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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 2. Biblical Form of the Doctrine.

A. What that Form is.

The form in which this doctrine lies in the Bible, and in which it enters into the faith of the Church universal, includes substantially the following particulars.

1. There is one only living and true God, or divine Being. The religion of the Bible stands opposed not only to Atheism, but to all forms of polytheism. The Scriptures everywhere assert that Jehovah alone is God. (Deut. vi. 4.) “The Lord our God is one Lord.” “I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.” (Is. xliv. 6.) “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well.” (James ii. 19.) The Decalogue, which is the foundation of the moral and religious code of Christianity, as well as of Judaism, has as its first and greatest commandment, “Thou shalt have no other God before me.” No doctrine, therefore, can possibly be true which contradicts this primary truth of natural as well as of revealed religion.

2. In the Bible all divine titles and attributes are ascribed equally to the Father, Son, and Spirit. The same divine worship is rendered to them. The one is as much the object of adoration, love, confidence, and devotion as the other. It is not more evident that the Father is God, than that the Son is God; nor is the deity of the Father and Son more clearly revealed than that of the Spirit.

3. The terms Father, Son, and Spirit do not express different relations of God to his creatures. They are not analogous to the terms Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, which do express such relations. The Scriptural facts are, (a.) The Father says I; the Son says I; the Spirit says I. (b.) The Father says Thou to the Son, and the Son says Thou to the Father; and in like manner the Father and the Son use the pronouns He and Him in reference to the Spirit. (c.) The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit testifies of the Son. The Father, Son, and Spirit are severally subject and object. They act and are acted upon, or are the objects of action. Nothing is added to these facts when it is said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons; for a person is an intelligent subject who can say I, who can be addressed as Thou, and who can act and can be the object of action. The summation of the above facts is expressed in the proposition, The one divine. Being subsists in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. This proposition adds nothing to the facts themselves; for the facts are, (1.) That there is one divine Being. (2.) The Father, Son, and Spirit are divine. (3.) The Father, Son, and Spirit are, in the sense just stated, distinct persons. (4.) Attributes being inseparable from substance, the Scriptures, in saying that the Father, Son, and Spirit possess the same attributes, say they are the same in substance; and, if the same in substance, they are equal in power and glory.

4. Notwithstanding that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same in substance, and equal in power and glory, it is no less true according to the Scriptures, (a.) That the Father is first, the Son second, and the Spirit third. (b.) The Son is of the Father (ἐκ θεοῦ, the λόγος, εἰκὼν, ἀπαύγασμα, τοῦ θεοῦ); and the Spirit is of the Father and of the Son. (c.) The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit. (d.) The Father operates through the Son, and the Father and Son operate through the Spirit. The converse of these statements is never found. The Son is never said to send the Father, nor to operate through Him nor is the Spirit ever said to send the Father, or the Son, or to operate through them. The facts contained in this paragraph are summed up in the proposition: In the Holy Trinity there is a subordination of the Persons as to the mode of subsistence and operation. This proposition again adds nothing to the facts themselves.

5. According to the Scriptures, the Father created the world, the Son created the world, and the Spirit created the world. The Father preserves all things; the Son upholds all things; and the Spirit is the source of all life. These facts are expressed by saying that the persons of the Trinity concur in all acts ad extra. Nevertheless there are some acts which are predominantly referred to the Father, others to the Son, and others to the Spirit. The Father creates, elects, and calls; the Son redeems; and the Spirit sanctifies. And, on the other hand, there are certain acts, or conditions, predicated of one person of the Trinity, which are never predicated of either of the others. Thus, generation belongs exclusively to the Father, filiation to the Son, and procession to the Spirit. This is the form in which the doctrine of the Trinity lies in the Bible. The above statement involves no philosophical element. It is simply an arrangement of the clearly revealed facts bearing on this subject. This is the form in which the doctrine has always entered into the faith of the Church, as a part of its religious convictions and experience.

To say that this doctrine is incomprehensible, is to say nothing more than must be admitted of any other great truth, whether of revelation or of science. To say that it is impossible that the one divine substance can subsist in three distinct persons, is certainly unreasonable, when, according to that form of philosophy which has been the most widely diffused, and the most persistent, everything that exists is only one of the innumerable forms in which one and the same infinite substance subsists; and when, according to the Realists, who once controlled the thinking world, all men are the individualized forms of the numerically same substance called generic humanity.

