A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.7: The Trinity

1689conf

Chapter 2: Of God and of the Holy Trinity, para. 3

3._____ 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.
( 1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6 )

Understanding the Confession

The Trinity

Paragraph 3 of the Confession is fascinating because it combines statements from the First London Baptist Confession (1644), the Westminster Confession (1646), and the Savoy Declaration (1658), and it builds upon all of them giving it the most detailed statement on the Trinity. This is very likely because of the rise in Unitarianism that was becoming more abundant among the General Baptists.

There are three basic parts. to the historic and biblical doctrine of the Trinity, all of which can be detailed in three simple questions: 1) Are there more than one God? No, there is only one God. 2) In how many person does this one God exist? God exists in three Persons. 3)Who are these three persons? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In summary, there is one God, who exists in three persons, each with distinguishing personal properties.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is and must forever be a divine mystery, which the finitude of man will never fully understand in all its glorious detail this side of Heaven. One of the important things to understand is that the confession does not try to explain the mystery of the Trinity, but rather simply confesses what is revealed in Scripture, and this is very important. Many heresies have risen trying to perfect explain the nature of the Godhead, and ended up producing something which is sub-biblical (i.e. Arianism, Modalism, etc.). The creeds of the Christian faith, along with this confession simply fence the mystery, protecting and guarding its truth, without trying to offer man made explanations of this glorious divine mystery. This glorious mystery must be accepted with humility and reverence by an intellect weaned from the arrogant and foolish notion of rationalism that it can comprehend the fullness of the divine Being. As the Psalmist wrote:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.”
-Psalm 131

One particular place at which the historic doctrine of the Trinity is in danger from such rationalism in our day is in a widespread doubt among evangelical teachers on the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. This doubt is likely due to the seeming contradiction of asserting that the Son is self-existent God and yet eternally generated. The confession in line with the other major confessions of this period (Westminster and Savoy) and the historic creeds of the church, warns us against doubting this subject.

It is often that that the doctrine of eternal generation would involve Subordinationism. And here we must distinguish three kinds of subordination. There is subordination in the modes of operation within the Godhead. For instance, there is subordination of the God-man to the Father in the economy of redemption (economic subordination). Secondly, there is a subordination in the modes of subsistence within the Godhead. This has reference to an order and relationship of derivation among the persons (hypostases) of the Trinity itself. The Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from both. This is called hypostatic subordination. The third form of subordination deals with a subordination of essence. This “essential subordination” teaches that the deity of the Son and the Spirit is a qualified form of the deity of the Father. This form of subordination is what is historically referred to and properly known as Subordinationism.

The historic doctrine of the church and its creeds is that as to their essence the Son and the Spirit are coequal in power and glory to the Father, but as to their persons they are eternally generated and eternally proceeding from the Father. Thus as to their essence they are self-existent, while as to their persons, they are eternally derived from the Father. This is not Subordinationism, which is a subordination of essence, this is simply a recognition of the biblically correct forms of subordination: economic and hypostatic subordination.

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