Theological Institutes

Part Second - Doctrines of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 9

TRINITY.-Scripture Testimony.

IN adducing the doctrine of a trinity of Divine persons in the unity of the Godhead from the sacred volume, by exhibiting some of its numerous and decisive testimonies as to this being the mode in which the Divine nature subsists; the explicit mariner in which it is there laid down, that there is but ONE God, must again be noticed.

This is the foundation and the key stone of the whole fabric of Scriptural theology; and every argument in favour of the trinity flows from this principle of the absolute UNITY of God, a principle which the heresies at which we have glanced fancy to be inconsistent with the orthodox doctrine.

The solemn and unequivocal manner in which the unity of God is stated as a doctrine, and is placed as the foundation of all true religion, whether devotional or practical, need not again be repeated; and it is here sufficient to refer to the chapter on the unity of God.

Of this one God, the high and peculiar, and, as it has been truly called, the appropriate name, is JEHOVAH; which, like all the Hebrew names of God, is not an insignificant and accidental term, but a name of revelation, a name adopted by God himself for the purpose of making known the mystery of his nature. To what has been already said on this appellation, I may add that the most eminent critics derive it from hwh, fuit existit; which in Kal signifies to be, and in Hiphel to cause to be. Buxtorf in his definition, includes both these ideas, and makes it signify a being existing from himself from everlasting to everlasting, and communicating existence to others, and adds, that it signifies the Being who is, and was, and is to come. Its derivation has been variously stated by critics, and some fanciful notions have been formed of the import of its several letters; but in this idea of absolute existence all agree. "It is acknowledged by all," says Bishop Pearson, " that hvhy is from hvh or hyh, and God's own interpretation proves no less, Exodus iii, 14. Some contend that futurition is essential to the name, yet all agree the root signifieth nothing but essence or existence, that is, to swat or uparxein." (Exposition of the Creed.) No appellation of the Divine Being could therefore be more distinctive, than that which imports independent and eternal being; and for this reason probably it was, that the Jews, up to a very high antiquity, had a singular reverence for it; carried, it is true, to a superstitious scrupulosity; but thereby showing that it was the name which unveiled, to the thoughts of those to whom it was first given, the awful and overwhelming glories of a self existent Being,-the very unfathomable depths of his eternal Godhead.[1]

In examining what the Scriptures teach of this self-existent and eter­nal Being, our attention is first arrested by the important fact, that this ONE Jehovah is spoken of under plural appellations, and that not once or twice, but in a countless number of instances. So that the Hebrew names of God, acknowledged by all to be expressive and declaratory of some peculiarity or excellence of his nature, are found in several cases in the plural as well as in the singular form, and one of them, ALEIM, gene­rally so; and notwithstanding it was so fundamental and distinguishing an article of the Jewish faith, in opposition to the polytheism of almost all other nations, there was but one living and true God. 1 give a few instances. Jehovah, if it has not a plural form, has more than one personal application. "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from tile Lord out of heaven." We have here the visible Jehovah who had talked with Abraham, raining the storm of vengeance from another Jehovah, out of heaven, and who was therefore invisible. Thus we have two Jehovahs expressly men­tioned, "the LORD rained from the LORD," and yet we have it most solemnly asserted in Deut. vi, 4, "Hear, 0 Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah."

The very first name in the Scriptures under which the Divine Being is introduced to us as the Creator of heaven and earth, is a plural one, myhla, ALEIM; and to connect in the same singular manner as in the foregoing instance, plurality with unity, it is the nominative case to a verb singular. "In the beginning, GoDs created the heavens and the earth." Of this form innumerable instances occur in the Old Testa­ment. That the word is plural, is made certain by its being often joined with adjectives, pronouns, and verbs plural; and yet when it can mean nothing else than the true God, it is generally joined in its plural form with verbs singular. To render this still more striking, the Aleim are said to be Jehovah, and Jehovah the Alcirn: thus in Psalm c, 3, "Know ye, that Jehovah, he, the Aleim, he hath made us, and not we ourselves." And in the passage before given, "Jehovah our ALEIM, (Gods,) is one Jehovah." AL, the mighty one, another name of God, has its plural myla, ALIM, the mighty ones. The former is ren­dered by Trommius Qeo~, the latter Qeoi. ryba, ABIR, the potent one. has the -plural myryba, ABIRIM, the potent ones. Man did eat the bread of the Abirim, "angels' food," conveys no idea; the manna was the bread provided miraculously, and was therefore called the food of the powerful ones, of them who have power over all nature, the one God.

