THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY (3)
The Importance of Christian Creeds
In these studies we have examined some of the historic statements defining the doctrine of the Trinity. It is wrong to dismiss these definitions because they are the writings of men. The Christian Creeds are definitive statements on Biblical Truth composed by men of God, with the express approval of the Church. As the Church is custodian of the Truth, and because the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of God’s people, it is wrong to dismiss the Confessional Creeds. If they were drawn up by individuals, then they are weak, but when they come to us as they do, with the authority of the Church they become vital documents.
In the New Testament where the Apostles write of “the faith” it apparent that it is the Creed, or the Doctrine of the Church that they have in mind. Even in the New Testament times there was a body of beliefs that were necessary and fundamental for the Church to exist. This was the faith. While some departed from the faith (1st Timothy 4:1) Paul testified that he had kept the faith (2nd Timothy 4:7). Peter considered steadfastness in the faith as an important quality (1st Peter 5:9) and Jude exhorted the Church to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude v3). The Church needs therefore to be clear what this “Faith” is, which we are to contend for and believe.
The Nicene Creed, the first definitive statement outlining the Biblical position on The Trinity, was the response of the Church to Arianism (discussed in Part 1). After The Reformation the Protestant Churches laid great store in the importance of defining the Faith, the doctrine of the Church. In Presbyterian Churches the most important document is the Westminster Confession of Faith. In Chapter 2 Section 3 The Trinity is defined as follows:
“In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
The term theologians use to explain how the three can share the one substance and yet be three distinct persons is “subsistence”; one substance subsisting in three distinct persons.
Having examined Old Testament proofs for The Trinity, we shall now look at the New Testament passages which reveal the full orbed glory of this doctrine.
THE TRINTY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are revealed as three distinct persons who have equal power and status within the Godhead:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19)
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” (2nd Corinthians 13:14).
In the Old Testament Jehovah is consistently revealed as the Saviour and Redeemer:
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
“But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine…For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour” (Isaiah 43:1,3)
The New Testament reveals the Saviour and Redeemer to be the Son of God:
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:13-14)
This would indicate that Jesus Christ is equal with Jehovah fulfilling the tasks that were assigned to the one, whom the Jews understood as Jehovah. The unity between the Father and the Son in this respect are identified in crucial passages found in John’s Gospel:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
“I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)
“These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.” (John 12:41)
The New Testament also makes it apparent that the Father and the Son, while they are one in glory, are two distinct persons. The Father has sent His Son into the world:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” (Galatians 4:4)
On occasions the Father addressed His Son:
“And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
There were times the Son communicated with His Father:
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Matthew 11:25-26)
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” (John 11:41)
In relation to the Father and the Son, a picture comes into view of two people being equal, sharing a oneness, while they exercise themselves in different roles and are distinct persons.
What then can we say about the Holy Ghost and His relationship to the other members of the Godhead?
As with the Son of God the Holy Spirit bears a close affinity with Jehovah. In the Old Testament Jehovah is the one of who dwells in the midst of His people:
“Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.” (Psalm 74:2)
“And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.” (Zechariah 2:11)
The New Testament, however, identifies the one who dwells in the midst of God’s people as being the Holy Spirit:
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. ” (Romans 8:9)
By simple logic, therefore, we deduce that the Holy Spirit has a oneness with Jehovah, and as with the Son can appropriate that particular sacred title. It is also apparent, however, that the Holy Spirit is a person separate from the Father and the Son. The Father has sent the Holy Spirit forth into the world:
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
The Son also hath sent the Holy Spirit, after His ascension to the Heavenlies:
“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)
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7)
Paul, however, when he described the Father as sending the Holy Spirit was in perfect agreement with Christ because our Lord, also in The Upper Room expressed this aspect of truth:
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16)
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
Therefore we observe the Father and the Son acting with equal power and authority, sending forth the Holy Spirit into the world to indwell, infill and empower the Church. This is in perfect agreement with the definition composed by the Westminster Divines describing Him as “eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
When writing to the Romans Paul described the Holy Spirit as praying to God with and for the Lord’s people:
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)
Therefore the Holy Spirit in the New Testament emerges as a distinct person, with specific roles, who is also at one with the Father and the Son.
The Three Persons and the Plan of Salvation
The great scheme of redemption depends upon The Trinity acting in unison, each exercising their own roles in order that humanity might be redeemed. The opening section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians sets forth the three fold role of The Holy Trinity in the salvation of mankind, quite beautifully.
The Father chooses or predestines the people God:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” (Ephesians 1:3-4)
The Father, however, chooses the elect “in him” (Christ) because the means whereby those chosen are brought to
God, is through the work that Christ accomplishes. Therefore Paul descibes the work of the Son of God, our Redeemer:
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” (Ephesians 1:7).
Finally the Apostle brings us to the Holy Spirit and His personal work of bringing the elect to a place of assurance
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
The word “earnest” relates to the deposit. The Holy Spirit in regenerating and indwelling the child of God becomes the guarantee of eternal life, in the same way that a deposit secures an item.
The fact that the three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost act in individual ways to bring about the final redemption of the Church argues for a Trinity. It is a most humbling fact, to acknowledge, that God, in His three persons has accomplished the salvation, which is the ground of our eternal hope.
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