Theology: The Doctrine of God
The Divine Persons
The Holy Trinity
Having considered the name, the essence, and the attributes of God, we will now turn to the mystery of all mysteries, the Holy Trinity. Throughout history all parties opposed to the truth have vehemently assaulted this article of faith. The ancient church has always confessed this article and defended it as a steadfast pillar of the truth against Sabellians, Arians, and Valentians. However much they may disagree with one another concerning other points of doctrine, they are united in their attack upon the Holy Trinity. Today we must defend this article against Socinians, Anabaptists, Socinian Arminians, and other proponents of error. Thanks be unto God who has always caused the church to be faithful to this truth. The church stands firm in this truth until this very day, and God will enable her to stand firm in it until the day of Christ, in spite of all who regret this.
Before we proceed with our consideration of this doctrine and before you meditate upon it, the following must be clearly perceived.
First, it must be understood that God is incomprehensible in His essence and existence. It should further be understood that we human beings, to whom God has been pleased to reveal Himself in a manner sufficient to lead us unto salvation, only know in part and are but able to grasp a fragment or the external fringes of the doctrine at hand. Believers must not, nor do they desire to, proceed with their minds beyond its defined limitations, that is, beyond that which the Lord has been pleased to shed light upon. Whatever cannot be fully understood and perceived, they believe. They worship the Invisible One who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto.
Secondly, the entire written Word of God, having been given to man, uses human language and words which relate to tangible objects. Such is the wondrous wisdom, goodness, and omnipotence of God, that man by means of earthly expressions understands spiritual matters. Thus, that which is stated ἀνθρωποπαθῶς (anthropopathós), that is, in a human manner, can be understood Θεοπρεπως (theoprepós), that is, in its divine dimension. Such is the case with the language and vocabulary which are used to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Therefore one must be cautious not to cleave to the tangible matters from which the words have been derived, nor to bring divine matters down to the human level. Rather, we must ascend above tangible matters and expressions in order that, in a spiritual manner pleasing to God, we may understand what God states concerning Himself. May you thus maintain the spiritual frame which we have described in the previous chapter. Reread it attentively and apply it in this chapter.
Thirdly, it should be understood that the Holy Trinity cannot be known from nature, but has only been revealed in Scripture. Therefore one should refer only to Scripture and in all simplicity believe its testimony. One must not exalt his wisdom above that which has been written; he must set all human reasoning aside and avoid all imaginary comparisons to tangible objects. Such comparisons, rather than shedding light upon the issue, result in more obscurity and tend to divert from, rather than promote, a proper understanding of this mystery. May the Lord sanctify and guide me in writing, and you in reading or hearing.
The Singular Essence of God’s Being
We maintain and state emphatically that there is but one, only God. “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deu. 6:4); “For though there be that are called gods … to us there is but one God” (1 Cor. 8:5–6); “But God is one” (Gal. 3:20); “For there is one God” (1 Tim. 2:5). There can of necessity only be one eternal, omnipotent, and all-sufficient Being. Even the most intelligent among the heathen have acknowledged this. The most barbaric heathen of our time, showing no external evidence of any religion, acknowledge but one God. The perception among the heathen that there are many gods seems to originate from the knowledge of the existence of angels, and perhaps also from an erroneous understanding concerning the Holy Trinity, and the plural name of God, Elohim.
Divine Personality Defined
This one and only God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The divine Being has a threefold manner of existence, which expressed in intelligible language—lest heretics find here a pretext—is denominated in Scripture by the use of the word “person.” In Hebrews 1:3 reference is made to “the express image of His person,” or as it is stated in Greek, τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ (Tés hypostaseós autou). Since the word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) refers to an intelligent, independent being, the reference is consequently to a person. We understand this to refer to a living, intelligent, incommunicable being who is fully independent, sharing no part with any other being. Such is true of angels and men who consequently are referred to as persons.
By application of this concept the divine entities are called persons, so that, in perceiving the divine dimension of the anthropomorphism, we should be able to comprehend something about that which is incomprehensible. We can consider one of the divine Persons in an abstract sense, that is, outside of the context of the divine Being, as is expressed for instance in Hebrews 1:3, where it is stated that Christ is the express image of His Father’s Person. We can also consider the Person in a concrete sense, that is, as viewed in union with the divine Being, such as is expressed in Philippians 2:6, where it is said “Who being in the form of God.” According to His divine nature Christ is said to be ἐν μορΦῇ Θεοῦ (en morphé Theou), in the form, that is, having the being and nature of God so that He is equal to God. As the form of a servant includes personhood, essential being, and characteristics, the Word of God similarly includes personhood, essential being, and attributes as constituting the form of God. The manner in which attributes are ascribed to God has been discussed in the previous chapter.
The Divine Essence Consists of Three Persons
This one divine Being subsists in three Persons, not collaterally or side-by-side, but rather the one Person exists by virtue of the other Person either by way of generation or procession. The fact that there are three Persons in the one divine Being is so clearly revealed in the Word of God that it cannot be contradicted. It is evident in both the Old and New Testaments.
First, it is revealed in the name אלהים (Elohim).
(1) Elohim is a plural form which does not refer to one or two persons, but always expresses a plurality which exceeds two.
Since Scripture expressly refers to three, we ought to be convinced of its teaching that the one God subsists in three Persons. Elohim is rarely used in the singular, never in a dual sense, but generally in the plural. Since we know that there is but one God, who in reference to His Being cannot be given a name with a plural dimension, the name Elohim clearly indicates that there is a trinity of Persons.
(2) It should additionally be noted that the plural form of Elohim is also used in conjunction with a plural verbum (verb), adjectivum (adjective), or substantivum in appellatione (pronoun), and that a plural number is always affixed to it (an affixum pluralis numeri).
Such is true in the following texts. “And Elohim (God) said, נעשה (Na’aseh) let us make man” (Gen. 1:26); “When Elohim (God) התעו (hith’u), caused me to wander” (Gen. 20:13). “Elohim קדשים (Kedoshim), He is an holy God” (Josh. 24:19); “Remember בו֕דאיךָ (Boreecha) Thy Creators” (Eccl. 12:1); “בצליךְ צּשיך (Bo’alaich ’osaich), Thy Makers are Thy husbands” (Isa. 54:5); “I am Jehovah אלהיך (Eloheka), Thy God” (Exo. 20:2).1
It should be noted that the names Jehovah and Elohim often coalesce into the one name Jehovah, and that quite frequently these two names are used in conjunction with each other, indicating the unity of Being as well as the subsistence in three Persons. Whenever the plural name of God, Elohim, is used in a singular sense, the Persons are considered as one Being. Only once, in Psalm 45:7, is the name Elohim used in reference to a Person, when it is stated אלוֹהים אלוהיך (Elohim Eloheka), that is, “Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee.” This indicates περιεμχόρεσιν (periemchoresin), that is, the internal coexistence, and that the divine Persons, are inseparable from the divine Being and from each other.
Secondly, the Trinity of Persons is also evident in texts,
(1) in which the Lord refers to Himself as being more than one or two.
“Let us make man” (Gen. 1:26); “the man is become as one of us” (Gen. 3:22); “let us go down, and there confound their language” (Gen. 11:7). The reference here is not to angels, as they are not creators, nor has man having been made in the image of angels. Angels cannot be considered as being equal with God. The fact that the kings of the earth refer to themselves as “we” and “us” merely indicates their limitation, since they do not govern independently but in consultation with their senate and people (senatus populusque). God, however, is sovereign, and thus has no need to express Himself in such a fashion. His use of the plural relative to Himself reveals the Trinity of Persons, for which reason He is referred to in the original Hebrew as Creators in Ecclesiastes 12:1.
(2) It is also evident in texts wherein the Lord speaks about Himself as if He were referring to another person.
“Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven” (Gen. 19:24). One of the three angels which spoke with Abraham was Jehovah, the Son of God. He who appeared on earth caused this rain to come down from the Lord in heaven. Both He who summoned this rain, as well as the One who caused it to rain, are referred to as Jehovah. As God is one in essence, the reference here cannot be to two different Beings, but rather to the Son and the Father, being the second and the first Persons of the Godhead. For it is the Father who works through the Son, and the Son works on behalf of His Father (John 5:19).
Thirdly, to further facilitate your inner conviction, consider with a believing heart those texts which expressly state that God is trinitarian, not in His essence but in Persons.
In the blessing which the Lord enjoins to be pronounced upon His people the name Jehovah is repeated three times. “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: the LORD make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num. 6:24–26). In each repetition the name Jehovah is conjoined to an activity which in the administration of the covenant of grace is specifically ascribed to either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost. Safekeeping is ascribed to the Father, the manifestation of grace to the Son, and the bestowal of peace to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul expressing this in his benediction mentions the three Persons in 2 Corinthians 13:14, clearly proving that the repetition of the name Jehovah must be viewed as being indicative of the three Persons.
This threefold repetition is also found in Isaiah 6:3, where it is stated, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD.” In the New Testament this text is used to refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (cf. John 12:41; Acts 28:25). Furthermore, consider the following texts: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me” (Isa. 61:1); “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD … the angel of His presence (from Malachi 3:1 we know that this refers to the Son) saved them” (Isa. 63:7, 9); “But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10); “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Psa. 33:6).
There is also clear evidence in the New Testament. “And, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:16–17). “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 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” (2 Cor. 13:14); “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7).
We have thus observed that there are three Persons in the divine Being. This will become even more evident as we come to demonstrate that every Person is truly God, the Son being generated by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. We shall first consider the divinity of the Son and His eternal and incomprehensible generation, and then the divinity of the Holy Spirit and His procession.
The Divinity of Each Person of the Trinity
That the Father is truly God is not disputed, which will become sufficiently evident as we progress. The indisputable proof that the Son as the second Person of the Trinity is also truly God, is to be found in His divine names, attributes, works, and the honor He receives.
First, let us consider His divine Names.
He is called Jehovah, which is a name attributed to God alone, as has been previously demonstrated (cf. Jer. 23:6; Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:20).
Secondly, let us consider His divine attributes.
Whoever is eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient, is the only true God. All of these are attributed to the second Person, the Son (cf. Rev. 1:8; Mic. 5:2; Rev. 2:13).
Thirdly, let us consider His divine works.
He who has created the world, maintains everything, and raises the dead, is truly God. All these works are attributed to the Son (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16–17; John 5:20–21).
Fourthly, let us consider His divine honor.
He, who as the Father is to be honored, is to have baptism performed in His Name, is to be worshipped by men, and is to be believed in by them, is truly God. This honor is attributed to the Son (cf. John 5:23; Mat. 28:19; Phil. 2:10; Heb. 1:6; John 14:1). We shall deal with this comprehensively in chapter eighteen. That the Holy Spirit is truly God will be shown later.
These three Persons are neither different nor separate from the divine essence, nor from each other—so that the divine essence would be considered as one entity, a divine Person another; or that the Father would be one entity, the Son another, and the Holy Spirit yet another. This would constitute the existence of three or four gods. There is a distinction rather than an essential difference between the divine persons. Each Person is coequal and the divine Being in the full sense of the word, existing in such a manner. Therefore whenever Scripture refers to the Persons of the Trinity it speaks of three, and whenever it refers to the divine essence existing in three Persons, it states that these three are one (1 John 5:7).
The Greek church used three words by which it gave expression to the unity and harmony between the three Persons. In our language we are not capable of being as precise in expressing this; however, we will attempt to approximate this as much as possible.
The first word is ὁμοουσία (homoousia) or coessence, which indicates that the three Persons have the same divine essence in common, one Person not being of a different essence from another Person, but one and the same. The Son is of the same divinity as the Father, and the Holy Spirit is of the same divinity as the Father and the Son. Of old, heretics have toyed with this word, and instead used the word ὁμοιονσία (homoiousia) or co-similarity. They maintained that the Son and the Holy Ghost are of an essence which resembles the Father’s essence, which nevertheless is not the same essence. They suggested that there is but little difference between the two concepts as the two words differ only in one letter. We maintain, however, that the three Persons are of the same essence. “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). The Son was ἐν μορΦῇ Θεοῦ (en morphé Theou), that is, having the same form and nature as God (Phil. 2:6).
The second word is ἰσότης (isotés) or coequality. This expresses the fact that each Person is of the same divine essence in the full sense of the word. The divine essence is indivisible, that is, each Person possesses it in the full sense of the word—one Person not more than the other. The three Persons possess the divine essence equally; they are equal as far are possessing the complete, indivisible divine essence.
