The inter-relations of the Trinity

The Father loves the Son

Interestingly, Augustine expounded the Johannine phrase, "God is love," as proving, or at least intimating, the Trinity.

How? He establishes the point that God is necessarily eternal and since God is eternal then He must have loved from eternity, for "God is love," always was and always remains love. But to love God must love someone: The Father loves the Son, and such a divine love is communicated by the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. Thus the Trinity.

"The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (John 3:35). Again, "The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth..." (John 5:20). "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you..." (John 15:9). "This is my Beloved Son..." See also John 17:23, where Christ declares that God's elect are loved with the same love that the Father has towards His only Begotten Son. Marvellous truth! And to make it all the more sublime, Christ continues by praying thus, "For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world" (v.24).

This love of the Father towards the Son is communicated to believers: "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (v.26).

This Fatherly love is reciprocated fully by the Son. In this respect, the Son responds to the Father's love by submitting wholly and obeying the Father's will, completely and perfectly. "Not my will, but thine be done." "My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish his work." "Then said I, Lo, I do thy will, O God." "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38).

The Father hears and speaks to the Son

1. Psalm 2:6ff. Jehovah speaks concerning his Son, and about his decree of setting him as King over all the earth. The fact that worship and reverential homage (kiss) is to be given to the Son imply that he is also divine, and yet distinct from the Father.

2. Matthew 3:17. The Father expresses his approval of the Son, in whom He finds constant pleasure, both because of the fact that the Son is the exact representation of the Father and because of his obedience.

3. Matthew 12:18. A quotation from Isaiah. 42:1-4, where the Servant of the Lord is called the Chosen One, the Beloved. God's Spirit alights upon him to equip him for the task of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.

4. Isaiah 42:1, cf. no.3, above.

5. Matthew 17:5 (Mark 9:7). The Father shows the majesty of His Son on the Mount of Transfiguration. Divine revelation is wrapped up in Him, about whom it is said, "Hear ye him."

6. Hebrews 1:8. The Father addresses the Son and calls him specifically and directly, "O God." And yet later, "Therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee..." cf. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...." An intimate union and yet a distinction of persons.

7. John 12:28. In answer to Christ's prayer, the Father speaks to him from heaven. Evidently Christ and the Father are not the same person for they speak to each other: notwithstanding both are divine in nature, and the Father is willing to glorify the Son and the Son asks the Father to glorify his name.

The unity of the Triune Godhead

a. John 14:26. The Son promises the Paraclete who will take his place in ministering to the disciples. And yet his ministry will bring to the believers' remembrance the same things that Christ has taught them. This is in complete harmony with the unity of the Godhead, for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, comes from the Father and is sent by Him according to his eternal plan of salvation.

b. John 15:26. Again, the Spirit's interest is to testify of Christ, not primarily about himself. The Spirit comes not of his own initiative but accomplished the Father's will in magnifying the Christ. The Trinity is once again seen to be harmonious and in complete agreement, for the divine substance is One, not manifold.

c. John 20:22. In receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples are enabled to bear witness powerfully and with confidence. They are not left comfortless, though Christ is about to ascend back into heaven whence he came. "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you." This promise Christ made good by sending His Spirit, equipping the church and filling the same with his divine presence, for "I will be with you always to the end of the world." By the Spirit, Christ continues to work through his church (Acts 1:1 ff.) for the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, just as much as Christ is one with the Father, "I and the Father are one" (John 10).

d. Acts 2:33. This is the accomplishment of the Promise: God the Spirit coming to dwell with his people permanently and in fullness of power. God's unity is shown thus: The Father sends the Son, the Son having been glorified at the right hand of the Father, together with the Father sends the Spirit, and the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father comes to regenerate, convert and sanctify the people whom Christ redeemed by his blood, those same people whom the Father foreknew.

A perfect unity: a Trinitarian salvation in its profoundest sense.

e. Galatians 4:6. Again the Three persons of the Godhead are mentioned, and mentioned in such as way as to show the sublime unity that subsists among them. The Father has a Son, and the Spirit is none else but the Spirit of the Son. This same Spirit causes God's children to cry, 'Abba, Father.'

Scripture, especially the New Testament epistles, is replete with cases where the Three persons are mentioned together, in a harmonious way, in no sense detracting from each other, or in competition to each other, for they are the One true God.

The Spirit makes intercession with the Father

The Spirit, then, must be distinct from the Father, for no one can intercede with Himself, Romans 8:26.

1. What is prayer, particularly intercessory prayer?

It is the outpouring of our hearts on behalf of others. Motivated by love, I approach the throne of Grace to ask some blessing or help for others.

We have various examples of this:

a. Abraham (Genesis 18:23ff - crying out on behalf of wicked cities, that God might spare them).

b. The apostle Paul (in the introductory part of his epistles, praying on behalf of local churches).

c. Pre-eminently, Christ himself, our great high priest (John 17; Luke 22, for Simon Peter).

