In my last post, I dealt with the distinctions of the Persons within the Godhead, and explained how these eternal distinctions can exist in One and the same Being. In it, we saw that the orthodox, biblical view of the Trinity is that the Persons are distinguished only by their relative properties, and not by actual properties within the Persons. As such, each Person is One and the same God, and yet they are distinct within the Godhead. But last time we limited ourselves to exploring the nature of the Trinity as it is in eternity; how do these truths relate to the Trinity’s operation in creation and redemptive history? Much in every way, as will be borne out by Scripture. In God’s Word, we’ll see that the eternal distinctions between Father, Son, and Spirit are beautifully magnified by their operations in the world, and that our God has mercifully given us insight into the great mysteries that we can’t see by the things we can see.
Creation is no an accident: “all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16). All things were made according to God’s purpose, who has made the world and guided history “for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,” as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith puts it (4.2). He has made space and time as the vessels to hold the radiance of His glory, through which He is able to contrast the wonders of His blessings with the places and seasons left in darkness. Likewise, space and time are able to magnify the beauty of the Holy Trinity by localizing what’s beyond all locality in the Godhead. Throughout space and time, we find the different Persons taking on specific roles that reflect the distinctions of their relations in the Godhead. Strictly speaking, a single Person of the Trinity is never confined to a space, time, or action that the other members are entirely absent from, but it’s nevertheless important to recognize certain doings of God as the specific work of either the Father, Son, or Spirit, as the Bible asserts. Because of the distinction of their relations, a given work will be more proper to one of the Persons than the rest. We will explore why certain works are ascribed individually to the Father, Son, and Spirit one Person at a time.
God The Father
In the last post, we discussed how the Father is “the from,” because the relationships between Him and the other members of the Trinity stem from Him (diagram reproduced above for your convenience). As such, He functions as the logical source of all else, even of the uncreated, co-eternal Persons. On this account, He is more frequently depicted as the Creator and given the appellation of God than the other Persons. To be sure, all three Persons are involved in creation, and all three Persons are the One same God in their own right, but He is most commonly referred to as the Creator-God because of His role as “the from” within the Godhead itself. Consequently, it’s most natural to refer to Him when speaking of God generically, since His relation models the source-hood aspect of God more than the rest. We shouldn’t be the slightest bit embarrassed that the Bible more often refers to the other members of the Trinity as the “Son of God” and the “Spirit of God” rather than “God the Son” and “God the Spirit.” Even though the latter way of speaking is manifestly orthodox, used by ourselves here, and is supported by Scripture itself (e.g. John 1:1, Acts 5:3-4), the Bible’s default way of referring to the Father when speaking of God reflects something meaningful about the relations within the Godhead, and is by no means accidental.
As “the from,” He is the most removed from everything else. He most preeminently displays the transcendent aspect of the Deity, occupying His throne in Heaven far above the earth. Hence the Lord instructs us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), not, “Our Father which art in the earth.” The Father’s actions always take place from Heaven where He remains, primarily using mediating forces to interact with creation, such as angels. Yet, the source of those mediating forces is always His will, and to Him are always ascribed the acts of predestination, calling, and drawing (Ephesians 1:3-5, Romans 8:29-30, John 6:44). As the source, it’s to Him that we’re ultimately directed, as Jesus does when He instructs us to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9, John 16:26-27), and not to Himself. All three members of the Trinity are perfectly able to answer our petitions (e.g. Act 7:59, where Stephen sees the risen Lord and asks Him to receive his spirit), but Scripture is very consistent in only instructing us to pray to the Father – the ultimate source of the divine activity, and therefore the source of the will that fulfills our prayers. The only possible exception to this rule is when we are instructed to call on the Son in our initial act of faith (cf. Romans 10:13), and this is because Jesus is the One who provides the ground for our relationship with the Father as the “to/from.”