The third word is ἐμπεριχώρησις (emperichórésis), or coexistence. Thereby is indicated that since God is a simple Being, there being neither diversity nor composition—that is, neither Essence and Person nor Person and Person constitute a composite entity—the three Persons, though distinguished from each other, are not different. They coexist as one God, in simplicity of Being. The Father exists in the Son, the Son exists in the Father, and the Holy Spirit exists in the Father and in the Son. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1); “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father … the Father that dwelleth in Me … I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:9–11).
Having established the equality of the Persons, we must nevertheless distinguish between the divine essence and the individual Persons—lest we equate the divine essence with one of the Persons only, or view one Person as being another Person. The internal, natural distinction which exists within God, however, is incomprehensible. We only perceive the fringes of His Being—as much as it has pleased the Lord to reveal to us in His Word. That revelation is sufficient for us unto adoration, worship, sanctified use, and salvation. It is most certain that unconverted persons, as learned as they may be, know very little about this mystery. An uneducated but godly person, however, believes and perceives much more of this mystery—more than he can give verbal expression to—than an unconverted person or one who is opposed to the truth would be able to believe.
Thus we must distinguish here between the divine essence and divine Persons.
(1) There is one essence and three Persons.
(2) We must view the divine essence as being entirely nonrelational,
[That is, not existing in an essential relationship with any other Being], whereas the divine Persons exist in an interpersonal relationship to each other and interact together.
(3) The same essence in its entirety is present in all three Persons; however, each Person has His own independent personality.
As such we can say that the divine essence is communicable to the divine Persons in the manner just stated, whereas the personality of each divine Person is incommunicable. Thus, it is evident that we distinguish between the essence and the Persons, albeit not as if there were an actual and essential difference. Rather, we do so merely in reference to the manner of existence, which is a matter about which we can only stammer.
The distinction between the Persons can neither be defined as a single, intellectual concept, nor be made in reference to the works of God—as if God when He functions in one sense is called the Father; when He functions in a different sense is called the Son; and when He functions again in a different sense is called the Holy Spirit. This distinction also may not be perceived as if the three Persons function collaterally, that is, as if they function side by side without any interaction among each other, for then the Son could just as well be the Father, and the Father could just as well be the Holy Spirit. Their relationship and titles would then only have reference to the work of redemption. Rather, this distinction relates to the very nature of these Persons. It is God’s eternal nature to exist as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Father not being able to be the Son, and the Holy Spirit not being able to be the Father.
Scripture makes a distinction:
(1) in personal properties, as being foundational to the interpersonal relationship, and which are the basis for our distinction;
(2) in names, which are Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;
(3) in order, as there is a first, second, and third Person;
(4) in manner of existence, as the Father is of Himself, the Son is of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son;
(5) in the manner of operation, as the Father works of Himself, the Son is engaged on behalf of His Father, and the Holy Spirit on behalf of both.
The personal properties of each Person are as follows:
The Father generates; the Son is generated, and together with the Father sends forth the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whose manner of operation is described in Scripture as “breathing.” Nowhere in the Bible are the three Persons ever referred to in a manner of absolute detachment from each other. The references are always relational in nature, indicated by the names which they have: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if in a given text reference is made to one, two, or three Persons, and even if the interpersonal relationship is not expressed therein—something which to our knowledge occurs only two or three times—then this relationship is expressed in other texts.
Such is the case, for instance, when we compare Numbers 6:25–26 with 2 Corinthians 13:13, and Isaiah 6:3 with John 12:41 and Acts 28:25. To maintain that the three Names have no significance beyond the names themselves, or to maintain that these names merely refer to God’s administration of the covenant of grace, is nothing less than a denial of the Holy Trinity. To maintain, however, that there are three entities which coexist simultaneously without the interpersonal relationship is to maintain that there are three Gods. It is thus necessary to examine the basis for this interpersonal relationship which is to be found in the eternal generation of the Son, as well as the procession of the Spirit.
The Eternal Generation of the Son as the Second Person of the Trinity
It is a personal property of the first Person of the Godhead to generate the second Person, and of the second Person to be generated in a manner fully congruent with God’s perfect character. Scripture uses the word “begotten”2 as it best expresses the manner of divine operation. This eternal and incomprehensible generation should not be compared to human generation, but human generation should be viewed as a reflection of divine generation. We must therefore remove any notion of human generation from our minds as we ascend to divine generation, and understand it to refer to such a generation of the second Person by the first Person, by virtue of which the first Person is Father and the second Person is Son. This is a truth which at all times has been acknowledged, believed, and defended by the church.
We shall demonstrate and confirm this eternal generation by presenting evidence in a twofold manner. The first proof will be derived from the terminology itself; the second, from the foundational concept that undergirds this terminology.
The only wise God, who in His Word reveals both Himself and the way of salvation with the clearest, most emphatic, and most suitable words, not only declares that He exists in a Trinity of Persons, but also calls the first Person Father, and the second Person Son “… in the name of the Father, and of the Son” (Mat. 28:19); “the Father loveth the Son” (John 5:20); “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father” (2 John 3).
“Father” and “Son” are words which by definition are related to each other. In hearing these words we comprehend the nature of this relationship, apart from which these words are devoid of meaning. In encountering the word “Father” we immediately think of a person who has begotten another person in his likeness, and the word “Son” immediately causes us to think of someone who has been begotten with the likeness and character of someone else. We can at once comprehend the relationship which exists between these two persons. God has particularly and actually revealed Himself as the object of our faith by means of the names Father and Son. Whereas these words immediately convey a specific relationship, being so understood by everyone, it is therefore a certainty that the Father has generated the Son and that the Son has been generated by the Father, in consequence of which there is this relationship between them. Angels, Adam, and believers are also called the sons of God, expressing at once their relationship to Him, having been begotten in the image of God—the first two by creation and the latter by regeneration. Christ’s Sonship, however, is of a different nature and thus not comparable to this other sonship.
In reference to this the apostle states, “For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee?” (Heb. 1:5). Christ is the Son by generation, who, transcending all creatures, is called κατʼ ἐξοχήν (kat’ exochén), the Son of God par excellence (Heb. 1:1, 8). He is furthermore called God’s own Son which excludes the notion that His Sonship is merely figurative in nature. “He that spared not His own Son” (Rom. 8:32). “Own Son” is indicative of His Sonship by generation and thus of being equal with God, a truth which even the Jews understood. “But said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). More particularly, He is called the only-begotten Son. “The glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14); “He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
He is also called the first-begotten Son. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15). To remove all objection, it is stated that He is the first-begotten Son who was born from eternity. “I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water” (Prov. 8:24). Thus, we conclude that He is the Son of the Father, His Sonship being infinitely different from angels and believers. He is the proper, only-begotten, first-begotten, and eternally begotten Son of God par excellence, who in His nature stands in a relationship to the Father by virtue of eternal generation. The second Person, however, is such that there is between the first and second Persons of the Godhead a relationship which has the eternal, incomprehensible generation of the Son as its basis.
Although this proof is fully convincing, Socinians and others, guided by corrupt intellects, attempt to conjure something whereby they may cast a shadow upon this truth. We shall seek to briefly expose their delusive tactics, defending the truth against all efforts to dilute it.
Evasive Argument #1:
Relative to God, the words “Father” and “Son” are used figuratively. Consequently, one should neither focus on this figurative expression regarding God, nor conclude thereby the existence of a Trinity of Persons, existing in an interpersonal relationship to each other.
It is an untruth to suggest that these words “Father,” “Son,” etc., are used in a figurative sense in reference to God. These words are most emphatically used as properly referring to God Himself. In the most proper sense of the word the first Person is unequivocally the Father of the second Person, whereas the second Person most emphatically and in a most essential sense is the Son of the first Person. The eternal generation of the Son, being the basis for this relationship, is most emphatically and with utmost propriety consistent with the character of God. This expression, generation, is derived from human circumstances, as is done consistently in the entire Word of God, conveying spiritual matters by using vocabulary relating to aspects of human existence. This is done to facilitate the comprehension of insignificant human beings, knowing that whatever is stated from a human perspective must be understood from a divine perspective.
No one would be so foolish to maintain that everything recorded in the Bible ought to be understood figuratively. God is said to have bodily parts such as eyes, ears, mouth, hands, etc., as well as to be subject to human emotions and engage in human activity. We know, however, that the mention of limbs and emotions are expressive of such attributes and activities in God as are manifested and performed by them. Who would maintain that these matters concerning God are only figurative? It is true with respect to God that they do not function in a human sense, even though these matters are expressed in a human manner. Nevertheless, they are most emphatically, and with utmost propriety, ascribed to God. Such is also the case here. “Father,” “Son,” and “generation” are words derived from human circumstances. These words, however, in a manner consistent with the incomprehensible character of God, express most emphatically and with utmost propriety both this relationship and their basis for it in God.
Evasive Argument #2:
The second Person is called the Son by virtue of being coessential with the Father.
(1) This is stated nowhere in the Bible, and therefore we reject this as readily as it is stated.
(2) Even though a son may have the same nature as his father (for otherwise he would be no son), such similarity of natures is not the basis upon which someone is called a son, for then a father could be the son and the son could be the father. Then father and son would be brothers; people who are not even related to each other in the hundredth degree would be father and son, since they share the same human nature. This is convincing to all, and it is therefore evident that this argument has no plausibility. A father is someone who has begotten a person after his likeness; a son is someone who has been begotten after the likeness of his father—all of which is applicable to this mystery. Being of the same nature does not constitute a father-son relationship; rather this relationship is the result of generation and being generated.
Evasive Argument #3:
The second Person is called the Son because He agreed to assume the human nature in the Counsel of Peace, and for the accomplishing of the work of redemption was manifested in the flesh as the visible image of the invisible God.
(1) By referring to a first and a second Person, one of necessity is referring to a relationship, and therefore cannot maintain the coexistence of three nonrelational entities. In seeking to establish a reason for calling the second Person “Son,” and the first Person “Father,” we confess thereby that the words “Father” and “Son” are indicative of a relationship. Thus our proof derived from the relational terminology, “Father” and “Son,” cannot be contradicted. We must admit that the three Persons of the Trinity exist relationally, that is, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The only controversy remaining relates to the basis and reason for this relationship in consequence of which the first Person is called Father and the second Person Son. Scripture states that this is due to generation and birth. Not wishing to admit this, however, those advancing the argument relate this to the manifestation in the flesh, the assumption of the human nature—all of which is without foundation in the Word of God.
(2) Christ’s manifestation in the flesh cannot be the basis for His Sonship, for His incarnation renders the second Person neither divine nor the only-begotten, proper, and first-begotten Son of God—He was already Son, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He has been eternally begotten, thus prior to His manifestation in the flesh. Of necessity He had to be the Son of God; otherwise He could neither have assumed the human nature as the Son of God nor have manifested Himself in the flesh. “I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding” (Prov. 8:24). Since He was then already the begotten Son of God, His Sonship did not commence at the moment of His incarnation. Agur, the son of Jakeh, in amazement over the incomprehensibility of God’s existence, asks among other things, “What is His Name, and what is His Son’s Name, if thou canst tell?” (Prov. 30:4).
Again, since He was already the Son of God at that time, He did not become the Son by His incarnation. “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Since the Son was sent to assume the human nature, He of necessity had to be the Son of God prior to being sent and thus not as a result of the assumption of the human nature. When it is said of Christ that “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16), this expresses beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was God prior to that moment and that He did not become God by virtue of this manifestation. Since it is also stated that the Son has been manifested in the flesh, and that the Son has been sent and was made of a woman, this undoubtedly expresses that He was the Son of God prior to His incarnation—not as a result of His incarnation.
(3) The Holy Spirit has also manifested Himself in the world when He descended as a dove (Mat. 3:16) at the baptism of Christ, when He was poured out in an extraordinary manner on the day of Pentecost, and later by way of His extraordinary gifts. Even now He manifests Himself daily in His gracious operations. No one will maintain, however, that the Holy Spirit is the Son of God in consequence of this. Thus, Christ’s manifestation in the world is not the basis for His Sonship. If one insists that the Holy Spirit was not incarnated, I reply that manifestation must be relinquished as a basis for Sonship. The remaining implication would be that one of the three Persons, it being a matter of indifference to them as to whether They would be Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, would have become the Son of God by virtue of His assumption of the human nature. Who would not detest such a conclusion? Does the human nature determine sonship? Or could we say that Christ’s human nature is the image of the invisible God? Is not He the Son of God from eternity, being in the form of God? Is not He in His divine nature the express image of His Father’s Person?
