6:27), in the utterance of a three-one benediction which, as we shall see, the Apostolic form echoes in the New Temple and expounds (2 Cor. 13:14). So the response of the Doxology in the mystical temple, by the angelic choir if not by man, cries “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts!” (Isa. 6:3). Behind the veil the Divine glory disparts into three, while all the disparted rays blend again into one.
3. The prophecies concerning the Mediatorial Ministry assume a form explicable only by the New-Testament doctrine: “My mouth it hath commanded, and His Spirit it hath gathered them” (Isa. 34:16). He who proclaimed “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4) cries once more: “Hear ye this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning,”—though (Isa. 48:16) My full Name hath not been known—”from the time that it was, there am I: and now”—anticipating the fullness of time—”the Lord God and His Spirit hath sent Me.” Of Whom doth the Prophet, or rather the voice of God Himself, speak this? Prophecy could not retain its veiled and mystic character, and speak more plainly than in such terms as these. The same mysterious Trinity may be traced elsewhere in the prophets.
4. When the Old Testament blends with the New in the preliminaries of the Incarnation, both the songs that herald it and the Incarnation itself declare the Triune God: the Holy Ghost Who is the “Power of the Highest” (Luke 1:35) overshadows the mother of our Lord; and His Incarnation-name is “Emmanuel, God with us,” Who should be, and should be called “the Son of God.” (Matt. 1:23)
5. Until the Resurrection permitted the full unsealing of the revelation of our Lord’s relations to His Father, His teaching generally was intermediate between the two Testaments: a principle that is not enough remembered in Biblical theology. His exposition of every doctrine which was afterwards distinctive in the New Faith illustrates this. We must, however, limit our view to that of the Holy Trinity. This Jesus taught by degrees most fully and clearly: partly as manifested in His personal history, and partly by His express words. At the beginning of His ministry the Sacred Three are revealed around His own Person in connection with His Baptism; and in His farewell discourse on the eve of His passion He expanded the full significance of that revelation of which He had been the centre. The former introduces the Father, acknowledging the Son and sealing Him by the Spirit symbolically, preluding the baptism ordained for His people. The latter is the Saviour’s complete doctrine of the Trinity, showing that the future Presence of God in His Church, collectively and in its individual members, would be the inhabitation of the Father, His Son, and His personal Spirit. This was the final preparation for the baptismal formula.
The Baptismal Formula
This fundamental text, which knows of no variations of reading, unites two Persons with the Father in a manner of which there is no example elsewhere in Scripture. It is unique and alone: a dignity becoming the Revealer of the new Name, the revelation of the mystery itself, and the transcendent solemnity of its relation to the Christian economy. This, therefore, is the place for the consideration of what these names import in relation to the Holy Trinity. It must be shown briefly that these Three Persons, or rather the Second and Third, are in this Formula truly Divine; and the best method of accomplishing this will be once more to regard these words as dividing between a past imperfect revelation and the fuller revelation given in Christ concerning Himself and His Spirit in the unity of the Father.
The Second and Third Persons in the Old Testament
The Older Revelation contains references to the Son and the Spirit of God which, when the light of the New Testament is shed upon them, plainly declare the distinct Divine personality of both in the unity of the Godhead. We need not pause to ask why the name Father is not given to the Deity in the Old Testament. It is not unknown there. Almost the last appeal of Jehovah against His people—His “son” whom He “called out of Egypt”—was: “If I then be a Father, where is Mine honour?” (Hos. 11:1; Mal. 1:6). But it was reserved to be brought out in its depth and fullness by His Eternal Son.
