The Ancient Faith
GOD: FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT
“I am that I am.” “I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live forever.” “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding.” “His understanding is infinite.” “Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord.” “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” “I beseech thee show me thy glory; and he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” “And the Lord passed by before him, [NOTE: Moses] and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and in truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and that by no means acquits the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” – “and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” “O Lord God of Israel, who dwellest /7/between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone; thou hast made heaven and earth. Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Aleim is one Jehovah [NOTE: So reads the Hebrew, Deut v.4.] – the Lord our God is one Lord.” “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which wast, and art, and art to come.” “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways thou king of saints.” “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name, for thou alone art holy?” “He is the Rock: his work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity: just and right is he.” “Glorious in holiness, fearful in praise, doing wonders.”
Such are a few-a specimen of the Divine declarations concerning himself, repeated and re-echoed by the purest and most intellectual beings in heaven and earth. It is from his word and his works we learn the being and perfections of God. As we form a character of man from what he says and what he does, so learn we the Divine character. “The heavens declare his glory, and the firmament showeth forth his handiwork: day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” Creation reveals the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God – Providence proclaims also his justice, truth, and holiness. Redemption develops his mercy, condescension, and love; and all these are again characterized by infinity, eternity, immutability. Nature, then, attests and displays the knowledge, wisdom, power, and goodness of God. The law and the providence of God especially declare his justice, truth, and holiness; while the gospel unfolds his mercy, condescension, and love: and all these proclaim that God is infinite, eternal, and immutable. God appears before the universe of intellectuals in the threefold attitude of Creator, Law giver, and Redeemer; and, although each of these involves and reveals many of his excellencies, still in each department three are most conspicuous. As Creator, wisdom, power, and goodness; as Lawgiver, justice, truth, and holiness; as Redeemer, mercy, condescension, and love. In each and all of which departments be is infinite, immutable, and eternal.
III. But the Scriptures speak of his divinity, or godhead, as well as of the unity, spirituality, and eternity of his being. We have not, indeed, much said upon this incomprehensible theme; for who by searching can find out God, or know the Almighty to perfection? “The knowledge of him is high as heaven: what canst thou do? Deeper than hell: what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.”
Paul and Peter indeed speak of the Divine nature in the abstract, or of the divinity or godhead. These are the most abstract terms found in the Bible. Eternity and divinity are, however, /8/equally abstract and almost equally rare in Holy Writ. Still they are necessarily found in the divine volume; because we must abstract nature from person before we can understand the remedial system. For the divine nature may be communicated or imparted in some sense; and, indeed, while it is essentially and necessarily singular, it is certainly plural in its personal manifestations. Hence we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equally divine, though personally distinct from each other. We have, in fact, but one God, one Lord, one Holy Spirit; yet these are equally possessed of one and the same divine nature.
Some conceive of God as a mathematical unit; and as a thing can not be both mathematically singular and plural – one and three, at the same time and in the same sense-they deny the true and proper divinity of the Son of God and of the Spirit of God. But it would seem to us that they reason not in harmony with the sacred style of inspiration. But why should we imagine that there can not be a plurality of personal manifestations in the divine nature any more than in the angelic or human, especially as man was created in the image of God?
The relations in human plurality are indeed limited to three: for while all the human nature was at one time originally and wholly in the person of Adam, it was afterwards found equally in the person of Eve; and again in the person of their first-born. Now, as to its derivation and mode of existence, it was diverse in the three. In Adam it was underived as respected human nature, in Eve it was derived from Adam, and in Cain it was again derived from Adam and Eve. Here the matter ends; for while Eve proceeded from Adam in one mode, and Cain proceeded from Adam and Eve in another, all the residue of human nature is participated without any new relation or mode of impartation. While, then, our nature is plural as to its participation, it is limited to three relations or modes of existence. Now, as man was made in the image of God, we must conceive of him as having plurality, relation, and society in himself – though far be it from us to suppose that the divine nature either is or can be fairly or fully exhibited by any resemblance or illustration drawn from angel or from man, or from any created thing. Still there is a resemblance between God and the sun that shines upon us – between God and an angel – between God and man; and even in the mode of his existence, and in the varieties of relation and personal manifestation, there is so much resemblance as to peremptorily forbid all dogmatism as to what is, or is not, compatible with the unity, spirituality, and immutability of God. But of this more fully and intelligibly when we shall have examined the record concerning the WORD and the SPIRIT of God.
THE SON OF GOD
“The holy progeny [or thing] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” “This is my Son, the Beloved; hear him.” “No person has ascended into heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, who is in heaven,” or whose abode is in heaven. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared him.” “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” “Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” “In him dwells all the fulness of the godhead [NOTE: The Apostle here uses the word Theotees, Col. ii. 9, which is but once found in the New Testament. We have, indeed, Theiotees, Rom. i. 20, from the same Apostle, also found but once, translated godhead. We have also Theios, Theion, three times; once Acts xvi. 29, translated divinity: and by Peter, 2 Eph.[sic, read: Pet.] i. 3, 4, twice; once in connection with power, and once with nature – “his divine power;” a “divine nature.” The fullness of the divine excellency – all the perfections of nature is here contrasted with an empty and decietful philosophy, (verse 8) and the term bodily superadded, shows that God is in Christ, not, as he was in the tabernacle or temple, typically, but substantially, literally, and truly.] bodily,” or substantially. “He is the first and the last.” “All things were created by him and for him.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of an only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
So speak the Divine Oracles of the supreme deity and excellency of the author and perfecter of the Christian system. “By him and for him” all things were created and made; and “he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” But “he became flesh.” Who? He that existed before the universe, whose mysterious, sublime, and glorious designation was the Word of God. Before the Christian system, before the relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit began to be, his rank in the divine nature was that of the Word of God. Wonderful name! Intimate and dear relation! The relation /10/between a word and the idea which it represents is the nearest of all relations in the universe: for the idea is in the word, and the word is in the idea. The idea is invisible, inaudible, unintelligible, but in and by the word. An idea can not be without an image or a word to represent it; and therefore God was never without his word, nor was his word without him. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God”; for a word is the idea expressed: and thus the “Word that was made flesh” became “the brightness of his glory,” and “the express image of his person” – insomuch that “he who has seen the Son has seen the Father also.”