God the Son
As the “to/from,” the Son is the great mediator between God and man. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The great analogy which models the role of the Son is indicated by His other title – The Word. The Word is that which reveals the One who speaks, The Father, much like language is the means whereby we communicate ourselves to others. We cannot see each others’ souls; if I know you, I know you primarily through the words you speak. Your soul, and the hidden character attached to it, would always remain aloof and intangible without the imminent and tangible means of language. This is why Christ is that chief and great Word: “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). Like our souls, the Father is invisible and cannot be seen directly. We need the Son, the Word, to reveal the One who is above comprehension.
While the theophanies of the Old Testament are undoubtedly proper to the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the greatest way the Word reveals God is by His human nature, through which He is the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s as the Lord Jesus Christ that the to/from nature of the 2nd Person displays itself most magnificently, whereby the ineffable God manifests Himself in flesh that’s like our very own (1 Timothy 3:15). Through Him, the righteous, holiness of God is seen in human form in His life of perfection. Through Him, the divine wisdom is manifest in His incomparable teachings. With the beams of the Cross, the fullest expressions of divine mercy and justice meet in Him, and are laid bare for all to behold. And what a revelation of the divine goodness! At the Cross, it was God Himself who satisfied His perfect sentence against sin, so that we (including you, reader) who are deserving of eternal hell could be delivered without charge. And in the mystery of the Trinity, it was both God Himself and yet One distinct from the Father who suffered, so that the pain of self-suffering and – even greater – the pain of One’s Child suffering were both accomplished at Calvary. Truly, the sorrow there was without rival. “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12). Yet God, in His infinite love and mercy manifested in the Person of Christ, did not shun a drop of that bitter cup to save those He graciously calls, “My people.”
God the Holy Spirit
In addition to the Father and the Word, there is that final outpouring of Deity known as the Holy Spirit. In God’s work in creation, the Father is as the King on His throne, the Son as the Decree that goes forth from His mouth, and the Spirit as the Power whereby the decree is accomplished, through whom the Father’s Word will not return void. In our analogy of language, while it’s the words that reveal the speaker, the actual words themselves cannot be heard without another medium. The words must rely on the power of the air between the speaker and the hearer for communication to take place. And so, the Lord Jesus Himself did not become incarnate without the power of the 3rd Person, who served as His medium by forming Him in His mother’s womb (Luke 1:35). Nor did Christ manifest His divine power until after the Holy Ghost had descended upon Him at His baptism, before which He performed no miracles (John 2:11). It was this power of the Spirit that communicated the divine nature of the Incarnate Word to those around Him, and – outside of the physical signs and wonders – it’s still this power of the 3rd Person of the Trinity that enables anyone to see Jesus for who He is, providing us the medium for His Word to communicate with us. The Spirit must open the blind eyes, fill the deaf ears, and stir the dead souls for us to come to the Savior, much as it was only by the Spirit’s power that the physical healings of eyes, ears, and death were accomplished by the Lord. As that great outpouring of Deity, it is the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, uniting us to Christ and sealing us until that awaited day of redemption (Ephesians 4:20).
Taking a step back, we can see the great wisdom in the division of the duties of the Persons of the Trinity. As God draws His children to Himself, the relations of the Persons are reflected in this process. The Father, as the supreme “from,” is He to whom we’re directed. When He decrees to draw us, we are most immediately reached by the final outpouring of the Deity, the Holy Spirit, who melts our hearts of stone and reorients us from death to life. And yet, the Holy Spirit does not send us directly to the Father (who is transcendent and incomprehensible to us), but rather to the Father’s self-revelation – His Word . The Word, as the Lord Jesus Christ, embodies the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9), and visibly portrays the invisible God. As the “to/from,” He both reaches down to give us the gifts of the Spirit (John 15:26, Ephesians 4:8), and brings us up to become one with Him and the Father (John 17:21). And so it is that He says, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). In this way, the deep mystery of the inner-relations of the Persons is echoed in redemption, so that that which passes all understanding may be partly grasped even by those who still see through a glass dimly.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.Romans 11:33-36
Footnote : This fits in nicely with the filioque clause acknowledged by the Western Church, since it’s to the Son and, through Him, to the Father that the Spirit directs us, which we would expect from the One who proceeds from both, as opposed to proceeding from His own independent link to the Father.