Additional Argument #1:
To be born or to be revealed [or manifested] are equivalent in Scripture. Since someone becomes a son by birth, also being manifested renders someone to be a son. To be born and to be manifested are equivalent concepts, as may be seen in the following: “A brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17); “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1); “There thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee” (Song of Sol. 8:5).
“To be born” and “to be revealed” are not synonymous in meaning, so that they can be used interchangeably. One cannot state that whatever is manifested is born, nor can it be said that whatever is born is manifested, as this would have the most absurd consequences. If the same meaning is to be deduced from two words, then such words must be able to be used in the identical context, as well as interchangeably. Since this is not the case with these two words, the argument cannot support the proposed conclusion.
(2) If a word is used figuratively or comparatively in a given text, this does not mean that it should be understood figuratively in all other texts. In the subject under consideration, to be born is never viewed as being synonymous with manifestation, which consequently renders this argument futile.
(3) When manifestation is expressed by way of the verb “to be born,” then the person who initiates this manifestation is never referred to as father, and that which is manifested is never referred to as son. Consequently this argument, by which one seeks to prove from the verb “to manifest” that Christ is called the Son in consequence of His manifestation, is not plausible. One should therefore not simply say that “to be born” is equivalent in meaning to “manifestation,” for it must then be proven that someone is called a father due to initiating a manifestation, or that someone is called a son due to having been made manifest. Only if that were possible, would one be able to maintain that Christ is the Son due to being manifested in the flesh.
(4) Let us consider Proverbs 17:17. Adversity is not the father of him who behaves himself as a brother, and a faithful friend is not the son of adversity, which would have to be true in order for this argument to have a semblance of validity. The meaning of the text is that a faithful friend loves not only in prosperity, but especially in adversity. While behaving himself as a friend in days of prosperity, he will behave himself as a brother in days of adversity. Let us next consider the meaning of Proverbs 27:1 which relates to the fact that one cannot know what one will encounter during a given day. That which one encounters is not a son of the day, and the day is not the father of that which one encounters. The word day relates to the time rather than the cause.
Finally, let us consider Song of Solomon 8:5. This text is not applicable, as the verb “to bear” means to bring forth rather than to reveal. The church as a mother, in conjunction with the ministers, labors painstakingly in order that Christ may be formed in the hearts of the people, this being achieved by the preaching of the gospel. This is the reason why the church bears the name of mother (Gal. 4:26). Faithful ministers are called the fathers of those who have been converted as a result of their ministry (1 Cor. 4:15). Believers are called the children of the church and of the ministers under whose ministry they were converted (cf. Zec. 9:9; Luke 13:34; Phile. 10). Since by virtue of spiritual nurture and birth the church is called a mother and believers are called children of the church, this text opposes those who have presented it. For it states “to bear” to be equivalent to generation and bringing forth, this being the basis for the relationship between a mother and her children, as well as between a father and his sons.
Additional Argument #2:
The third Person in the Trinity does not owe His name to a personal procession from the Father and the Son, but due to His execution of the divine economy relative to the work of redemption, at which time He revealed and proved His divinity. Without assigning a name, the Holy Spirit, one would not be able to distinguish between first and second Person, as they are a Spirit and a Holy Spirit in reference to the divine Being (cf. John 4:24; Isa. 6:3, 8; John 12:39–41; Acts 28:25; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:45; Heb. 9:14). However, if the third Person is called Holy Spirit only because He has revealed Himself as God in the ministry of grace, then the second Person is called the Son due to His manifestation in the flesh.
We deny this conclusion, there being no logical connection. Truths are stated concerning each Person which cannot be said of the others. It can never be stated concerning the Father that He was born or that He was sent. Neither can it be said of the Holy Spirit that He was born or that He sent the Son.
(2) We also deny that either the first or second Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Nowhere, not even in the aforementioned texts is the Father or the Son called the Holy Spirit. It is true that God is a Spirit and that each of the Persons is holy, but the combination of “Holy” and “Spirit” is never used in reference to the other Persons.
(3) When God is called a Spirit and the third Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, then the word “Spirit” is not used in the same sense. The word “spirit” has numerous meanings. It is also used to refer to wind, the soul of man, and angels. When God is called a Spirit, it is to be understood negatively. It refers to such a Being who, in His simplicity, non-corporeality, and invisibility, is infinitely distinguished from all creatures. This cannot be expressed to us human beings any better than by means of the word “Spirit.” The third Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, however, due to His manner of procession from the Father and from the Son, which cannot be expressed any better than by means of a word which is derived from “to breathe.”3 He is therefore called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, and the breath of His mouth—and these have no reference to the work of redemption.
This is confirmed in the following texts. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2); “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4); “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Psa. 33:6). From these texts it is evident that the third Person is distinguished from the first and the second Person of the Trinity; that He is the Spirit; and that although the first and second Persons are holy, He is the Holy Spirit (cf. Mat. 28:19; 1 John 5:7). Whenever His activity manifests itself externally, He is operative in a manner congruent with His nature, which is by way of breathing (cf. John 3:8; John 20:22). This breathing therefore relates to His manner of operation rather than His relationship to the Father and the Son, or the basis for this relationship, which is His procession from both.
Evasive Argument #4:
The words “Son” and “Word,” as well as “Son” and “King of Israel,” are used interchangeably, and identify one and the same. It is known that “Word” and “King of Israel” have reference to the execution of His mediatorial office and not to Christ’s manner of existence. Consequently, the word “Son” also has reference to His mediatorial office and not the manner of His existence.
We deny emphatically that the words “Son” and “King of Israel,” as well as “Word” and “Son” are one and the same. Both have reference to the same Person, but this does not mean that they have the same meaning. Therefore, the one is not a necessary consequence of the other. Many things are attributed to Christ, in consequence of which He has numerous names, such as Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, Immanuel, the Lord our Righteousness. Who would maintain that all these names are synonymous in meaning because they refer to the identical Person? Even though the title “King of Israel” relates to His mediatorial office, it cannot be concluded that the title “Son” also relates to this, much less that He is denominated the Son by virtue of His mediatorial office. It is not the Greek word ῥῆμα (rhema) which is used to denominate Christ as the Word, but instead the word λόγος (logos), the meaning of which relates to reason, intellect, and wisdom. This is congruent with the fact that Christ is the eternal and supreme manifestation of Wisdom, who has eternally been begotten, whom the LORD has possessed in the beginning of His way, before His works of old (Prov. 8:22), etc. Even though Christ is called the Word relative to the revelation of the gospel, it is neither the reason that He is the Son nor why He is called the Son. Rather, it refers to His work as the Son, consistent with His manner of existence.
Evasive Argument #5:
The name “Son” encompasses the entire Person of the Mediator as consisting of both the divine and human natures. Since His mediatorial office is executed in reference to both natures, His Sonship therefore does not relate to His divine nature only. Also His title “the Son of Man” refers to the Person of the Mediator in its entirety, and not to His human nature only. Thus, His being called the Son is not due to His eternal generation. Rather, He is the essential Son of God, the firstborn and the only-begotten Son of God, the Branch, the Dayspring from on high, and the image of the Invisible, by virtue of His wondrous incarnation, words, miracles, ascension, as well as in reference to the outpouring of His Holy Spirit and His all-encompassing government.
This is the old teaching of the Socinians, and it is peculiar that those who do not wish to be numbered with the Socinians must resort to Socinian proofs to prove their point. To such a degree one can be led astray by his prejudices. If you do not agree with the Socinians, why resort to argumentation which cannot but generate the suspicion that you are or ultimately must be in agreement with them?
(2) The Godhead is bound up in the entire Person. The human nature is neither the Person nor part of the Person of Christ, but has only been assumed by the Person of the Son of God. Already prior to the assumption of the human nature the second Person was the eternal Son of the eternal Father, as has previously been proven. Thus He is not the Son of God by virtue of His wondrous conception, etc. All of this proves that He was the Son of God, but it is neither the basis for, nor the reason why He is and is called the Son of God. This is expressed by the apostle, “And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4).
(3) Christ has two natures, the one being divine and the other human. The names, attributes, and manner of operation of both natures are attributed to the same Person, all of which are an essential dimension of His Personhood, some relating to His divine and some to His human nature. Thus, in Luke 1:32 Christ is called the Son of the Highest and the Son of David, the first referring to His divine and the second to His human nature. The eternal Son of the eternal Father has assumed the human nature. Since it was the Son of God who assumed the human nature, He consequently was already the Son of God prior to this event; He did not become the Son in consequence of His assumption of the human nature. It does not necessarily follow from the fact that He is the Son of man that He is therefore the Son of God. Neither is He not called the Son of man due to the fact that He is the Son of God. The use of these titles is not arbitrary. The Son of God and the Son of man are not one and the same, even though this is said of one and the same Person. As we have proven, He is the Son of God only in reference to His divine nature by virtue of His eternal generation, and He is the Son of man only by virtue of His human nature, having been born of the seed of the woman.
Evasive Argument #6:
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17), to which is added in Matthew 17:5, “Hear ye Him.” Reference is made here to the entire Person of the Mediator, being God and man. In Him and in His sacrifice God the Father is well-pleased; He must be heard and obeyed as Prophet and King. It is when viewed from this perspective that He is called and is the Son of God.
We readily agree with all this, but it has no reference to the point of contention. The point of contention here is whether or not the second Person of the Godhead is called the Son of God because God delights in Him as God and man—as Mediator—is pleased with His sacrifice, and that we should obey Him as Prophet and King. This we deny. This text furnishes no proof whatsoever, nor does it advance a basis or reason why Christ is called the Son, but it merely indicates that the Father calls Him Son, because He was the eternal Son of the eternal Father by virtue of eternal generation. The statement, “Hear ye Him,” does not suggest that Christ is therefore the Son of God. This is erroneous. In addition it should be noted that neither His human nature nor His office as Mediator is the basis for obedience to Him, but His Godhead only. His divine Sonship is a consequence of His Godhead, although He is united as such with the human nature.
Evasive Argument #7:
The most significant reason why Scripture frequently ascribes the name Son of God to Christ is to teach us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). To conclude that He has truly been generated because He so often is called the Son of God is a futile exercise.
How conclusive this text is! The objective of Scripture in calling Christ the Son of God is indeed to teach that Jesus is the Christ. If it were stated that Jesus is the Son of God due to His assumption of the human nature, this argument would be credible, but it merely states that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, whose Sonship is in consequence of His eternal generation rather than His incarnation, as has been proven. It is therefore not futile, but certain and irrefutable that the titles “Son,” “Only-begotten Son,” “Own Son,” “First-begotten Son of God” lead us to conclude that He was not begotten in the corporal sense of the word, but in a unique manner, agreeable with the nature of God. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, which is the reason why Scripture so frequently calls Him the Son. Even if it occurred only once in the Bible, it would be sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have eternal life through His Name. The frequent repetition of this title should convince and unnerve those who contest this truth, and discourage them from doing so.
Thus far we have proven from the titles “Son,” “My Son,” “Own Son,” “Begotten, Only-begotten, and First-begotten Son,” that the second Person of the Trinity has eternally existed in a Father-Son relationship to the first Person and that He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. We will now proceed with the second proof, which relates to the basis or reason for this relationship: how and why the second Person is the eternal Son, which according to Scripture is by virtue of eternal generation. We shall verify this from various passages of Holy Writ, examining them individually as well as effectively eliminating all arguments against it.
First, we shall consider Psalm 2:7,
“Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.”
The first Person here addresses the second Person, calling Him His Son, which necessarily implies that the first Person is the Father of the second Person. The foundational phrase for maintaining that the first Person is the Father and the second Person the Son is expressed in these words, “This day have I begotten Thee.” It must then be evident that the second Person is not called the Son simply because He is of the same essence, without any interpersonal relationship. We already have responded to this above in our rebuttal of argument #2. It is also equally and unquestionably certain from this that the second Person’s being the Son and the first Person’s being the Father are due to the second Person’s assumption of the human nature, as the first Person did not generate the second Person in this. He was the second Person prior to His incarnation and thus the second Person was the Son from eternity. (This was dealt with above in our rebuttal to argument #3). In addition, Christ’s human nature was created at the moment of His incarnation, which, however, is not true for His divine nature. The human nature would then be the Son of God rather than the divine nature; generation would not refer to the generation of a person according to the express image of His Father. It would refer to the generation or propagation of a nature which would infinitely differ from the nature of the Father. Such an argument is absurdity itself.
