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The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Father, God the Son.” The series of sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and was first published in 1996.

         http://www.mlj.org.uk/

 

But now, having said that, let me go on to what many would say is the greatest, the most vital and the most important aspect of this exalted doctrine of God, and that is, of course, the doctrine of the blessed Holy Trinity. Even in considering the names of God and His various attributes, we have, in a sense, been preparing ourselves for this great doctrine. But whether you recognise that or not, no one can read the Bible without, of necessity, coming face to face with this doctrine of the Trinity. Now I have said more than once during the course of these lectures that I have felt very much like Moses at the burning bush, and I have heard a voice saying to me, `Be careful; take your shoes from off your feet because the ground whereon you are standing is holy ground.'

Well, if we have felt that hitherto, how much more must we feel it as we consider this exalted doctrine of the Holy Trinity. For it is beyond any question the most mysterious and the most difficult of all biblical doctrines. There is no doctrine which shows so clearly what we agreed about at the very beginning---our absolute dependence upon the revelation that we have in the Scriptures. No human being would have thought of the doctrine of the Trinity. It comes directly from the Bible and from nowhere else at all. Men and women have thought of God; they have their gods; but no one has ever thought of the Trinity.

Another comment I would make, as we approach this doctrine, is that there is no question at all but that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most distinctive doctrine of the Christian faith. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I hope to establish it as we go along. Does it not occur to you, therefore, in the light of this, that it is rather a curious thing that we hear so little about this doctrine? I speak in particular to those who are evangelical Christians: Why is it that we have emphasised this doctrine so little?

I have no doubt that the answer is because of its difficulty, because of its mystery. But that is no excuse. Indeed, every doctrine which we find in the Scriptures we must regard as from God, and there is none more important than this. I fear it is another example of the laziness that has come upon us---the desire for comfort, and the tendency to rest upon experiences, and to avoid anything that demands intellectual effort. But if we have neglected the doctrine of the Trinity, shame on us! It is, in a sense, the most exalted and the most glorious of all doctrines; the most amazing and astonishing thing that God has been pleased to reveal to us concerning Himself.

How, then, do we approach this doctrine? I start at once by saying that we must not attempt to do so in terms of philosophy. I put it like that because many people think they can explain the doctrine of the Trinity in those terms. They have used illustrations like this: they have said that the doctrine of the Trinity is comparable to the sun and the rays coming out of the sun; others have compared it to the seed and the soil and the flower, you see the unity and yet the division, the three in one and the one in three, they say.

But I feel that all these attempts to understand the doctrine of the Trinity philosophically not only do not help us, but are probably very dangerous to us. It seems to me that there is only one thing to do, and that is to acknowledge that we stand before the mystery which is revealed in the Bible. We cannot hope to understand it. We cannot hope to grasp it with our minds; it is entirely beyond us and above us. We are simply meant to look at it with wonder, with awe and with worship, and be amazed at it.

If I would venture to say even half a word philosophically, I would say that, as we have said in passing, the doctrine of God as love, or emphasising that one of God's attributes is love, does seem to me in and of itself to imply a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. If the eternal God is love, then He has always loved, before creation, before time. But who has He loved? Does this not almost of necessity insist upon the Trinity? And that is really what the Bible teaches, that the three blessed Persons in the Trinity have loved one another perfectly from all eternity. But you need not even accept that. I simply put it to you as a suggestion in passing.

No, let us come back and look at the word, and discover what the Bible itself has to tell us. Now you will notice as you go right through it that no single explicit statement of this doctrine is made. Nowhere in the Bible will you find a statement that God is three Persons---Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But by implication the doctrine of the Trinity, as we shall come to see, is to be found in the Old Testament and in the New. It is suggested everywhere and in the most unlikely and unexpected places.

But before I give you that evidence, let me lay down certain points which are of vital importance in this connection. The doctrine of the Trinity does not mean that there are three Gods---what is called tritheism. We have to make this negative statement, because the Unitarians are always ready to charge Christians with believing in three Gods. They say, `You call us Unitarians; we call you Tritheists, with your doctrine of Father, Son, and Spirit. You are really talking about three Gods.'

Now we reject tritheism completely. The particular emphasis throughout the Old Testament is that there is only one true and living God. We read, `Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord' (Deuteronomy 6:4). That was the message that was repeated constantly to the children of Israel, and it was absolutely essential, of course, because the children of Israel were the one nation in the world who had been given this information and this knowledge. They were surrounded by nations who believed in a variety of gods. The problem in the time of the Old Testament was the problem of polytheism; people believed in the various gods of war and peace, and so on ---Baal, Asherah, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury---all these various gods---and above everything else the children of Israel were called to proclaim the unity of God and the fact that there is only one God.

