by Sinclair B. Ferguson
The classical doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Typically this is stated as God having his existence in one substance and three persons.
There is mystery here. But it is the mystery in the light of which clarity is brought to all of our thinking about God, creation, providence, and redemption. Like the light of the sun we cannot gaze into it without danger; and yet it is the light in which we are able to see everything else more clearly. As Augustine wrote: ‘In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.’[i]
The purpose of this appendix is not to provide an exposition or defence of the classical doctrine of the Trinity but the more modest one of underlining the extent to which the joint work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit undergirds and permeates the teaching of the New Testament.
What follows then simply collates a number of New Testament passages under various headings to demonstrate how deeply into the warp and woof of the gospel the presence of the Trinity is woven, in frequent references to the joint work in the believer of two or all three persons in the Trinity.
In classical orthodox Christianity the language of ‘substance’ and ‘persons’ has been used. This is not itself biblical language but the church has never seriously managed to improve on it. The point in this appendix is not to expound, explain, or defend this particular language but to show that only when we read the New Testament through trinitarian lenses can we make sense of its message. And since our fellowship in the Spirit is with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3) it is tremendously important for our growth in sanctification that we learn to live, serve, and worship in a Trinity-conscious way.
1. Statements reflecting on the relationship of the Father and the Son
- The Son dwells at the Father’s side, or in his bosom (John 1:18).
- The Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father (Matthew 11:27).
- The Father loves the Son and shows him all he does (John 5:20).
- The one who is from God (the Son)—only he has seen the Father (John 6:46).
- The Son loves and abides in the Father, just as the Father abides in the Son (John 10:38, 30; 14:10; 15:9-10).
- The Father and the Son share all things (John 16:15).
- The glory of the Father and the Son is experienced in common (John 17:5).
2. Statements reflecting on the Father’s and the Son’s relationship with the Spirit
- The Spirit goes out from the Father in their divine communion with one another (John 15:26).
- The Spirit searches the deep things of God and knows his thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
- The Father knows the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:27).
- The Spirit ‘of God’ is the Spirit ‘of Christ’ (Romans 8:9).
3. Statements reflecting the foundational and pervasive nature of God in his trinitarian interaction with his creation.
- The Trinity engages in creation and its sustaining (John 1:1ff; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2; 2:10).
- The Trinity is engaged in the work of incarnation (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:11-14; Luke 1:35).
- The Trinity is present in Jesus’
(i) Baptism (Luke 3:21).
(ii) Temptations (Luke 4:1-12).
(iii) Ministry (Matthew 12:25-28).
4. The Trinity is seen as essential to the accomplishing of redemption and to its application:
- The summary of all the blessings of our redemption is expressed in trinitarian terms (Ephesians 2:18).
- The whole of the Christian life is marked by the reception of the name of, and involves personal fellowship with, the Trinity in baptism (Matthew 28:18-20).
- The plan and privileges of salvation are provided by the Trinity (Ephesians 1:4ff; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
- The accomplishing of salvation is done by the Trinity (Romans 8:34; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2).
- The revelation in the gospel comes to us from the Trinity (1 Corinthians 2:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6).
- The nature of fellowship with God is seen in trinitarian terms (2 Corinthians 13:14).
- The Christian life as kingdom-life is trinitarian (Romans 14:17-18).
- The Christian life as a life of sonship is the fruit of the work of the Trinity (Romans 8:9-17; Galatians 4:6).
- The Christian life as life in the Spirit is viewed within a trinitarian matrix (Ephesians 5:18-20).
- Sanctification involves the work of the Trinity (1 Corinthians 6:17-20).
- Ongoing faith depends on the Trinity (Jude 20-21).
- True worship is always trinitarian (Philippians 3:3).
- The unity and diversity of the church is grounded in the Trinity (1 Corinthians 12:3-6, 12-13).
- Worldwide evangelism is a trinitarian mission (Matthew 28:18-20).
- The consummation of all things will be the work of the Trinity (1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Philippians 3:21).
Source: Sinclair B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Banner of Truth, 2016), Appendix 1.
[i] On the Holy Trinity, trans. A. W. Haddon, revised and annotated by W. G. T. Shedd: The Works of St Augustine, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (reprinted Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), III.19.