Thursday, March 25, 2021

Behold your God: In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit


Previously we saw that God is one. He is unique as the one true and living God. He is a unity; a simple, undivided Spirit. But in the one God are three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may tend to think that the doctrine of the Trinity is only something that needs to bother the heads of pastors and advanced students of theology. That is not the case. Jesus commanded that new disciples are to be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) Already in the baptismal formula we are being confronted with the fact that our God is one -  ‘name’ is singular and three, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. How do we make sense of that? Thankfully, we are not the first generation of believers to address that question in a spirit of faith seeking understanding. The first four centuries of church history were dominated by controversies about the Trinity. The stakes were high. At issue were fundamentals of the faith such as the knowledge of God, the salvation of God, who are the people of God and the worship of God.

The Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament, but the mystery is more fully revealed in New Testament era, where the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit take centre stage. Jesus is included in divine identity, John 1:1-3, 1 Corinthians 8:6. The Holy Spirit is constantly mentioned in the same breath as the Father and the Son, Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor 13:14. The mystery of the Trinity is not irrational, or totally baffling.  It is a mystery in the biblical sense of truth hidden in God until he was pleased to reveal it, Colossians 1:24-27. 

1.       In the Name

'Father'. God is disclosed as Father not first and foremost because he is in some sense the universal Father of his human image bearers, or even that he is the Father of believers, his adopted children. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit 'of God'. He did not become Father at some point. He is the eternal Father of the eternal Son and the eternal Spirit. We speak of the Son as eternally generated by the Father, and of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The named three persons are one God. 

2.       God sending and sent                  

The Father ever loved his Son and gave him life in himself, even as the Father has life in himself, John 5:26. His Spirit is the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2). The eternal relations between Father, Son and Holy Spirit are reflected in the missions of the persons of the Trinity. The Father sent the Son into the world, rather than the other way around, 1 John 4:14. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father in the name of the Son, John 14:26. He is the ‘Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit of Christ’ (Romans 8:9). Each person is concerned for the glory of the other, John 17:1, (from eternity vs. 5), Phil 2:11, John 16:14-15. Because our God is a God who communicates life, love and glory in himself, he is also a God who was pleased to communicate life and love and reveal his glory in creating the universe. Above all that includes creating human beings in his image. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We are made in his image (Genesis 1:26) to share in the life, love and glory of the Trinity, John 17:22-23.

Although there is an order in the persons of the Trinity, there is no hierarchy of being so that the Father is God in a superior sense to the Son or Holy Spirit. The three are fully God, of the same being as the Father. How else can we do justice to New Testament depiction of Jesus and the Spirit? The divine Name Yahweh Deuteronomy 6:4 is accorded to Jesus, John 8:58. The Spirit is the 'Spirit of Yahweh', active in creation (Genesis 1:2) and exercising Lordship (1 Corinthians 12:11).

It is wrong to say that the Son eternally submitted his will to that of the Father in the decree that he would be sent into the world. Will is a property of God’s being, not the persons. All three persons were party to the plan of salvation in which Son would come to save us in the power of the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:4, 9. If it is true to say, that the Father gave the Son for us, Romans 8:32, then we may also say that Son freely gave himself for us, Galatians 2:20. Father and Son are one in being and will, John 10:30.

3.       Salvation is of the triune Lord

In creation, providence and redemption God does all things by his Son and through his Spirit to his glory. Because they share one being, the three always act in concert. Only the Son became man, but he became man on being sent into the world by the Father and by the power of the Spirit in his virginal conception. Consider the miracles Jesus performed, which are jointly ascribed to all three persons of the Trinity as they share the one divine being, John 5:19-20, 14:8-11, Matthew 12:28. Consider the cross of Jesus, Hebrews 9:14 and his resurrection from the dead, Romans 8:11. 

The doctrine of the Trinity helps answer some fundamental questions:

How can we know God? John 1:18, 14:7, 14:16-17, 25. 

How can we be saved by God? Salvation is trinitarian in structure, Ephesians 1:3-14, Romans 8:1-17, Galatians 4:4-7, 1 Peter 1:1-3. Only the divine Son could atone for sin, only the divine Spirit could give us new life and communicate love of God to hearts, Romans 5:5, 8.