This text makes it exceptionally clear that these two propositions—the second Person is the Son because He is of the same essence as the first Person, or He is the Son due to His assumption of the human nature—cannot be harmonized as they are contradictory to each other. Two untruths cannot produce one truth. This text, in expressing itself concerning the first and second Person, states that there exists a relationship of Father and Son between them, of which generation is the foundational concept. This generation establishes the Father as the first Person and the Son as the second Person, while it also establishes the second Person to be the Son and the first Person to be the Father.
Secondly, there is frequent reference to the words of Paul, “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). From the argument of silence they wish to maintain that the reference is to the Son of God. They lack the courage to explain these words and apply them to the heart, the result of which would be most unclear. For the words, “God was manifest in the flesh,” are not equivalent in meaning to “son of God.” Rather, it conveys that He who is God from eternity assumed the human nature in hypostatic union with His Person, without there being the least reference to the relationship between the Father and the Son, nor the basis for this relationship, which the text clearly states to be generation.
Why is no use made of the words of Paul, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman?” (Gal. 4:4). Here expression is given to this relationship and to the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as to His incarnation. They will have to acknowledge that this text moves beyond the point which they wish to discuss, as it indicates that Christ already was the Son prior to His being sent and before He was made of a woman, and that He did not become the Son as a result of His assumption of the human nature.
Thus the second Person is the Son in consequence of being generated by the first Person. Here we must ascend from the human to the divine. We must reflect upon it in a manner which is becoming of God, even though it is an incomprehensible mystery to us. We must believe that the first Person has brought forth the second Person in a manner which can best be described by the word “generation.” Any thought of human generation must be far removed from our minds. A chronological distinction between first and last is nonexistent here; neither is there any transition from nonexistence to existence; nor is this relationship one of dependency. This relationship is eternal in nature, characterized by coequality of being as well as essential existence, for the existence of the Son of the Father is a constituent element of God’s character, as it belongs to the perfection of both the divine Being and the divine Persons.
This generation mentioned in Psalm 2:7 should not be understood to be eternal in nature, but rather to refer to His incarnation. This generation was to occur at a specified time: “this day.” These are words which never denote eternity.
The incarnation is never denominated as generation, and generation cannot signify incarnation, for then the Fatherhood of the first Person would relate to the human nature of Christ, of which He would consequently be called the Father. Then the human nature would be the son of the first Person, and thus be the image of God, the express image of the Father’s Person. Such a conclusion is absurd and should be rejected with utter contempt.
(2) The generation referred to here is from eternity whereby the first Person is the Father of the second, and the second the Son of the first. The second Person is the Son from eternity, having been brought forth before the creation of the world (Prov. 8:24), prior to which there was nothing but eternity. His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). If the second Person who is here denominated as Son is the Son from eternity, His generation is consequently also from eternity. Furthermore, since His generation is eternal, the words “this day” of necessity refer to eternity.
(3) It may be objected that this word never refers to eternity, to which I reply that generation never has reference to the assumption of the human nature, even though some would like to understand it in this fashion. Let it be shown that the words “this day” cannot have reference to eternity, just as I have shown that generation cannot refer to the assumption of the human nature. Allow the fact that on no other occasion the words “this day” were to denote eternity, yet if they denote eternity in this text, then it suffices for our argument. I admit that when the words “this day” are used in reference to people, they are used to describe a specified period of time. Man is a creature who functions within the parameters of time. However, when the words “this day” are used, relative to God (who is without chronological dimensions)—as is the case here, “This day have I begotten Thee”—then it must be interpreted in a manner congruent with the nature of God for whom everything is simultaneously in the present and for whom a thousand years are but as yesterday (Psa. 90:4). God continually exists in the present. This Son, having been generated eternally, is ordained and sent forth to be the King of Zion. To Him the heathen have been given as a heritage. This Son would rule the people of God and punish His enemies. This Son we must honor, fear, and kiss with humility and love. All of this has been entrusted to Him as a consequence of His Sonship. He did not become the Son because He had all the aforementioned entrusted to Him.
Secondly, we shall consider Proverbs 8:22–25,
“The LORD possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth.”
Since it is an incontrovertible fact that the title “LORD” refers to the first Person, and that the pronouns “I” and “My” refer to the second Person who is called Wisdom in this chapter, there is no need to prove this. The second Person states concerning the first Person that He possessed Him, and He [the second Person] states concerning Himself that He was set up and brought forth. It is therefore incontrovertible that there is an interpersonal relationship between them. The basis for this relationship, being brought forth, is essential to both the Father and the Son. “The LORD possessed Me;” “I was brought forth.”
The Hebrew word קנני (kanani), does not refer to ordination here or elsewhere, but always refers to possession, ownership, attainment, purchase, or acquisition. Thus, from this the word “possess” is derived. The first Person is here said to possess the second Person, to be His Proprietor. This proprietorship was eternal: in the beginning of the way, before His works of old. The question is in what manner the first Person is the Proprietor of the second Person. The text itself answers the question by stating, “I was brought forth.” This proprietorship was in consequence of being brought forth, for which reason the second Person is called God’s own Son, the first-begotten Son, and the only-begotten Son, as the word קנה (kana) means a receiving “by birth.” When Eve brought forth Cain, she declared, “I have gotten a man from the LORD” (Gen. 4:1). The first Person is Proprietor of the second Person in consequence of being brought forth. The second Person states, “I was brought forth,” however, not in this time state, for the text states expressly, “before His works of old; when there were no depths.” The latter is convincing and incontrovertible. One cannot claim that being brought forth is the equivalent of being manifested in the flesh, for His being brought forth was from eternity, whereas this manifestation in the flesh did not occur until approximately four thousand years after creation. Neither can it be asserted that to possess and to be brought forth signify being ordained. This is not the meaning of these words—neither as far as root meaning is concerned nor by way of usage. Furthermore, ordination does not imply ownership, but it presupposes ownership. In order to ordain someone, one must have legal authority over this person.
The second Person, being eternally possessed by the Father in consequence of being brought forth, is said to be “set up from everlasting”; that is, to be ordained in His mediatorial office in the Counsel of Peace, in which every Person consistent with His nature, manner of existence, and manner of operation is involved in the ordination of the Son and the work of redemption by Him. Each Person neither exists in an interpersonal relationship nor receives the relational name of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit in consequence of their relation to the work of redemption. Rather, it is the interpersonal relationship in which these Persons exist with one another in the Godhead, the basis for this relationship being either generation or procession. Since this is the very character of God Himself, each Person has involvement in the work of redemption.
The scriptural discussion of various subjects is often intertwined with references to the work of redemption. Therefore, it must be recognized that everything in a given chapter is not to be related to the work of redemption. Rather, if such matters are discussed outside of that context, they are also to be interpreted as being outside of that context. Such is also the case here. The focus of this discussion is the interpersonal relationship between the first and second Persons, generation being the basis for it. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit conveys how, on the basis of this relationship, these Persons of the Trinity interact with one another in this relationship and in the work of redemption. This interaction consists of the first Person—who possesses the second Person by bringing Him forth—setting up (cf. Prov. 8:23) the second Person; that is, ordaining Him to be Surety and Mediator.
Thirdly, we shall consider Micah 5:2:
“Out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Matthew 2:6 establishes beyond doubt that the reference is here to the Lord Jesus. This text speaks of two different “goings or comings forth.” The one would have its origin in Bethlehem by virtue of His birth from Mary according to His human nature, whereas the other would be “from of old, from everlasting,” that is, according to His divine nature. Both are defined by the same word in Hebrew, יצּא (yatsa’). This word means “to come forth by birth.” “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which יצאי (yots’é) came out of his loins” (Gen. 46:26; cf. Gen. 15:4; Gen. 17:6; Gen. 35:11, and numerous other texts). In a special sense this word is used in reference to the Messiah (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 11:1; and others). As the Messiah came forth according to His human nature in this time state by birth from Mary in Bethlehem, so was His going forth by birth from everlasting. This identical word occurring in the identical simile has the same meaning. There is, however, one exception. The eternal going forth is expressed in the plural, which according to Hebraic style conveys a going forth par excellence, superseding all other goings forth—as is true of the eternal, incomparable, and incomprehensible generation of the Son. In considering this text one cannot resort to coexistence, incarnation, or ordination, for the reference is to a going forth, a coming forth by birth, an eternal going forth, and an actual going forth. Thus the truth that the Son has eternally been generated by the Father remains incontrovertible.
Fourthly, we shall consider John 5:26,
“For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.”
Both the first and the second Person of the divine Being are spoken of here. The one is called the Father and the other the Son; and it is in this regard that a relationship exists between them. It is stated that the Father has life in Himself, life being His all-sufficient activity and His singular energizing power. This life the Father has in Himself, He being the Fountain of that life and thus having received it from no one. As He is self-existent, likewise does His life originate from Himself. He is the living God, as He is frequently denominated in Scripture. It is also written that the Son has life in Himself. This life is neither a similar life nor another life, but the same life, manifesting the same all-sufficient activity and the same singular, energizing power. As the Father has this life in Himself, the Son likewise has this life in Himself. Thus, the Father and Son are equal; identical life is in each of them and in this respect they are the same. The difference, however, consists in the manner in which they possess this life; the Father having life in Himself, has given to the Son likewise to have life in Himself. This He has done in a manner which is consistent with God’s eternal nature, which excludes both the concepts of time and a transformation from nothing to something. From this it is evident that the Son’s existence originates in the Father, this being the basis for both Fatherhood and Sonship.
As far as God is concerned, the reference to life here is not subjective in nature, but causal; that is, it refers to God as the origin of the spiritual life of the elect. The Lord can save whom He wills and He has also empowered the Son as Mediator, being God and man, to save and to impart spiritual life to whomever He wills. That it must thus be understood is evident from the circumstances of the text.
It is first of all a certainty that the life which the Son has in Himself is not different from the life which the Father has in Himself. In this respect they are equal, being in possession of the same life which both have in themselves.
(2) It is a certain truth that the Son, being Mediator and having assumed the human nature, has life in Himself. We deny emphatically, however, that the Father has given Christ to have life in Himself in consequence of either the mediatorship itself or the manner in which He executes this mediatorship.
(3) If the first and second Person of the Godhead are coexistent in their divinity, without being dependent upon each other, then we must conclude that the one Person has life in Himself as much as the other Person, and thus when the second Person assumed the human nature, He already possessed life in Himself. Consequently, as Mediator He could not have received life in Himself from someone else for He already possessed it. The second Person already had life in Himself and this qualified Him to be the Mediator. The Father in having life in Himself does not have this as Mediator, in order to communicate life to the elect in the way of suffering and death. This must therefore be true for the Son as well, as both have the same life and have it in themselves. Both the Father and the Son have life in an identical fashion and whatever is not true for the Father is also not true of the Son.
(4) In order to be the cause of life in someone else, a person must first possess this life subjectively in himself. The results [that is, the manifestation of life] identify the energizing cause. Since the Father as well as the Son is the Author of life, it logically follows that they have life in themselves, which is the thrust of Christ’s argument in this chapter. Christ demonstrates that the Father has life in Himself by virtue of the fact that He gives corporal and spiritual life to others. Since Christ also imparts both corporal and spiritual life to others, He demonstrates thereby that He also has life in Himself. He adds to this that as God He has life within Himself by virtue of the Father giving it to Him. He adds to this that the Father—by virtue of the fact that the Son has life in Himself, thus qualifying Him to be Mediator—had sent Him to execute the office of Mediator, enabling the Father, Christ Himself, and the Holy Spirit to impart life to dead and death-worthy sinners.
Fifthly, we shall consider Hebrews 1:3:
“Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person.”
It is the apostle’s objective in this chapter to prove both the divinity of Christ and the fact that He is the Son of God in an incomprehensibly more glorious manner than the most glorious creatures, the angels. “Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son” (Heb. 1:5)? God did call them the sons of God, as He also did the regenerate. None of these were sons by generation, however; only Christ is Son by generation. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Heb. 1:5). This is also conveyed by these two expressions, “the brightness of His glory,” and “the express image of His person.” This can be said of none other than He who is the natural Son of God. It cannot refer to the human nature of Christ, for, as we have previously shown, this nature and the first Person of the Godhead have nothing in common.
