Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 15



The Scripture doctrine of the Trinity, as we have seen, presents three persons occupying mutual relations to each other. There consequently arise certain questions as to these relations. What is their nature? What has originated them? When did they begin ? In what respects do the persons differ from each other? Is there perfect equality between them? If there is any kind of subordination, in what does it consist ?

These questions will be best answered, first by some general statements applicable to all the relations; next by special consideration of the Sonship of Christ, and of the Procession of the Spirit; followed by an examination of the equality, and subordination of the Son and Spirit.


1. The nature of these relations can be indicated in no other forms than those set forth in Scripture. They are matters of pure revelation. The fact of their existence is beyond the attainment of reason. Nor, after the revelation of the doctrine, has that fact been strengthened by any philosophical speculations, or its difficulties removed by any arguments, or illustrations from analogy. [See statements of some of these in Hodge’s Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 478-482.] We are constrained to fall back upon the simple Scripture statements. The only explanations of these, which are justifiable, are such as arise from recognizing that, as the persons, transactions, and relations are divine, there must be separated from them all that belongs to human conditions, and imperfections. But this must not lead us so far as to deny the reality of these things, or the existence, in the highest degree, of relations of the nature indicated, of which our best conception is gained from the terms which are used. Thus no physical generation, nor any that could begin, or end, or be measured by succession, can be ascribed to the divine Father. No dependent existence, nor previous lack, and subsequent attainment of being, can be true of a Son who is himself God. No communication, nor reception, of a portion of the divine essence, or nature, is possible between two divine persons. If the term “begotten” is intended to teach a communication of the divine essence to the Son by the Father, it must be one of the whole essence, otherwise there would no longer be only one God, one divine nature, or essence. So also, when the Spirit proceeds from the Father, there can be no breathing out of a part of the divine nature, nor can that breathing begin, or end, or exist in successive moments of time. These internal acts in God necessarily conform to that eternity, and unity, of the nature of God, which exist even in his purposes towards things which are without. All human imperfections must be removed. But, this being done, the Scripture teachings must be accepted with unquestioning belief that relations, corresponding to these titles, exist in God, and that they, and the causes assigned for them, are duly expressed by the language of his word.

2. These relations exist in the nature of God. They are not revelations to us of what God is not; but of what he is. It is because God is one in three persons, and because the three persons are one God, that he thus makes himself known to us. Though it is true that the Father wills to beget the Son, and the Father and Son will to send forth the Spirit; yet the will thus exercised, is not at mere good pleasure, but it results necessarily from the nature of God, that the Father should thus will the begetting, and the Father and the Son the sending forth. The will, thus exercised, is not like that of his purposes, in which God acts of free pleasure, choosing between various purposes which he might form; but, like that by which he necessarily wills his own existence. Otherwise, these relations might, or might not, have existed. But, if this were possible, the Son, and the Spirit, would only have been creatures of God, however exalted might have been their nature, or extraordinary their faculties. Theirs would only have been contingent existence, until made certain by the will of God. None of the incommunicable attributes of God could have been ascribed to them. In no sense could they have had self-existence, or eternity of existence, or independent existence, or immutability of nature. When, therefore, we find the Scriptures assigning such attributes to any other persons than the Father, we have conclusive evidence that the divine nature of these persons is perfectly equal to that of the Father; and when it is also asserted, that God is but one, and yet that each of the three is God, we are plainly taught, that all have the same undivided divine essence, or nature. That of the Son, or of the Spirit, is identical with that of the Father. It is not simply a similar nature, but even numerically the same. Were it otherwise, there would be three Gods. If, however, this be true, the relations belong to the nature of God, and are not something superadded to that nature. The simplicity of God is a proof of this. It could only be in a God compounded of nature, and relations, that the relations would not be in, and of, that nature itself.

3. These relations must also be eternal. ‘The nature being eternal, so also must be the relations which are in, and of that nature. Moreover, if not eternal, they must have had a beginning, and there must have been a time when they did not exist. But this argues changeableness in God, in virtue of which he, who once was one person only, has now become three. It is no reply to this, that the expressions “begotten,” and ”proceedeth from,” involve the idea of the antecedent existence of him who begets, and from whom there is procession. For these are terms of human language, applied to divine actions, and must be understood suitably to God. There is no greater difficulty here than in other cases in which this principle is readily recognized. We cannot speak of the eternity of the life of God, without using language which implies beginning, and succession. Neither can we think of his eternal purpose, except as numerous determinations formed and thought out in successive moments, and following upon God’s infinite knowledge; which, by placing before him all things possible, has presented various objects and plans from which he has chosen. Nor yet can we talk of his presence divested of the ideas and language that belong to space, nor conceive of his immensity without the fiction of infinite space. This has not been done even by the inspired authors of the Scriptures. Dealing, therefore, with the terms expressive of the divine relations, it is natural, and right, that we treat them after the same fashion, and divest them of those ideas of time, and succession, which are known to have no place in God. When this is done, nothing forbids the belief that, as these relations are in and of the nature of God, they are eternal.

