By Witness Lee
In these days people have spread rumors that our teaching concerning the Trinity is heretical. We want to let people know that we believe in the Trinity according to the pure Word of God. This message is intended to be not only a declaration to the critics, but also a help to the dear saints in the local churches, that all may know what we believe according to the Scriptures regarding the matter of the Triune God.
This matter of the Trinity has been a subject of great argument and strong disputation among Christians ever since the second century. During the last eighteen or nineteen centuries, the argument has never ceased. It has been utilized by the enemy to destroy the unity of the saints. Do not get caught in the snare of endless debate. We must come back from the traditional terms, sayings, and teachings to the pure Word of God. The controversy concerning such a mystery as the Trinity is endless. Be on the alert to avoid this trap. My burden in this message is to fellowship with you regarding this mystery from the pure Word.
I. GOD IS UNIQUELY ONE
We must be governed by the revelation that God is uniquely one. The Bible tells us that God is one. However, because the first occurrence of the word God (Elohim) in the Bible (Gen. 1:1) is in the plural number, some people translate it as “Gods.” This is preposterous. It is appalling to speak of “Gods.” Psalm 86:10 says, “Thou art God alone.” It does not say, “Ye are God alone.” The pronoun is the second person singular, not the second person plural. The Hebrew word for God in this verse, Elohim, is in triple number. If you consult the markings in the Newberry Bible, you will find there an indication that “God” here is triple in number. Nevertheless, Psalm 86:10 does not say, “Thou art Gods.” It says, “Thou art God alone.” The word “alone” must control our thought. “Thou art God” (not Gods) “alone.”
Perhaps some will ask, “If you say that God is only one, how could God in Genesis 1:26 refer to Himself as ‘Us’ and speak of ‘Our’ image? Is there one God or more than one? If you say that God is one, how can He refer to Himself using the pronouns ‘Us’ and ‘Our’?” My answer is that He is the Triune God and that the Trinity is a mystery. If you can understand the Trinity thoroughly and define it adequately, it is no longer a mystery. In the realm of mathematics or chemistry, things can be scientifically analyzed by the human mind. That is science, not mystery. If you can use your supposedly clever mind to understand the Triune God, He is no longer a mystery. Because none of us can understand the Trinity adequately, it remains a mystery. Do not ask me why. I do not know why. I can only say, “The Bible tells us so.” Do not argue; just take the pure Word of God.
In both the Old Testament and the New, we are told clearly and definitely that God is one. Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the Lord…there is no God beside me.” Although the word for God here is also in triple number, this verse does not say, “There is no God beside us”; it says, “There is no God beside me.” Therefore, in Ephesians 4:6 and 1 Timothy 2:5 we find clearly stated the conclusion that there is one God. Do not get into the snare of thinking that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three Gods. First Corinthians 8:4 says, “There is none other God but one.” Hallelujah for one God! This is a basic and conclusive principle.
Why then do we believe that there is one God? Is this just our interpretation? We can all say, “I believe that God is uniquely one, for the Bible tells me so.”
II. GOD IS TRIUNE
This one unique God is triune. I do not know how to explain this, although for many years I tried. During the past fifty years, I spent a great deal of time analyzing and trying to understand the Trinity. Since I could find no way to resolve it, I gave up long ago. I said to myself, “Little man, you are too small. You can never understand the Trinity adequately.”
A. “I” Is “Us”
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Is God “I” or “Us”? We may say that He is both. Although I cannot say why, I know that He is both “I” and “Us.” I do not know why. As we have already mentioned, in Genesis 1:26 God refers to Himself as “Us” and speaks of “Our” image. The same principle is used in Genesis 3:22 and 11:7.
We find the same thought in the New Testament. In John 14:23 Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” In this verse we read of “We” and “Our.” Surely “We” and “Our” are plural. Are the “Father” and “I” two Gods or one? Surely They are one. Then why does the Lord say “We”? If you answer, “Because here you have both the Father and the Son,” then I would ask you, “How could one God be both?”
In John 17:11 the Lord prayed, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Notice that here again the Lord speaks of Himself and the Father as “We.” Why a plural pronoun if They are one? I do not know. It is a mystery, beyond the reach of human language or understanding.
B. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Matthew 28:19 speaks clearly of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, if you read this verse carefully, you will see that the Three have just one name. It says, “baptizing them into the name” (not names) “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” There are Three with one name. This is the Triune God, the Trinity. How can we explain this? We cannot.
Andrew Murray in The Spirit of Christ, chapter twenty, says, “In the Father we have the unseen God, the Author of all. In the Son God revealed, made manifest, and brought nigh; He is the Form of God. In the Spirit of God we have the indwelling God: the Power of God dwelling in human body and working in it what the Father and the Son have for us….what the Father has purposed, and the Son has procured, can be appropriated and take effect in the body of Christ only through the continual intervention and active operation of the Holy Spirit.”
C. All Three Are God
1. The Father Is God
Undoubtedly the Father is God. In various places the New Testament speaks of God the Father. See, for example, 1 Peter 1:2 and Ephesians 1:17.
