The Triune God

Introduction to WCF, Chapter 2

Nature confesses there is a God. As Calvin stated:

“There exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead” (Institutes, 3.1)

The Christian’s knowledge of the Godhead is special because it is relational; it is covenantal. We know who God is because of what he does and what he tell us of himself.  The Lord’s creation, actions and disclosures recorded in the bible are the source for our special knowledge of him. Knowledge that goes beyond mere instinct or a vague “sense;” the God of the bible is relational and personal.

Reformed Confessionalists are often accused of describing the God of the philosophers who fits neatly into philosophical propositions. We aim at precision, yet we cannot fit God into words or fully grasp him mentally. The heart of any discussion about the Triune God recognizes that there is a mystery to everything we know about Him.

We cannot fully comprehend or exhaustively know, the Triune God. He is incomprehensible. If He could be comprehended by us, He would not be worthy of our worship. The finite mind, created with boundaries, cannot contain the boundless knowledge of God – He is infinite. There is no analogy that fully communicates even the communicable attributes of God. So, even our precise theological definitions are flawed and incomplete. Our attributes are both like and unlike God’s attributes.

His communicable attributes are something we can discuss because he has communicated them to us. This is one of the great truths of the Christian faith that separates it from false religions; God has revealed himself to men so that men will enter into covenant with him. He gives them the gift; the special knowledge of himself and the ability to enjoy it; to draw close to him, faith, communion, prayer and belief.

I will be your God and you will be my people. This is God’s stated goal stated throughout scripture. He reveals who he is through what he can do and the lengths He is willing to continually go to, to draw his people near.

Any one attribute is a telescope through which we can see all that God is. i.e. Love, Wisdom, Power, Mercy; His perfections are perfectly interwoven.  We shouldn’t get bogged down or overwhelmed by the individual attributes of God. They are together holistically, his perfection and supreme holiness.

What we are looking at here, the penultimate point, is that of the distinction between the creator and the created.

Communicable and incommunicable attributes

The perfections of God are called his attributes; the essential properties of his nature. They are not accidental. I could change the color of my hair and still be Mike Kloss. God cannot not be holy, just or righteous.

Those attributes are called incommunicable, of which there is not the least resemblance to be found among creatures (we are not infinite or incomprehensible and we can never be)

His Communicable attributes are those of which there is some faint, though very imperfect resemblance to be found among creatures (we have wisdom, power, truth, and justice)

Infinite refers to God’s un-bounded-ness or un-limitedness. This term should be placed before his attributes to help distinguish between him and his creatures; Infinite wisdom, infinite justice, etc.

Using “omni” is another way to describe the distinction. Omni means “all” We are present. God is Omnipresent. God is all knowing; omniscient

All of the Lords’ Attributes are trans not sub. They are over and though ours are like his attributes they are not and cannot be equal to or more.

God is a spirit, not the only spirit. Hebrews chapter 1 talks of the angels as “ministering spirits.” This is mentioned here to oppose pantheism, which holds that every spirit is a manifestation or part of God. Angels are spirits but they are creatures.

God is reflected dimly in nature and clearly seen, bodily, through Jesus Christ, the image and intercessor between man and God.

God does not have body, parts (he is distinct from creatures) or passions. But we have to be careful with the truth that He is without “passions.”

His anger, of course, is not like a man’s temper tantrum—a man’s passion. But neither is it like a calm summer day. His anger is far more terrible than a man’s anger.

His anger would be trans-passionate (beyond), not sub-passionate (below).

God has intense feelings but unlike man he is not a slave to his feelings. He cannot be consumed with passion and lose his faculties, as man can. He has full self-control, beyond anything we can fully understand. (Titus 3:3)

The Lord has all power, but this power is not disconnected from His wisdom. The two cannot be separated. He does not wield His power like a tyrant or despot as the world accuses Him. His infinite power is used in conjunction with his infinite wisdom. He works all things according to His counsel, but it must be remembered that His counsel is holy.

The perfect convergence of all these attributes shines forth with the brightest luster in the method of our redemption by Jesus, the Christ. Nothing less than wisdom truly divine could have devised a plan whereby ‘mercy and truth should meet together, and righteousness and peace should embrace each other.’