1. The Second Person is almost as familiar a Presence in the Old Testament as in the New: that is, when it is searched in the light of His own testimony concerning its witness to Himself. “At sundry times and in divers manners” (Heb. 1:1) He appeared; but always in such a form as rejects every interpretation but that of His equality with Jehovah, as being God and not a creation of God. His manifestations were precisely consistent with His twofold relation, pretemporal and incarnate, to the Trinity. As the Eternal Image of His Father’s Person, He is Jehovah Himself, yet distinct from Jehovah: in sublime consistency with His true nature. But, as anticipating His mediatorial character, He is the Angel of Jehovah, or the Angel Of Elohim, (Gen. 22:16, 17) from the earliest dawn down to Malachi, where He is the Angel of the Covenant. “By Myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah … that in blessing I will bless thee.” Jehovah-jireh who gave to Abraham the great Benediction was “the Angel of the Lord” (Gen. 32:30). The Angel who wrestled with Jacob was to him God “face to face;” as He was also to Hosea: “He found him in Bethel, and there He spake with us; even Jehovah, God of Hosts; Jehovah is His memorial” (Hos. 12:4, 5). One other testimony must stand for a long series: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not: for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My Name Is In Him” (Ex. 23:20, 21) Who can fail to think of the Coming Redeemer, so like this Old-Testament Joshua, and as the New-Testament Jesus so unlike! Throughout the Gospels, from Gabriel’s testimony to the Angel greater than he downwards, there is no question that the Jehovah-Angel is Jehovah Himself, and that Jehovah Himself reappears in the name Lord, very often though not exclusively. Not Esaias alone, but all the Old-Testament writers, “saw His glory and spake of Him” (John 11:41). But the uncreated Minister of Jehovah’s will is not generally in the Old Testament foreannounced as the Son, any more than Jehovah is revealed as the Father. This, however, is not quite wanting. The link that connects the Angel of The Face in the ancient with the Son in the later Scripture is threefold. He is in Psalms and Prophecy termed the Son expressly; the Word (Ps. 2:7) or Oracle of God or hypostatised Wisdom; (Prov. 8:23) and He is called Adonai or Lord, (Ps. 110:5) the Mighty God. (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6) But these more occasional testimonies flow into a general representation of the future Messiah; and as such they must be reserved for the fuller exhibition of the Mediatorial Trinity, and the Person of Christ.
2. The presence of the Third Person equally pervades the Old Testament, as one with God and yet personally distinct in the mystery of the Divine essence. The “Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2) is active with the Word in creation: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth. The Spirit of God hath made me, and the Breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Psalm 33:6). He is no less active in providence: “My Spirit shall not always strive with” (Job 33:4) or “rule in man” (Gen. 6:3); in whose renewed heart he dwells: “take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:13). His energy was felt in the inspiration of the prophets. Joseph was, by Pharaoh’s testimony, “a man in whom the Spirit of God is” (Gen. 41:38). And “when the Spirit of God rested upon them they prophesied” (Numb. 11:25). Upon Samson, and many others, it is said “that the Spirit of the Lord came mightily” (Judg. 14:6). David bore witness: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me” (2 Sam. 23:2). He is omnipresent and omniscient: “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?” (Micah. 2:7). The presence of God is the presence of the Holy Ghost. And yet He is distinguished from the Lord Himself, as One whom He hath sent and will send to man: “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” (Psalm. 139:7). “The Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me” (Isaiah 48:16). As the Messiah is promised to the world, so also is the Spirit. “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28). And in the New Testament, the fulfilment of the Promise of the Father is an event equal in glory with the Incarnation. As the Angel of the past becomes now the Incarnate Son, so the Spirit of the past becomes the personal Holy Ghost. The hour of both persons is fully come.
The Son and the Spirit in the New Testament
In the New-Testament testimonies to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, these, the names of Divine and eternal Persons, are so related to each other and to the Father as to establish, by the fullest and most abundant evidence, the doctrine which has received the dogmatic definition of The Holy Trinity.
1. There is nothing in the Saviour’s revelation more clear, nothing more interwoven with all His teaching, than His annunciation of the new name of Father as related to Himself in a sense unshared: “unto My Father” (John 20:17), “and your Father.” This has its highest expression in the baptismal formula where He is eternally related to the Father as His Son. He is the Only-begotten, ὁ Μονογενὴς Υἱός. This is first declared by St. John, in express relation to His absolute existence in the Father: Ὁ ὤν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ Πατρὸς, “which is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:14, 18), and παρὰ Πατρὸς, of or “from the Father,” to be compared with πρὸς τὸν θεὸν, said of the Son as the Word or Logos. These three prepositions, πρὸς, παρὰ, εἰς, are one in their only true meaning: a trinity of particles carefully chosen to express an unfathomable mystery, which they cannot explain, though they may serve to protect it from perversion. Afterwards our Lord proves to us that this eternal name, though retained in His incarnation, was not derived from His incarnation: God “gave His Only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), which, in the only other instance of the use of the term, is strengthened by the express connection with it of ἀπέστειλε; God sent (1 John 4:9) His Only-begotten Son. The Jews understood Jesus to be “making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18) when He said that God was His proper and peculiar Father, πατέρα ἴδιον. The Holy Spirit gave this same word to St. Paul: “He spared not His own Son” (Rom. 8:32), τοῦ ἰδίου υἱοῦ. Of this Son, “the Son of His love,” it is said that He is “the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn before every creature” (Cor. 1:13–15, 16, 17), πρωτότοκος not πρωτοκτίστος, not first-created but first-begotten: “before all things, and by Him all things consist.” He is “the Brightness of His glory, and the Express Image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). Our Lord’s last prayer sums up the whole argument: “And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self”—παρὰ σεαυτῷ, in express contradistinction from the world or earth in which His mission was—”with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was,” παρὰ σοί. Here are all the elements of the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, which is sufficient to establish the relation of the Son to the Father as the Second Person in the Holy Trinity.
