The Ontological Interrelationship of the Persons of the Trinity

By the Reverend C. B. Hurlburt, Bowling Green, Ohio


Matthew 11:27

“ALL things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.”

Luke 10:22

“All things have been delivered unto me of my Father; and no one knoweth who the Son is, save the Father; and who the Father is save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.”

Lange adds: “The complete form of expression would also require the addition (See Matthew 16:17, Luke 10.21):’No man knoweth the Son save the Father, and he to whomsoever the Father willeth to reveal him.’ “

“If there is any saying in the Gospels,” says Schumaker (Princeton Review, October, 1913), which we can esteem without hesitation a genuine, uncorrupted saying of Jesus, it is the acclamation of Matthew 11:27 (Luke 10:22).”

Even Harnack allows that if the text be permitted to stand as it is found in our Gospels, recognition can, with difficulty, be escaped of the fact that we have here “a formal equality of the Father and the Son who are distinguished only by name, and a relation of Father and Son which has never begun but remains ever the same.”

It is important to notice that these three declarations, almost the same in form, are found in the oldest and best attested tradition of the utterances of our Lord. They so rise into the pure height of the spirituality and sublimity of John’s Gospel as to cause Tholuck to call attention to what he designates “the affinity between them and the general import of the fourth Gospel,” an affinity which so binds this Gospel into union with the Synoptics as to give it their validity.

Few utterances of our Lord can be of more vital interest to a believer than this three-fold declaration wherein he sets forth with elaborate fullness his interrelation as Son with the Father in their mutual perfect knowledge of one another. Lange says: “The Saviour here declares, therefore, that a man can be guided only by the knowledge of the Son to the knowledge of the Father, but also, conversely, that a man can be guided only by the knowledge of the Father to the knowledge of the Son.” Meyer says that this teaching of our Lord “bears the impress of a superhuman consciousness,” and adds that it “establishes a relation of a unique kind, namely, that of the metaphysical fellowship.” He continues: “The Father who has sent the Son has his perfect revelation for the first time in him” (cf. John 14:9).

What then have we in this three-fold, pregnant affirmation of the supreme Teacher? This: The Father and the Son are mutually and exclusively known to each other; and we concur with Jameson, Fawcett, and Brown that “a higher claim to equality with the Father cannot be conceived.” Either, then, we have here one of the most revolting assumptions ever uttered, or the proper divinity of Christ should, to all Christians, be beyond dispute. To strengthen this claim we have here also our Lord’s testimony as to the sovereignty of his will.

“The will of the Son,” says Meyer, “in virtue of his essential and normal unity with the Father is no other than the Father’s will. This places the sovereignty of the Son on a level with that of the Father. As Cellini reasons (Princeton Review):”The knowledge with which the Son knows the Father must certainly be like that with which the Father knows the Son, since this two-fold knowledge is expressed by the Evangelists in the same terms with no intimation of a difference.”

In this composite declaration before us nothing is more marked than the distinctiveness and the absoluteness of its successive affirmation. Since each of them is, in itself, independent and complete, it matters little as to the order taken in bringing them under inspection. Let us then begin with the statement:

“No man knoweth the Father but the Son —.”

Recall familiar texts. John 7:29, “I know him because I am from him, and he sent me.” “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). “I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world” (John 17:6). “But ye received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba Father” (Romans 8:15). “Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:8, 9). “O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee: and these knew that thou didst send me, and I have made known unto them thy name, and will make it known” (John 17:25). “Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also” (I John 2:22, 23). “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, who, being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father and he shall be to me a Son. And when again he bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him” (Hebrews 1:1–6).

We have here the statement, unqualified and absolute: “No man knoweth the Father save the Son”; but this is not the statement complete. It closes with an addition of blessed significance, as though the Redeemer would say: “Yes, others beside myself, know the Father, a multitude which no man can number”; and they include all to whom I have revealed, or shall reveal, the Father to the end of time.”

