The Place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity
I have been asked recently what my conception of the Holy Spirit is. The reason for this is that in recent messages he has not come in for as much attention as the Father and the Son. It is a heavy matter, but I will try.
I have stressed from texts like Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Philippians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4; and John 1:1 that the Son of God is the mirroring-forth of God himself in his own self-consciousness. God has a perfectly clear and full idea of all his own perfections. This image of God is so complete and perfect that it is in fact the standing forth of God the Son, a person in his own right.
Thus God the Son is not created or made. He is co-eternal with the Father, because the Father has always had this perfect image of himself. The Son is thus dependent on the Father as image to original, but not inferior in any divine attributes, because he is a complete and living duplicate of the Father’s perfections. This of course is a great mystery—how an idea, or reflection, or image of the Father can actually be a person in his own right. But I do not presume to be able to make the infinite completely manageable.
Now what about the Holy Spirit? I find it helpful to observe that the mind of God, as reflected in our own, has two faculties: understanding and will. In other words, before creation God could relate to himself in two ways: God could know himself and God could love himself. In knowing himself he begot the Son, the perfect, full and complete personal image of himself. In loving himself the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.
So the Son is the eternal image that the Father has of his own perfections, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal love that flows between the Father and the Son as they delight in each other.
How can this love be a person in his own right? Words fail. But can we not say that the love between the Father and the Son is so perfect, so constant, and carries so completely all that they are in themselves that this love stands forth itself as a person in its own right?
C.S. Lewis tries to get this into a conceivable analogy:
You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club or a trades union, people talk about the “spirit” of that family, club or trades union. They talk about its spirit because the individual members, when they’re together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they wouldn’t have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course it isn’t a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that’s just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God. (Beyond Personality, New York: Macmillan Co., 1948, pp. 21f.)
These are great mysteries. But in order to know and love God I find it helpful to at least have some conception in my mind when I affirm that there is only one God, and that he exists in three Persons.
Adoring the God we know but know not fully,
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