God’s knowledge is comprehensive and infallible. He reasons but it is trans-reasoning and not sub-reasoning.

By his counsels and almighty power, he directs all things to their proper end. Since he is the most excellent being, nothing can be so excellent an end as his own glory.

He did not create us because He was lonely. He created all things to glorify Himself, but this does not mean He needed glory, or somehow was lacking in it. The created order is how he demonstrates clearly and continually, his Glory.

God not only has a right to exercise sovereign dominion over his creatures, he has also an indisputable claim to their service and obedience. Men are not their own, but the Lord’s; therefore they are bound to serve Him.

Holiness is the luster and glory of all the divine perfections; hence God is styled ‘glorious and holiness.’ The Lord himself puts peculiar honor upon his holiness; for He singles it out as that attribute by which he swears that he will accomplish whatever he hath spoken (Ps. 89:35).

As the Lord of all creation, His right of disposal is absolute. All authority flow from Him, and all authority have their meaning and value in reference to Him (psalm 2). He is Lord of Heaven and earth.

Being who He is, He may consequently do whatever He feels like doing. His will is truly and absolutely free. Our God is in heaven; He does as He pleases.

The goodness of God is distinguished by different names, according to the different aspects in which it is viewed, or the different objects about which it is exercised. When it relieves the miserable, it is called mercy; when it confers favors on the undeserving, or on those who deserve wrath, it is called grace; when it supplies the want of destitute beings; it is called bounty; when it forbears to execute punishment upon provoking rebels, it is called patience or long suffering.

The goodness of God is a very comprehensive term; it includes all the forms of his kindness towards men and creatures, sinners and saints.

Trinity

The word Trinity is used in an effort to define the fullness of the Godhead both in terms of his unity and diversity.

The historic formulation of the Trinity is not an attempt to fully explain it; that would be beyond us. It does provide a boundary and safeguard for our thoughts about this mystery, which confronts us with perhaps the most difficult and the most foundational thought that the human mind can know. It is not easy; but it is true.

In one sense God is one and in a different sense he is three.

It is complex: the three personal “subsistences” are coequal and coeternal centers of self-awareness, each being “I” in relation to two who are “you,” and each having the full divine essence of God, the specific existence that belongs to God alone. Or so say the theologians in my study bible.

B.B. Warfield stated it simply; “When we have said these three things – that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God, that the Father and the Son and Spirit is each a distinct person – then we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.

God is not one person who plays three separate roles; this error is called Unitarianism. Nor are there three gods who only seem to be one because they always act together; this error is called tritheism.

There is one God, three Persons; co-equal and co-eternal, who are one Holy, infinitely wise, powerful God, revealed to us in nature and known intimately through scripture, by the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

To unpack the theological and philosophical terms; the divines are expressing the wonder of God. He is not far off. He is a mystery but has revealed himself to men, the Lord has made himself wonderfully known and has cleared away sin so that we can and do, commune with him.

In the set-up of the plan of salvation and in its execution, from first to last, God appears good, in a manner and to a degree that astonishes the inhabitants both of earth and of heaven. The goodness of God, as manifested in this work, is usually expressed by the term love; and the love herein displayed surpasses knowledge (Jn 3:16).

A few special Notes

The complication here is what is the relationship between the members of the Godhead?

The father, in a sense, represents the God of the other two.

He is the Source, not the maker, but the source of the ontological trinity.

He is not begotten and does not proceed.

Jesus prays to him

The spirit communicates the father’s thoughts, as scripture states. Who knows the mind of God but his Spirit?

Eternally begotten

Not created or made; without beginning; like and unlike a man begetting a child

Like my relationship to my father Paul or to my son Titus, the Father and Son’s relationship is not less than that but is much, much more.

All we can understand is temporal begetting, which is why this is a mind bender.

The Spirit is eternally proceeding.

The Spirit goes back and forth between the father and the Son.

The Spirit proceeds from both the father and the Son.

As Jonathan Edwards and James Jordan have articulated; the spirit is the communication between the father and the son.

Which makes sense to us because; it is by the Spirit that we communicate with the Godhead. We see is role as communicator. In Worship, in prayer etc.

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