ADONIM, is the plural form of p~tt. Adon, a governor. "If I be Adonim, masters, where is my fear 1" Mal. i, 6 Many other instances might be given, as, "Remember thy Creators in the days of thy youth." "'lime knowledge of the Holy Ones is understanding." "There be higher  than they." Heb. High Ones; and in Daniel, "the Watchers and time Holy Ones."

Other plural forms of speech also occur when the one true God only is spoken of. "And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness." "And the LORD God said, Behold the man is become like one of us." "And time LORD said, Let us go down."- "Because there GOD appeared to him." Heb. God the:zj appeared, the verb being plural. These instances need not be multiplied: they are the common forms of speech in the sacred Scriptures, which no criticism has been able to resolve into mere idioms, and which only the doctrine of a plurality of persons in the unity of the Godhead can satisfactorily explain. If they were mere idioms, they could not have been misunderstood by those to whom the Hebrew tongue was native, to imply plurality ; but of this we have sufficient evidence, which shall be adduced when we speak of the faith of the Jewish Church. They have been acknowledged to form a striking singularity in the hebrew language, even by those who have objected to the conclusion drawn from them; and the question, therefore, has been to find an hypothesis, which should account for a peculiarity, which is found in no other language, with the same circumstances.[2]

Some have supposed angels to be associated with God when these plural forms occur. For this there is no foundation in the texts them. selves, and it is beside a manifest absurdity. Others, that the style of royalty was adopted, which is refuted by two considerations-that al­mighty God in other instances speaks in the singular and not in the plural number; and that this was not the style of the sovereigns of the earth when Moses or any of the sacred penmen composed their writings; no instance of it being found in any of the inspired books. A third opinion is, that the plural form of speaking of God was adopted by the Hebrews from their ancestors, who were polytheists, and that the ancient theological term was retained after the unity of God was acknowledged. This assumes what is totally without proof, that the ancestors of the Hebrews were polytheists; and could that be made out, it would leave it still to be accounted for, why other names of the Deity equally ancient, for any thing that appears to the contrary, are not also plural, and es­pecially the high name of Jehovah; and why, more particularly the very appellation in question, Aleim, should have a singular form also, in time same language. Tile grammatical reasons which have been offered are equally unsatisfactory. If then no hypothesis explains this pecu­liarity, but that which concludes it to indicate that mode of the Divine existence which was expressed in later theology by tile phrase, a trinity of persons, the inference is too powerful to be easily resisted, that these plural forms must be considered as intended to intimate the plurality of persons in essential connection with one supreme and adorable Deity.

This argument, however, taken alone, powerful as it has often been justly deemed, does not contain the strength of the case. For natural as it is to expect, presuming this to be the mode of the Divine existence, that some of his names which, according to the expressive and simple character of the Hebrew language, are descriptions of realities, and that some of the modes of expression adopted even in the earliest revelations, should carry some intimation of a fact, which, as essentially connected with redemption, the future complete revelation of the redeeming scheme was intended full to unfold; yet, were these plural titles and forms of construction blotted out, the evidence of a plurality of Divine persons in the Godhead would still remain in its strongest form. For that evidence is not merely, that God has revealed himself under plural appellations, nor that these are constructed with sometimes singular and sometimes plural forms of speech; but that three persons, and three persons only are spoken of in the Scriptures under Divine titles, each having the peculiar attributes of Divinity ascribed to him ; and yet that the first and leading principle of the same book, which speaks thus of tile character and works of these persons, should be, that there is but ONE God. This point being once established, it may be asked which of time hypotheses, the orthodox, the Arian, or the Socinian, agrees best with this plain and explicit doctrine of Holy Writ. Plain and explicit, I say, not as to the mode of the Divine existence, not as to the comprehension of it, but as to this particular, that the doctrine itself is plainly stated in the Scriptures.

Let this point then be examined, and it will be seen even that the very number three has this pre-eminence; that the application of these names and powers is restrained to it, and never strays beyond it; and that those who confide in the testimony of God, rather than in time opinions of men, have sufficient Scriptural reason to distinguish their faith from the unbelief of others by avowing themselves Trinitarians.[3]

The solemn form of benediction, in which the Jewish high priests were commanded to bless the children of Israel, has in it this peculiar indication, and singularly answers to the form of benediction so general in the close of the apostolic epistles, and which so appropriately closes the solemn services of Christian worship. It is given in Numbers vi, 24-27.

Jehovah bless thee and keep thee:

Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

Jehovah lift his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

If the three members of this form of benediction be attentively con­sidered, they will be found to agree respectively to the three persons taken in the usual order of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father is the author of blessing and preservation, illumination and grace are from the Son, illumination and peace from the Spirit, the teacher of truth and the Comforter. (Vide Jones's Catholic Doctrine.)