While, then, the phrase “Son of God” denotes a temporal relation, the phrase “the Word of God” denotes an eternal, unoriginated relation. There was a word of God from eternity, but the Son of God began to be in the days of Augustus Caesar. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” He was by his resurrection from the dead declared to be the Son of God with a power and evidence extraordinary and divine. The Word incarnate or dwelling in human flesh, is the person called our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ; and while in the system of grace the Father is the one God in all the supremacy of his glory, Jesus is the one Lord in all the divine fulness of sovereign, supreme, and universal authority. The Lord of Shem, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the God and the Lord of Christians: for “the child” that has been born to us, and “the son” that has been given according to another Prophet, came from eternity: “His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” [NOTE: Micah v. 2.] Such is the evangelical history of the author of the Christian system as to his antecedent nature and relation in the deity or godhead.
He became a true and proper “Son of Man.” “A body hast thou prepared me.” But the “me” was before “the body.” It dwelt forever “in the bosom of the Father.” “I came forth from God,” said “the incarnate Word.” Great beyond expression and “without controversy, great is the mystery – the secret of godliness.” “God was manifest in the flesh.” “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” The Son of Man was and is the Son of God – “Emanuel, God with us.” Adored be his name! The one God in the person of the Father has commanded all men to worship and honor the one Lord, as they would honor him that sent him: for now in glorifying the Son we glorify the Father that sent him and that dwells in him. “Know ye not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” Thus spake our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE SPIRIT OF GOD
As there is man and the spirit of man, so there is God and the Spirit of God. They are capable of a separate and distinct existence. “What man knoweth the things of a man,” says Paul, “but the spirit of man, that is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God.” There is in this case an image of God in man – not, indeed, an exact image, but an image; for as Paul says of the law, so say we of man – “For the law had a shadow [a resemblance] of good things to come, and not the very [or exact] image of the things.” So man was made an image of God, though not the exact image. The active power of man is in his spirit. So John the Baptist came in the power of Elijah, because he came in his spirit. The Spirit of God is therefore often used for his power; though it is not an impersonal power, but a living, energizing, active, personal existence. Hence in all the works of God the Spirit of God is the active, operating agent. Thus in the old creation, while ancient chaos yet remained – when “the earth was without form and void, and darkness brooded on the bosom of the vast abyss, “the Spirit of God”moved [incubated and energized] upon the face of the waters.” “The hand of the Lord has made me, and the Spirit of the Almighty has given me life.” “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” And thus was chaos subdued, man vitalized, “the heavens garnished,” and the body of Jesus made by the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is said to do, and to have done, all that God does and all that God has done. It has ascribed to it all divine perfections and works; and in the New Testament it is designated as the immediate author and agent of the new creation, and of the holiness of Christians. It is therefore called the Holy Spirit. In the sublime and ineffable relation of the deity, or godhead, it stands next to the Incarnate Word. Anciently, or before time, it was God, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God. But now, in the development of the Christian scheme, it is “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – one God, one Lord, one Spirit. To us Christians there is, then, but one God, even the Father; and one Lord Jesus Christ, even the Saviour; and one Spirit, even the Advocate, the Sanctifier, and the Comforter of Christ’s body – the church. Jesus is the head, and the Spirit is the life and animating principle of that body.
The whole systems of creation, providence, and redemption are founded upon these relations in the Deity. Destroy these, blend and confound these, and nature, providence, and grace are blended, /12/confounded, and destroyed. The peerless and supreme excellency of the Christian system is, that it fully opens to the vision of mortals the divinity – the whole godhead – employed in the work of man’s regeneration and ultimate glorification. God is manifest in human flesh, and is justified and glorified by the Spirit, in accomplishing man’s deliverance from ruin. Each name of the sacred three has its own peculiar work and glory in the three great works of Creation, Government, and Redemption. Hence we are, by divine authority, immersed into the name of the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT, in coming into the kingdom of grace; and while in that kingdom the supreme benediction is, “The grace of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and the love of God, and the communion of the HOLY SPIRIT, be with you!” Indeed, in the old church that was in the wilderness, while matters were comparatively in the shadows of a moonlight age, the High-Priest of ‘Israel was commanded to put the name of God upon the children of Israel, in the same relation of the sacred three – “The Lord [NOTE: In the Hebrew Bible it is Jehovah each time.] bless thee and keep thee – The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee – The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” [NOTE: Numbers vi. 24-28.] “Jehovah bless thee” is equal to “the love of God.” “Jehovah be gracious unto thee” answers to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And “Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace,” corresponds to “the communion of the Spirit.”
The divine doctrine of these holy and incomprehensible relations in the Divinity is so inwrought and incorporated with all the parts of the sacred book – so identified with all the dispensations of religion – and so essential to the mediatorship of Christ, that it is impossible to make any real and divine proficiency in the true knowledge of God, of man, of reconciliation, or remission of sins, of eternal life, or in the piety and divine life of Christ’s religion, without a clear, and distinct perception of it, as well as a firm and unshaken faith and confidence in it, as we trust still to make more evident in the sequel.
[This is from Alexander Campbell’s The Christian System (1839)]