The Unfathomable Mystery of the Trinity
“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
What do we know about the biblical doctrine of the Trinity? Do we have a comfortable, crisp understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is set forth in the Word of God? I think it is safe to assume that most people who profess to believe the doctrine of the Trinity would be hard pressed to show from the Scriptures why they believe it.
Without question, clear, biblical instruction is needed. Multitudes fall prey to the many heretical cults (And they are all heretical cults.) which deny the doctrine of the trinity and the eternal deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In these days of unity at any price, denominations, churches, and preachers who deny these essential facts are even embraced as Christian by many. Such compromise is both unbiblical and intolerable.
We worship one God in the Trinity, or Tri-Unity of his sacred Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and adore each as the God of all grace by whom we are saved. It must be acknowledged that it is an utter impossibility for sinful mortals to understand, much less explain, the mystery of the holy Trinity. No mortal can comprehend the being of the infinite God. The doctrine of holy trinity is, indeed, an unfathomable mystery.
Critics, skeptics, and infidels arrogantly boast that they will not believe anything that they cannot understand and explain; but their boast is not true. They would not think of denying that the sun shines, though few, if any, can explain or understand why and how. The fact is we live in a world full of things we cannot or do not personally understand. Yet, we never question them. I do not understand how a brown cow can eat green grass and give white milk that makes yellow butter; but I drink the milk and eat the butter.
Nothing is more confusing to scientists than the complexity of humanity. Neither the biologist nor the psychologist can grasp the mystery of what a man is. They tell us, in their folly, that we are the highest form of animal life. Yet, they cannot find an animal anywhere like a man. Why? Because man is not an animal. He is the only creature in the universe made in the image of God. That makes humanity an unfathomable mystery. The Word of God speaks of man as a trichotomy, a being of three parts. Unlike the animals around us, we are all material, rational, and spiritual beings. Each of us possesses a material body, a rational mind, and an immaterial or spiritual soul.
We are, in one sense, a unity, a personality. Yet, in another sense, we are a plurality, a tri-unity, or a trinity. How do we put all that together in one person? I cannot answer that question; but I know it is so. No one will ever be able to adequately explain the complex mystery of humanity. All we can do is watch and observe.
If that is true with regard to humanity, how much more so must it be true when we think about the infinite God! We cannot understand or explain even the works of God. We certainly cannot understand his Being! I make no pretense of being able to explain the Trinity. I cannot explain what I do not understand. Someone once said, “That man is a fool who denies the doctrine of the Trinity; and he is equally a fool who tries to explain it.” My only object in this study is to show that the Word of God teaches this doctrine and that it is a doctrine full of comfort and encouragement.
A Bible Doctrine
The Bible clearly and unmistakably teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. This is not a matter of guesswork. It is not a point of theological speculation or conjecture. 1 John 5:7 specifically and clearly states the doctrine of the Trinity. "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Certainly, this is not the only place where the doctrine is taught. Throughout the Scriptures, God reveals himself as a triune Being, one in three and three in one. All are equal in all things and co-eternal.
When we say we believe in the Trinity of the divine persons, we do not mean that there are three equal, but separate Gods. We do not mean that there is one God manifest in three personalities. We mean that we worship one God in three divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Divine Trinity is the union of these three Persons in one Godhead, so that all three are one God as to substance, but three Persons as to individuality. “In the nature of the one God,” wrote A. H. Strong, “there are three eternal distinctions which are represented to us under the figure of three Persons, and these three are equal.”
Is this or is it not the doctrine of the Bible? That is the only thing that matters. Search the Scriptures, and see for yourself that the Word of God clearly teaches the doctrine.
The Trinity is a doctrine found in the Old Testament Scriptures as well as the New. In the self-disclosure, or self-revelation, of God in the Old Testament, the Lord our God is always represented as one God, but always as one God with plural Persons within the Godhead (Deut. 6:4; Gen. 1:1-2, 26). The Old Testament Scriptures constantly point us to the three Persons of the Godhead. We are often confronted with God the Father, the Spirit of the Lord, and the many pre-incarnate appearances of Christ as the Angel of the Lord.
One of the most common Hebrew words used for God is the word El. You find it in a thousand combinations in the Old Testament. The plural form of the word El is Elohim. This is the word used in Genesis one. W. A. Criswell has powerfully demonstrated the significance of the way these words are used.