4. So far as true divinity is involved, the persons must be absolutely equal, As each possesses the undivided divine essence, so neither can, as God, be superior, or inferior to the others. No difference in the mode, or order of subsistence in that essence, can make an inequality in the divinity of either of them, inasmuch as that subsistence makes each of them partakers of the same essence, and undividedly of all of it. Even if there be inequality relative to each other as persons, because of the respective relations, this would no more require one to be an inferior God to the others, than the three separate persons make necessary such a threefold distinction in the divine nature, as to constitute them three Gods.

These general statements will shorten and simplify the separate discussions as to the Sonship of Christ, and the Procession of the Spirit. So far as these have elements in common, a statement and explanation of these points in each case is rendered unnecessary. They are also more plainly exhibited, as to both the relations, than they could be separately. Moreover, we have in them answers to most of the questions suggested at the beginning. The nature of the relations is perceived to be properly indicated by the Scripture language which expresses them and to be such as belongs to the essence and nature of God. They have originated in that essence, acting through the person of the Father, and the persons of the Son and the Father. The perfect equality in that divine nature has been seen. It remains simply to inquire in what respects they differ from each other, and whether with the equality, relative to the divine essence, there co-exists any inequality of person, or any kind of subordination. These points will be appropriately presented in the separate discussions of the Sonship of Christ, and of the Procession of the Spirit, which discussions will, also, throw still further light upon the questions already answered.


In the previous lecture it was shown that Christ is Son of God in a sense peculiar to himself. The Father called him, at his baptism, “My beloved Son;” and he is spoken of by the sacred writers as God’s “only begotten Son,” and ” his own Son.”

The Scripture proofs were also presented, that this Son is not only called “God;” but possesses all the incommunicable attributes of God, together with such unity and identity with the Father, as make him truly God; that he is equal with the Father in his works, and knowledge, and nature; and, that not only to him are all the acts of creation, providence, and judgement to be ascribed, but that he is to be honoured, and worshipped equally with the Father, he being indeed the manifestation in the world, of the divine Father, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” (Col. 2 : 9) “being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance.” Heb. 1 :3.

These proofs of this eternal Sonship may be strengthened by further reference to the Scripture teaching both as to the nature and eternity of the relation.

1. That the relation is one of nature, is additionally shown.

(a) By passages, which declare that the Son is so ” from God,” and ” in God,” as to have perfect knowledge of him. John 1:18; 7:29; 16:27-30; 17:25. He is here spoken of as proceeding from God, not merely being sent as a messenger. The claim asserted, is one of intimate fellowship in and participation of the divine nature. It is made of him in the capacity of God’s Son. Consequently it betokens a sonship of nature, not one of mere office, or name.

(b) By such passages as contrast the divine and human natures, ascribing the divine nature to the Son. Rom. 1:3,4; Phil. 2:5-11.

(c) The divine nature of the Sonship is plainly taught by John in the 1st chapter of his gospel. “The only begotten Son,” which “is in the bosom of the Father,” who alone has “seen God” and “declared him,” v. 18, is “the Word” that “became flesh, and dwelt among men,” v. 14, and yet, which was not only “in the beginning,” but “was with God,” and “was God.” If the Word and the Son are identical, the divine nature ascribed to the Word is truly the divine nature of the Son.

2. Of the eternity of this relation, we may also find further proof.

(1.) Christ’s existence before birth in this world is taught

(a) In such passages as show that Christ, of his own will, assumed this life. John 6:38; Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:14,16; 10:5,9.

(b) Such as show peculiar coming into the world. John 3:13; 6:33, 38, 62.

(c) Where it is said, that he had seen and known the Father; which implies a previous state of existence. John 6:46.

(d) Such passages as declare, that he, the Son, was sent into the world by the Father. See p. 126, 3.

(2.) His existence when creation occurred, is announced in John 1:3,10; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:10.

