A Compendium of Christian Theology

By William Burt Pope, D.D.,

Volume Two

Chapter 6

The Redemptional or Economical Trinity


            Unity of Triune Purpose

            Covenant of Redemption

            Absolute and Redemptional Trinity

            Relation of the Three Persons

            of the Father

            of the Son

            of the Spirit


The gradual unfolding of the mystery of redemption is also the gradual unfolding of the mystery of the Triune God. While the Divine essence is revealed as unity of nature in trinity of personal subsistence, the work of human salvation is so related to the Triunity and to the several Persons that the Redemptional Trinity may be made a topic of separate discussion: with the reservation, however, that the Economical Trinity is only the Absolute Trinity as manifested in the present dispensation, and that all the New- Testament exhibitions of it are to be interpreted accordingly. We have to consider, first, the common relation of the Triune Godhead to the Mediatorial Work, and then the relation of each Person: both in the light of Scripture alone

I, The redemption of mankind sprang from the eternal purpose of God the Triune: Let Us redeem man! was silently one with Let Us make man! God is not divided. As the creation is a Divine work, while each Person is Creator, so redemption is a Divine work in which the Three Persons unite. God . . . hath visited and redeemed His people: 1 words to the Jews which the Apostle confirms: After that the . . . love of God our Savior toward man appeared. 2 These are the key to all those passages which connect God absolutely and independently of the hypostatic distinctions with our salvation, down to the end: God shall be all in all,3 the TRIUNE GOD. From this some inferences follow

1 Luke 1:68; 2 Tit. 3:4; 3 1 Cor. 15:28

1. The Divine attributes that required and provided an atonement are the attributes of the Three Persons: no distinction can be admitted between the holiness and love of the Father and the holiness and love of the Son. There is a perfect perichoorosis in the Redemptional Trinity, even as there is in the Absolute. I and my Father are One is a testimony that may be carried higher than the foundation of the world

1 John 10:30

2. Hence there is no support for the theory of a COVENANT OF REDEMPTION between the Father and the Son, according to which the Three Persons concerted the plan of salvation: the Son undertaking on His part to undergo the penalties of the law for His people, and the Father pledging Himself to give the Son His own glory and His people's souls as His recompense, and the Spirit witnessing in order to administer this covenant. The Scripture speaks only of the will and purpose of God's love to redeem mankind, which will was the will of the undivided Trinity. The sayings of the Word of God on this subject do not sustain the representations sometimes made of a harmony effected between the mercy and the justice of the Father through the intervention of the Son in the eternal Trinity before the world was. The reconciliation of those attributes must indeed be regarded as preceding the manifested work of redemption; the Atonement was a reality in the Divine mind before it was accomplished on the cross. But it was not an Atonement offered to one Person in the Trinity by Another and witnessed by a Third. The Son Incarnate came to do the will of God: His own will, and the will of the Holy Ghost, as much as the will of the Father. The words Covenant, and Scheme, and Plan belong to the manifestations of the redeeming economy in time. We must not transfer them to eternity. There is an impenetrable veil over what is so often called the Council of the eternal Trinity; and the Scripture does not take our thoughts behind it: save only when the Son speaks of a glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and His disciple of an atonement foreordained before the foundation of the world. 1 When another writer introduces the actual atonement the pro katabolees becomes apo katabolees: not before the foundation but from the foundation of the world was the Lamb slain. 2 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is One: 3 if such an application of St. Paul's hard saying may be permitted. No interior mediation, in the strict sense of the term can be conceived within the Godhead

1 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Rev. 13:8; 3 Gal. 3:20

II. The Three Persons of the Trinity are revealed in most strict and definite relations to the economy of redemption

1. These relations are so clearly defined that it is necessary at the outset to show that the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity is really independent of the work of Christ. The Three Persons are connected with creation almost as closely as with redemption; in this economical, though not as yet redemptional, Trinity the Word or the Son is the Agent of the Father's creating will; and the Spirit connects the Father and the Son with the visible universe. The same names are given to the Son and Spirit in their pre-temporal being as are given to them in the dispensation of grace in time. The Word who was with God in the beginning 1 was made flesh; 2 and His Divinity is the Spirit in which His oblation was offered. The baptismal formula conjoins the Son and not the Son incarnate with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost. 3 In the mystery of the internal relations there was the eternal possibility of the Absolute Trinity becoming the Redemptional: there is no deeper or more adorable secret in the Christian Faith than this. The Father could send the Son, while the Son could give Himself; and the Holy Ghost, neither the Sender nor the Incarnate Sent, could in His distinct personality rest upon the Son made flesh, and be the Minister to Him who ministered to us

