Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology–Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.

OUTWARD RELATIONS OF THE TRINITY

THE universe, with all it is, and all it contains, is the result of the outward working of the triune God. It exists, not because of any necessity in God’s nature to create it, but as the result purely of his will. It is the form in which the voluntary activity of God manifests itself outwardly.

Activity, in some form, is essential to a personal, intelligent being. God must therefore he eternally active. But this necessity for eternal activity finds ample scope for its exercise, within the Godhead, in the acts involved in the mutual relations of the persons, and in the purposes which he forms relative to things without. His outward workings are the results of those purposes alone, and therefore proceed purely from his will. The universe consequently hears no other relation to God than that of a mere creation of his wisdom and power. It is not eternal, but has those peculiarities of beginning, and succession, which belong to time, as well as the dependence, change and imperfection, which are naturally found in that which is neither divine nor self-existent.

There are three kinds of divine acts.

  1. Immanent, and intrinsic acts. These are within God, and have no reference to things without. Such are the generation of the Son, and the spiration of the Spirit.
  2. Immanent, and extrinsic acts. These, also, are within God, but have reference to things without. Such are his decrees.
  3. Extrinsic, and transitive acts. These are outside of himself, having no existence within him, but nevertheless proceed efficiently from him, and terminate upon his creatures. Such are creation, providence and redemption. [See Turretine's Institutes, Book 4, Ques. 1, Sec. 4.]

The first kind of divine acts is revealed to us in what the scriptures teach of the personal relations within the Godhead. The second, and especially the third, are made known to us in what we are told of the creation of the world, of God’s Providential care over it, and of his redemption of man. As might have been anticipated, we find the activity of God in the second and third kinds of acts manifested in accordance with the personal relations revealed in the first. Each of the persons performs such divine acts as show that he is God. Each demands and accepts equal honour and worship from man. Each has his own especial relation to every work. In it the same subordination, revealed in the personal relations, is preserved. Yet, along with this, we find that same intercommunion, by which what one does is also spoken of as done by each of the others. The evidence of this last point needs especially and constantly to be borne in mind, lest we emphasize too much the distinct acts of the persons, and forget that essential union, and intercommunion, which, as well as subsistence in the same undivided essence, or nature, makes the three persons only one God.

The method of this action, and the distinct subordination in it, will not in all cases appear equally plain. We must, therefore, observe with caution what is exactly revealed. Whatever, from other circumstances, may appear probable, must he taken only as such. This is more especially necessary as this method will he seen somewhat to vary, although, so far as exhibited, the same order of subordination will be perceived.

I. IN CREATION.

Creation, as the first outward manifestation of God, demands the first place in this treatment.

(1.) Whatever distinction may sometimes appear, it is generally attributed to the one God. This does not forbid that each person has performed his distinctive part, for it is also referred to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Spirit. We have here only the evidence of that intercommunion which, even through the distinct action of each, still makes any divine act performed by any one of the persons to be the act of the whole Godhead. The passages which teach this are the numerous ones in which “God” is spoken of as the creator. These must refer either to the triune God, or to the Father alone. But whatever may be the relation of the Father to this act, the scriptures, by revealing that the Son and the Spirit were also associated with him, show that creation was the act of the whole Godhead.

(2.) The method of this act is revealed in a few passages. These teach that creation came from the Father, as the source, that it was accomplished by, or through the Son, as the efficient instrumental creating agent, and by, or through the Spirit, as the transforming power. The first two of these facts is taught in 1 Cor. 8:6, “Yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.” Here the Father is declared to be the source of all things, and Jesus Christ, the divine Son, the instrument through whom they exist. We have the same truth in Heb. 1:2, “Through whom also he made the worlds.”

The creation is also attributed separately to the Father in Acts 4:24. He is indeed there called “Lord,” but is shown to be the Father by the quotation from the second psalm as well as by the reference to his “holy child Jesus,” which marks a distinction between two persons. In Rev. 4:11 it is manifestly the Father, to whom the four and twenty elders ascribe creation; for he is distinguished from the Lamb that redeemed us. See Chap. 5:8, 9. In Eph. 3:9, God is said to have created all things and the context shows that it is God the Father who is spoken of.

That the creation was by, or through the Son, is also separately declared. John says of the divine word, “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that bath been made.” * * * ” He was in the world, and the world was made by him.” John 1:3, 10. Paul says, that “in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, * * * all things have been created through him, and unto him.” Col. 1:16. See also Ps. 33:6.

The transforming power of the Spirit is shown in Gen. 1:2. Here the Hebrew verb is in the Piel form, and means “to brood over,” and, Gesenius in his lexicon says, is used “tropically of the Spirit of God as thus brooding over and vivifying the chaotic mass of the earth.” This work of the Spirit seems to have been known to Job and his friends. Job himself says : “By his Spirit the heavens are garnished,” Job 26:13, and Elihu declares, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath (Spirit) of the Almighty giveth me life.” Job 33:4. In Psalm 33:6 it is also stated, that “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (Spirit) of his mouth.” In Psalm 104:30, God is addressed thus: “Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.” The creation here referred to is simply transformation.