(3.) The Scriptures also declare that he was in the beginning, before all things, when time began, which was, therefore, eternal existence. John 1:1; 17:5,24; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:10.

(4.) They expressly state that it was eternal. 1 John 1:1-3.

In the general statements above, it has been argued that the relations, borne by these two persons, are to be learned only from the Scripture revelations, and that these are to be modified in no respect, except by removing from them whatever is necessary to make them conform to divine transactions. It was also urged that all the divine relations being in and of God, who, with all his plurality of person, is but one God, these relations are in the same undivided divine essence, and, consequently, belong to the nature of God, and must be eternal.

In applying these statements and the scripture proofs to the relation of Father and Son in God, we arrive at the doctrine commonly called the Eternal Sonship of Christ.

By this is meant, that paternity, and filiation in God are, not mere names for something which does not exist, nor for some relation, different from that of father and son, to which these titles were first applied in connection with Christ’s creation, or birth, or resurrection, or exaltation; but are realities which exist eternally in his nature, and are as properly described by the names which express them are his attributes by the various terms of wisdom, power, truth, justice and love.

No attempt is made by those who accept this doctrine to state the nature of this generation. Some are even content to suppose that nothing more may be meant than to express by sonship what would be the result of such a relation. As human sonship is accompanied by earnest love between father and son, and implies likeness of character, and similarity of nature; so they have been willing to rest at this point, and accept the divine sonship, as meaning no more than the existence of perfect likeness, and infinite mutual love. But, manifestly, if nothing more than this be meant, the Father might equally be called Son, and the Son Father. The Scriptures, on the contrary, indicate that the likeness is the result of the relation, and not that the terms of the relation are given because of the likeness. It is not the resemblance of Christ to the Father, which is set forth as the reason he is called the Son, but it is because he is the Son that this resemblance exists.

But, even if these titles could be ascribed because of the likeness, we still have to account for the use of the peculiar word “begotten.” This is evidently intended to tell us something of a great mystery. It proclaims some kind of activity in the divine Father, and passivity in the Son. We cannot tell what it is, but it at least resembles, in some way, that impartation of nature which occurs in the act of human begetting, and conveys to us the idea of the communication of the essence of God by the Father, through this act, to the Son. The continued unity of God shows that it is a communication of the whole essence, in which, however, the Father still continues to subsist, while imparting to the Son subsistence also in the same. Such impartation must partake of the nature of the “Eternal Now ” in God. It never began and will never end, it has no succession, no past, and no future. It is the ever present, having no reference even to a past, or to a future. It is such a generation as constitutes eternal Sonship, and Fatherhood.

Many have rejected this doctrine because of misconceptions as to the nature of an Eternal Divine Sonship.

1. They have objected to the idea of Sonship itself.

(1.) They have urged that Sonship implies inferiority, and, therefore, that the Son cannot be truly God equal with the Father.

But how can we know what is and what is not possible in this matter with God? If the Scriptures assert the Divine generation, and the equality of the Son and the Father, why should any deny their consistency with each other?

After all, however, does sonship imply inferiority of nature? There may be subordination of rank, or office. But surely there is none of nature. Even human sonship results from the impartation of the same nature by the father; not the same numerically, but the same in kind, and degree, the same partitively. The son of any man partakes alike, and equally, with his father, in human nature. The divine communication differs from the human in not so dividing the nature that two gods result, as in human generation do two men.

That sonship may imply inferiority of official rank and personal relation, is readily admitted. But it does not always do this. Such subordination of person, indeed, seems to be taught of the Son of God to his Father. But it is equality and sameness of nature, not of office, which makes the Son truly God. He is such, because he is a true subsistence in the Divine essence. He does not cease to be such because the Father is officially greater than he, nor even because the Father bestows, and the Son receives the communication of the divine essence.

(2) It has also been objected that Fatherhood implies priority of existence, and that this is impossible towards another divine person. But this is based upon a forgetfulness of the nature of eternal acts. Though we may not be able to explain how they are so, we nevertheless know that, in such acts, there is no beginning nor end, no first nor second, no antecedent nor consequent, indeed, no succession of any kind. Were it otherwise, God would exist in successive moments. He would have had a beginning. He would form new purposes, and would increase in knowledge from day to day.