B. Scriptural Proof of the Doctrine.

No such doctrine as that of the Trinity can be adequately proved by any citation of Scriptural passages. Its constituent elements are brought into view, some in one place, and some in another. The unity of the Divine Being; the true and equal divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit; their distinct personality; the relation in which they stand one to the other, and to the Church and the world, are not presented in a doctrinal formula in the Word of God, but the several constituent elements of the doctrine are asserted, or assumed, over and over, from the beginning to the end of the Bible. It is, therefore, by proving these elements separately, that the whole doctrine can be most satisfactorily established. All that is here necessary is, a reference to the general teachings of Scripture on the subject, and to some few passages in which everything essential to the doctrine is included.

The Progressive Character of Divine Revelation.

1. The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible. One of the strongest arguments for the divine origin of the Scriptures is the organic relation of its several parts. They comprise more than sixty books written by different men in different ages, and yet they form one whole; not by mere external historical relations, nor in virtue of the general identity of the subjects of which they treat. but by their internal organic development. All that is in a full-grown tree was potentially in the seed. All that we find unfolded in the fulness of the gospel lies in a rudimental form in the earliest books of the Bible. What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fulness. This is true of the doctrines of redemption; of the person and work of the Messiah, the promised seed of the woman; of the nature and office of the Holy Spirit; and of a future state beyond the grave. And this is specially true of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even in the book of Genesis there are intimations of the doctrine which receive their true interpretation in later revelations. That the names of God are in the plural form; that the personal pronouns are often in the first person plural (“Let us make man in our image”); that the form of benediction is threefold, and other facts of like nature, may be explained in different ways. But when it becomes plain, from the progress of the revelation, that there are three persons in the Godhead, then such forms of expression can hardly fail to be recognized as having their foundation in that great truth.

2. Much more important, however, is the fact, that not only in Genesis, but also in all the early books of Scripture, we find a distinction made between Jehovah and the angel of Jehovah, who himself is God, to whom all divine titles are given, and divine worship is rendered. As the revelation is unfolded, such distinction becomes more and more manifest. This messenger of God it called the word, the wisdom, the Son of God. His personality and divinity are clearly revealed. He is of old, even from everlasting, the Mighty God, the Adonai, the Lord of David, Jehovah our Righteousness, who was to be born of a virgin, and bear the sins of many.

3. In like manner, even in the first chapter of Genesis, the Spirit of God is represented as the source of all intelligence, order, and life in the created universe; and in the following books of the Old Testament He is represented as inspiring the prophets, giving wisdom, strength, and goodness to statesmen and warriors, and to the people of God. This Spirit is not an agency, but an agent, who teaches and selects; who can be sinned against and grieved; and who, in the New Testament, is unmistakably revealed as a distinct person. When John the Baptist appeared, we find him speaking of the Holy Spirit as of a person with whom his countrymen were familiar, as an object of divine worship and the giver of saving blessings. Our divine Lord also takes this truth for granted, and promised to send the Spirit, as a Paraclete, to take his place; to instruct, comfort, and strengthen them, whom they were to receive and obey. Thus, without any violent transition, the earliest revelations of this mystery were gradually unfolded, until the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, appears in the New Testament as the universally recognized God of all believers.

The Formula of Baptism.

4. In the formulas of Baptism and of the Apostolic Benediction, provision was made to keep this doctrine constantly before the minds of the people, as a cardinal article of the Christian faith. Every Christian is baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The personality, the divinity, and consequently the equality of these three subjects, are here taken for granted. The association of the Son and Spirit with the Father, the identity of relation, so far as dependence and obedience are concerned, which we sustain to the Father, Son, and Spirit respectively; the confession and profession involved in the ordinances; all forbid any other interpretation of this formula than that which it has always received in the Church. If the expression, “In the name of the Father,” implies the personality of the Father, the same implication is involved when it is used in reference to the Son and Spirit. If we acknowledge our subjection and allegiance to the one, we acknowledge the same subjection and allegiance to the other divine persons here named.

The Apostolic Benediction.

In the apostolic benediction a prayer is addressed to Christ for his grace, to the Father for his love, and to the Spirit for his fellowship. The personality and divinity of each are therefore solemnly recognized every time that this benediction is pronounced and received.

5. In the record of our Lord’s baptism, the Father addresses the Son, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove. In the discourse of Christ, recorded in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John’s Gospel, our Lord speaks to and of the Father, and promises to send the Spirit to teach, guide, and comfort his disciples. In that discourse the personality and divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit are recognized with equal clearness. In 1 Cor. xii. 4-6, the Apostle speaks of diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit; of diversity of administration, but the same Lord; and of diversities of operations, but the same God.

It is not to be forgotten, however, that the faith of the Church in the doctrine of the Trinity, does not rest exclusively or principally on such arguments as those mentioned above. The great foundation of that faith is what is taught everywhere in the Bible of the unity of the Divine Being; of the personality and divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit; and of their mutual relations.

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