John Owen on the Trinity

Some today argue that the Trinity is a relatively novel concept. Owen demonstrates this is not true and cites Gregory of Nazianzus’ statement: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One” (cited on page 28 of Communion with the Triune God). We can learn much from Owen’s teaching on the Trinity:

“We do not have competing gods, but rather one God in three persons, free and united, wise and deliberate—One God, yet having distinction in himself. While distinctions among the persons can be made, God always works in perfect harmony and is worshiped in light of that. Three examples may prove helpful. First, consider the example of faith—it is given by the Father as the source, directed toward the Son who secures and increases faith, and empowered by the Spirit of life. Second, Owen employs the model of God giving diverse gifts: different gifts come from the same Spirit, and varieties of service from the same Lord, and various empowerments come from the same God: “so graces and gifts are bestowed, and so are they received.” They come from the divine persons, and thus from God, and we respond to the persons, and thus to God himself.

Third, holiness for the saints is the will of the triune God for his people. Thus, the Father has “appointed it” (Ephesians 2:10), the Son also ordains or appoints it “as the mediator” (John 15:16), and the Spirit “appoints and ordains” this holiness in believers (Acts 13:2). Christian obedience is placed in the context of the desire and empowerment of the triune God” (page 26).

It is clear from all this that the Trinity should not be the object of a dispassionate academic study. No, it is only as we contemplate God in all his unity and distinctions that we will both learn to love him and understand more about him. Our contemplation of God is more like the love of a child for his parents than a professor for his expert topic.

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