The above statements show that the creation of the world is ascribed to God as One, yet that all things are of the Father, who is thus the source; that they were created by, or through the Son; and that the Spirit has been their transforming and life-giving power. We find then in this outward action of the persons the same relations and subordination exhibited personally in the Trinity. The Father acts through the Son, (Eph. 3:14-19; Heb. 1:2,) and sends forth the Spirit Ps. 104:30.

II. IN PROVIDENCE.

In the statements made as to the acts of Providence, the subordination of the Son and Spirit is not distinctly taught. It is not denied, however, and there is no reason for supposing that it does not exist. Still, in the absence of specific revelation, we dare not positively affirm that it does. Throughout the Scriptures, however, all the acts of providence are ascribed to God. Whether by this is meant the Father alone, or the Triune God, does not appear. There is no revelation as to the method by which this is done. But each of the persons is revealed as performing acts of providence. Christ declared this of the Father, Matt. 6:25-32, especially verse 32, and 10: 29-31. The upholding of the world is asserted of the Son, Heb. 1:3, and it is said that “in him all things consist.” Col. 1:17. The providential care of the Spirit is abundantly exercised in connection with the life of believers in Christ, who may well be said spiritually to “live, and move, and have their being” in him. That this is done in the sphere of redemption makes it no less providential than if it were in that of creation. In this latter, however, the Spirit is also spoken of as engaged in providential acts. Isaiah 59:19; 63:14.

III. IN REDEMPTION.

The distinctive action of the three persons is more plainly exhibited in connection with redemption. This is due, probably, to the fact that upon this subject we have more full information than upon the acts of creation or providence. God is also brought nearer to us, and thus is more clearly revealed. It is in connection with this that the revelation has been made of the relations within the Trinity, together with the equality of the persons in the divine nature, and their subordination within and in the work without. The whole work of redemption is ascribed to the Triune God, but each of the persons is revealed as sustaining distinct official relation to it.

1. All of this appears even in the manner in which it has been revealed.

(a) The Scriptures are explicitly declared to be from God, John 3:34; 10:35; 1 Cor. 2:9, l0; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1.

(b) Christ attributes to the Father his own power and authority to speak, and declares him to be the source of what was revealed by himself. John 3:34; 7:16; 12:49; 15:15. The same truth is taught in Rev. 1:1, where the distinction between the persons shows that “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him,” was given by the Father. It is from the Father also as a source, that the Spirit derives the truth which he reveals. It is as the Spirit of truth that Christ declared that he proceeds from the Father. John 15:26. The cause he assigned for his subsequent promise that the Spirit should guide into all truth was “he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak.” John 16:13. That the truth, thus spoken, should be from the Father, through the Son, appears from vv. 14 and 15. The same is also taught in 1 Cor. 2:7-11, in which it is said that “God revealed through the Spirit” the “deep things of God,” which “the Spirit searcheth,” “even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory.” The whole context shows that it is the Father from whom these things are learned.

(c) But while the Father is thus declared to be the source of the revelation of redemption, it is the Son by whom he has made it known. He is, in his divine relation, especially called the Word of God. Him we are commanded by the Father to hear as his “beloved Son.” Matt. 17:5. In his own person he so manifested the Father that he could say, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” John 14:9. During his incarnation he spoke personally, as did the prophets of old. Heb. 1:1, 2. He was that prophet whom Moses foretold, Deut. 18:15-19; and is so proclaimed in Acts 3:20-22. He declared himself to be the light of the world. John 8:12. He foretold the future as to himself, his disciples, Jerusalem, and the world. He began the preaching of the great salvation. Heb. 2:3. He gave especial instruction to his apostles, both before his death and after his resurrection, not only as to the gospel of the kingdom, but as to all things which were to be observed by them, and by those whom they should teach. Especially, during this latter period, did he instruct them as to the relation of his sufferings and death to the prophecies of the Old Testament.

(d) In this work of revelation, however, the Holy Spirit is made known to us as the operating agent. Everywhere it is the Spirit to whom the word sent by God is referred. “Men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Pet. 1:21. This is spoken of the Old Testament writers in general. It is specifically declared of David, Matt. 22:43; Acts 1:16; and of Isaiah, Acts 28:25, and of the author of the 96th Psalm, in Heb. 3:7. These Old Testament writers constantly attribute their instructions to the Spirit of God, as, for example, David in 2 Sam. 23:2. Nehemiah asserts it of the prophets, by whom God had warned his people. Neh. 9:30. Isaiah, (48: 16,) proclaims “the Lord God hath sent me and his Spirit.”