Our Lord, in effect, said the same thing when He used the words, `I and my Father are one' (John 10:30). Not two. Then you will find that James also makes this point. He says, 'Thou believest that there is one God . . .' (James. 2:19). So, then, as we consider this great and blessed doctrine of the Holy Trinity, whether we finally understand what we are saying or not, we must keep on saying that we do not believe in three Gods. There is only one God.

But, second, I lay down this postulate: while God in His innermost nature is one, He nevertheless exists as three Persons. Now we are already in trouble, are we not? Do you not want to ask me at this point: Are you saying that there are three Persons, different in essence? If you are---then there must be three Gods? To which my reply is this: `Hear, 0 Israel: Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah.' I must say that.

What is the trouble, therefore? Well, the trouble, once more, is due to the inadequacy of language. We have to talk about `persons' because we cannot think of a higher category than persons, and as we think of persons we think of individuals, and we are separating them. But as the Bible uses these expressions, they obviously mean something different. Now I do not pretend to understand. Nobody understands. The greatest minds in the Church throughout the centuries have been grappling with this and trying to explain it, and they cannot understand it. So they can do nothing beyond what we are doing now. They say that God is one, but nevertheless that God, who is one, in His ultimate innermost nature exists as three Persons.

Let me give you the statement of the famous Westminster Confession of Faith with regard to this doctrine: `There are three Persons within the Godhead---the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.' I would strongly recommend that you buy a copy of the Westminster Confession. You will find some of these great definitions there in their most convenient form. That is what it says about this great doctrine of the Trinity, which I can put like this: the Father is God, the Son is also God, not two Gods, but the same God in essence. The same eternal being is Father and Son.

We must say this; the first verse in the first chapter of the Gospel of John makes us do so: `In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' It seems to be contradictory, but it is true. That is what I am trying to say. The Word is God as the Father is God, and yet there are not two Gods---there is only one Godhead. Again, I remind you that our Lord said, `I and My Father are One.'

You will also find the apostle Paul saying, `Christ ... who is over all, God blessed for ever' (Rom. 9:5). In Colossians 2:9, Paul says, `For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.' Then in Titus 2:13 we are told to look for `that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.' Jesus Christ is God. Not only is the Father God but the Son is God. There are explicit statements of that.

But not only that; you cannot read your Gospels without finding that attributes are ascribed to the Lord Jesus Christ which can only be ascribed to God, His eternity, for instance: `Before Abraham was, I am' (John 8:58); He does not hesitate to say it. Then there is His holiness; also His life. Our Lord says, `For as the Father hath life in himself: so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself' (John 5:26). And He also says, `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him' (John 17:2). That is only true of God. Then there is His immutability: `Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever' (Hebrew 13:8). You may remember that we considered that in considering the attributes of God.

Next His omnipotence: `All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth' (Matthew 28:18). Nothing is impossible to Him. Then His omnipresence: `Lo,' he says, `I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world' (Matthew 28:20). His omniscience: Jesus knew everything; nothing was hidden from Him. He knew what was in a person, and He did not need anybody to tell Him (see John 2:25). He knew people's thoughts. He could say to Nathanael: `When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee' (John 1:48). He could read the innermost thoughts and imaginations of men and women. It was through Him that all things were created. It is by Him that all things subsist. He has a right, He tells us, to judge (John 5:27), and He will be the Judge. Thus you see that attributes of deity and of the Godhead are freely ascribed to Him. So we say that the Father is God and we say that the Son is God.

Yes, but we must also say that the Holy Spirit is God. Do you remember the terrible words that were spoken by Peter to Ananias and Sapphira? He said, 'Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost ... thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God' (Acts 5:34). You have been lying, he said, to the Holy Spirit, and because you have been lying to the Holy Spirit you have been lying to God.

Then we are told in the New Testament about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: our Lord said, `All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men' (Matthew 12:31) and you will find the same in the parallel passages.

There is also the baptismal formula found at the end of Matthew's Gospel: `. . . baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost' (Matthew 28:19). And the Apostolic benediction says, `The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all' (2 Corinthians 13:14). So, you see, the Bible asserts that the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the Father and the Son, is also God. There are also many other examples in the Scriptures where the three Persons refer to one another. You find our Lord referring to `another Comforter' (John 14:16), whom He and the Father are going to send; and so on.

There are those who have tried to deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in this way: they say, `There are not three Persons, there is only one Person, there is only one God; but that one God can reveal Himself in different ways. He once revealed Himself as the Father; then at other times He reveals Himself as the Son; and again at other times He reveals Himself as the Holy Spirit.' And they try to use human analogies to help us to understand: they say, for example, that the same man can be a husband and a father and a preacher ---one person in three relationships.

