Blog 25: 1.13.23 - 1.13.25

Rick Phillips

Let me conclude this week's blogs on the Institutes with a general plug for the value of thinking about God in a Trinitarian way.  We  rightly talk about having a personal relationship with God, so we need to realize that God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We relate personally with these persons.  A Christian relates as a dearly beloved child to God the Father, as a disciple and sheep to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, and we live in conscious dependence upon the ministry of God the Spirit, whom our Father and Son send to us for life and liveliness.  As a Christian, I have a Father who loves me, provides for me, and disciplines me; I have a Shepherd-Savior who I follow and serve; and I have a living and divine Spirit moving within me with the power of God to do His will.  These are vitally important realizations that make a major difference in our lives.

Continuing in Calvin's discussion of the Trinity, he emphasizes that the Son is God just as the Father is God.  The issue is the heretical teaching that God the Son and God the Spirit are not "really" God, but only have God the Father's deity infused into them.  Calvin responds by pointing out that while the Father is "the fountainhead and beginning deity," he is so eternally, so that while God the Son is begotten of the Father, he is begotten eternally, so that there was never a time when God the Son was not God.  As usual, Calvin buttresses his argument with simple proofs where the Bible declares Jesus to be God and refers to God as Jesus Christ.  Moreover, God the Son is identified as the Creator, who thus has life within himself. 

With these considerations, Calvin is beginning to get into the issue of subordination within the Trinity, which will be covered mainly in next week's readings.  So let me just help out right now by saying that 1) the Bible certainly speaks of Jesus - i.e. God the Son - as being subordinate to the Father (the Father sends him, He does the Father's will, etc.), so we have to be able to speak of God the Son's subordination to the Father; 2) yet this subordination cannot be ontological (pertaining to his being), since Christ is very God of very God just as the Father is; therefore, 3) the subordination is economic (pertaining to his work).  So we speak of Christ's economic subordination to the Father, but we deny his ontological subordination.  Hope that helps.

In section 24, Calvin points out that the name "God" in Scripture does not only refer to God the Father.  Often, very often in fact, "God" does refer speficially to God the Father, and He is given this honor.  But "God" may refer to the Trinity as a whole or to the Son or the Spirit.  The heretics argued that the Son is something less that fully God, because in the Bible, God means the Father.  So Calvin shows that this is not wholly the case.  Calvin gets a little prickly in arguing this, asking if they think Jesus is not good, when he says that only God is good (Mt. 19:17).  "If they deny it," he writes, "their impiety stands sufficiently convicted; by admitting it, they cut their own throats."  So Calvin is not messing around when it comes to Christ's deity!  He goes to similarly whip the heretics with other of their arguments.

Section 25 may seem difficult.  But the distinction between the essence or nature of God and the persons of the individual divine persons is important.  Calvin argues that the divine essence, shared by the whole Trinity, is unbegotten.  But the persons of the Son and the Spirit are begotten of the Father (eternally, so that there never was a time when they were not).  The persons are not separate from the divine essence, in which case there would be three Gods, but are differentiated from one another within the one divine essence.

In the last paragraph of section 25, Calvin makes one of the more important points about the inner-relations of the Trinity.  Some people don't think that the Son, being begotten of the Father, can really be fully divine and eternal.  But Calvin reproduces the great argument from the Nicene era that 1) if God has revealed himself as the Father, and 2) God is now as he always and eternally has been, 3) then in order for God to be Father, there has to be a Son, 4) so the eternality of God the Son bears equally on the eternality of God the Father.  Either God has always been the Father, in which the Son also has always been, or else God is eternally something other than Father, in which case He has not really revealed himself to us in his Word.  Think about that.

I am reminded of a story Sinclair Ferguson told us in seminary about discussing the Trinity with his then-middle-school aged son.  Before long, his son said, "Daddy, this makes my head hurt."  Sinclair replied, "Exactly.  You are doing well."  This is not to downplay the value of the Trinity at all.  But if you are struggling, don't be shocked - you only have a human mind!  But I hope you see the value of all this heavy sledding in Calvin - we are saved to know God, and the God who are to know is Trinity.