There are also those who do not wish to associate this sonship with His divine nature and consider Him to be a separate, self-existent, non-relational, and non-generated Person. Then it would follow that the second Person in union with the human nature could also not be the Son, for whatever is absent in each nature individually cannot be present by virtue of their union. From this it would have to be concluded that the second Person, in manifesting Himself in the flesh, would reveal Himself in this world as the brightness of His own glory and the express image of His own Person. The Son, however, is the manifestation of His Father’s glory and Person, which consequently must be true relative to His divine nature.
The Son is here described as existing in a relationship with the Father, which first of all is expressed by the phrase, “the brightness of His Father’s glory.” Brightness is a reflection generated by light. The Father is a light which no man can approach unto, and thus the Son, as far as His Personhood is concerned, eternally proceeds from that light. The Council of Nicea, held in 325 A.D., has expressed it very well when it calls Him “Light of Light.”
The text further refers to this interpersonal relationship as “the express image of His Father’s Person.” In Greek the word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) is used, which literally refers to an independent entity, but when used to refer to an intelligent being, expresses personhood. Thus, it is not the divine essence which is under discussion here, but rather the first Person of the Godhead, as the Son is here said to be the express image of His Father’s Person. Men generate sons after their image, and thus a son is the express image of his father. Fully removing the human element, it may therefore be stated that the second Person has been generated by the first Person. Both the relationship as well as the relational titles “Father” and “Son,” have their origin in this generation, in consequence of which the Son is called the express image of His Father. To be the express image of the Father necessarily implies natural Sonship by way of eternal generation. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is called “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).
Thus we have described this great mystery which God has revealed in His Word, a truth which always has been and will be known, acknowledged, believed, confessed, and staunchly defended by the church, in spite of all who regret to see this truth upheld.
The Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity
Thus far we have discussed the divinity and the interpersonal relationship of the Father and the Son. Now we shall proceed to consider the third Person, who in Scripture bears the title Holy Spirit. Of this Person we shall consider the following: 1) His Name; 2) His Personhood; 3) the veracity of His divinity and His divine Personhood; 4) the interpersonal relationship between His Person and the other divine Persons, as well as the basis for this relationship: the procession from the Father and the Son.
Scripture calls the third person Holy Spirit by means of the Hebrew word רוח (ruach), and the Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma). This word is used in a variety of contexts, such as in reference to wind (John 3:8), angels (Heb. 1:14), the human soul (Eccl. 12:7), and the motions of the soul (Gal. 6:1). To give expression to the spiritual dimension of God’s character there is no more suitable word for us than the word “Spirit.” Sometimes this word is used in its essential sense, that is, in reference to the divine Being as it subsists in three Persons. “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). Sometimes it is used in a personal sense, as in reference to the Son, “the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45), but most often the third Person is called by this name (cf. Mat. 28:19; 1 John 5:7). Occasionally the word “Spirit” refers to the operation of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word … that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44–45). When discussing the third Person of the divine Being, we do not merely refer to Him as “Spirit,” but as the Holy Spirit, which is in accordance with Scripture.
The third Person is called the Spirit,
(1) because it is His personal property as the third Person to proceed from the Father and the Son, which cannot be expressed any more clearly than by the use of the word “spirit” which means “to breathe.” Therefore He is called “the breath of the Almighty” (Job 33:4), and “the breath of His mouth” (Psa. 33:6);
(2) due to His manner of operation which, as indicated above, is compared to breathing. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the entire house was filled with the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2, 4). When the Lord Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples, He breathed on them (John 20:22);
(3) in view of the consequences of His operation, which produce in His people a ready and diligent disposition towards the service of God. “Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire” (Psa. 104:4); “The wind bloweth where it listeth … so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
He is called the Holy Spirit, not because He is holier than the Father and the Son—Isaiah uses the word “holy” three times in reference to the three Persons of the divine Being (Isa. 6:3)—but,
(1) due to His manner of operation by virtue of His procession from the Father and the Son, from which His name is derived. Therefore He is called the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. When considering the three Persons of the Godhead comparatively, then the first Person by virtue of His personal property, is called Father; the second Person, also due to His personal property, Son; and likewise the third Person, Holy Spirit. Since their manner of operation is a necessary consequence of their manner of existence, they are also referred to by these names in their execution of the work of redemption;
(2) due to the manner of His operation in the elect. “… being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:16); “… through sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Th. 2:13).
The Holy Spirit is not merely a good influence in man nor a gracious gift of God, but He is a Person. Properties and operations are attributed to the Holy Spirit which can only be attributed to a Person.
First, intelligence is attributed to Him.
“For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in Him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10–11). Here Scripture compares the spirit of man to the Spirit of God, knowledge being attributed to both. The one knows the things which are of man, whereas the other knows the things which are of God. Men who have become partakers of the Spirit of God are distinguished from the Spirit which is in them. “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify,” etc. (1 Pet. 1:11). 1 Corinthians 2:11 does not suggest that the spiritual man searches and knows the things of God, but rather the Spirit of God in contrast to the spirit of man.
Secondly, a will is attributed to Him.
“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). Apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is distinguished from His gifts, He is said to be sovereign in the dispersion of these gifts. As such He is not accountable to anyone, but acts according to His sovereign good pleasure.
Thirdly, works are attributed to Him, such as the creation of the world (Psa. 33:6; Gen. 1:2), regeneration and the impartation of life (John 3:6; Gal. 5:25), and the commissioning of His servants (Acts 13:2).
When activities are attributed to particular persons, and these are acknowledged by all to be well-done, it is immediately evident that the reference is not to the cause of such activity, but rather to the means by which such a person works. When mention is made of the Holy Spirit’s works, however, the primary reference is to Him as being the cause of this activity, who, while thus engaged, avails Himself of means.
Fourthly, He is said to appear by means of a visible sign, denoting both His presence and manner of operation, as at the baptism of Christ (Mat. 3:16) and on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). A person’s existence manifests itself by way of incidents; however, incidents do not manifest themselves as persons.
Fifthly, the Holy Spirit is expressly distinguished from His gifts, as being the cause of that which transpires.
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom,” etc. (1 Cor. 12:4, 8). Even though the Spirit is referred to as the power of God in Luke 24:49, Acts 10:38, and Luke 1:35, it is nevertheless clearly indicated that He is a Person rather than the contrary. Christ is also called the power of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24. Whoever has power and exercises this power is of necessity a person. When it is said that the Father and the Son work through the Holy Spirit, it indicates that the said Person works through the Person which proceeds from Him.
The Holy Spirit is referred to as a gift.
This does not deny His Personhood, for Christ is also referred to as a gift (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 3:16; John 4:10). Even when the Holy Spirit is referred to as a gift, He is described as a Person, the event being distinguished from the cause of the event. “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5).
The Divinity of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not merely a Person, but He is a divine Person. He is the true, eternal God who has created the heavens and the earth. This becomes evident from the fact that divine names, attributes, works, and honor are attributed to Him.
First, we shall consider His Names.
He who is called Jehovah is the true, eternal God, for no one else may bear this Name, nor is anyone else called by this Name (cf. chapter 3, page 85). In Isaiah 6:3, 9 the Holy Spirit is referred to as Jehovah. He who in verse 3 is called Jehovah Sabaoth, the LORD of Hosts, says in verse 9, “Go, and tell this people,” etc. This Jehovah was the Holy Spirit according to the testimony of Paul. “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say,” etc. (Acts 28:25–26). In Psalm 95:3–9, He who is referred to as “a great God,” “a great King above all gods,” who is JEHOVAH in whose hands are the deep places of the earth, who must be worshipped, before whom we must bow—of Him it is said, “Today if ye will hear His voice,” etc. (verses 7–8), “your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My work” (verse 9). This Person is the Holy Spirit, which is confirmed in the following passage, “But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10). This is also confirmed by the apostle, “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear His voice” (Heb. 3:7).
Add to this, “… to lie to the Holy Ghost, … thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:3–4). To lie to the Holy Ghost is to lie to God. In order to remove all excuses, the Holy Spirit is called God in contrast to creatures or men. Ananias and Sapphira did not lie to men, nor to Peter and all those who were present—even though they were partakers of the gift of the Holy Spirit and were graced with special qualities—but they lied to God, thus tempting the Spirit of the Lord (verse 9). This truth is also confirmed in the following texts, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” (1 Cor. 6:19). “Temple” and “God” are closely related to each other. A temple is designated for the service of God, and God dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem. Since God is the One who dwells in the temple and since the Holy Spirit dwells in us as in a temple, believers being temples of the Holy Ghost, it follows that the Holy Spirit is God (cf. Num. 6:24–26 as compared to 2 Cor. 13:14).
Secondly, we will consider His attributes. He who is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, is the true and eternal God. Such is true of the Holy Spirit.
(1) He is eternal, for He is the Creator of heaven and of earth, which we will prove shortly. The Creator is none other than the eternal God. Prior to creation there was only eternity in which God dwelt (Isa. 57:15). At the very outset of creation the Holy Spirit was already present, and moved upon the face of waters (Gen. 1:2).
(2) He is omniscient. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Psa. 139:7–8). The psalmist confronts himself with the omnipresence of God, declaring that no one can hide himself from God as in His Being He is everywhere, whether it be in heaven, upon earth, or in hell. Since, according to the psalmist, the Holy Spirit in His being is omnipresent, He of necessity is truly God.
(3) He is omniscient. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). The Spirit Himself, in contrast with the spirit of man, searches and knows all things in an all-inclusive manner (1 Cor. 2:11), doing so in relation to the deep things of God—the most hidden things concerning God, His Being, His manner of existence, His perfections, and His secret counsel.
(4) He is omnipotent. He is the Spirit of might (Isa. 11:2), and the power of the highest (Luke 1:35). This omnipotence becomes evident in His works, which we shall presently demonstrate.
Thirdly, we shall consider His works. He who has created the world, regenerates the elect, imparts spiritual life, is the dispenser of all spiritual gifts, teaches the elect to pray and leads them, and raises the dead—He is the true and eternal God. Since the Holy Spirit does all this He is of necessity truly God.
(1) He creates. “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2); “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens” (Job 26:13); “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Psa. 33:6).
(2) He regenerates and imparts life. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5); “The Spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
(3) He dispenses spiritual gifts. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:11).
(4) He teaches how to pray. “The Spirit of grace and of supplications” (Zec. 12:10); “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
(5) He leads believers to glory in the way of sanctification. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).
(6) He raises the dead. “He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11).
Fourthly, we shall consider His honor.
He is the true God, in whose name we must be baptized, from whom we must ask all things, and whom we must obey. Since we must be baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, and must request all gifts from Him, the Holy Spirit must of necessity be truly God.
(1) The requirement of baptism in His name is expressed in Matthew 28:19, “… baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Baptism is a seal of the covenant of grace, the latter being established only between the true God and believers. In baptism we surrender ourselves to God as the all-sufficient One who possesses all that is needful unto man’s salvation; we surrender ourselves to the Most High in order to honor, fear, trust, and obey Him. In baptism we entrust our soul to God, desiring that He who is true to Himself would make us partakers of all the benefits of the covenant. In baptism we surrender ourselves to God, desiring to love and serve Him. Since all of this is comprehended in baptism, it necessarily follows that He in whose name we are baptized is truly God. This explains why the apostle so adamantly rejected the idea of anyone being baptized in his name (1 Cor. 1:14–15). Whereas the three Persons of the divine Being are actively engaged in the covenant—the Holy Spirit leading a believer to the Son, and by the Son to the Father, and the Father, through the Son and by the agency of the Holy Spirit works in believers—it therefore follows that these three Persons are expressly mentioned at baptism. In it the Holy Spirit receives the same honor as the Father and the Son, and thus He is the very same God, coequal with the Father and the Son.
(2) It is evident from 2 Corinthians 13:14 that we should petition the Holy Spirit for all gifts. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” Here the Holy Spirit is afforded the same honor as the Son and the Father, as the same act of worship is expressed in identical fashion to the three Persons of the Godhead. Consider also the worship expressed towards the Holy Spirit in the following passage: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne” (Rev. 1:4). Again the eternal God and the Holy Spirit are worshipped in identical fashion.