Who are the people God? We are 'baptised into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. Baptism signifies that we are brought into union with God in Christ by the Spirit. Matthew 28:19. The triune God showers his gifts upon the church, where unity in diversity thrives, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 7-8. 

How may we worship God? Ephesians 2:13. In our communion with God, particular communion with one person always involves the other two. The worship of heaven is trinitarian, Revelation 4 & 5. The Second London Baptist Confession 1689 states. “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.” Let us worship our adorable Trinity. 

Creeds and Confessions

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.

 And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the Lord, the giver of life.
      He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
      and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

From the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) with additions by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381)

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him. 

From the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689. Chapter 2:3

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Are we there yet?

Remember when you were a kid, setting off on  a family holiday? Your poor dad had barely driven his car a few miles down the road before you found yourself asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘Not yet son/daughter’ he would reply wearily, knowing that the same question would be asked on repeat until the sea eventually came into view. And when you grew up and had children, they did to you what you once did to your mum and dad. Where do kids learn that, do grandparents teach them as a small act of revenge?  

When you can’t wait for something to happen time seems to tick by extra slowly. ‘A watched kettle never boils’ so they say. I’m not sure that the presence of an observer actually affects the rate at which water boils in an electric kettle. But the saying makes perfect sense if you’re gasping for a cuppa.

I’m sure we’re all waiting for lockdown to finish and the various Covid measures to be eased, so we can go back to doing the things we enjoy; seeing family and friends, eating out, holidays, etc. The PM will has revealed the government’s 'Road Map' for easing  restrictions, but its a long and winding road hedged about by many caveats. Like little kids we want to know, ‘Are we there yet?’

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the need for patience, or, on occasion how little patience we possess. In Psalm 40 David sings, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord: he inclined to me and heard my cry.’ The psalmist acknowledges that it was the Lord who saved him and placed his sinking feet on solid ground. The presence and grace of the Lord are always worth waiting for, pandemic, or not. As we wait on him he relieves our weariness and renews our strength. Isaiah promises us,

they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Hurry up and wait for what's worth waiting for. We may not be ‘there yet’ in terms of the pandemic, but wait on the Lord and he will strengthen your heart.  

* For March editions of  News & Views and Trinity parish magazines

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Behold your God: ‘The Lord your God is One’

Geoff Thomas once said that in our Evangelical circles we talk a lot about worship, but not so much about God whom we worship. If we are not worshipping the God who has revealed himself in the pages of Holy Scripture, however poetic our hymns, however fervent our praises, we are worshipping an idol. If our God not God of gospel, we have no good news to tell the world.

Deuteronomy 6:4 was Israel’s most basic confession of faith, the Shema. ‘Yahweh your Elohim, Yahweh is one. The God of Israel is the Creator of the universe, Genesis 1 and Israel’s Covenant Lord, Genesis 15, Exodus 3:1-12, 6:1-8. When Israel was on the verge of Promised Land Moses taught them the Great Confession, coupled with the Great Commandment, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:36-38.  

1.       God alone

What are we saying as we stand with Israel and confess, ‘The Lord your God is one’? He is one because he is the only God. This statement underlines the most important distinction that must be made between God and all other things: only God is God, Isaiah 40:25, 28a, 43:10-11, 45:22. Everything else in creation had a beginning. He is eternal. Everything else is subject to change. He remains the same. Everything else is located in the dimensions of space. The heaven of heavens cannot contain God. He is everywhere present in the fullness of his being. All other things are finite and imperfect. God alone is infinite and perfect. He is the One than whom none greater cannot be thought, known or imagined, Matthew 5:48. The Lord you God is not simply one because he is the best of many. He stands alone as one of a kind. For he alone is God and there is none like him, Psalm 96:5.

How then can we know him? He is the infinite Creator and we his creatures. Our knowledge of him cannot be the same as his knowledge of himself. God knows himself fully. We only known him partially. In fact, we can only know him if he is pleased to reveal himself to us. He has done that in world that he made, the sense of God he has inscribed on our hearts, the word he has written, the Son he sent and Spirit he poured out. Romans 1:18-23, Mat 11:27, 1 Cor 2:10-12.

