Today we continue our delightful interview with Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, talking to him about his newest book, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen. If you missed Part 1 of this interview yesterday, you can catch up here.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
Owen emphasizes that the external works of the Trinity are indivisible – that when God acts, he always acts as God the Trinity. He also emphasizes the diversity of role and functions among the Father, Son, and Spirit. Help us put this together – how can a given act of, say, the Son, be a Trinitarian act also?
Maybe the simplest way to answer is by giving one illustration. Everything God the Trinity does he does as God the Trinity. None of the persons acts in an independent spirit! Creation is an act of God. Which person creates? Well, all three. The Father is the creator (“I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” we say in The Apostles’ Creed). But he creates in concert with the Spirit (Genesis 1:2) and through the Son (John 1:3). It looks as though what the Father designs he brings into being through the Son and the Spirit. If you think about it, creation is an activity that arises out of and expresses the inner fellowship of the Trinity! I am tempted to say — in fact will say! — What fun it must have been for the Father, Son, and Spirit to bring the cosmos out of nothing. (After all, if we can have fun as believers, that must be a reflection of the God who has made us as his image). No wonder the morning stars (who were give a front row seat!) sang! We find the same pattern explicitly in other actions of the Trinity. We can therefore draw implications from these specifics to all the actions of God.
Books At a Glance:
How, then, does this lie “at the heart of what it means to know God and to enjoy communion with Him”?
When we begin to see this pattern in Scripture I think it can open up a whole new world for us. Think of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. You go through the back of a wardrobe and you find yourself in a whole new world. It is the same here. In a sense this perspective helps us see into the heart of God, into the fact that through the Spirit, as John says, “our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ.” I have often said that I could never be a Unitarian of any kind because the Unitarian God is (to use an expression beloved by my mother!) “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” He has “attributes” but he has nobody to whom he can express them. He actually “needs” creation in order to be self-fulfilled (one can see theological implications of this view of God in some contemporary theology, like Process Theology). The oddest thing of all (to me anyway) is that the one thing every Unitarian stresses is that “God is love.” But if he is uni-personal and not triune … there can be no expression of that love, no realisation of it, and therefore no enjoyment of it! In order to enjoy being loving you have to express that love to a person other than yourself. To somewhat caricature it, the Unitarian God ends up stuck in a corner with his love and nobody to enjoy playing with!! Knowing God as Trinity, reflecting on his inner life as triune, realising a little of the inner pleasure of God’s being in all he plans, effects, and then shares with creatures he has made … and then add to that the fact that he has planned, effected, and will consummate our redemption, and will forever engage us in fellowship … this has the power to bring me into real enjoyment of God. Now I begin to appreciate what it means “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Books At a Glance:
Our interview cannot go on forever, and we will want to read your book for the fuller answer, but perhaps you can give us a quick, summary glimpse of what we will find in your book. What does fellowship with God as Triune and as Father, Son, and Spirit look like? How can we grow in our fellowship with God in these ways?
It means, as Augustine and others saw, that we can never think about the One without thinking of the Three, or about any of the Three without thinking about the One. And within that context I realise that while can, should, and do praise the Son for coming to die for me, I don’t praise the Father dying for me (although nervous people praying in public sometimes pray to the Father and thank him for doing that!). But by the same token, I admire, love and worship the Father because he was willing to send his Son for me. I don’t praise the Spirit for sending the Son, but I do praise him for accompanying, leading and sustaining the Lord Jesus throughout his ministry … and so on. As we grow in our understanding of all this I think the biggest impact it makes on us is that now we realise the unending privileges that our ours.
Owen used to lament that one of the chief frailties we have is not knowing the privileges God has given us, and therefore we live as underprivileged and undernourished children spiritually. His work On Communion with God the Trinity (in volume 2 of his Works) is a wonderful corrective for us, powerful medicine that puts us on our feet spiritually.
Buy the books
THE TRINITARIAN DEVOTION OF JOHN OWEN