If one wishes to view the latter part of this text as being explanatory of the first part—which frequently occurs—the text would read as follows: from Him which is, etc., which are the seven Spirits. This would then identify the Spirit as the One who applies all that is of Christ to believers. In this capacity the Holy Spirit would also be worshipped as the eternal God, for He is the selfsame eternal God. One should not understand the seven Spirits to be angels, as they ought not to be worshipped (Mat. 4:10), but rather the third Person of the divine Being who is referred to in this manner in view of His operation, imparting to the congregation numerous sufficient and perfect gifts.
(3) The obligation to serve and obey the Holy Spirit becomes evident from the fact that it is possible to sin against the Holy Ghost. We are exhorted not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). The ungodly Israelites rebelled and vexed the Holy Spirit, and thus grieved Him (Isa. 63:10). Yes, the sin against the Holy Ghost—because He is the One who directly deals with and manifests Himself to the soul—is declared to be the greatest as well as an unforgivable sin (cf. Mat. 12:31–32; 1 John 5:16).
All these considerations, viewed individually as well as collectively, ought to convince the conscience that the Holy Spirit is truly God, being of the same essence as the Father and the Son.
The Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son
Thus far we have proved that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and more particularly, that He is a divine Person, and of the same essence as the Father and the Son. We will now consider the interpersonal relationship which exists between the third Person and the other Persons of the Godhead. As the Son is a different Person from the Father, likewise the Spirit is a different Person from the Father and the Son.
(1) He is expressly called “another Comforter” (John 14:16).
(2) He is also described in such a way that He can be neither the Father nor the Son, but must necessarily be another (John 15:26). He who has been sent by the Father and by the Son, proceeds from the Father and testifies of the Son; He is another Person from the one who sends Him, from whom He proceeds and of whom He testifies.
(3) He is therefore referred to as a distinct Person in those texts in which mention is also made of the Father and the Son. (cf. Mat. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 5:7).
(4) It is also stated that the Holy Spirit works as well as the Father and the Son, and that in regard to both. “He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for he shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13–14).
The Holy Spirit is not a coexistent Being, which implies that He exists simultaneously, is of the same essence, and is not in an interpersonal relationship with the Father. Rather, He is a divine Person, the nature of whose Personhood is to exist in an interpersonal relationship to the Father and the Son. The eternal procession from the Father and the Son is the basis for this relationship. The Son proceeds from the Father by way of eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in a manner which can best be described by “to breathe.”
(1) The word “Spirit” as it occurs in Hebrew and Greek conveys this idea.
(2) For this reason He is called the “breath of the Almighty” (Job 33:4), and “the breath of His mouth” (Psa. 33:6).
(3) This manner of operation is congruent with His manner of existence. The third Person works by way of breathing, and it is also the manner of His existence. “The wind bloweth where it listeth … so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). For this reason Jesus also availed Himself of such symbolism when He promised the Spirit to His disciples. “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). In like manner also the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, an event which was accompanied with the sound of a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2).
The third Person proceeds from both the first and second Persons. This truth resulted in an intense and lengthy controversy between the Greek and Latin churches. The Greek church held the viewpoint that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. The Latin church opposed this position, defending the truth which had always been believed and confessed: the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son. In the Lord’s goodness we may still believe and confess this truth which will always be believed and confessed by the church. Scripture confirms this.
First, it is confirmed by those texts in which the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Son and the Spirit of Christ.
“God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts” (Gal. 4:6); “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9); “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify” (1 Pet. 1:11).
Secondly, it is confirmed by those texts in which the Son is said to send the Holy Spirit.
“… I will send unto you from the Father” (John 15:26); “But if I depart, I will send Him unto you” (John 16:7). What is true for His manner of operation is also true for His manner of existence. The manner of His operation is a necessary consequence of His manner of existence.
Thirdly, it is confirmed in such texts in which it is stated that the Holy Spirit imparts to the elect that which He receives from the Son. “But whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak … He shall take of Mine, and shew it unto you” (John 16:13–15).
The operations of both the Father and the Son relative to the procession of the Holy Spirit should not be viewed as proceeding from two distinctly different origins, for it is one and the same operation and power. Both the Father and the Son ought rather to be viewed as the primary cause of all that transpires, rather than viewing the Son as a primary cause of lesser importance, implying that the Father would cause the Holy Spirit to proceed by means of the Son. If, however, we consider manner and order of both existence and operation, then the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son, as well as from the Father through the Son.
Objections to the Doctrine of the Trinity Refuted
From all the aforementioned it has been proven incontrovertibly to all who believe the Scriptures that the one divine Being subsists in three Persons, and also how they exist in an interpersonal relationship to each other.
All the objections which the corrupt intellect of man may present relative to this doctrine, such as is done by Socinians and all who sympathize with them, are merely the result of reasoning from a human and temporal perspective. Such reasoning cannot be associated with the eternal God and is thus easily refuted.
First, when God is said to be one in essence, and yet to subsist in three Persons, this is not a contradictory statement.
Both elements of this statement are not equivalent in meaning, for God is one in essence subsisting in three Persons; not three in essence and not one Person.
Secondly, there are three Persons which are eternal, infinite, and omnipotent, and not three eternals, infinites, and omnipotents.
Rather, there is but one eternal, infinite, and omnipotent Being.
Thirdly, when it is stated “… that they might know Thee the only true God” (John 17:3), this does not suggest that only the Father is truly God to the exclusion of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but rather that the Father is the only true God.
The word “only” does not modify Father, but it modifies the word God. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are the identical and only true God, a truth which has been proven above.
Fourthly, the words “generate” and “proceed” neither suggest superiority or inferiority nor the transformation from nothing to something, for all this is an eternal reality.
It is consistent with God’s eternal nature that the divine Being exists in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Father generates, the Son is generated, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both.
Fifthly, it does not suggest imperfection if that which is the unique property of one Person cannot be attributed to another Person.
Rather, it is a perfection of each Person and of the Godhead to subsist in these Persons, each Person having its personal properties.
Sixthly, when Christ acknowledges His Father to be greater than He (John 14:28), the reference is not to His divinity, for as such He is equal to the Father (Phil. 2:6) and one with the Father (1 John 5:7).
This has reference to His office as Mediator, in respect to which the Father calls Him His Servant (Isa. 53:11).
Seventhly, when the Holy Spirit is said to be a gift, to be sent, to be poured out, and when believers are said to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, reference is being made to both His extraordinary and ordinary operations.
The Son is also called a gift (cf. Isa. 9:5; John 3:16; John 4:10), and is also said to be sent (John 5:36). Furthermore, in the human realm men of equal status are commissioned or sent forth, which is true for instance when an official body delegates someone from its membership. Individual persons can also be viewed as gifts, as when a father gives his daughter to a man in marriage or when masters give their slaves to others.
Eighthly, when the Spirit is said to be not yet given (John 7:39), the reference is not to the Person of the Holy Spirit.
He already existed as can be observed in the baptism of Christ (Mat. 3:16). This rather refers to the abundant gifts of the Spirit which believers would receive according to promise.
Ninthly, dependency is a reality among men, but not in God.
The Son has life in Himself as the Father has life in Himself (John 5:26). The attribute of eternity excludes all possibility of dependency. In the execution of the covenant of grace each Person operates according to the manner of His existence. Thus, the Father’s operation proceeds from Himself, the Son’s from the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s from the Father and the Son—all of which occur without dependency as this would suggest imperfection. This is the meaning of John 5:19 where it is stated that the Son can do nothing of Himself. Since as Son His existence originates in the Father and not in Himself, He cannot be operative as Father, but operates as the Son of the Father. Further, it is to be understood that as Mediator He receives everything from the Father and in that capacity does nothing by Himself.
If someone were to say, “This is far beyond me; I cannot comprehend it,” I would respond that God is incomprehensible. There are things of much less importance which you cannot comprehend. What causes low and high tides? How does your soul affect your body? How are members of your body set in motion by the exercise of your will, etc.? Would you, insignificant “ant,” comprehend the incomprehensible God? Believe what you cannot comprehend simply because God declares it to be so, and worship the incomprehensible. If you were a believer, you would already have more insight into these mysteries than you can presently imagine or would then be able to express.
The Profitableness of Reflecting upon the Mystery of the Trinity
Thus far we have expressed the truth concerning these great mysteries, namely, that the one divine Being subsists in three Persons, and that each Person is the eternal, true, and only God. We have also shown that these Persons are distinguished from each other,
(1) in their names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
(2) in their personal properties: the Father as generating, the Son as being generated, and the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son;
(3) in their order of existence: the Father as the first Person exists of Himself, the Son as the second Person exists of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the third Person exists of the Father and the Son;
(4) in their manner of operation: the Father operates from within Himself, the Son out of the Father, and the Holy Spirit out of the Father and the Son. All of this is with the understanding that all the works of God in their external manifestation are common to all three Persons. Beyond all this we did not wish to penetrate any further into this mystery.
We now wish to proceed to the practical application, which is both wonderful and profitable—yes, the entire spiritual life of a Christian consists in being exercised concerning this mystery, and is thus distinguished from the practice of civil virtue and natural religion. A godly person will never deny this mystery, even though all believers do not perceive this mystery with equal clarity. They may neither be equally capable of reflecting upon their knowledge concerning this doctrine nor be able to express in words what they understand about it. The believer believes it and is much more knowledgeable in this mystery than the most learned but unregenerate divine, although the latter may be able to express himself more eloquently about it. The believer in all his religious exercises operates from this principle. Guided by the Holy Spirit he goes to the Son, and through the Son to the Father. The oneness of the divine Being will thus shine round about him as he is exercised concerning the Trinity.
Even though Arminians make no effort to deny the Trinity, they nevertheless seek to curtail the significance of this doctrine by suggesting that it is not profitable for edification.
The Word of God, however, bears witness to the contrary.
First, this becomes evident in texts which show that the knowledge and acknowledgement of God as being Triune in Persons is prerequisite unto salvation.
“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee (the Father, verse 1) the only true God, and Jesus Christ (the Son, verse 1), whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3); “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me. He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?” (John 14:1, 9–10). “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23); “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31).
Secondly, this is also evident from our baptism which is performed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Mat. 28:19).
To these three Persons we are surrendered in holy baptism, and in their name the covenant of grace is confirmed to us. Baptism obligates everyone to trust in their Names, to acknowledge them, to love and to serve them, and to allow ourselves to be governed, comforted, and wrought upon by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism also obligates us to worship these three Persons and to seek to be blessed by each of them. “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).
Thirdly, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit reveal themselves, interact with, and exercise believers in an individual and distinct manner.
“My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). The Holy Spirit dwells in the godly as in a temple (1 Cor. 6:19). From all this it should be evident that God cannot be served except as being Triune in Persons, and that those who honor and serve Him as such are the truly godly in this life and will experience salvation hereafter. Thus, this truth is most profitable and essential.
As we seek to demonstrate how one may profit from this mystery, we shall follow the order of the divine Persons.
First, God the Father is viewed by believers as the origin of all things, and thus also of their salvation.
They may perceive that He has chosen them from eternity to become the objects of His eternal love, to exalt them, and to make them partakers of an eternal and incomprehensible salvation; and that all is of Him, through Him, and unto Him.
Secondly, they perceive how the Father has appointed His only-begotten and beloved Son to be Surety for the elect in order to make known to men and angels His perfect righteousness, incomprehensible mercy, wisdom, freeness in the dispensing of grace, and wondrous benevolence—the purpose of this revelation being to enhance their experience of salvation.
Thirdly, they perceive that the Father in order to accomplish that purpose has created the world, and has decreed that man, due to his own fault, would fall into sin.
By His providence He maintains and governs everything for the benefit and profit of His elect, whom He has appointed to be the inheritors or possessors of the entire world.
Fourthly, they perceive that the Father, according to the Counsel of Peace, has sent His Son into the world to assume the human nature, to suffer and die as Surety, to place Him under the law in order to satisfy the Father’s justice by His Son’s perfect obedience, and thus deliver the elect from guilt and punishment, granting them a right unto eternal life.
Fifthly, they perceive that the Father sends forth His Holy Spirit into the hearts of the elect to illuminate and regenerate them, to lead them to Christ, unite them to Christ by faith, and in the way of holiness lead them to glory.