2.       Only God

In confessing ‘Lord your God is one’ we speak not only of the uniqueness of God, but his essential unity. God is pure Spirit without body or parts, John 4:24. When the Bible speaks of God in bodily terms, saying he has hands, eyes, ears, etc, we need to remember that his self-revelation in Scripture is accommodated to our capacity. Divine self-revelation is analogical, speaking to us of God in terms that are an analogy of our everyday experiences.

Neither is God is comprised of parts. In anything that is made of parts some components are more essential than others. A functioning car needs a chassis, engine, wheels and so on. Other things like upholstery, or a glove compartment are nice to have, but not essential.  Similarly, some body parts more essential than others. I could live without a limb, but not without my brain or heart. As God is a perfect being, nothing in him can be less than absolutely essential. If anything in God was ‘nice to have’, but he could do without it, that thing would be ungodlike. All that is in God is God, Exodus 34:6-8, 1 John 1:5, 4:16. The divine attributes are not detachable 'parts' of God, but properties of his perfect, infinite, unchanging, eternal being.                 

Because he is a simple unity, God is never conflicted, with his love pulling him one way and his justice another. He always acts lovingly and justly. We sing, ‘His love is as great as his power, an knows neither measure or end’. God is absolutely sovereign. But he cannot will anything evil. God’s will is not separable from his goodness, or righteousness, Ephesians 1:4-5. God’s will cannot be detached from his power, which means his will always prevails, Ephesians 1:11. The simplicity of God means we can  trust him totally. We need never fear that his raw power will crush us, for his power is good. We need never fear that his will won’t be carried out, for with Almighty God nothing is impossible. So we can sing, Lamentation 3:22-24.

3.       God not alone

God alone is God and only God, yet God is not alone in the sense that he is solitary. In the one God are more than one; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Does that mean there are 3 parts to God? No three persons, each of whom is fully God. It is not that the Father has the main chunk of God and the Son and the Spirit have what’s left between them. God cannot be chunked up in that way.  Son is of the same divine being as the Father, as is the Holy Spirit.

What distinguishes the three is not that one has more of the divine being than the others, but that the Son is eternally generated by the Father, and that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. That the one God is also three was revealed above all when the Father sent his Son into the world at the incarnation of Christ and the Father and Son poured out the Holy Spirt at Pentecost. This was hinted at in Old Testament, but the mystery was disclosed more fully in New Testament era: Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 2:33.                    

Deuteronomy 6:4: our God is supreme in being and mighty in his works as Creator and Lord. In Paul's version of the Shema Jesus included in divine identity, 1 Corinthians 8:6. As is the Spirit, who is often mentioned in t he same breath as the Father and Son, Mat 28:19-20, 2 Cor 13:18.

    4. One God in faith, worship & witness 

Faith - in God alone we trust, Psalm 62:5-8

Worship – Love the Lord your God, who loved you in Christ and has poured his love into your heart by the Holy Spirit Deut 6:5, Romans 5:8, 5. Theology must lead to doxology, 1 Timothy 6:15-16.

Witness - this is the God we proclaim. He is not a bigged-up version of ourselves. We cannot domesticate God, or cut down to size. He is the God of the gospel, Rom 1:1-5, 16-17, 3:21-22, 24-26. 

Behold your God: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one'. 

Monday, March 01, 2021

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) - A Personal Appreciation

40 years ago today, on March 1st 1981 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones passed into eternity. It is somehow fitting that the great Welsh preached entered into glory on "St David's Day", the National Day of Wales. I never knew "the Doctor". Not once did I hear him preach. He died some years before I was converted. But Lloyd-Jones, through his books and example has had a formative influence on my life.

The Church in which I was converted during the mid 1980's had a growing Pentecostal and Charismatic element. Our young people were encouraged to meet with a neighbouring Pentecostal Young People's Fellowship. I was in my late teens at the time and had a growing interest in the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. My home Church hosted a book evening. I spotted a book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the baptism and gifts of the Spirit entitled Prove All Things. I had not heard of the author, but the subject matter grabbed me. Before I became a Christian, I was not at all interested in books, leaving school at 16 with few qualifications. But as a new believer I found I had an insatiable desire to know more about the Christian faith. 