But advance to consider a corresponding declaration, equally unqualified: — “No man knoweth the Son but the

Father—. “No person has ever read devoutly in the

Gospels, the brief biographies we there have of “the man of sorrows,” without feeling the force of the fact that he was a stranger in the earth, a being wholly unknown among men, even in his own circle. We are compelled to agree that there has never been and never can be again, on earth, another solitude such as that which our Lord endured. And this apart from his experience on the cross, when, consciously forsaken of the Father, he was “treading the wine-fat alone.”

We account it the law of his earthly fortune to be overborne with a sense of loneliness. How often in his daily journeyings, was he wont to lift his eye and catch the gathering clouds, when the plaint would burst from his lips: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.”

What sympathy he commands from us, when, as the night draws on we see him seeking companionship in the solitude of the mountain. All believers are won to their Redeemer as they contemplate him in “his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion,” but not a few, thinking of him in this painful solitude, would have hastened, had they accounted themselves worthy, to his relief.

But he was not alone. If his most sympathetic disciples could not watch with him one hour, he knew that his Father (not to speak of angels who once came to his support) was his constant companion, and a companion whom he could at any time address as hearing him always.

The statement stands: “No man knoweth the Son save the Father.” But, as following the previous declaration, there is here appended a blessed addition, as though our Lord would say: Yes, others beside the Father know the Son: they are the unnumbered millions to whom the Father is repeating the revelation which he made of Christ to Peter at Caesarea Philippi, as each, one by one, repeats Peter’s confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and receives from his Lord the benediction: “Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father who is in heaven”; and this according to the formula: “no man can come to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him.”

The drawing of a believer to Christ is a revelation of Christ to him. No preacher of the Word is properly ordained except as he can say, with the apostle: “It has been God’s good pleasure to reveal his Son in me that I may preach him.” If, inclusive of all believers, the apostle could say: “But we have the mind of Christ,” and could add: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” we raise the enquiry: How can these things be except as he who spoke light out of darkness hath shined in the hearts of all believers and given them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?” Let us be assured then that no man knoweth the Son save the Father, and all who are included in the hundred and forty and four thousand, redeemed from the earth,” to whom the Father hath revealed him.

In continuing this discussion can we be pardoned if we raise the question: Is it not remarkable that we have here, in the heart of the Gospel, set forth with such minuteness of specification, this interrelation of the Father and the Son, and find in it no inclusion of the person and work of the Holy Spirit?

Our inquiry here is all the more intense since we concur with Archdeacon Hare, and say: “Indeed it is only through the power of the Spirit that the power of the world has been overcome in any single soul. It is only through the working of the Spirit that anyone has ever been brought to the knowledge of Christ as his Saviour. As no one can come to the Father except through the Son, so no one can own in his heart that Jesus Christ is God, except through the conviction wrought in him by the Spirit of God, the Comforter.”

This prominence given to the Holy Spirit requires us to accord to him a place equally exalted in the interrelation, and where he is equally revealed. Are we not warranted to say, when the third person is introduced that we should express the analogy in every combination of the persons which is possible?

This makes us bold to affirm: No persons know the Holy Spirit save the Father and the Son from whom he proceedeth. “It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go I will send him unto you”; and him shall ye know by his fruit as he convicts you of sin, convinces you as to the righteousness you must have, and gives you the power of a discerning judgment. “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot know them for they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judgeth all things, and he, himself, is judged of no (natural) man.”

“I will pray to the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him; ye know him for he abideth with you and shall be in you” John 14:17.

And now again, conversely, and to complete the triangle: No persons know the Holy Spirit save the Father and the Son and they to whomsoever the Father and the Son will to reveal him, be they the sacramental Host entire who will hereafter in glory cast their crowns in one glittering heap at those scarred feet that once trod for them the winefat alone.

If in our inspection of these scripture passages, we seem profanely to have entered the Holy of Holies, and there, with unwarranted familiarity, in the use of our human speech, spoken of the Persons of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, our only apology is that our Lord, in giving us these scriptures, seems to lead us in our inquiries: and we crave the opportunity, thus given to be numbered in loyalty among “those who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”