Sixthly, they perceive that the Father receives them as His children and heirs, and consequently loves and cares for them as His children.
Such reflection produces in the believer a childlike frame which causes the soul to sink away in humility. How the soul then rejoices and receives liberty to exclaim, “Abba, Father”! The soul will commit himself and his entire case into the hands of the Father, entrusting all to Him, living out of His hand, bringing all his needs to Him as his Father, making all his desires known to Him, being willing to obey his Father and to serve Him according to His will. We will deal with this more comprehensively in chapter 35, on “The Adoption of Children.”
In considering God the Son,
First, believers perceive Him to be the only qualified Surety to make the elect sons and daughters, and children of the Father, while in amazement they reflect upon the unsearchable wisdom of God in appointing such a qualified Person to be Surety.
Secondly, they perceive the wondrous love of the Son towards man, who gave Himself in the eternal Counsel of Peace to be Surety in order to accomplish the great work of redemption.
Thirdly, they perceive how He humbled Himself in the fullness of time, taking upon Himself the form of a servant and assuming their nature, not being ashamed to call them brethren, in order that they might enjoy communion and fellowship with Him.
Fourthly, they perceive how He out of pure and voluntary love has taken their sins upon Himself, doing so as if He had personally committed them.
They perceive how He Himself, with all willingness, bore the punishment which they deserved, thereby fully satisfying divine justice and reconciling them to God.
Fifthly, they perceive that He has united them to Himself as members of a spiritual body, He being the Head and they the members, He being the Bridegroom and they His bride, so that in Him, the Son, they are sons and daughters.
Sixthly, they perceive that He thus brings them to God, presenting them to the Father, saying, “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me.”
Here is the fountain of salvation and here all the perfections of God manifest themselves in an entirely different and more glorious manner than in the work of creation and providential maintenance. Believers, beholding the glory of the Lord as in a glass, will be changed accordingly, and thus, through the Son, may go to the Father. We shall subsequently deal with this in a more comprehensive manner.
God the Holy Spirit is for believers the One who, in a manifold and merciful manner, applies and makes them partakers of all that the Father has eternally decreed for their benefit, as well as all that which the Son has merited for them. We wish to deal with this somewhat more comprehensively, as there will be little opportunity to do so subsequent to this chapter.
The Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers, and the Holy Spirit dwells in them as in a temple.
Prior to their regeneration the elect are by nature as all other men, “sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). As it is only the Spirit who makes alive, they are dead in sins and trespasses, living in total separation from God, having neither perception of their sinfulness and damnable state nor of salvation and spiritual life, and having no desire for these things. That which is of the earth is the focus of all their soul’s activity and of all the members of their body. All their religious activity is of a mechanical nature, in order to quiet their conscience. They rest in what they have done, and hate all that which resembles light, spirituality, and true godliness—especially when their encounter with them is too close for comfort.
However, when the moment of God’s good pleasure arrives for the elect, God grants them the Holy Spirit, who illuminates and regenerates them and by faith makes them partakers of Christ and all His benefits. “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6); “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15); “Now we have received the Spirit which is of God” (1 Cor. 2:12). At this point we must consider in what manner or in what regard believers receive the Holy Spirit.
Do believers receive the gifts of the Spirit, or is the Person Himself communicated to them?
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer is not just a mere presence, such as is true for the omnipresence of His Godhead.
(2) Neither is it an external relationship, viewing them as children of God and the objects of His operation.
(3) Nor is it a communication of His gifts, such as faith, hope, and charity, etc.
(4) Rather, it is the Person Himself who is given to believers, dwelling in them in a manner which is incomprehensible and inexpressible to us.
This presence infinitely exceeds the limits of their person, and yet is in an extraordinary manner within them.
First, this becomes evident in those texts where the Holy Spirit is expressly said not only to be given to them, but also to dwell in them. “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16–17); “… the Spirit of Christ which was in them …” (1 Pet. 1:11); “Know ye not … that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are identified as being the Holy Spirit Himself (Acts 10:44–45).
In those places where the Holy Spirit is mentioned, it is not always and everywhere to be understood as being the same as His gifts. Thus, this argument has no clout, for it must then be shown that in the aforementioned and similar texts the reference is to gifts and not to the Person Himself.
(2) A clear distinction is made between the Spirit Himself, who is given to God’s children, and His gifts. These gifts neither teach, lead, comfort, bear witness, regenerate, nor work faith, but it is the Person, the Holy Spirit Himself who works and imparts these things to each person as is pleasing to Him.
(3) The gifts of the Spirit are also given to reprobates (Heb. 6:4). Nevertheless these gifts do not make the person a partaker of Christ, as does the indwelling of the Spirit. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Thus, it is confirmed that the Person of the Holy Spirit Himself dwells in the believer in a manner which is inexpressible and yet consistent with God’s Being.
Secondly, this indwelling is confirmed by such texts where believers are called the temples of the Holy Ghost.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). God Himself, and not His gifts, dwelt in the temple at Jerusalem. “And I will dwell among the children of Israel” (Exo. 29:45); “In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion” (Psa. 76:2); “Thou that dwellest between the cherubims” (Psa. 80:1). Since the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer as He formerly did in the temple, He Himself likewise, rather than His gifts only, personally dwells in the believer.
Thirdly, believers have an infinite desire which can only be satisfied with the Infinite One.
The gifts of God are not infinite, and thus a believer cannot be satisfied with them. God Himself must be and is their portion, and they are united to God in Christ and are made perfect in one (John 17:23). Thus the believer does not merely have the gifts of the Spirit, but he has the Spirit Himself.
Since the Holy Spirit is infinite, He consequently cannot dwell in finite man.
The fact that God dwells in a place or a person does not imply that He is limited to that location, as if He could not simultaneously be elsewhere. We rather understand that He who is infinite and omnipresent truly resides within an individual—neither physically nor as is true for His omnipresence, but in an extraordinary manner. The second Person, the Son of God, is personally united to the human nature of Christ, and yet exists infinitely beyond the limitations of this nature. We do not advance the latter argument as if to suggest that the Holy Spirit is personally united with man in a manner identical to the union between the Godhead and the human nature of Christ. Far be it from us to entertain such thoughts. We rather advance it to render the objection to no avail, as God can be said to be present at a given location while yet not being confined within its limits, since He exists infinitely beyond these limitations. Therefore, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit indicates the incomprehensible and extraordinary manner of presence of the omnipresent Spirit.
As God is incommunicable and cannot communicate Himself to man, He rather communicates all His gifts. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in someone, it must be understood to refer to the gifts of the Spirit.
We are not suggesting that the Holy Spirit communicates His Being and Person, as this would deify man and make him equal to God. With contempt we reject such an abominable thought. We are also not suggesting that the Holy Spirit essentially or personally is united to believers as the divine nature of Christ is united to His human nature, or as the soul of man is united to the body. Nor are we suggesting that the Holy Spirit is the actual cause of man’s deeds, as if it were the Holy Spirit rather than man who believes, hopes, and prays. To hold to such an idea is foolishness. We do maintain, however, that the Holy Spirit is truly present in believers in an extraordinary manner of presence, which, though inexpressible and incomprehensible for us, is nevertheless personal and real. He dwells in them as He formerly dwelt in the temple, where He revealed His presence by His gracious operations. Angels upon assumption of a human body, or a pilot directing a ship, are present—not as formoe informantes, sed assistentes, that is, not in an animating fashion, but in such a manner which enables them to mobilize such bodies or the ship. Although the comparison is inadequate, the Holy Spirit dwells similarly in the believer and causes him to be active.
The Holy Spirit’s Saving Operation Within the Believer
The Holy Spirit, having been given to the children of God, is not idle but works in them various spiritual gifts and graces. These are faith and regeneration, making believers partakers of Christ and all His benefits. He also teaches them how to pray, guides them, comforts them, seals them, and abides with them to all eternity.
First, the Holy Spirit works faith in them.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith … it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Therefore the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of faith. “We having the same Spirit of faith” (2 Cor. 4:13); “To another faith by the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:9).
The Holy Spirit illuminates those whose understanding is darkened and who are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, giving them enlightened eyes of understanding, whereby they begin to see their misery, the filthiness and sinfulness of their hearts, and the abominable emotions and thoughts which proceed from their heart. At once they perceive the abhorrent, hateful, and damnable nature of sin, which fills them with alarm and fear. This brings forth a desire in them to supplicate God for His grace. The Spirit, however, confronts them with the righteousness of God which will not permit the least sin to remain unpunished, but requires that it most certainly be punished with eternal damnation. This realization impedes those who seek for refuge with God, causing discouragement and despair. Having been brought to this place, the Holy Spirit reveals the necessity of a Surety if they would be saved—One who might pay for their sins, satisfy the justice of God, and merit for them the right to eternal life.
He then immediately reveals that God Himself has found and sent forth such a Surety into the world, His only-begotten Son the Lord Jesus, revealing both the benefits of the covenant which are found in Him as well as their desirability. How this causes them lovingly to esteem this salvation and this Surety, being desirous to become a partaker of both! Along with this the Holy Spirit convinces them that salvation by this Surety is personally offered to them in the gospel, subsequent to which He generates in them a strong desire for this Surety. This causes Him to become the choice of their hearts, resulting in a yearning, longing, waiting, and praying for Him. While thus engaged, there is hope one moment, and then it again becomes dark and hopeless. Yet, they cannot but resume this sacred activity, and while struggling in this fashion they receive liberty to receive this offered Surety. With all their heart they acquiesce in the offer of this Surety; and without any reservation or delay, just as they are, they fully and irrevocably surrender themselves to Him to be justified, sanctified, and brought to salvation. Encouraged by the Word of God, they personally appropriate this Surety, rely upon His faithfulness and power, lean upon Him, and entrust themselves to Jesus—be it at one time with light and assurance, and then again with darkness and much strife. For since the day that they received Jesus, the activity of their soul continues to be focused on Him, making use of Him to obtain peace and holiness.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the Author of regeneration.
Man by nature is spiritually dead and separated from God, being completely immersed in the things of the flesh. He is as full of sin as a dead body is full of worms. When the moment of good pleasure arrives for each of the elect, however, the Holy Spirit quickens and grants him spiritual life, this being the consequence of the soul’s union with God in Christ. As a result of this, Christ is formed in them and the spiritual frame of their soul inclines towards Jesus. That which previously was so desirable to their eye has now become despicable. That in which they previously delighted now causes sorrow. Those activities they formerly sought out, they now flee. Their mind, will, and affections have been changed. They have become new creatures, and in consequence of this change wrought within the soul, thoughts concerning God and reflections upon heavenly things become prevalent.
All this results in a different manner of speech, in godly conversation, in holiness of life, in having a delight in the godly, in dignified behavior, as well as in modest dress. In a word, this change can be compared to a dead person arising from the grave. In its initial manifestation, however, this new life has many imperfections. In its beginning it is feeble and grows slowly, which is also true for its external manifestation. It is all only in part, but nevertheless in truth. It is this life which the Holy Spirit works, “the Spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6); “and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5); “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Even though the Holy Spirit could accomplish this without means, it pleases Him to use the Word as a means. Nevertheless He immediately (that is, without means) touches the soul in a manner not known to us, exerting a creative power similar as at the time of creation when He moved upon the face of the waters. The Hebrew uses the word מרחפת (Merachepheth), which is indicative of motion that forms and brings forth. As I stated, the Spirit uses the Word in regeneration. “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18); “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23).
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit makes believers partakers of Christ and His benefits.
Prior to regeneration, they were not in possession of these benefits; although they were elected, salvation had been merited, and the ransom had been paid for them. When the Holy Spirit conquers them, however, He brings them to Christ, and gives them that faith whereby Christ dwells in their hearts (Eph. 3:17). Cleaving to Him, they become one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). They are united to Him as members are to a body, as a graft to the stem, and as a bride to her bridegroom, love being naturally inclined towards unity. This union results in the mutual use of possessive pronouns. “My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song of Sol. 2:16).
Union with Christ results in union with His benefits.
(1) The first benefit is His satisfaction resulting in reconciliation with God. “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20); “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10).
(2) A second benefit is His holiness. “That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21); “And ye are complete in Him” (Col. 2:10).
(3) A third benefit is His intercession. “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
(4) A fourth benefit is His glory. “Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).