“In the first chapter of Genesis, that word Elohim is used thirty-two times. In the books of Moses, Elohim is used more than five hundred times. In the Old Testament Scriptures, Elohim is used more than five thousand times. In all thirty-two times in the first chapter of Genesis, in all the more than five hundred times in the writings of Moses, and in all the more than five thousand times in the Old Testament, without exception, Elohim is used with a singular verb. Elohim, plural, referring to the majesty and abounding marvel and mystery of God, appears with a singular verb.”
The implication of that fact is obvious. The Lord our God, the Triune God, is one God; and this Triune God is the one true and living God. There is no other God.
The New Testament clearly and emphatically declares the doctrine of the Trinity. No effort is made in the Word of God to prove the doctrine. It is simply stated as a matter of fact, a fact commonly received and believed by all who were numbered among the saints. It is presented, almost casually…
· In Connection with the Incarnation (Matt. 1:20-23).
· In Connection with our Lord’s Baptism (Matt. 3:15-17).
· In Connection with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
· In Connection with the Savior’s Promise to send the Holy Spirit another Comforter exactly like Himself (John 14:16)
· In Connection with the Apostolic Benedictions (2 Cor. 13:14).
The New Testament declares that God the Father is God (Rom. 1:7), God the Son is God (Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). Yet, “The LORD our God is one LORD.” The doctrine of the Trinity runs through all the New Testament (Lk 1:35; John 14:26; 15:26; Gal.4:6; Eph. 1:17; 2:18; 3:14-16; 4:4-7; 5:18-20; 6:17-23; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21; Rev. 1:4-6). Without question, the doctrine of the Trinity is a Bible doctrine.
Someone accurately stated that -- “The Father is all the fulness of the Godhead invisible (John 1:18); the Son is all the fulness of the Godhead manifested (John 1:14-18); the Spirit is all the fulness of God acting immediately upon the creature (1 Cor. 2:9-10).”
I confess my inability to produce a single argument drawn from nature or logic to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a mystery filled with such grandeur that it defies comprehension by finite minds. But our faith does not stand upon nature and logic. Our faith stands upon the Word of God alone. All Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity because it is revealed in Holy Scripture; and I see it clearly because I believe it.
A Gospel Doctrine
All three Persons in the Godhead are equally gracious. This is one of the many great gospel truths the Holy Spirit shows us in the first chapter of Ephesians. As the three Persons of the eternal Godhead are equal in Divinity, but distinct in personality, so all three of the Divine Persons are equal in grace, but distinct in the operations of grace.
God the Father is set before us as the Fountain of all grace (Eph. 1:3-6). It was God the Father who, in the covenant of grace, proposed redemption, devised the plan, and chose the people whom he would save by his almighty grace. He found a way whereby his banished ones could be brought back to him and never expelled from his presence. Then, “in the fulness of time,” he sent his Son to be the Medium or Mediator of grace to his chosen (Gal. 4:4-6).
God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the channel of all grace (Eph. 1:7-12). All grace comes to sinners through Christ the Mediator. In this chapter Paul tells us fourteen times that everything God requires of sinners, does for sinners, and gives to sinners is in Christ. Apart from Christ there is no grace! God will not deal with man, but by Christ. Man cannot deal with God, but by Christ. Christ is the Revelation of God, the incarnation of God, and the only way to God.
Are we chosen of God? We are chosen in Christ. Are we blessed of God? We are blessed in Christ. Are we predestinated by God? We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ. Are we adopted as the children of God? We are adopted in Christ. Are we accepted of God? We are accepted in Christ. Are we redeemed by God? We are redeemed in Christ. Are we forgiven by God? We are forgiven in Christ. Are we justified before God? We are justified in Christ. Are we sanctified by God? We are sanctified in Christ. Do we know God? We know him in Christ. Do we have an inheritance from God? We have it in Christ. Are we called of God? We are called in Christ.
Do you see this? All grace comes to chosen sinners through Christ. There is no other way the grace of God can reach a sinner. Let no rejecter of God’s Son imagine that he shall be the beneficiary of God’s grace. It is the work of Christ upon the cross which has brought grace and justice together in the salvation of sinners. It is through his blood, only through the blood of the cross that “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). Blissfully lost in the contemplation of God’s matchless grace in Christ, John Bunyan penned the following rapturous words…
“O Thou Son of the Blessed! Grace stripped Thee of thy glory. Grace brought Thee down from heaven. Grace made Thee bear such burdens of sin, such burdens of curse as are unspeakable. Grace was in Thy heart. Grace came bubbling up from Thy bleeding side. Grace was in Thy tears. Grace was in Thy prayers. Grace streamed from Thy thorn-crowned brow! Grace came forth with the nails that pierced Thee, with the thorns that pricked Thee! Oh, here are unsearchable riches of grace! Grace to make sinners happy! Grace to make angels wonder! Grace to make devils astonished!”