Arguing from the nature of eternal acts in God, we, therefore, judge that the eternal generation of the Son is not a single act, which was accomplished at a definite moment in the divine nature; but one ever continuing. With God there may be such definitely completed acts, when they are performed outside of himself, as in creation; but, not when they are purely within. Such an act must be ever continuing, and completed only in the sense of its being always perfect, though not ended. Even the expression “continuing” is imperfect so far as it involves the idea of successive moments in God. It is only “ever continuing” as viewed by man. Sonship in God, therefore, does not imply priority of existence. Even in man paternity and filiation are co-existent. One becomes a father, only, when another becomes his son. Priority of existence is necessary, as a mere accident of human birth, because of the necessity of growth, and maturity in a man before he can become a father. But, even here, the sonship and fatherhood exist at the same moment. In God, however, priority, even of the existence of one person before another, can have no place, since he is self-existent, and eternal, who never began to be, and whose perfect maturity is not attained by growth or increase.

(3) Again it is said, “If Christ is Son, if he is God of God, he is not self-existent and independent. But self-existence, independence, etc., are attributes of the divine essence, and not of one person in distinction from the others. It is the triune God, who is self-existent, and independent. Subordination, as to the mode of subsistence, and operation, is a scriptural fact; and so also is the perfect and equal godhead of the Father, and the Son, and, therefore, these facts must be consistent. In the consubstantial identity of the human soul, there is a subordination of one faculty to another, and so, however incomprehensible to us, there may be a subordination in the trinity consistent with the identity of essence in the godhead.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1, 474.

2. There are objections also made to the eternity of this relation. They are based upon scripture statements, and are, on that account, even more worthy of consideration.

It is well to remember, however, that Christ is revealed to us, in the Scriptures, as one person in two natures, by virtue of which he is frequently called the Theanthropos, or Godman. The doctrine of his person will be hereafter discussed. It is sufficient here to state that, while the two natures are distinct, and preserve their respective attributes and qualities, yet, because of the one personality in both natures, whatever belongs to the person as person may be attributed to either nature. Thus the Spirit is not only called the Spirit of Christ, “but also the Spirit of Jesus.” Acts 16:7. Inasmuch, then, as the sonship expresses a mere personal relation in the godhead, the title Son of God may be applied to Christ in mere human relations. That this is sometimes done, does not then destroy the force of its much more frequent application to him in his divine nature, and especially of such an application, when it is accompanied by the ascription to him of divine titles, attributes, acts, and worship, together with assertions of equality, identity, and unity with the Father.

“Bishop Pearson, one of the most strenuous defenders of eternal generation, and of all the peculiarities of the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, gives four reasons why the Theanthropos, or Godman is called the Son of God. (1.) His miraculous conception. (2.) The high office to which he was designated. John 10:34, 35, 36. (3.) His resurrection according to one interpretation of Acts 13:33. ‘The grave,’ he says, ‘is as the womb of the earth; Christ, who is raised from thence, is as it were begotten to another life, and God, who raised him, is his Father.’ (4.) Because after his resurrection, he was made the heir of all things. Heb. 1:2-5. Having assigned these reasons why the Godman is called Son, he goes on to show why the Logos is called Son. There is nothing, therefore, in the passages cited inconsistent with the church doctrine of the eternal sonship of our Lord.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1, 476.

1. The first objection to the eternity of the sonship, is that the title “Son” is given because of his birth.

This is based upon Luke 1:35. “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God.”

Upon this passage it may be remarked, as the foundation of all just interpretation, that no relation to the Holy Ghost, which constitutes a personal relation in the Godhead, can refer to the Sonship, because this relation is one of Christ to the Father, and not to the Holy Ghost. Some other reason, then, than the act of the Spirit in his conception, must be found for the ascription here of the title “Son of God.”

Again, it must be recognized, that the title “Son” is not here prophesied of in connection with the divine nature of our Lord, but is declared of that “which is to be born,” which was undoubtedly his human nature, or himself in his human nature.

One interpretation of the passage affixes to the term “Power of the Highest” a personal sense, explaining it as a title of the Divine Logos. According to this, it is the overshadowing and permanent abiding of the divine Son, in union with the human nature conceived under the influence of the Holy Ghost, which will cause that “holy thing” to be “called the Son of God.” Instances are quoted of the use of “Power” in a divine sense from Philo, and other Jewish writers. The early Christian fathers are stated to have applied generally the word “power” to the divine nature of Christ, and many of them are quoted as maintaining this interpretation of this passage. Acts 8:10, and 1 Cor. 1:24 are referred to as illustrating this use of the word power. [See Treffry, on the Doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, 3rd edition, pp. 120-133, and 142-144.]