(5) A fifth benefit is related to the covenant of grace and all that is promised in it, such as redemption and restoration. “How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit teaches believers how to pray; therefore He is called the Spirit of prayer.
“And I will pour upon [them] … the Spirit of grace and of supplications” (Zec. 12:10); “But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). The Spirit shows them what they are lacking, and makes them sensibly conscious of it. He holds before them the desirability of that which is spiritual, causing them to esteem it highly. He prompts them to request these things from God by way of prayer, assuring them that God will hear them and grant them their desire according to His good pleasure. He produces in them a prayerful frame which manifests itself in a humble and believing frame of mind. He takes them by the hand and leads them to the throne of grace. He generates strong spiritual desires in them, putting the words in their mouth. If the matters for which they pray are too lofty, the desires too strong, or their heart so oppressed that they cannot speak one word, then the Spirit will help in their infirmities, causing them to utter their desires with groanings, which contain more than could be expressed with words, though they cannot be uttered.
Fifthly, the Holy Spirit leads believers.
The way is narrow, and one step out of the way will cause the believer to stumble. It is a steep and ascending way which necessitates climbing. It is a slippery way, not in and of itself but to those that walk upon it, as their feet so easily slide from this pathway. It is a way in which they are encompassed by many enemies, refusing to let them advance; yet they proceed with much difficulty while continually doing battle. Furthermore, they are so often in the dark, hardly knowing the way. They are weak, ready to stumble, tired, and discouraged. They are so easily overcome by the enemy and know not how to persevere. The Holy Spirit, however, leads them along this way as one would lead a blind person. As one would lead an ignorant person along the way he must go, the Holy Spirit leads them in a way which they have not known (Isa. 42:16). He shows them this way, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21). He inclines their will, making them willing to walk in this way. He encourages them, repeatedly stirring them up to walk in this way. Time and again He gives new strength. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29). Thus, in His light they travel through darkness.
Sixthly, the Holy Spirit comforts them;
He is called the Comforter (cf. John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:7). The life of believers is one of many vicissitudes. At one time or another a troublesome darkness comes upon them, their corrupt flesh overwhelms them, Satan assaults with His fiery darts, or unbelief gains the upper hand. It can also be that God hides His countenance from them, while appearing to reject and to be angry with them. Moreover, one trial follows the other so that perseverance seems impossible. Then again they live in fear of death and the king of terror attacks them. In these and similar circumstances which potentially can overwhelm their souls, it pleases the Holy Spirit to sustain them with His comfort. He does so in a variety of ways.
(1) He shows them that the cross they must bear is so light that it is not worthy of being downcast over. This becomes especially evident when He focuses their attention upon the future glory which will be their portion. With this in view they are in agreement with Paul, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
(2) He shows them the brevity of cross-bearing, as being but for a moment. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment” (2 Cor. 4:17). That which occurred yesterday is no more, and what will be tomorrow we do not know. We merely have the present which passes by as rapidly as the progression of time. What is our life when compared to eternity?
(3) He shows them the advantages concealed in their affliction. He shows them how it humbles them, makes them submissive, weans them from the world, teaches them to depend on God and to trust in Him, and how they increase in holiness according to the apostle’s testimony, “For they [the fathers of our flesh, vs. 9] verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness … nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:10–11).
(4) He shows them that their way is God’s way by which He leads all His children to heaven. He shows them that it is God’s sovereign will, which He exercises with pure wisdom and goodness, to deal with them in such a fashion. Along with this He gives them love for the will of God so that they agree with His will, causing them to pray, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.… Thy will be done” (Mat. 26:39, 42).
(5) He assures them of the love and grace of God towards them and that they have found grace in His eyes. Such testimony is sufficient to cause them to consider their cross to be but insignificant. This is expressed by Paul: “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
(6) He shows them that the ultimate outcome of their trial will be consistent with what they have experienced so frequently already. He shows them that the rod of the wicked will not always rest upon the lot of the righteous (Psa. 125:3), and that their cross will neither be too heavy nor will they be required to bear it any longer than necessary. It will not overwhelm them, for He will be with them even when they must pass through water and fire. Then the rivers will neither overflow them nor the fire burn them. They will come forth as gold tried in the furnace and will thank the Lord that He has dealt with them thus, having afflicted them in faithfulness. Consider therefore this promise, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Upon having these matters presented to us, it makes a considerable difference whether we meditate upon them as such, or whether it pleases the Holy Spirit to reveal them to us with clarity, powerfully impressing them upon the heart. Only then will these truths become effectual, yielding comfort to the heart. Only then will the believer bear his cross joyfully.
Seventhly, the Holy Spirit seals believers.
(1) In the process of sealing a transmission of the image found on the seal occurs, which in this context is the image of God.
(2) As the image is imprinted in wax, so the image of God is imprinted upon the heart of man, who is re-created in this image.
(3) The transmission of this image occurs by the operation of the Spirit of God, who imprints the image of God upon man, causing Christ to be formed in them.
The process of sealing occurs for various reasons:
(1) A seal is applied to conceal something from the eyes of others. Letters are sealed for this purpose. In like manner a believer is sealed and thus hidden from the eyes of the world which cannot receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). “Therefore the world knoweth us not” (1 John 3:1).
(2) A seal is applied to preserve something in its inviolate form. Upon the occurrence of death crates and cupboards in a home are sealed for this purpose. Believers are in like manner “a garden enclosed … a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song of Sol. 4:12).
(3) A seal is applied to identify the ownership of an object, thereby distinguishing it from other similar objects. Merchandise is sealed for this purpose. In this manner God also seals His children, thus acknowledging them to be His. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). Others also recognize them by virtue of this seal. “All that see them shall acknowledge them” (Isa. 61:9); “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples” (John 13:35); “and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). By this seal believers also recognize themselves. “And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3); “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
(4) A seal is applied for the purpose of confirmation. Business letters and contracts are sealed in this manner. In like manner the Holy Spirit seals believers, confirming to them the covenant of grace and assuring them that they are partakers of the same. “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:22).
This sealing, which confirms believers and assures them that they are partakers of the covenant of grace, occurs in various ways.
First, this occurs when the Spirit reveals to believers that He dwells in them as in a temple.
The bride requested, “set me as a seal upon Thine heart” (Song of Sol. 8:6); that is, let me thus be imprinted upon Thy heart, that Thou wouldest continually think upon me and that my appearance would continually be before Thy eyes. In like manner the Holy Spirit sets Himself as a seal upon the heart of believers, making them conscious of His presence and indwelling, whereby He assures them as clearly and powerfully that they are partakers of the covenant of grace as if they were sealed with a seal. “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). The Spirit Himself has been given them as a pledge that God will make them partakers of all promised benefits. They cannot be sealed and assured in a more excellent manner than this, for God Himself is their pledge, and as such is of infinitely more value than salvation itself. “In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13); “… the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
Secondly, the Holy Spirit seals them by imprinting the image of God upon them, as well as by showing and revealing to them that the image of God is in them.
He convinces them of the genuineness of their initial change, of their being ingrafted into Christ, of their faith whereby they truly received Christ and still do so daily both unto justification and sanctification. He convinces them of the genuineness of their insatiable desire to continually enjoy communion with God, of their spiritual life which, though feeble, is nevertheless genuine, and of their hatred for sin. He makes them aware how it wounds and grieves them when they perceive internal sin, imperfection in their performance of duty, as well as their failure to perform that which is good. He shows them that it is not only all their desire to be holy, but that their utmost effort is to do everything in faith, to be motivated by the love and fear of God, to live in childlike obedience, etc. The Spirit makes them conscious of all this, so that they perceive it in such a manner that they can neither deny it nor be deprived of its inherent comfort. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).
Having on the one side revealed this to them, He leads them, in the consciousness of this received grace, not only to the Word of God but also to the promises which are made to such persons as they are. He sheds light upon such texts and causes them to acknowledge the infallible truth expressed in them. In this condition He ushers them into the presence of God and by virtue of two propositions—one being deduced from the grace they possess and the other from the Word of God—causes them to come to the conclusion that they are most certainly the children of God and thus will become partakers of eternal salvation. By way of such reasoning, the Holy Spirit not only labors to give clarity and assurance concerning both God’s grace in them and the promises of Scripture for them, but also takes an active part in the formulation of this conclusion. By granting much light, He causes them to be steadfast and assured in this conclusion. By His sealing power He impresses this reality so deeply upon their heart that they believe it with such certainty as if they saw it with their eyes and touched it with their hands—yes, as if they were already in possession of salvation itself. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit also occasionally seals in an immediate manner by means of clear and powerful declarations within the heart, such as:
“I have loved thee with an everlasting love; Thy sins are forgiven thee; Thou art an heir of eternal life,” and similar passages. Such declarations occasionally occur by means of a Scripture passage which is powerfully applied. At other times this can occur without a specific text, bearing in mind that such a declaration will always be in agreement with Scripture, it being the touchstone for such a declaration. This immediate sealing does not only result in the confirmation of their spiritual state, but the Holy Spirit grants them the immediate enjoyment of the matter itself, which results in peaceful serenity, a pleasant and sweet frame of mind, and an exhilarating joy. This causes such a person to be saturated with love, be in a holy frame of mind, be lifted up in the ways of the Lord, be ready to heroically do battle with the enemy, and walk in the way of God’s commandments. The bride refers to this as being kissed. “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for Thy love is better than wine” (Song of Sol. 1:2). She further testifies, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love,” etc. (Song of Sol. 2:4–6). Such was David’s desire, “say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” (Psa. 35:3). It is this blessing which Christ promises to believers. “I will love him, and will manifest Myself to Him. We will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21, 23).
One should know, however, that, although all believers are sealed, this does not occur with equal clarity. Many are in the dark and remain there, as they cannot clearly perceive the indwelling of the Spirit nor the graces which are in them. They fear that they are neither partakers of the one nor of the other. They cannot formulate a conclusion from Scripture without many doubts, as they quietly fear self-deception. Many who are sealed do not experience being sealed by an immediate declaration to the soul. Moreover, many, who have enjoyed this immediate sealing in some measure, do not always live in this enjoyment. Those who with Paul have been drawn into the third heaven will also be buffeted by Satan. Those who with Peter walk upon the sea will subsequently sink due to unbelief. Those who have been enlightened will experience darkness, and those who have rejoiced will become sorrowful. Thus, those who previously had so much assurance, can again become subject to a doubtful frame and are kept from sinking away only by reflecting upon former days.
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit abides with them to all eternity.
Even though the Holy Spirit often hides Himself and appears to suspend His operation so that with Job they must complain, “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him: on the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him: He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him” (Job 23:8–9), He nevertheless dwells in them and will abide with them. This is according to promise. “That He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth … for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16–17); “But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you” (1 John 2:27). Since He is given to believers as a pledge, it is certain that He will abide as such until the promised benefits will be enjoyed in full perfection. “Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:13–14; cf. Eph. 4:30).
Being temples of the Holy Ghost, how holy ought the conduct of believers to be, in order that He might find delight in dwelling in them! How carefully one should seek to prevent the desecration of the temple of God, either by personally engaging in sin or by causing others to sin. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy” (1 Cor. 3:17). How careful we should be not to grieve the Spirit by either blatantly sinning in spite of His warnings, by a careless walk, or by resisting the way in which He leads us. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30). Rather, acknowledge His indwelling, willingly yield to His operation, listen to His comforts, and willingly follow in the way of His leading, in order that He may delight Himself in you and may work in you with ever increasing efficacy.
Behold, must you not admit that faith in the Holy Trinity is profitable?
Is it not the only foundation of a truly godly life and the fountain of all comfort? Therefore, consider God as being one in essence and existing in three Persons. Take notice of the operation of each Person in the administration of the covenant of grace, especially as it occurs within you. If you may entertain appropriate thoughts, make appropriate comments, and have appropriate exercises concerning each Person of the Trinity, you will experience considerable and consistent progress in godliness. There will be a wondrous illumination concerning the unity of the Godhead as you consider each individual Person, and of the Godhead in its Trinity as you contemplate its unity. If so much light, comfort, joy, and holiness may be derived from perceiving what is but an obscure glimmer of the Trinity, what will it be and how will the soul be affected when he may behold God’s face in righteousness, and awake, satisfied with His likeness? (Psa. 17:15). Then they will walk by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and they will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). Therefore, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance” (Psa. 33:12).
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 1:139–191.