Calvin’s Institutes — Family Devotional Edition
The Trinity in Scripture
To say nothing more of mere words about the Trinity, let us look at what those words are actually talking about. By “person,” I mean a substance in the divine essence—a substance which is distinguished from the other two by unshared properties. By “substance” we mean something other than the “essence.” If the Word, for example, did not have some property peculiar to himself, John could not have said that he had always been with God (John 1:1–3). When he adds that the Word was God, he calls us back to the unified essence.
Each of the three substances (“persons”) is related to the others, but is distinguished by its own properties. Whenever the Father is compared with the Son, the peculiar property of each distinguishes the one from the other. Whatever is proper to each is not shared, because nothing can apply or be transferred to the Son which is attributed to the Father as a mark of distinction. But all are related, for when God is mentioned simply and indefinitely, the name belongs no less to the Son and Spirit than to the Father.
When the Word of God is set before us in the Scriptures, the reference is to the wisdom ever dwelling with God by which all oracles and prophecies were inspired. Peter testifies (1 Pet. 1:11) that the ancient prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ just as the apostles. Since Christ was not yet manifested, we necessarily understand that the Word was begotten of the Father before all ages. But if that Spirit, whose organs the prophets were, belonged to the Word, we must also necessarily infer that the Word was truly God. The apostles tell us that the worlds were created by the Son and that he sustains all things by his mighty word (Heb. 1:2). Further, no man of sane mind can have any doubt what Solomon means when he introduces Wisdom as begotten by God and presiding at the creation of the world and all other divine operations (Prov. 8:22). Our Savior’s words refer to this, too: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). The clearest explanation is given by John when he states that the Word was from the beginning God and with God. He attributes both a peculiar substance and a permanent essence to the Word, showing how God spoke the world into being.
The proof of the divinity of the Spirit is derived from the same sources. Moses testifies in the history of the creation that the Spirit of God was expanded over the abyss or shapeless matter (Gen. 1:2). This shows not only that the beauty which the world displays is maintained by the invigorating power of the Spirit, but that even before this beauty existed the Spirit was at work cherishing the confused mass. Further, Isaiah says, “And now the Lord God, and his Spirit, has sent me” (Isa. 48:16), thus ascribing a share in the sovereign power of sending the prophets to the Holy Spirit.
Nor does the Scripture, in speaking of him, withhold the name of God. Paul infers that we are the temple of God from the fact that “the Spirit of God dwelleth in us” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). It ought not to be overlooked that all the promises God makes of choosing us to himself as a temple receive their only fulfilment by his Spirit dwelling in us. The Apostle says at one time that we are the temple of God, and at another time, in the same sense, that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Peter, when he rebuked Ananias for having lied to the Holy Spirit, said, that he had not lied unto men, but unto God. And when Isaiah had introduced the Lord of Hosts as speaking, Paul says, it was the Holy Spirit that spoke (Acts 28:25–26). Christ and the apostles attribute to the Holy Spirit words uniformly said by the prophets to have been spoken by the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, the Spirit is the true Jehovah who dictated the prophecies. Again, when God complains that he was provoked to anger by the stubbornness of the people, in place of Him, Isaiah says that his Holy Spirit was grieved (Isa. 63:10). Lastly, blasphemy against the Spirit is not forgiven, either in the present life or that which is to come. That majesty must certainly be divine which it is an inexpiable crime to offend or impair.
As God has manifested himself more clearly by the advent of Christ, so he has made himself more familiarly known in three persons. Paul connects these three, God, Faith, and Baptism, and reasons from the one to the other: because there is one faith he infers that there is one God, and because there is one baptism he infers that there is one faith. Therefore, if by baptism we are initiated into the faith and worship of one God, we must necessarily believe that he into whose name we are baptized is the true God.
There can be no doubt that our Savior wished to testify that the perfect light of faith is now exhibited, when he said, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). This is the same thing as to be baptized into the name of the one God who has been fully manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. What, then, is our Savior’s meaning in commanding baptism to be administered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, if it is not that we are to believe with one faith in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? But is this anything other than to declare that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God?
On the other hand, the Scriptures demonstrate distinction between the Father and the Word, the Word and the Spirit. Christ distinguishes the Father from himself when he says that there is another who bears witness of him (John 5:32; 8:16). To the same effect it is elsewhere said that the Father made all things by the Word. This could not be if he were not in some respect distinct from him. Further, it was not the Father that descended to the earth, but he who came forth from the Father; nor was it the Father that died and rose again, but he whom the Father had sent.
Christ intimates the distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Father when he says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Likewise, he distinguishes between the Holy Spirit and himself when he declares that he will send another Comforter (John 14:6; 15:26; 14:16).
Questions for Devotion
- What can we determine from John 1:1–3 about both unity and distinctions within the Trinity?
- What do the Scriptures say about the Word’s role in creation? What about his eternality before creation?
- How does Scripture show both the Word and the Spirit to be God?
- How does the Scriptural doctrine of baptism involve both the unity and trinity of God?
- In what other ways is the Trinity clear in New Testament Scriptures?