The same is pre-eminently true of the inspired revelations of New Testament days. Even the ministry of our Lord was subjected to the Spirit. While, as the Divine Son, he works through the Spirit in this, as in other divine acts, yet, as the God-man, he was fostered in his human nature by its influences, and was anointed by it for his work. Our Lord declared this in the first act of his ministry, Luke 4:16-21. The immeasurable extent of this influence was taught by John the Baptist. John 3:34. In like manner, also, were the Apostles of Christ prepared for their work. Eph. 3:5. The teaching of the Lord had not sufficed. In recalling and revealing that teaching they must needs he made infallible. Other truths were also to be made known. Therefore the Spirit was promised, which promise was signally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost; nor then only, nor upon those there alone, but during all the period of New Testament revelation, and upon multitudes who spake, as well as upon those who wrote. The effect of this influence is distinctly asserted. At Pentecost they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4. The boldness with which such men as those could speak of Christ, is attributed to their being filled with the Spirit. Acts 4:31. Paul claimed that his preaching was in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” 1 Cor. 2:4, and that he spake “not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth.” 1 Cor. 2:13.

2. If we turn now to the work of redemption itself, we shall still find those mutual relations sustained. Salvation or redemption is ascribed everywhere to the Triune God. Examples of this are to be found in Luke 1:68-71; 3:6; Acts 28:28; Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; Tit. 2:11.

(1.) But it is specifically assigned as to its source to the Father. Its sphere is within the creation which is from him, and under the providential influences which originate in him. He is the lawgiver, whose law has been broken, and who exacts the penalty; as the administrator of that law. The redemption is the effect of his purpose. 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:11; 2 Tim. 1:9. That purpose flows from his benevolent love for mankind. John 3:16. He has even sent his own Son “that the world should be saved through him.” John 3:17. It was his will that the Son came to fulfil. Heb. 10:7; John 6:38-40; Gal. 1:3, 4. For this he delivered him up, (Rom. 8:32,) according to his “determinate counsel,” (Acts 2:23,) thus saving men “according to his own purpose and grace,” (2 Tim. 1:9,) and thus “gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:11. It is he, also, who “chose us” in Christ “before the foundation of the world,” and “freely bestowed on us in the beloved his grace,” Eph. 1:4, 6, and hath given us to Christ, John 17:6-11, to whom, says Christ himself, “no man can come” “except the Father, which sent me draw him,” John 6:44, “having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself according to the good pleasure of his will.” Eph. 1:5. That men may thus be drawn, he promised and gave his Spirit to Christ, Acts (2:33,) and through him unto men, that they might be regenerated, (John 3:5,) and “quickened,” while “dead through trespasses and sins,” (Eph. 2:1,) that they might have faithfulness, (Gal. 6:22,) and the spirit of sonship, (Gal. 4:6,) and may be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, (Eph. 1:13,) which witnesses to believers that they are “children of God; and, if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” Rom. 8:16,17. It is thus, also, that God, having predestinated that they shall “be conformed to the image of his Son,” sanctifies them, in the sense of consecrating them, “in the truth,” (John 17:17,) and, also, in that of cleansing and purifying them from sin, Eph. 5:26; 1 Thess. 4:7, and causes them “to be transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” 2 Cor. 3:18. Throughout all of this work the Father is also the person who is especially addressed in prayer in the name of Jesus, Eph. 2:18; 3:14, through the moving of the Spirit, Eph. 6:18; Rom. 8:26, and from whom comes “Every good gift and every perfect boon,” James 1:17, as well as the justification, pardon, adoption and sanctification of believers, and also the heavenly kingdom he has prepared for them.

These are some particulars which show how completely the Father is identified with the redemption of man. They are not exhaustive of what we are taught. Indeed the whole is from him as its source, and not merely in a general way in the gift of his Son and Spirit, but as working by and through them in each particular. In redemption, as in creation and providence, he is ever present, constantly willing, and continually working; though not directly by himself, but through the Son and the Spirit.

Some portions of this work of the Father will need hereafter more full discussion; though not so much as some of that of the Son, and of that of the Spirit, all of the acts of whom must be more particularly and minutely examined.

A short statement is, however, necessary here as a summary of what will be discussed as to each hereafter, and also that the official subordination may be shown.

(2.) The action of the Son in redemption is briefly, yet almost fully described in Phil. 2:5-11. We are there taught of that official subordination to the Father which he willingly assumed for the discharge of this work, which corresponds with the statement, elsewhere, that he was sent by the Father. We are also told of that act of condescension, by which he assumed our nature, and became man in his incarnation; of his voluntary humiliation to the death of the cross; and of that honour, bestowed upon him, in that nature, by which in his exaltation he has been made an object of universal worship, “to the glory of God the Father.”