Little did I know that this book was to transform my outlook. Most of the Christian literature I had read up to that point was testimony type books, light on doctrine but full of wonderful experiences. But in Prove All Things, I encountered another world. Here was a man who took the text of Scripture seriously and thought deeply about the things of God. The writer was steeped in the works of the great Reformers and Puritans. Lloyd-Jones urged his readers to test all spiritual experiences by the Scriptures. I became disenchanted with the Charismatic Movement and longed for something with more Biblical depth. The writings of "the Doctor" were able to point me in the right direction.

In my early 20's I began to read through Lloyd-Jones' magnificent sermons on the Epistle to the Romans. This was the beginning of my theological education. "The Doctor's" preaching was intellectually demanding, doctrinally profound, thoroughly practical and wonderfully experimental.

When I felt called to the Ministry of the Word, my lay-pastor lent me his copy of Lloyd-Jones' Preaching and Preachers. This book has shaped my view of the pastoral ministry and preaching more than any other. I do not even try to emulate "the Doctor's" preaching style. But I practice the systematic exposition of whole books of the Bible and long that my preaching may be Holy Spirit anointed "logic on fire". When it came to choosing a theological seminary to prepare for the Ministry, I applied to the London Seminary . The seminary was founded by Lloyd-Jones in 1977 and seeks to train men for the Ministry with a strong emphasis on the preaching of the Word of God.

.Let me try to sum up some of the ways that "the Doctor" has influenced my Christian life and ministry:

Reformed Doctrine Lloyd-Jones preached the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. He proclaimed this deeply Biblical theology of grace that was rediscovered at the Reformation and exemplified by the Puritans and Calvinistic Methodists.

Revival "the Doctor" had a great burden for an outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church. He agreed with Jonathan Edwards, that the Church has grown and developed throughout history as a result of mighty God-given revivals. The need of the hour is not to find "new ways of doing church", important as that may be, but a heaven-sent, Christ glorifying revival.

Unity and Separation I believe that Lloyd-Jones was spot-on in 1966 when he called upon Evangelicals to withdraw from their ecumenically compromised denominations and come together as Bible-believing Christians.

Preaching Mrs Lloyd-Jones said that her husband was "first of all a man of prayer and then an evangelist". Lloyd-Jones is well known for his lengthy sermon series on Romans and Ephesians. What is less well known is that he preached evangelistically every Sunday evening at Westminster Chapel. I believe that sinners and saints alike need to hear the "old old story of Jesus and his love" in all its magnificent depth and richness.

The Value of History "the Doctor" loved Church history. That is one of the things that struck me when I read Prove All Things. The study of Church History and Christian biography is inspirational. We are reminded of what the Lord did in the past with ordinary men and women. Our understanding of the Bible is enriched in communion with the Theological reflection of the past. Familiarity with historical Theology also helps to keep the Church from doctrinal eccentricities and oddities.

The Life of the Mind Lloyd-Jones emphasised the importance of reading, study and scholarship. He helped deliver British Evangelicalism from the shallows of anti-intellectualism. "The Doctor" read widely and deeply. He was abreast of the latest trends in secular and Theological thinking. He was profoundly shaped by the Reformers, Puritans and Jonathan Edwards, but Lloyd-Jones was not their prisoner. He knew that no generation of Christians ever has a monopoly on the Truth. Everything must be tested by Scripture. The life and ministry of this great preacher gave UK Evangelicalism a new Theological depth. How can preaching be "theology on fire", if preachers fail to engage in theological reflection and study?

I commend to you the life and ministry of Martyn-Lloyd Jones. Read Iain Murray's Two Volume Biography, The First Forty Years & The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth Trust). The second volume will give you a bibliography of Lloyd-Jones' publications. Murray has also published a single volume Life of D. M. Lloyd-Jones

* An earlier version of this article was posted on the blog in 2006.