"The first member of the formula expresses the benevolent 'love of God;' the father of mercies and fountain of all good: the second well comports with the redeeming and reconciling 'grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;' and the last is appropriate to the purity, consolation, and joy, which are received from the 'communion of the Holy Spirit.'" (Smith's Person of Christ.)

The connection of certain specific blessings in this form of benedic­tion with the Jehovah mentioned three times distinctly, and those which are represented as flowing from the Father, Son, and Spirit in the apostolic form, would be a singular coincidence if it even stood alone; but the light of the same eminent truth, though not yet fully revealed, breaks forth from other partings of the clouds of the early morning of revelation.

The inner part of the Jewish sanctuary was called the holy of holies, that is, the holy place of the Holy Ones; and the number of these is indicated, and limited to three, in the celebrated vision of Isaiah, and that with great explicitness. The scene of that vision is the holy place of the temple, and lies therefore in the very abode and residence of the Holy Ones, here celebrated by the seraphs who veiled their faces before them. And one cried unto another, and said, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." This passage, if it stood alone, might be eluded by saying that this act of Divine adoration here mentioned, is merely emphatic, or in the Hebrew mode of expressing a superlative; though that is assumed, and by no means proved. It is however worthy of serious notice, that this distinct trine act of adoration, which has been so often supposed to mark a plurality of persons as the objects of it, is answered by a voice from that excellent glory which overwhelmed the mind of the prophet when he was favoured with the vision, responding in the same language of plurality in which the doxology of the seraphs is expressed. "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us 7" But this is not the only evidence that in this passage the Holy Ones, who were addressed each by his appropriate and equal designation of holy, were the three Divine subsistences in the Godhead. The being addressed is the "Lord of hosts." This all acknowledge to include the Father; but the Evangelist John, xii, 41, in manifest reference to this transaction, observes, "These things said Esaias, when he saw his (Christ's) glory and spake of him." In this vision, therefore, we have the Son also, whose glory on this occasion the prophet is said to have beheld. Acts xxviii, 25, determines that there was also the presence of the Holy Ghost. "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people and say, Hoaring ye shall hear and not understand, and seeing ye shall see and not perceive," &c. These words, quoted from Isaiah, the Apostle Paul declares to have been spoken by the Holy Ghost, and Isaiah declares them to have been spoken on this very occasion by the "Lord of hosts." "And be said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed and understand not, and see ye indeed but perceive not," &c.

Now let all these circumstances be placed together-THE PLACE, the holy place of the Holy Ones; the repetition of the homage, THREE times, Holy, holy, holy-the ONE Jehovah of hosts, to whom it was addressed, -the plural pronoun used by this ONE Jehovah, US; the declaration of an evangelist, that on this occasion Isaiah saw the glory of Christ; the declaration of St. Paul, that the Lord of hosts who spoke on that occa­sion was the HoLY GHOST; and the conclusion will not appear to be without most powerful authority, both circumstantial and declaratory, that the adoration, Holy, holy, holy, referred to the Divine three, in the one essence of the Lord of hosts. Accordingly, in the book of Revela­tions, where "the Lamb" is so constantly represented as sitting upon the Divine throne, and where be by name is associated with the Father, as the object of the equal homage and praise of saints and angels; this scene from Isaiah is transferred into the fourth chapter, and the "living creatures," the seraphim of time prophet, are heard in the same strain, and with the same trine repetition, saying," Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." Isaiah, xlviii, 16, also makes this threefold distinction and limitation. "And now the Lord God, and his Spirit, bath sent me." The words are manifestly spoken by Messiah, who declares himself sent by the Lord God, and by his Spirit. Some render it, hath sent me and his Spirit, the latter term being also in the accusative case. This strengthens the application, by bringing the phrase nearer to that so often used by our Lord in his discourses, who speaks of himself and the Spirit, being sent by the Father. "The Father which sent me-the Comforter whom I will send unto you from the Father, who proceedeth from the Father." Isaiah xxxiv, 16, "Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: for MY mouth it hath commanded, and uxs SPIRIT it hath gathered them." "Here is one person speaking of the Spirit, another person." (Jones on the Trinity.) Hag. ii, 5, 7, "I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts, according to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you; fear ye not. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come." Here also we have three persons distinctly mentioned; the Lord of hosts, his Spirit, and the Desire of all nations.

