“Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Mystery of the Trinity
This study takes us away from looking at the Trinity generally to specifically examining the three persons as individuals. While the three persons of the Godhead are equal and while they share the same undivided substance, they remain three individuals. This is beyond the most intelligent mind. When we break up a substance into constituent parts it is weakened and changed. Separate a jug of water into three glasses. The substance of one glass is the same as what is in the the other glasses, yet the water is different by virtue that there are three distinct groups formed out of one. There are three individual separate glasses and the volume in each glass is now less than what was in the jug. Not so with the three persons of the Trinity. The substance, glory, power, wisdom together with all the other attributes that make God who He is, are unaltered and unchanged in each person. The reason why so many heresies have arisen on this point, is that man has attempted to comprehend what is essentially incomprehensible.
GOD THE FATHER
While the three persons of the Trinity are equal there is a clear order which governs their relationship the one to the other. This order does not infer superiority or inferiority, but it rather enforces the individuality of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. When coming to examine the three persons of the Trinity separately The Father must always come first. He is the first and primary triune person. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines The Father as follows:
“The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding…”
(Chapter 2 Section 2)
While the Son is begotten of the Father, eternally, and while the Spirit proceeds from the Father, eternally, the Father is unique. His substance has given the Son and the Spirit their positions, yet they were always present being begotten and proceeding from the Father. Shedd in his “Dogmatic Theology” uses the word emanation to distinguish the relationship that the Father has within the Godhead from that which he has with the universe. While the universe was created the Son and the Spirit emanate from the Father:
“The universe is not an efflux or emanation of the Divine essence. But when the Father generates the Son, this is an eternal emanation and outfiow of the Divine essence. An emanation is of the same sub-stance with that from which the emanation issues; a creation is a new and different substance from that of the creator.”
(Shed Dogmatic Theology)
Shedd also is careful to stress that Reformed Theologians use the word communication not derivation to define the relationship between the Father and the Spirit and Son. As humans we derive our essence from God as our Creator but He communicates his spiritual substance to the Son and the Spirit, as His co-equals within The Trinity.
God as the Father of Creation
The Fatherhood of God is sometimes employed to define Him as the genius of all life and of the universe.
“Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
In this regard “The Father” is the three persons of the Trinity acting in unison, to create and sustain life.
God as the Father of Israel
The same is true of the references in the Old Testament to Jehovah being the Father of Israel, as His covenant kingdom:
“Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?” (Deuteronomy 32:6)
“Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.” (Isaiah 63:16)
God as the Father of the Son
When we think of God the Father, as the first person of the Godhead, we are primarily thinking of the one who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the unique God who is revealed in the New Testament, as the doctrine of the Trinity is unveiled.
“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 1:14)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:12-13)
Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology commented on this aspect of the divine revelation:
“This is the original Fatherhood of God, of which all earthly fatherhood is but a faint reflection.”
The Father always reveals himself through His Son, as the Word. He also accomplishes His purposes in the world through Christ. Ultimately through the instrumentality of the Son it is the Father who receives the glory.
“For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
(1st Corinthians 15:27-28)