If this be the interpretation, then, it is the coming of the Eternal Son upon this human nature, and his presence with it, that causes it to be called the Son of God.

This is, therefore, perfectly consistent with both the requirements before mentioned as necessary to the true interpretation. The Spirit is not associated with the ascription of the title Son of God, and that title is appropriately given to the human nature, and yet the eternity of the divine Sonship is not affected. If this use of the word “Power” can be fully verified, no valid objection can be made to the interpretation. Treffry gives very strong proof that it is so used.

If, however, we should adopt the more generally received interpretation, which supposes that “the power of the Highest” is either descriptive of the Holy Ghost, or of the divine power which accompanied his coming upon Mary, there will still be no difficulty in ascribing the title Son of God to the presence of the Eternal Son, who in his divine personality “became flesh, and dwelt among us.” John 1:14. Such an explanation of the title would still be consistent with his relation, both to the Father and the Holy Ghost. The text would then still teach that the title Son of God is to be given to Christ as man, in like manner as that of Lord, because we have not here a mere human person, but simply a human nature, in which the divine Person, the Son, subsists without ceasing also to subsist in the divine nature. As that divine Person, and not the divine nature, is the Son, so also the divine Person in his human nature, and not that human nature, or a mere man is called Son of God. The title, therefore, though given to him as man, arises not from his birth, but from his eternal Sonship.

The Holy Ghost is, therefore, set forth here merely as the originator of the human nature of Christ. That nature is from God, not acting through the divine essence, which is never affirmed of God in any of his acts, but through a person in the Godhead, according to the usual mode as revealed to us, and as exhibited in creation, providence and redemption, and even in the eternal acts within the Godhead. The Scriptures make known no influence, nor action of the Spirit on the Son in his divine relations. On the contrary, the Son acts through the Spirit, but not the Spirit through the Son. But the instances of the influence of the Spirit on the human nature are abundant. At his birth, Luke 1:35, at his baptism, Matt. 3:16, in leading him to be tempted, Matt. 4:1, in the working of his miracles, Matt. 12:28, in his return from temptation “in the power of the Spirit into Galilee,” Luke 4:14, and in his giving commandments through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, Acts 1:2, we have express mention of this influence. Was it not to this that the author of Hebrews referred, “A body didst thou prepare for me?” Heb. 10:5.

2. Again it is objected, that Christ did not become Son of God until the day of his resurrection.

Two passages are quoted in favour of this objection.

(1.) That in Rom. 1:4. “Who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead.”

The word translated “declared” in this passage means “determined,” “marked out as.” It has no reference to a new ascription of title. All that is taught is that the resurrection of Christ plainly and distinctly evinced that “Jesus Christ, our Lord” (v. 5) is “Son of God.” Of this fact, the resurrection from the dead of him who had constantly claimed to be the Son of God, is an unquestionable proof.

(2.) The other passage is Acts 13:32, 33. This reads in the King James version, “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise that was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again;” as it is also written in the second psalm, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.”

Upon this objection, Dr. Charles Hodge justly says: “Here there is no reference to the resurrection. The glad tidings, which the Apostle announced, was not the resurrection, but the advent of the Messiah. That was the promise made to the fathers, which God had fulfilled by raising up, i. e., bringing into the world the promised deliverer. Compare Acts 2:30; 3:22, 26; 7:37; in all which passages where the same word is used, the ‘raising up’ refers to the advent of Christ; as when it is said, ‘A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me.’ The word is never used absolutely in reference to the resurrection, unless, as in Acts 2:32, where the resurrection is spoken of in the context. Our translators have obscured the meaning by rendering it, ‘having raised up again,’ instead of simply ‘having raised up,’ as they render it elsewhere.” Sys. Theo. 1, 475.

The Canterbury Revision has simply “raised up,” omitting the word “again.”

We might, then, rest the reply to this objection upon the denial that the Sonship is spoken of as given in connection with the resurrection. But, on the other hand, we might admit it to be thus given, and yet the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship would not be affected. For, so long as we may justly confine any such declaration to the Theanthropos, it might still be true that to the Godman the name could thus be given, and yet, all the teachings of Scripture relative to the eternity and nature of the divine sonship remain true. The truth is, that it would be more difficult to establish positively that the title Son of God ever was bestowed upon Christ, in consequence of any event connected with his humanity, than that it is confined to him in his human relations. At least, it is manifest from the Scriptures that, if ever applied to this divine person because of his birth, or resurrection, that was not the first period of such application; for the title is given to him in connection with the acts of creation, and he is said to have been before all things, their creator, in whom they consist, as the one who laid the foundations of the world, the existence of which is perishable, while his is eternal.