Many other passages might be given, in which there is this change of persons, sometimes enumerating two, sometimes three, but never more than three, arrayed in these eminent and Divine characters. The pas­sages in the New Testament are familiar to every one: "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost," with others in which the sacred three, and three only, are thus collocated as objects of equal trust and honour, and equally the fountain and the source of grace and benediction.

On the celebrated passage in 1 John v, 7, "There are three that bear record in heaven," I say nothing, because authorities against its genuine. ness are found in the ranks of the orthodox, and among those who do not captiously make objections; and because it would scarcely be fair to adduce it as a proof, unless the arguments on each side were exhibited, which would lead to discussions which lie beside the design of this work, and more properly have their place in separate and distinct treatises. The recent revival of the inquiry into the genuineness of this text, however, shows that the point is far from being critically settled against the passage, as a true portion of Holy Writ, and the argument from the context is altogether in favour of those who advocate it, the hiatus in the sense never having been satisfactorily supplied by those who reject it. This is of more weight in arguments of this kind than is often allowed. As to the doctrine of the text, it has elsewhere abund­ant proof.

It has now been shown, that while the unity of God is to be con­sidered a fundamental doctrine of the Scriptures, laid down with the utmost solemnity, and guarded with the utmost care, by precepts, by threatenings, by promises, by tremendous punishments of polytheism and idolatry among the Jews, the very names of God, as given in the revelation made of himself, have plural forms and are connected with plural modes of speech; that other indications of plurality are given in various parts of Holy Writ; and that this plurality is restricted to three; On those texts, however, which in their terms denote a plurality and a trinity, the proof does not wholly or chiefly rest, and they have been only adduced as introductory to instances too numerous to be all ex­amined, in which two distinct persons are spoken of, sometimes connect­edly and sometimes separately, as associated with God in his perfections and incommunicable glories, and as performing works of unequivocal Divine majesty and infinite power, and thus together manifesting that tri-unity of the Godhead which the true Church has in all ages adored and magnified. This is the great proof upon which the doctrine rests. The first of these two persons is the Son, the second the Spirit. Of the former, it will be observed that the titles of Jehovah, Lord, God, King, King of Israel, Redeemer, Saviour, and other names of God, are ascribed to him,-that he is invested with the attributes of eternity, omnipotence, ubiquity, infinite wisdom, holiness, goodness, &c,-that lie was the Leader, the visible King, and the object of the worship of the Jews,- that he forms the great subject of prophecy, and is spoken of in the pro. dictions of the prophets in language, which if applied to men or to angels would by the Jews have been considered not as sacred but idolatrous, and which, therefore, except that it agreed with their ancient faith, would totally have destroyed the credit of those writings,-that he is eminently known both in the Old Testament and in the New, as the. Son of God, an appellative which is sufficiently proved to have been considered as implying an assumption of Divinity by the circumstance that, for asserting it, our Lord was condemned to die as a blasphemer by the Jewish sanhedrim,-that he became incarnate in our nature,-wrought miracles by his own original power, and not, as his servants, in the name of an. other,-that he authoritatively forgave sin,-that for the sake of his sacrifice, sin is forgiven to the end of the world, and for the sake of that alone,-that he rose from the dead to seal all these pretensions to Divinity,-that he is seated upon time throne of the universe, all power being given to him in heaven and in earth,-that his inspired apostles exhibit him as the Creator of all things visible and invisible; as the true God and the eternal life; as time King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God and our Saviour,-that they offer to him the highest worship,-that they trust in him, and command all others to trust in him for eternal life,-that lie is the head over all things,-that angels wor­ship him and render him service,-that he will raise the dead at the last day,-judge the secrets of men's hearts, and finally determine the everlasting state of the righteous and time wicked.

This is the outline of Scriptural testimony as to the Son. As to the Divine character of the Spirit, it is equally explicit. He too is called Jehovah; Jehovah of hosts; God. Eternity, omnipotence, ubiquity. infinite wisdom, and other attributes of Deity, are ascribed to him. lie is introduced as an agent in the work of the creation, amid to him is ascribed the conservation of all living beings. He is time source of the inspiration of prophets and apostles; the object of worship; the efficient agent in illuminating, comforting, and sanctifying the souls of men. He makes intercession for the saints; quickens the dead, and, finally, he is associated with the Father and the Son, in the form of baptism into the one name of God, and in the apostolic form of benediction, as equally with them the source and fountain of grace and blessedness. These decisive points I shall proceed to establish by the express declarations of various passages, both of the Old and New Testament. When that is done, time argument will then be, that as on the one hand the doctrine of Scripture is, that there is but one GOD; and, on the other, that throughout both Testaments, three persons are, in unequivocal language, and by unequivocal circumstances, declared to be Divine; the only conclusion which can harmonize these otherwise opposite, contradictory, and most misleading propositions, and declarations, is, that the THEE PERSONS ARE ONE GOD.

