“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Persons: Distinct, not Divided
Scripture does demonstrate that there is some distinction between the Father and the Word, the Word and the Spirit. The greatness of this mystery reminds us of the great reverence and respect with which we need to have this discussion. I can’t think of more admirable words than from Gregory Nanzianzen: “I cannot think of the unity without being irradiated by the Trinity: I cannot distinguish between the Trinity without being carried up to the unity.”
Therefore, we need to be careful that we’re not distracted by the Trinity of persons and neglect thinking of the unity within the Godhead. The words, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction. They are not merely epithets by which God is separated from His works. Still, they indicate distinction only, not division. The passages I have already quoted show that the Son has a distinct personhood from the Father. The Word could not have been with God unless He was distinct from the Father. Furthermore, only in being a different “person” could the Word have had glory with the Father. In a similar way, Christ distinguishes the Father from Himself when He says that there is another who bears witness of Him (John 5:32; 8:16).
It is said elsewhere that the Father made all things by the Word. This could not be unless the Word was in some respect distinct from Him. Besides, it was not the Father who descended to the earth but the Son, who came forth from the Father. It wasn’t the Father who died and rose again, but the Son, whom the Father had sent. This distinction did not begin at the incarnation. It is clear that the only begotten Son previously exist in the bosom the Father (John 1:18). Who will dare to affirm that the Son entered the bosom of the Father the firs time only when He came down from heaven to take on a human nature? Therefore, the Son was previously in the bosom of the Father and had His glory with the Father.
Christ implies the distinction between the Holy Spirit Father when He says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. He also draws a distinction between the Spirit and Himself when he talks about another Comforter coming (John 14:6, 16; 15:26).