But the Bible rejects all that. Father, Son, and Spirit are not merely modes in which God appears. No, no. There are three Persons in the Godhead. The Persons refer to each other; Christ spoke about the others and referred to the others, not meaning Himself but the other Persons in the Holy Trinity. So we reject any teaching that there is only one God who shows Himself in these different forms. Furthermore, this can be proved quite conclusively, since we find the Scriptures naming the three Persons together. For instance, when the annunciation was made to the virgin Mary about the birth of her Son, the three Persons were mentioned: the power of God, the power of the Spirit, and the power of the Son who would be born (Luke 1:26-38).

You see this again at the baptism. There was the Son in the river; the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove; and the voice of God the Father was heard saying, `This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' (Matthew 3:13-17). Then in this connection, study very carefully chapters 14, 15 and 16 of John's Gospel. In John 15:26 you will find that put perfectly in this way: `But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.' Here the Son is speaking about the Comforter, whom the Father is going to send. And again I would remind you of the baptismal formula and the apostolic benediction.

Even in the Old Testament there is much teaching about the Holy Spirit and about the Son. Now you would not expect to find the doctrine of the Trinity expounded as clearly in the Old Testament as in the New, for the reason that I have given---the constant threat of polytheism. But, in addition to that, you obviously could not have had a complete or explicit doctrine of the Trinity until the Son had appeared incarnate, and until He had sent the Holy Spirit. It was only then that men and women could possibly receive the doctrine, and even now, as we have found, it is a holy and a mysterious doctrine, and difficult to grasp.

But it is there in the Old Testament. In the very first chapter of Genesis you will find the doctrine of the Trinity quite plainly, if you will look for it. Take that name of God---Elohim. It is a plural term. God speaks of Himself in the plural. Do you remember what He says about the creation of man in Genesis 1:26: `Let us make man in our image.' Why is that? There is only one adequate explanation; it is because of the blessed Holy Trinity. It is stated of man in Genesis 3:22: `. .. Behold, the man is become as one of us ...' And then in connection with the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:7, we read: `Let us go down, and there confound their language ...' And then you find it in Isaiah chapter 6:8: `Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' You see, these very terms suggest the Trinity.

Then you remember that in one of the earlier lectures we referred to the Angel of the Covenant, to whom so many references are made in the Old Testament, and we were driven to the only possible conclusion---that the Angel of the Covenant is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Yes; in that form He revealed Himself. It was not His incarnation; it was a theophany, an appearance of the Son as the Angel of the Covenant.

And you remember, too, the references to the Holy Spirit away back at the beginning of Genesis. We are told that the Spirit `brooded' upon the waste. It was the Spirit who enabled the prophets to speak. It was the Spirit who came upon Bezaleel and enabled him to do skilled work in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2-5). Thus you see that there is a wealth of teaching in the Old as well as the New Testament with regard to this great doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Let me ask a final question: What is the relationship between the three Persons? The answer in the Scriptures everywhere is that they are co-eternal; there is no subordination as such. When the Son is called the Son, it does not mean that He is subordinate or any less than His Father. The fact that He is the Son means that He is equal to the Father. He is `the express image of his person' (Hebrew 1:3)---not subordinated to Him or different from Him. He is the same as and equal to the Father of whom He is the Son.

Very well, I can sum it up like this: the Trinity has existed in the Godhead from all eternity. A statement of the Athanasian Creed with regard to this gives a perfect definition: `The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Ghost is Lord, and yet there are not three Lords but one Lord. For as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the same truth to say that there are three Gods or three Lords.' And in reality you can never get beyond that. The scriptural truth, the Christian truth, insists upon our saying that there are three Persons, and yet we must not say that there are three Gods. This is a great and eternal mystery.

But---and in many ways this is the most glorious aspect of this doctrine---though the three Persons in the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal, for the purposes of our salvation you have what has sometimes been called the economic Trinity. A division is made among the three Persons, and, for the purposes of this work and of this salvation, there is a kind of subjugation of the three Persons. The Father creates; the Father elects; the Father planned salvation. The Son was sent by the Father to work out this salvation. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to apply the salvation.

Now that is a staggering thought. That these three blessed Persons in the blessed Holy Trinity for my salvation have thus divided up the work. The Son has put Himself at the disposal of the Father, and the Spirit has put Himself at the disposal of the Father and the Son. The Spirit does not speak of Himself, but testifies to the Son. The Son did not speak of Himself, but received His words and His works from the Father, though He was equal and eternal---the economic Trinity. So that while, in a sense, we can say that it was the Father who sent the Son, and the Son who came and did the work, and the Spirit applied it, we must at the same time say this: God was in it all. `God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them' (2 Corinthians 5:19). There was a kind of division of labour and yet a unity in purpose and a unity in doing it all.

Well, I told you when I began that we were approaching the greatest mystery in the Bible and in the Christian faith---the most exalted and the most sublime truth. May I beg of you, do not try to understand all this with your minds. It is for us humbly and as little children to receive the truth as it is revealed; to stand in worship, in adoration and amazement. It is beyond us, but it is true. And it is all true in a special way for us and for our salvation.(83-91)

 

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