The Fountain of all grace is God the Father. The medium of all grace is God the Son. And God the Holy Spirit is the Administrator of all grace (Eph. 1:13-14). It is God the Holy Spirit who effectually applies the blood of Christ to chosen, redeemed sinners. He regenerates the dead by omnipotent power (John 6:63). He calls the redeemed with irresistible grace (Ps. 65:4; 110:3; John 16:8-11). He gives faith to the chosen by almighty operations of grace (Eph. 2:1-9; Col. 2:12). He seals God’s elect unto everlasting glory.
Redemption was effectually accomplished for God’s elect by Christ at Calvary; and it is effectually applied to all the redeemed by God the Holy Spirit in effectual calling (Heb. 9:12-14). Without the sovereign, gracious operations of God the Holy Spirit in conversion no sinner would ever become the beneficiary of grace. He takes the things of Christ and shows them to his people. He quickens those the Father chose, reclaims those the Son redeemed, and leads to the Good Shepherd everyone of those lost sheep for whom the Good Shepherd laid down his life (John 10:11). “He conquers the stoutest hearts and cleanses the foulest spiritual leper. He opens the sin-blinded eyes and unstops the sin-closed ears. The blessed Holy Spirit reveals the grace of the Father and applies the grace of the Son” (C.D. Cole)
All three Persons in the Godhead are equally gracious; and all three must be equally praised. In fact, whenever the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are presented together in the Scriptures, it is always in connection with redemption, grace, and salvation. I have not found an exception.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”
Sometimes God the Father is presented alone, as when he stood upon Mt. Sinai, clothed with thunder and lightening, delivering the law to Moses. So terrible was his presence that the very mountain shook in the prospect of God’s awesome judgment (Ex. 20:18).
Sometimes God the Son appears alone, as when he appears in his glorious second advent. Then men and women who have despised and rejected him will cry for the mountains to fall upon them and pray in terror that they might be saved from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:14).
When God the Holy Spirit is represented alone, the consequences are the same. Those who blaspheme him, committing that sin which can never be forgiven, are reserved as reprobates unto everlasting judgment (Matt. 12:31-32). Whenever one Person in the Trinity is presented alone, the result is judgment.
However, when all three of the Divine Persons are set before us together, the consequence is always mercy, grace, redemption, and salvation (Eph. 1:3-14; Rev. 1:4-6). In other words, -- The whole Being of God, in all his attributes, in all his glory, in the Trinity of his Persons is set for the everlasting salvation of his elect (Jer. 32:41; Rom. 8:28-32).
An Inspiring Doctrine
No doctrine in the Bible more forcibly inspires unity among true believers than the doctrine of the Trinity. This is not some abstract point of theological speculation, or some profitless point of doctrinal refinement. This is a subject so far above our comprehension that it should inspire our deepest reverence and humility, as well as the most circumspect consecration and unity.
In our baptism, you and I have publicly avowed our consecration to our God (Rom. 6:4-6). Being baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we publicly declared our consecration and commitment to obey the will of the Father, live for the glory of the Son, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Let every thought about the holy Trinity stimulate in us a desire that we may be one even as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one (John 17:20-22). “Who can think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as one - one in nature, one in love, one in purpose - and not hope for the day when the intercessory prayer of Christ will be answered in the union of all his followers?” (J.M. Pendleton)
All true believers should earnestly devote themselves, as the sons and daughters of the triune God, to unity. Oh, that God’s saints on earth might truly be one in purpose – seeking the glory of God, one in labor, -- serving the cause of Christ, and one in the love of Christ (Phil. 2:2-5). As the children of God in this world, for Christ’s sake (Eph, 4:32-5:1), for his glory, believers must learn by the grace of God to be patient with one another, -- to highly esteem one another, -- to forgive one another, -- to be forbearing with one another, and – to give deference to one another. Soon, we shall be one in glory (John 17:22; Eph. 4:1-6).