2. In Scripture, acceptable prayer is addressed only to God, the living and true God, most especially God the Father, as Christ taught us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

3. God the Father is approached by someone else.

a. By mere men, for men (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:1ff).

b. By Christ, the God-man, as the Representative of the elect. He has the interests of both God the Father and of his people at heart.

c. But the Spirit, as the Vicar of Christ, and the Other Counsellor promised to the church, also intercedes for the saints, Romans 8:26. Besides, he induces and impels Christians to cry, 'Abba, Father,' for he is the Spirit of adoption. Christians are obliged to pray in the Spirit, i.e., by his motivation and power

4. It is evident, from the foregoing, that the Spirit helps us in our infirmities, especially in the matter and manner of prayer. His groans cannot be uttered.

In a very real sense, the Spirit, our Guide and Counsellor, prays for us. This He is well able to do, for he knows the mind of God, being equally divine with the Father and the Son.

As Christ was always heard by the Father, even so we may be assured that the Spirit is successful in his intercession with the Father on our behalf. In every aspect, then, God is working in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. Thus:

a. The Spirit intercedes for us and with us.

b. The Son makes the church's prayers acceptable before the Throne, as the Mediator of the Covenant.

c. The Father hears and answers prayer.

The Three persons of the Trinity are all involved intimately in our worship: motivating it, expressing it, and receiving it.

The Comforter sent

The richest vein in the NT for expounding the most basic doctrine of God the Holy Trinity is to be found in John's Gospel. Constantly the reader is presented with a wide, deep, and subtle account of divine distinction within unity.

The Father, Son and the Spirit are clearly distinct persons who assume and fulfil different roles in the general enterprise of man's salvation, that is, in disclosing eternal life and giving it.

But they do not work separately: the unexplained unity is revealed and exemplified by common will, a common work, a common word and knowledge, and supremely, by a reciprocal love.

They also are "keen" to glorify each other, rather than seeking self-glorification. "I do not seek my own glory, but the glory of the one who sent me." "He shall not speak of himself..." "He shall glorify me..."

The persons are distinguished, especially seen in the subordination of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though the Son has a will of his own (17:24), he subordinates it to the Father.

The Spirit, in turn, is subordinate to the Son. He functions as a pure agent, bestowed by Jesus (1:33; 20:22). He is sent as "another Counsellor" (14:26; 15:26; 16:13ff).

This manifestation of wills that distinguishes the Three also unites them. For only one divine will is expressed - that of the Father who sends the Son and (with the Son: filioque) the Spirit. The Sending One is greater than the Sent One (cf. The Father is greater than I), and yet not in essence, for there is but One divine essence (John 1:1), but in role. The Son's work is that of the Father (5:19-22, 36; 9:3ff; 14:10); the Son accomplished it on behalf of the Father. The Paraclete reveals and applies the work of the Son (15:26; 16;8-11,14).

This order of working is itself unifying, for it all issues from the bosom of the Father, who loved the world, and thus sent his Son (3:16).

Mutuality of witness

There is also a mutuality of witness. For if the Spirit witnesses to the Son, the Son also witness to the Spirit (15:26; 14:26). And if the Son witnesses to or reveals the Father, the Father also witnesses to the Son (17:26; 1:18; 5:36f). Believers receive all blessings through the Paraclete (14:26; cf. 15:15ff), who thus brings life; thus in the Creed appropriately designated as "The Life-giving Spirit."

The Three divine persons assure us of a complete and perfect salvation. Without the coming of the Comforter we cannot come to know Christ; without the coming of Christ we cannot know the Father; and without the knowledge of the Father we cannot have life, eternal life (17:3).

The Holy Spirit will not speak of himself

The presentation of both divine subordination and divine unity (esp. in John) are to be kept in mind, and kept in perfect balance. We are not free to choose one and neglect or reject the other. Indeed John present a functional "hierarchy" with the Father in ultimate control. The Son and the Spirit carry out and accomplish the Father's decree and plan of salvation. The are always sent. Neither Son nor Spirit ever sends the Father.

In this framework it is quite understandable that the Spirit shall not speak of himself. His mission is to make known and reveal the Son in all his glory and excellency, for men will come to enjoy salvation as the come to know Christ, for to know Christ is to know God.

The Spirit therefore is not the terminus of salvation; he brings salvation to men by convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgement, by glorifying Christ.

This is one of the reasons why historically and theologically the Spirit is commonly known as the Third Person of the Trinity, even though sometimes He is mentioned second among the Three (cf. 1 Peter 1:2).

Our Lord's baptism in respect of the Trinity

Christ was baptised to fulfil all righteousness; and yet, at that important event, we have a marvellous glimpse of the Trinity.

The testimony of the Father from heaven confirms Jesus' identification as the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1; cf. Exodus 4:22) and connects this with the messianic kingship (Psalms 2:7).

The Spirit's appearance in the form if a dove reminds us of the Spirit's creative activity in Genesis 1:2 and may point to the beginning of the new creation through the ministry of Jesus. Once again, as is usual, the Father is the Transcendent God (No one has seen God at any time); the Son reveals him (He is the image of the invisible God); and the Spirit anoints and empowers him, to the very point when Christ, in accomplishing redemption, accomplished it "through the eternal Spirit."

And this is what is presented to us at the Baptism.