1 John 1:2; 2 Heb. 9:14; 3 Mat. 28:19

2. This being so, there is a never-failing consistency in the exhibitions of the Redemptional Trinity as distinguished from the Absolute

(1.) The eternal generation of the Son is the ground of the generation by which the Son was made flesh. The words This day have I begotten Thee 1 cannot refer either to eternity or to the resurrection of the Lord's human nature: they express the profound truth that the Only-begotten was now the same eternal Son begotten again in our human nature: this day being the one day of the incarnation finished and made perfect in the resurrection

Hence the Father of this Incarnate Son in the Mediatorial Trinity is always the supreme Representative of the Godhead. God and the Father are terms used interchangeably: St

John says that God sent His Son and immediately afterwards The Father sent the Son.2 This is a law of phraseology which may be traced through the New Testament. The entire economy of redemption is always referred to God or to the Father as its origin, fountain, and head. What belongs to all the Persons of the Absolute Trinity alike is in the Trinity Redemptional assigned to the Father alone. Hence He receives the doxology of the Church, and prayer is generally offered to Him

1 Acts 13:33; 2 1 John 4:10-14

(2.) And the Spirit never assumes any relation to the person and work of Christ, but that of One Who, consubstantial with the Father and the Son, is yet the Agent of the will of the mediatorial Father. The Double Generation is taught in Scripture; and analogy would be almost enough to establish the Double Procession as the ground of the Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost. He is always sent forth: Himself like Christ an apostslos.1 Before the Incarnation He prepared the way of the Lord, as the Spirit of the Christ. 2 In the miraculous conception, He is the Agent by Whom the Father begets His Incarnate Son, and by Whom the Son partook of our flesh and blood. 3 During the Saviour's ministry He presides over all its processes as the Intermediary between the Son and His Father: precisely as if He were the Director and Disposer of a passive Christ. It was through the Holy Ghost that our Lord had given commandments unto the Apostles. 4 Even after the ascension the Spirit in the redemptional Trinity is still the Agent of the Father sent by the Son, and never is represented as independently revealing Himself. But to the Holy Spirit in His administration we must again refer

1 Heb. 3:1; 2 1 Pet. 1:12; 3 Heb. 2:14; 4 Acts 1:2

(3.) As to the Son incarnate His place in the Holy Trinity is for a season merged in His mediatorial relation to God and His Father. He Himself never swerves from the language of subordination. Even in those sayings which, as it were, undesignedly manifest forth His Divine glory, there is still the recognition of the Father's will which He has come into the world to finish, and a perpetual remembrance of the obedience which He must learn

But of the Redeemer's humbled estate it is not needful to say more now. Suffice that throughout the entire economy of redemption, and until the end when the Triune God shall be all in all, and the mediatorial distinctions of office in the Trinity cease, the predominant character of the Second Person is and will be that of Mediator, through whom we draw nigh to God: under the authority of the Father, and having the Holy Spirit under Him. The last Gospel, which is the most distinctively Trinitarian, is also the most express on this subject. Its earlier chapters exhibit Him under authority; of which such passages as these are specimens: as the Living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father, 1 when the mediatorial life is signified; for I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.1 Its later chapters show that the Spirit is under Him; He had always spoken before of Himself as declaring what He was ever hearing of the Father, as I hear I judge, 2 and now He uses the very same language of the Spirit in relation to Himself: whatever He shall hear that shall He speak . . . for He shall receive of Mine. 3 And intermediately we hear Him declaring the absolute unity between the Father and the Son: I and My Father are One.4

1 John 6:57,38; 2 John 5:30; 3 John 15:13,14; 4 John 10:30

3. It is important to remember this truth in the study of the mediatorial economy

Illustrations will hereafter be given of what needs now only to be stated: that, with certain occasional reservations and saving clauses which abundantly declare the supreme Divinity of the Son and the Spirit, the general strain of the phraseology of the New Testament represents the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity in their economical subordination to the Father as the representative of the Godhead. It must always be borne in mind that the theology of the Bible is the theology of redemption: before the application of this principle that peculiar difficulty which springs from the comparative rarity of direct allusions to the Trinity as such vanishes. In fact the difficulty becomes a help to faith when it is looked at in this light. The sublime theory of a redemptional subordination of the Two Persons is maintained, generally and down to the minutest detail, with an exact consistency of which only Divine wisdom could be the author.