In the prevalent faith of the Christian Church, neither of these views is for a moment lost sight of. Thus it exactly harmonizes with the Scriptures, nor can it be charged with greater mystery than is assignable to them. The trinity is asserted, but the unity is not obscured; the unity is confessed, but without denial of the trinity. No figures of speech, no unnatural modes of interpretation are resorted to, to reconcile these views with human conceptions, which they must infinitely transcend. This is the character of the heresies which have arisen on this subject. They all spring from the attempt to make this mystery of God conceivable by the human mind, and less a stone of stumbling to the pride of reason. On time contrary, "the faith of God's elect," as embodied in the creeds and confessions of all truly evangelical Churches, follow the example of the Scriptures in entirely overlooking these low considerations, and "declaring the thing as it is," with all its mystery and incomprehensibleness, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. It declares "that we worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance; for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; arid yet there are not three Gods, but one God." (Athanasian Creed.) Or, as it is well expressed by an eminent modern, as great a master of reason and science as he was of theology: "There is one Divine nature or essence, common unto three persons, incomprehensibly united, and ineffably distinguished; united in essential attributes, distinguished by peculiar idioms and relations; all equally infinite in every Divine perfection, each different from the other in order and manner of subsistence; that there is a mutual existence of one in all, and all in one; a communication without any deprivation or diminution in the communicant; an eternal generation, and an eternal procession without precedence or succession, without proper causality or dependence; a Father imparting his own, and a Son receiving his Father's life, and a Spirit issuing from both, without any division or multiplication of essence. These are notions which may well puzzle our reason in conceiving how they agree; but ought not to stagger our faith in asserting that they are true; for if time Holy Scripture teacheth us plainly, and frequently doth inculcate upon us, that there is but one true God; if it as manifestly doth ascribe to the three persons of the blessed trinity, the same august names, the same peculiar characters, the same Divine attributes, the same superlatively admirable operations of creation and providence; if it also doth prescribe to them the same supreme honours, services, praises, amid acknowledgments to be paid to them all; this may be abundantly enough to satisfy our minds, to stop our mouths, to smother all doubt and dispute about this high and holy mystery." (Dr. Barrow's Defence of the Trinity.)

One observation more, before we proceed to the Scriptural evidence of the positions above laid down, shall close this chapter. The proof of the doctrine of the trinity, I have said, grounds itself on the firm foundation of the Divine unity, and it closes with it; and this may set the true believer at rest, when he is assailed by the sophistical enemies of his faith with the charge of dividing his regards, as he directs his prayers to one or other of the three persons of the Godhead. For the time at least, he is said to honour one to the exclusion of the others. The true Scriptural doctrine of the unity of God, will remove this objection. It is not the Socinian notion of unity. Theirs is the unity of one, ours the unity of three. We do not, however, as they seem to suppose, think the Divine essence divisible, and participated by, and shared among, three persons; but wholly and undividedly possessed and enjoyed. Whether, therefore, we address our prayers and adorations to the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, we address the same adorable Being, the one living and true God. "Jehovah, our Aleim, is one Jehovah." With reference to the relations which each person hears to us in the redeeming economy, our ap­proaches to the Father are to be made through the mediation of the Son, and by, or with dependence upon, the assistance of the Holy Spi­rit. Yet, as time authority of the New Testament shows, this does not preclude direct prayer to Christ and to the Holy Spirit, and direct ascriptions of glory and honour to each. In all this we glorify the one "God over all, blessed for evermore."


[1] Maimonides tells us, that it was not lawful to utter this name, except in the sanctuary, and by the priests. "Nomen, quod, ut nosti, non proferre licet, nisi in sanctuario, et a sacerdotibus Del sanctis, solum in benedictione sacerdotum, Ut et a sacerdote magno in die jejunii."

[2] (5) The argument for the trinity drawn from the plural appellations given to God in the Hebrew scriptures, was opposed by tile younger Buxtorf; who yet admits that this argument should not altogether be rejected among Chris­tians, "for upon the same principle on which not a few of the Jews refer this emphatical application of the plural number to a plurality of powers or of influences, or of operations, that is, ad extra; why may we not refer it, ad mire, to a plurality of persons and to personal works? Yea, who certainly knows what that was which the ancient Jews understood this plurality of powers and faculties?"

[3] The word trinitas, came into use in the second century.