2. The Son Is God
The Son also is God. Hebrews 1:8 says, “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God….” Here the Son is addressed as God. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word certainly is Christ, the Son. Since the Word is God, the Son also is God. Furthermore, Romans 9:5 says, “Christ…who is over all, God blessed for ever.” I like this verse. Christ the Son is not only God; He is God over all.
3. The Spirit Is God
In Acts 5:3-4 we see that the Spirit is God. In verse 3 Peter told Ananias that he had lied to the Holy Spirit, and in the next verse that he had lied to God. These verses equate the Holy Spirit with God.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God. How many Gods do we have? We have one. How can the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all be God and yet there be only one God? The only answer we can give is, “I don’t know.”
D. All Three Are Eternal
Some of the rumors and accusations claim that we do not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are eternal. I do not know where the critics and accusers get such a thought. We want to declare to all that, in accordance with the Bible, we believe that the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Spirit also is eternal. We believe this and declare it because the Bible tells us so.
1. The Father Is Eternal
Isaiah 9:6 has the term the “everlasting Father.” The literal translation of the Hebrew phrase here is “Father of eternity” or “eternal Father.” Hence, the Father is eternal.
2. The Son Is Eternal
The Son also is eternal. Hebrews 1:12 says of the Son, “Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” Hebrews 7:3 says that He has no beginning of days nor end of life, meaning that He is eternal. Eternal is that which has no beginning or ending. This is why a circle rather than a straight line is a sign of the eternal God. He has no beginning and no ending.
3. The Spirit Is Eternal
The Spirit also is eternal, for Hebrews 9:14 speaks of “the eternal Spirit.” Therefore, let everyone know that in accordance with the Bible, we declare that all Three, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are eternal.
E. All Three Exist at the Same Time
The Father, Son, and Spirit all exist at the same time. Notice John 14:16-17: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” In these two verses we have the Son praying to the Father that the Father would send the Spirit. Hence, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all present at the same time.
In Ephesians 3:14-17 Paul says that he will pray the Father to grant us to be strengthened by His Spirit in our inner man that Christ may make His home in our hearts. In this passage we have the Father, the Spirit, and Christ the Son. All exist at the same time. The Bible does not say that the Father existed for a certain period of time and then the Son came; that after a certain period of time the Son no longer existed and was replaced by the Spirit. There is not a verse that says this. The Bible in this passage indicates that the Father listens to the prayer, the Spirit will strengthen the saints, and the Son, Christ, will make His home in their hearts. Here again, it is clear that all Three exist at the same time.
Second Corinthians 13:14 says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Here are mentioned the grace of Christ the Son, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship or communion of the Holy Spirit. All Three are present at the same time.
First Corinthians 12:4-6 speaks of the Spirit of gifts, the Lord of administrations, and the God of operations. Here we see the Spirit, the Lord, and God. Once again, the Spirit, the Son, and the Father are shown to exist and work at the same time. The Spirit is giving gifts, the Lord is administering, and God the Father is operating. Therefore, we do not believe that the Father has ever ceased to exist, that the Son came to replace Him, and that, after a time, the Spirit replaced the Son. We believe that all Three, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are eternal and exist at the same time.
F. All Three Are One
Here is the real problem. Do you believe that all Three are one? We do, because the Bible tells us so.
1. The Son Is the Father
Let us look at Isaiah 9:6: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Who is this child? It is Jesus. Where is this child born? In the manger at Bethlehem. “Unto us a son is given.” Who is this son? It is Jesus. Whose Son is He? He is God’s Son. God so loved the world that He gave us His Only Begotten Son. Not only is a child born to us, but also a Son is given to us. (God gives His Son to us. Why is He called Wonderful? Because He is not simple. It is not easy to understand Him, nor can we fully do so. He is wonderful. This child by the name of Jesus, who was born in the manger at Bethlehem, is also called the Mighty God. Do you believe this? The Jewish people do not. They do not believe that that little Jesus is the Mighty God. If they believed it, they would immediately become real Christians. I believe it! My God is Jesus! My God is that little child. That little child who was born of Mary in that manger at Bethlehem is my Mighty God! His fourth name or title is the Everlasting Father. The Son who is given to us is called “the Everlasting Father.” Is He the Son or the Father? If you believe that the child born to us is the Mighty God, you have to believe also that the Son given to us is the Everlasting Father. To say that the Son is the Father is according to the pure Word of God.
Now turn to John 14:8-9. “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip: he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” This word indicates clearly that the Son is the Father. Yet some twist this word saying that the Son is not the Father, but the representative of the Father. If you read the context without any twisting, you can realize that the Son was the Father there. Philip asked the Son to show him the Father. The Son was surprised, saying, “I have been with you such a long time and you have seen Me. Since you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Here we may say to Philip, “Haven’t you read Isaiah? It tells you that the Son is the Father. Since He is here, why do you ask Him to show you the Father? He is the Father.” So, He said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
The following is a quotation taped at a meeting of some people who were discussing how to deal with our so-called heresy. In their conversation this was said: “… Anyway, Isaiah 9:6, For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulders and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace, the mighty God, the everlasting Father. There Jesus is called the Father. Right? So He’s the Father. That’s what it says. That’s Isaiah 9:6. Now we don’t normally say this because tradition is involved here.” Please notice this. These critics admit that, for fear of their tradition, they normally do not say that Jesus is the Father. They dare not speak the truth, yet they turn their attack upon us. Are we for traditions? Do you care for traditions? In every Christian’s conscience and mind, he must admit that in Isaiah 9:6 the Son is called the Father. I am glad that in the midst of the opposers’ attack, there is this honest word, admitting that, according to the clear word of Isaiah 9:6, Jesus is the Father, even though they do not normally say this because it involves the matter of tradition.