(3.) A further objection is made by Arians, and others who deny the proper divinity of Christ, and claim that he is but a creature. These assert that the title Son of God was given to Christ by virtue of his creation. The obvious reply to this objection, is to produce the Scripture teachings which prove the true deity of the Son, especially such as assert that he is God and Lord, and to be honoured, and worshipped, and that he performs all the divine acts of creation, providence and redemption, and has all the incommunicable attributes of God, together with perfect equality, exact resemblance, absolute unity, and sameness of nature with the Father.

The passage in Col. 1:15, has been claimed in support of this objection; Christ being there called, according to the King James Version, “the first born of every creature.” But the true rendering is “the first born of all creation,” and it is so translated in the Canterbury Revision. There is a similar passage in Rev. 3:14, where Christ calls himself “the beginning of the creation of God.” The word translated “beginning” in this passage, means also “the origin.” It is also used for “the first place, or power, the sovereignty.” The “first born” in the former passage, is the same word used in Heb. 1:6, and there translated “first begotten.” The “first created” would have been differently expressed in the Greek. The fact that this is a begotten Son, and not a created being, and that he is not said to be born at the time of Creation, but before it, actually shows that the eternal generation of the eternal Son, which took place before all things, is here spoken of. Such pre-existence is plainly taught in the context of Hebrews, but it is directly asserted in that of Colossians.


The relation of the Spirit, in the Godhead, differs from that of the Son in several respects. What is the ground, or reason of this, it is impossible to state. The Scriptures give no information upon this point. We must be content, therefore, simply to point out what they reveal upon this subject.

1. An obvious distinction is made between the names given to the two persons. While the one is called the Son, the other is called “the Spirit,” and other names of like import, as stated p. 130, V. That these names are indicative of some specific difference, may be argued from the fact that they are never interchanged. The Spirit is never called the Son, nor is the Son ever called the Spirit. When it is remembered, that these names describe persons subsisting in the same divine essence, this fact becomes very significant of some peculiar distinction between them in the mode of such subsistence. The word “pneuma,” which is the designation in the Greek original, means spirit, breath, or wind, and seems to indicate some influence, or power which proceeds from God, not impersonally, but with a personal relation in the Godhead. The work of the Spirit, in the creation and government of the world, in the inspiration of the sacred writers, in the miraculous conception of, and gracious influences upon the human nature of Christ, and in the regeneration and sanctification of the people of God, points him out as the outwardly operating power of the Godhead in this world.

2. A distinction is also revealed, between these persons, as to the mode of action by which they proceed from the Father. The Son is said to be generated, the Spirit is simply said to proceed. The relation of the Spirit to the divine Father has been generally expressed by the term “Procession.” This is admissible, if it be recognized as a term merely declarative of such a procession from the Father as is not exclusive of a procession also of the Son. This expression is applied to the Spirit upon the authority of Christ, who calls him in John 15:26, “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” But our Lord uses a similar word as to himself, though not the same, in John 16:28, “I came out from the Father, and am come into the world.” The disciples use this last word in John 16:30. The verb in these two passages means sometimes “came out,” and sometimes “went out,” and, in the latter signification, is precisely equivalent to the other verb, which in a different tense appears in John 15:26. From the “proceeding from” of the Spirit, therefore, cannot be argued a difference in his mode of procedure from that of the Son. The terms applied to both are general, and cannot express a difference. Procession, therefore, may be asserted of both the Son and the Spirit. The mode of the procession of the Son is specifically designated by the generation which is asserted of him. That of the Spirit appears likewise to be pointed out by the name given to him. He is the breath of God, which fact, already expressed in his name, was taught by our Lord when, on the evening of his resurrection, he breathed upon his apostles, saying unto them: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20:22. It is not unlikely, however, that the human breath of the Theanthropos was, on that occasion, used as a symbol of the divine outbreathing of the Spirit by the divine Son. This may be well assumed as true, if, indeed, the Spirit proceeds from the Son, as well as from the Father.

