Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST004/4 The Evangelical Doctrine.


The Evangelical Doctrine.

The Athanasian Creed states the doctrine of the Trinity in the following words,

"We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal."

The evangelical doctrine may be summed up in the affirmation, in the words of Wiley, that, "the Godhead is of one substance, and that in the unity of this substance there are three Subsistencies or Persons; and further that this must be held in such manner as not to divide the substance or confuse Persons".

(a) The Unity of Substance or Essence.

As has already been pointed out the Christian Church does not believe or teach that the "one" and "three" are used in the same sense. The "one" refers to the essence or substance, the "three" alone to the Persons. The distinction is in the Persons; it is not a Trinity of essence or being. Human beings have the same nature in many persons; it is generically the same but not numerically. The nature of the Godhead is both generically and numerically the same.

(b) The Trinity of Persons.

The Scripture teaches that there is an Essential Trinity and not merely an Economic one, i.e. God is not merely a Trinity in His redamptive activities but in His essential Being. He always has and always will be Three in One and One in Three. In this connection we must remember what has been said of the use of the word "Person".

"Person" in the modern sense expresses the nature of one substance; in connection with the Godhead "Persons" means the distinctions within the one substance. The following quotation from Wakefield (Chr.Theol.pp 178,179) will explain further:

"The term 'person' signifies in ordinary language an intelligent being. Two or more persons, therefore, in the strict philosophical sense, would be two or more distinct intelligent beings. If the term "person" were so applied to the Trinity in the Godhead, a plurality of Gods would follow; while if taken in what has been called a political sense, personality would mean no more than a relation arising out of office.

Personality in God is, therefore, not to be understood in either of the above senses if we pay respect to the testimony of Scripture, God is one being. But, He is more than one being in three `relations`, for personal acts, such as we ascribe to distinct persons, and which most unequivocally characterize personality, are ascribed to each person of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Scripture is, therefore, that the persons are not separate, but distinct, and that they are so united as to be but one God. In other words, that the divine nature exists under the personal distinction of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and these three have equally, and in common with one another, the nature and perfections of supreme divinity."

(c) The Divine Monarchy.

The doctrine of the Divine Monarchy maintains the fact that, although there are undoubtedly different relationships between the Persons of the Trinity spoken of in the Scriptures, God is one, and the source of all life, power, being and rule is one. There are not three wills and purposes, there is but one will and one purpose. The relationships are generally spoken of in the following terms:-

  1. The Father to the Son, paternity; the Father to the Spirit, spiration (or breathing) . 
  2. The Son to the Father, filiation (sonship); the Son to the Spirit (according to Western Theology) spiration.
  3. The Spirit to the Father, procession; the spirit to the Sons likewise procession, but in a sense different from that of the procession from the Father.

These relations are eternal and make no difference to the quality of the three Persons in the Godhead. The fact of the eternal paternity of the Father, the eternal filiation or generation of the Son, and the eternal procession of the Spirit, does not in any sense imply a different grade of divinity.

Each as equally and fully partakes of the divine nature as the others. Each is as equally and fully God. The terms "generation" and "son" as used of the Second Person of the Trinity, must not be pressed into a purely human mould.

The terms refer to two facts; first, that the Son is express revelation or image of the Father, and second, that He has identity of nature. The term "eternal generation" has been used to safeguard the thought. There never was a time when the Father was not the Father, neither was there a time when the Son was not the Son. In the same way the terms "procession"' and "spiration" as used of the Spirit, seek to make it clear that the Holy Spirit is the eternal, personal communion between the Father and the Son.

Without a Person who is the communion between the two, God could not be perfect and complete personality, as was illustrated by a quotation from Bishop Moule earlier in this section.
The Eastern Church has persistently held that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not from the Son. The Western Church added the words "filioque"(and the Son) to the creed and maintained that He proceeded from the Son also, though perhaps in a different way.

This seems more in accord with Scripture as the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ as well as the Spirit of the Father; also it was Jesus Christ who breathed on the disciples and said "Receive ye the Holy Spirit".

(d) The Circumcession.

The doctrine of the circumcession was meant to uphold still further the fact of the oneness of the Trinity by explaining that the Three Persons of the Trinity did not exist alongside each other as separate individuals, but permeated and penetrated each other, they lived in and through one another. The Divine Essence is indivisible, the whole Godhead is equally in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

(e) The nature of the Trinity. 

Quotation from Dr. Clarke makes the following comments concerning the doctrine of the Trinity,

"l........This view differs from Tritheism, and from such forms of Essential
Trinity which approach Tritheism, in that it does not assert distinct personalities, in the modern sense, in the Godhead. In this threeness there are not three wills; there is only one will. One person exists in three modes which are essential to His one personality. This is a real Triunity; in one sense God is three, while in another sense, just as truly, He is one.

2.........On the other hand, this view differs from the ordinary doctrine of modal Trinity of manifestation, which simply sees one God thrice expressed. It differs by adding that God actually exists in three modes, to the which the modes in question correspond and give expression. This is a doctrine of eternal and necessary threeness in God. As long as God is personal, so long is He triune, being three in a sense in which He is not one; being three for the very reason that He is one, this is a Trinity that can never be dissolved.

3..........This doctrine accounts for the full presence and activity of God in each of the three manifestations. It avoids separating God into parts: and distributing His powers and attributes among the three elements of His life. Neither Son nor Spirit is a section of the Godhead, and no one of the three has attributes that the others do not possess. God lives three lives in living one, but it is the one God that lives them all, and does the works that correspond to them.

4.........This doctrine shows how one operation of God does not withdraw energy from another. The activity of God as the Spirit, for example, does not diminish the sum of His existence or operation as the Father or the Son. An incarnation of the Son into humanity will not withdraw a part of the Deity and leave the universe without its God, or with its God dininshed.

An action of the Word, however great, cannot interfere with God's activity, or prevent other actions of the Word from proceeding at the same time. Thus if the Son of God was "upholding all things by the word of His powers before the incarnation, He was no loss doing the same while He was 'making purification of sin;' From any one of the three centres of life the whole God is acting according to this view, and from all of them at once. All action of each and of all moves in the one sphere of the infinity of God." (Outline of Christ,Theol, pp.177,178).

< back to previous page >

©2008 Church Education Trust