2. The Holy Ghost is a Divine Person, distinct from the Father and the Son. To establish this, we need only to examine our Lord’s words, and collate with them the ample and various testimonies of the entire New Testament.
(1.) The Son is the Revealer of the Third Person, as well as of the Father. His final Trinitarian Discourse—for such is the character of the Paschal Farewell—has left no question on this subject unsolved: before He was glorified by the Spirit, He glorified the Spirit Himself, by establishing the first principles of His personality, Divinity, and eternal relations in the Godhead. The pronoun He Ἐκεῖνος is applied to One who is “another Comforter.” The Personality (John 16:17; 14:16, 17) of the Holy Ghost governs the Lord’s entire strain, and must interpret those many passages in which by metonymy the influences of the Spirit’s operation are identified with Himself. It is impossible to read carefully in their context these sayings concerning the Coming Spirit without feeling that the idea of a personification is a most hopeless expedient. Whether Divine or not a Person was foreannounced, as certainly as it was a Person whom Moses predicted as the coming prophet. But the Deity of the Third Person is declared as that of an eternal procession from the Father. “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). Here the Temporal Mission is clearly distinguished from the Eternal Procession. Between the two futures, marked by Whom and He, the pronoun which enters as a parenthetical reference to the essential eternal relation, ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται: proceedeth not shall proceed, in an eternal present, (John 1:14) the παρὰ being precisely the same as the παρὰ πατρὸς of the Only-begotten, while the neuter ὃ is parallel with ὃ ἦν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, spoken of the Eternal Son, that “Which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1). These parallels must not be passed lightly over, but carefully pondered. The Saviour does not say that this procession is from the Son as well as from the Father. But, reading on, we mark these memorable words: “All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:15). The Spirit’s glorification of Christ extends to His Person as well as to His work, indeed, rather to His Person than His work; and it was from His sacred Person that the Lord “breathed on” the Apostles the Holy Ghost. Hence this “supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (John 20:22) is imparted in the symbol of a personal spiration or breathing; and the name Spirit (Phil 1:19) may be regarded as sanctioning the faith that the Third Person proceedeth from the Father and the Son,—to anticipate the language of the early Creeds and later Confessions of Christendom—though the Son in His humiliation mentions only the Father. But on this topic more hereafter.
(2.) Reserving for a future section the operations and influences of the Holy Ghost, we have only to indicate that the whole of the New Testament is true to the Revealer’s teaching on this subject. The Personality and Deity of the Spirit shine everywhere through the veil of the Mediatorial work, which to a certain extent hides the Trinitarian relations of the Second and the Third Persons alike. The humiliation of the Son Incarnate has its parallel, though after another manner, in the humiliation of the Holy Ghost. While we hear, “He hath shed forth this” (Acts 2:33), we read also that “the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2). The first hypocrites in the Acts are said to have lied “to the Holy Ghost” (Acts 5:3, 4), and therefore to have lied “not unto men but to God.” In the Epistles to the Corinthians, which dwell so much on the dispensation of the Spirit, St. Paul declares that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God” (1 Cor. 2:12): where ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ varies the phrase in a very significant manner, as it were expressly distinguishing between the evil spiritual influence breathed by the world and the Substantial Spirit coming out from the Deity. That same Spirit “searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10); thus being essentially personal and Divine. These testimonies are enough for our present purpose, which is to show the relation of the Third, as well as of the Second Person, to the One Name into which Christians are baptized.
The later testimonies to the Holy Trinity literally pervade the New Testament. They will require to be considered when we come to the Mediatorial Ministry, and the peculiar aspect in which it places our doctrine. Meanwhile, it is sufficient to indicate generally the bearing of these testimonies, illustrating them by leading examples. It must be premised, however, first, that here also there is a certain development in the revelation, and, secondly, that they are introduced not so much to explain the Trinity Economical as to point out the proof of an Absolute Trinity underlying this as its necessary foundation.