This outbreathing of God is even more difficult to interpret, and the nature of the relation thus indicated even more incomprehensible than that of the generation of the Son. In this, therefore, as in that, we must be content to accept the statement, just as it is revealed, being only careful to separate from it all ideas inconsistent with acts of God. This would exclude everything like a physical breathing, or several acts of breathing, at various times, which may be successive. The procession of the Spirit, must, therefore, be regarded as eternal action, completed, only because perfect, and continuing, only in the sense of not ended.

It seems therefore proper, that we should regard the peculiarity of the mode of the procedure of both these persons, to be indicated by the names given respectively to each. The term “procession” may be especially appropriated to the Spirit only, because, in his case, “Spirit” does not as distinctly point out the mode of procedure, as does Sonship, in that of the Son.

The preposition, with which the verbs are compounded in each of these three passages of John, is the same, and shows a procession from within God. Wherever the terms “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” appear, the simple genitive is used without a preposition, but this same preposition is found with the genitive of God, in 1 Cor. 2:12 and Rev. 11:11. In this latter passage, however, the Holy Spirit is probably not meant. The procedure is, therefore, taught as being from within God, which shows that the coming from, and the going forth from, are both in and of the Divine nature, and are not to be limited to such action as occurs when an ambassador is sent from a king, or one man simply proceeds from the presence of another.

3. Western Christendom, in opposition to Eastern, has maintained that there is also a distinction between the relations of Son and Spirit, as to the source. The procession of the Spirit is said, by the East, to be from the Father only, as is the generation of the Son; but by the West, to be from both the Father and the Son.

Eastern Christians have urged that the Scriptures only actually declare procession from the Father. It must be acknowledged that this is true, inasmuch as there is but one passage of Scripture which speaks of his Procession (John 15:26), the language of which is “which proceedeth from the Father.” But in 1 Cor. 2:12 the Spirit of said to be “of God,” which may mean of the Father alone, or, as of God, so of the Son also. The Spirit is also spoken of as the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7) and of Christ, and of the Lord, and of the Son (Gal. 4:6), as well as the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of God. Our Lord also declared, that he would send the Spirit. More than this, the action of Christ, when he breathed upon the disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” (John 20:22) is very significant, and strongly indicates the procession of the Spirit from him. See also Acts 16:7. This act of Christ, however, may have been no more than giving the Spirit to his disciples, without intending to teach any procession from himself. The breathing, which in any event was symbolical, may have been so only of the divine act of the Father, from whom alone the Spirit may truly proceed. In this event, may we not also believe that the relation to the procession of the Son differs from that of the Father? Would it not be a more exact statement of the Scripture teaching to say, that the Son, or Christ, sends the Spirit, and gives the Spirit, which is his, because the right to bestow it is his, either essentially, or as given him in his office as Messiah, and that the Spirit thus sent proceeds from the Father? In this event the Father would be the source of the procedure, and the Son the agent in sending it forth. Is not this bestowment on the Messiah, of this right to send the Spirit, suggested by Christ’s declaration, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you,” (John 16:7) as well as by the language, “The Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” John 7:39. These points are presented for consideration, while it is admitted that the assertion, that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, is less objectionable than the denial. The Scriptures seem to leave it so doubtful, as to forbid any positive statement about it. But the preponderance of evidence is in favour of a procession from both Father and Son.


The absolute equality of each of these persons, as God, has already been pointed out; and the possibility of inferiority, in other respects, was then intimated. There are some scriptural statements which seem to indicate this. Christ said expressly of himself, “The Father is greater than I.” John 14:28. He also not only taught that the Father had sent him, but compared with that his own sending of his disciples, (John 17:18) and declared that he came, not to do his own will but that of him that sent him, (John 6:38); that he came not of himself, (John 7:28); that he spoke not of himself, but that the Father had given him a commandment, what he should say, and speak, (John 12:49); that his teaching was not his own, (John 7:16); that the word they heard was not his, but his Father’s, (John 14:24); that he had given and spoken the words given him by the Father, (John 8:26; 17:8); that the Father had given him to do the work he had accomplished, (John 17:4); that he could do nothing of himself, but what he saw the Father doing, (John 5:19); that the Father was with him, and had not left him alone, (John 8:29); and that the Father had sanctified (consecrated) him, (John 10:36). Peter also preached to Cornelius “Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed him with the Holy Ghost, and with power,” and that he performed beneficent and miraculous acts because “God was with him.” (Acts 10:38). Christ also denied the goodness of any but God, (Matt. 19:17; Mark 10:38; Luke 18:19), and as to the day of judgement, asserted that “of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” (Mark 13:32, [“but the Father only,” Matt. 24:36]); and, that to sit on his right hand, and on his left, was not his to give, but that these positions shall be given to those for whom it is prepared of his Father, (Matt. 20:23; Mark 10:40). We are told also of his prayers to God, of which the remarkable statement is made, that “in the days of his flesh,” he “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear.” (Heb. 5:7). Christ also speaks of the power he had over all flesh, as given him by the Father, (John 17:2), and Paul in Eph. 1:17, 20, assigns his exaltation over all things, and as head of the church, described in vv. 19-22, to “the Father of glory.” While it is said that the Father “put all things in subjection under his feet,” we are told that “he is excepted, who did subject all things unto him,” (1 Cor. 15:27), that “then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father,” (v. 24); and “when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected unto him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all,” v. 28. The climax of these statements is reached, when we find that not only did Paul say that “the head of Christ is God,” (1 Cor. 11:3) and call the Father “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” (Eph. 1:17); but our Lord himself spoke of him to Mary Magdalene as “my Father and your Father,” and “my God and your God.” John 20:17.

