Calvin’s Institutes — Family Devotional Edition
The “Economic” Trinity
I am not sure whether it is appropriate to borrow analogies from human affairs to express the nature of the distinctions in the Trinity. I have a great dread of anything like presumption here, lest some rash saying may give occasion for lies to the malicious or delusion to the unlearned. The Scriptures, however, do point out one distinction: to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action; while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit.
The distinction of order is not superfluous. The Father is considered first, next the Son from him, and then the Spirit from both. For this reason, the Son is said to be of the Father only, and the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. This is clear in Romans 8, where the same Spirit is called indiscriminately the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead. Peter also testifies that it was the Spirit of Christ which inspired the prophets (1 Pet. 1:21), though the Scriptures so often say that it was the Spirit of God the Father.
This distinction is far from interfering with the perfect unity of God. In every case where the Godhead is mentioned, the name of God is by no means applied only to the Father. The God who appeared to Isaiah was the one true God, and yet John declares he was Christ (Isa. 6; John 12:41). He who declared that he was to be “for a stone of stumbling” to the Jews was the one God; and yet Paul declares that he was Christ (Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:33). He who proclaims by Isaiah, “Unto me every knee shall bow,” is the one God; yet Paul again explains that he is Christ (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11). To this we may add the passages, “Thou, Lord, hast laid the foundations of the earth,” and, “Let all the angels of God worship him” (Heb. 1:10; 10:6; Ps. 102:26; 97:7). All these apply to the one God, yet the Apostle contends that they are the proper attributes of Christ.
Consider the question: should Christ be worshipped? If he claims justly that every knee shall bow to him, it follows that he is the God who, in the law, forbade worship to be offered to any but himself. There is no room for the trifle that Christ was exalted in the flesh in which he humbled himself, and in respect of which all power is given to him in heaven and on earth. Any dispute is admirably settled by Paul when he declares that he was equal with God before he humbled himself and assumed the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6–7). Moreover, how could such equality exist if he were not that God whose name is Jah and Jehovah, who rides upon the cherubim, is King of all the earth, and King of ages? Christ cannot be robbed of the honor described by Isaiah, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him” (Isa. 25:9). These words describe the advent of God the Redeemer who was not only to bring back the people from Babylonian captivity, but to restore the Church and completely perfect her.
Questions for Devotion
- How should we understand the roles of each member of the Trinity?
- In what order should we understand their relations?
- What do we learn from comparing the references to the particular Persons of God in Romans 8 and 1 Peter 1:21?
- What do we learn about the divinity of each member by comparing passages like Isaiah 6 and John 12:41, Isaiah 8:14 and Romans 9:33, Isaiah 45:23 and Romans 14:11, and others Calvin lists?