1. In the Acts the publication of the Gospel is connected with the Holy Trinity, though under an aspect suited to the times of preparation. For, there is still evidence after Pentecost of the same law of gradual development which reigned before. The doctrine in this historical book is not fully revealed to those who were not yet prepared to receive it: at least, not until they were fully prepared. (Acts 5) When we read St. Peter’s testimony before the Council, and St. Paul’s in his several missionary discourses, we must remember that the Three Persons whom they invariably introduce are the same of Whom the Lord had spoken before He departed, and of Whom these Preachers afterwards more clearly wrote in their Epistles. (Acts 13)
2. The Mediatorial Economy, that is, the entire system of man’s return to fellowship with God, is always described in harmony with this doctrine. “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18): this great word is the key to the general strain of the Epistles, and, if pursued into its consequences, is sufficient to establish the Divinity of each Person. It is utterly inconceivable that admission to the presence and knowledge and acceptance of God could be given by any creatures as such. But this will be made more emphatic when we consider that the mediatorial economy leads to union with the Deity, which, whether regarded as our being in God, or God being in us, is the highest blessedness of the creature. To be “filled unto all the fulness of God” is in the Ephesian prayer the result of being “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:16–19). Here to the believing eye at least, is the Indewelling Trinity. Nor can any candid mind resist this conclusion when other passages which do not unite the Three Persons are collated: those namely which speak of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27); of our bodies being “the temple of the Holy Ghost Which is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19); and many others which will be referred to more fully when the Economical Trinity is the subject. Suffice now to observe that it is the prerogative of God alone to dwell in His creatures; that to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit distinctively and equally this prerogative is assigned; and that to no other beings or persons is it ascribed throughout the Scriptures. No principle is more universal than this.
3. The impartation of the Divine influences on which personal salvation and the work of the Gospel depend is invariably connected with the Three Persons. Generally it is invoked from God in the unity of this Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). This clearly answers to the priestly benediction, with its general blessing, the grace of mercy and the effect of peace; though the order is changed under the dispensation of the Son and Spirit. But all benediction, like all power, is of God. More particularly we see the same relation to the Trinity in the dispensation of the special gifts: their diversities are of “the same Spirit” (Rom. 13:1); their administration is of “the same Lord” (1 Cor. 12:4–6); their operation of “the same God.” It must be remembered that the graces and gifts of the Gospel are besought in prayer; and are, especially throughout St. Paul’s prayers, so besought as to show that the appeal is to each Person in the Trinity in the unity of the Godhead. These examples introduce the Three Persons; but they may be confirmed by some others, though their number is not great, which seek grace from each Person respectively.
4. The Apocalypse in its symbolical imagery closes the New Testament with its peculiar but evident tribute to the Holy Trinity. The Incarnate Son, Whose grace is invoked, is “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 7:17), and the “Lamb in the midst of the throne” (Rev. 1:4): there is no honour paid the Eternal which He does not share. The “Seven Spirits before the throne,” in the midst of which is the Incarnate Lamb—like no other among the ministering sevens—are or is invoked also as the Giver of Grace. The unity of the Holy Trinity has no clearer expression in Scripture. This Sevenfold or all-holy Spirit is distinct from the Lamb, yet one with Him; and one also with God. And the perfect homage of this book, disguised as it is in symbols, returns in its form and language to the mystical worship of the ancient Temple. It is the adoration of the Triune God: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Which was, and is, and is to come;” and thus indicates the profound truth that the supreme praise of Paradise, though not forgetting the distinction of Persons, needs no mention of their Personal names. And here we have an illustration of the profound word of the Apostle, used in relation to the end of the Mediatorial ministry, but inexhaustible in its meaning, that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
The Divine Triunity
Neither the term Trinity, nor any that expresses the notion of Triunity, is contained in Scripture. But the mysterious truth that these words represent is stamped upon the entire revelation of God, which, implicitly in the Old Testament, and explicitly in the New, bears witness to a Divine Triad. The Lord our God is one Lord; yet there are Three that bear witness in heaven, and these Three are One: words which we can use for our purpose, though they may be excluded from the text of Holy Scripture. The term Triunity we might make the verbal symbol of our faith. It guards us—and in this case there is no more that words can do—against the perversions to which the true doctrine is liable. These perversions are manifold. The unity may be so emphasised as to reduce the Trinity to three manifestations of the One God, successive but in different modes. Or the Trinity may be so incautiously apprehended as to commit the thought to the notion of three independent Divine Beings. Or, the Godhead being wrongly regarded as the unknown essence behind the Persons, four Gods may be the consequence. Or a compromise may be effected by introducing the notion of One God, the Fountain of Deity, and two beings of the same nature derived from Him. The transition is then easy to the notion of two inferior beings issuing from the Divinity, with not only a derived and subordinate, but also a created, Deity. These various errors are known in theology by the names of Sabellianism, Tritheism, Tetratheism, Subordinationism, and Arianism respectively. They will be exhibited briefly in the following historical review; but it may be premised that the first and the last are the two salient forms of heresy or of heretical speculation on this subject; that is, concerning the Godhead regarded as a Trinity. It may be added, moreover, that they do not occur in modern systems always with these names: being often disguised, and that in the most subtle manner. The first especially enters into many modes of theological thought which know nothing of the name Sabellian. The second colours much theology which is not conscious of its own tendency. The third, Tetratheism, has hardly ever existed, save as the logical inference from other errors. Subordinationism may be made consistent with the truth.