An examination of these, and all similar statements in the Scriptures, shows they are in no respect inconsistent with the perfect equality of the persons as to the divine nature.

1. Almost all of them have reference to Christ as man; or as the Son in his relations to his human nature; or as Messiah, securing for his people eternal life, and bestowing it upon them, or ruling over the universe, and the church.

2. This explanation may be thought by some insufficient to account fully for the subjection of the Son referred to in 1 Cor. 15:28, or for the superior greatness ascribed to the Father in John 14:28. But, if so, we are only taught an inferiority of one person in the Trinity to another, as a person. Nothing indicates that it is of one of them as God, to another as God, or of the Godhead of one to the Godhead of another. It is only of the Son to the Father, and not of God the Son to God the Father. The subsistence of each of the persons in the same divine nature may still remain true, as well as that partaking of all of it by each, which makes all equally God.

3. The personal inferiority which is thus made possible, so far as it is natural, is due doubtless to the difference in the modes of subsistence in the divine essence. The Father thus subsists independently of the will, or the action of any other person. He is thus simply God; not originated, not begotten, not proceeding from. The Son is originated, his filiation is willed, though necessarily, by the Father, and he is begotten, and is, as the Athanasian creed asserts, “very God” of “very God.” The Holy Spirit is also originated; he is not however begotten, but proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. His procession is also willed, though necessarily, and he, likewise, is “very God” of “very God.” In this mode of subsistence, therefore, inferiority of the person of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and Son, may be said to exist. Without any superiority as God, therefore, the Father may be said to be greater than the Son, because of the personal relations in the Trinity.

4. But there is also a subordination of office or rank still more plainly taught. By virtue of this, the Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit. This could exist between persons in all respects equal to each other, both in nature and relation. In God, however, it is probable that the official subordination is based upon that of the personal relations. It corresponds exactly with the relations of the persons, from which has probably resulted their official subordination in works without, and especially in the work of redemption.

The order of this subordination is plainly apparent from the scriptural names and statements about the relations. The Father is unquestionably first, the Son second, and the Holy Spirit third. This is their rank, as well because of the mode of subsistence, as of its order. Hence they are commonly spoken of in this order, as the First, Second and Third Persons of the Trinity.


“As the essence of the Godhead is common to the several persons, they have a common intelligence, will, and power. There are not in God three intelligences, three wills, three efficiencies. The Three are one God, and, therefore, have one mind and will. This intimate union was expressed in the Greek church by the word ‘perichoresis,’ which the Latin words inexistentia, inhabitatio, and intercommunio were used to explain. These terms were intended to express the scriptural facts that the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son; that where the Father is, there the Son and Spirit are; that what the one does, the others do.” * * *

“This fact–of the intimate union, communion, and inhabitation of the persons of the Trinity–is the reason why everywhere in Scripture and instinctively by all Christians, God as God is addressed as a person, in perfect consistency with the Tri-personality of the Godhead. We can, and do pray to each of the Persons separately; and we pray to God as God; for the three persons are one God; one not only in substance, but in knowledge, will, and power. To expect that we, who cannot understand anything, not even ourselves, should understand these mysteries of the Godhead, is to the last degree unreasonable. But as in every other sphere, we must believe what we cannot understand; so we may believe all that God has revealed in his word concerning himself, although we cannot understand the Almighty unto perfection.” Charles Hodge, Sys. Theol., vol. 1, pp. 461-462.

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