We learn, elsewhere, that in the period of his earthly residence he became our example as man, as he likewise in it set forth in his own person the image of his Father. By his active obedience to the law he fulfilled for his people the righteousness due by them. By his sufferings, and death, he paid the penalty of their sin. As the reward of his work, he received the promised Spirit which he sends forth for the salvation of those whom God has given him. All power has also been bestowed upon him, that his gospel may be preached with success, and he is now made king in Zion, and invested with mediatorial dominion over all things. Sitting at the right hand of God, he exercises the dominion thus conferred, and at the same time makes intercession for his people. Thence shall he come to judge the world, and to assign to the righteous and the wicked their everlasting portions.

The subordination of office, in all the positions thus occupied, is plainly revealed. Speaking prophetically, when the hour had come for his betrayal and crucifixion, as though already the work were over, Christ himself declared of all that he had done, thus contemplated as finished, that it was the work the Father gave him to do, John 17:4. So also, had he said, that he came to do the Father’s will, (John 6:38,) and to “work the works of him that sent him.” John 9:4. It was the Father whose law he honoured in the fulfilment of all its demands, and unto whom, he, “though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered.” Heb. 5:8. The rewards he received were all given by the Father; namely, the Spirit, (Acts 2:33,) his people, (John 17:9,) and his exaltation, Acts 2:33, 36. Even the future judgement of the world is to be his office, because of the ordination of God, (Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16,) and has been committed to him by the Father. John 5:22.

(3.) The works of the Spirit in redemption are even more numerous than those of the Son, and bring him into the most intimate relations to the people of God.

It was by him that the human body of Christ was prepared for the indwelling of the divine person, (Luke 1:35,) and by his gracious influences, that the mind and heart of Christ were fitted for his work. Isa. 11:1-5; John 3:34; Luke 4:14. Likewise he prepares the Church which is the spiritual body of Christ “for a habitation of God.” Eph. 2:22. It is he, in whom they are so baptized as to be thoroughly overwhelmed by the flood of his divine influences, Matt. 3:11, and who “saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3:5. Through him they are born anew. John 3:5-8. It is he that “strives with man,” (Gen. 6:3,) and “convicts the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement,” (John 16:8,) and gives repentance, (Acts 5:31, 32, cf. Acts 2:33,) so warring against the lusts of the flesh, and bringing forth spiritual fruit in them, Gal. 5:16-25, that they “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:2-4. He also produces faith, Eph. 3:17, and “all joy and peace in believing, that” they “may abound in hope,” Rom. 15:13, and knowledge of “the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Cor. 2: 9, 10. “Through him we both have our access by one Spirit unto the Father,” Eph. 2:18, “With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit,” Eph. 6:18, since we “have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” and “the Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.” Rom. 8:15, 16. Thus does he become to us the author of justification by the faith produced, and of sanctification, both cleansing and consecration, 1 Cor. 6:11, and of the spirit of adoption. Gal. 4:6. Likewise he reveals the glory of Christ to the believer, and changes him into the same image. 2 Cor. 3:18. This, as the context slows, is done through the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit. Eph. 6:17. It is also effected through the ordinances of the gospel, so far as they are symbolical of his cleansing and nourishing work, as well as of the death and resurrection of Christ. Rom. 6:3, 4; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5, 6; 1 Cor. 11:26; John 6:48-63.

In all of these, and in his other work, the Spirit comes into the most intimate fellowship with the people of God. As the Father attains nearness by the endearing relation of the Fatherhood to sons who cry unto him with the spirit of adoption, and as the Son becomes an object of supreme affection because of his loving sacrifice and sufferings so the Spirit seeks the intimacy of an indweller in believers, that he may develop their graces and become to them a present witness and comforter in the bodily absence of their incarnate Lord. 1 Cor. 3:16, 17.

The subordination of the Spirit in this work is revealed, in general, in the statements that he is sent by the Father and the Son. John 14:16, 17; 15:26. But it is taught also, more particularly. It is Christ that is to baptize in the Spirit, Matt. 3:11, and thus through him to produce the results of his work. It is the Father unto whom men come through the Spirit in prayer. Eph. 6:18. It is the Father who justifies and adopts, though through the influences of the Spirit. It is the image of Christ, not of himself, into which he transforms believers. The ordinances also are of (Christ’s appointment, and are especially fitted to set forth his work, and only that of the Spirit in a secondary way. Even the indwelling is that believers may be “builded together for an habitation of God.” Eph. 2:22.

We have thus seen that in the various outward works of the Trinity, the same subordination of office appears as is found in the mode of subsistence within. This subordination, in both respects, should be recognized because taught in God’s word. At the same time it must never be forgotten that the same word declares as distinctly the perfect equality of the three persons in the divine nature, which allows no inferiority of any one of them as God.

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