Some, however, have twisted this verse, saying, “The Son is called the Father, but He is not the Father.” This is ridiculous! You are called by a certain name, yet you are not that person! Once a certain man said to me, “This Father here is not God the Father. He is the Father that brought forth the race of Israel.” I said, “Don’t say this. Here it does not say the ‘Father of Israel’; it says, ‘the Father of eternity.’ If you say that the Son who is called the Father is not the Father, then you must also admit that the child who is called the Mighty God is not the Mighty God. But certainly the child is the Mighty God. Thus, as long as you admit the one, you must recognize the other.” No sober mind would deny this.
2. The Son and the Father Are One
This is the clear word of Scripture: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
3. The Last Adam Became a Life-giving Spirit
First Corinthians 15:45 states: “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (ASV). Who is the last Adam? Jesus. Who is the life-giving Spirit? The Holy Spirit. Besides the Holy Spirit, there is no other spirit that gives life. This verse clearly tells us that Jesus, who is called in the Bible the last Adam, became the life-giving Spirit. Hence, to say that the Lord Jesus is also the Holy Spirit is according to the Bible’s clear revelation.
Therefore, it is clear: The Lord Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the very God and the Lord.
4. The Lord (the Son) Is the Spirit
In 2 Corinthians 3:17 we read: “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” Who is the Lord here? No doubt it is Jesus. And who is the Spirit? It is of course the Holy Spirit. The Lord here is Jesus and the Spirit here is the Holy Spirit. So here the Bible says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” To say that the Lord Jesus is the Spirit is absolutely scriptural!
In his book, The Spirit of Christ, the twenty-fifth chapter, Andrew Murray says: “It was when our Lord Jesus was exalted into the life of the Spirit that He became ‘the Lord the Spirit’….The disciples knew Jesus long, without knowing Him as the Lord the Spirit…. There may in the ministry be much earnest gospel preaching of the Lord Jesus as the Crucified One, without the preaching of Him as the Lord the Spirit….It is as the knowledge and acknowledgment of Christ as the Lord the Spirit, and of the Spirit of Christ as changing believers into His likeness, lives in the Church, that the ministry among believers will be in Life and Power — in very deed, a Ministry of the Spirit.”
The Father, Son, and Spirit are one God, not three. But, deep within, some Christians consider the Father, Son, and Spirit as three Gods. Some even clearly say this. Others may not say this in words, but they do hold this concept within them subconsciously. Perhaps even some of you reading this message held such a concept in the past but were afraid to speak of it for fear of being condemned. Once I had a talk with a certain Christian preacher who does not believe that the Son is the Father and that the Lord is the Spirit. I asked him, “Brother, how many Gods are the Father, Son, and Spirit?” He told me clearly and definitely that there are three Gods. Such a statement is absolutely heretical. The revelation of the Bible is that God is uniquely one. Without this controlling principle, centuries ago people would have said that there were three Gods.
Since theologians could not reconcile this matter, they came up with the term “persons,” speaking of the three persons of the Godhead. But to place too much stress on the three persons leads to tritheism. We should not be involved with the traditional terms. If we are, we shall find ourselves in trouble. Yes, the Bible does say that God is one, and it does make clear that God is triune — Father, Son, and Spirit. But to stress the Father, Son, and Spirit as three individual “persons” is to go beyond the revelation of the Bible.
Griffith Thomas, author of a well-known exposition on Romans, made this comment: “The term, ‘Person’ is also sometimes objected to. Like all human language, it is liable to be accused of inadequacy and even positive error. It certainly must not be pressed too far or it will lead to tritheism…while we are compelled to use terms like ‘substance’ and ‘Person’, we are not to think of them as identical with what we understand as human substance and personality…The truth and experience of the Trinity is not dependent upon theological terminology” (from The Principles of Theology).
G. All Three Are in Us
Ephesians 4:6 speaks of “one God and Father of all, who is…in you all.” It is clear from this verse that the Father is in us.
That the Son also is in us is obvious from John 14:20, “At that day ye shall know that I am…in you”; Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”; and 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Know ye not…that Jesus Christ is in you…?”
Then in John 14:17 it says, “The Spirit of truth…shall be in you.” Thus, the Spirit also is in us.
It is so clear that the Father is in us, the Son is in us, and the Spirit is also in us. Then, according to our experience, how many are in us? One or three? One! According to the letter, it seems that there are three, but according to our experience, there is one. This is because the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one.
III. A MYSTERY
John 1:1 says, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” By the clause, “the Word was with God,” we understand that the Word and God are two, for the Word was with God. But “the Word was God” indicates that the Word and God are one, for the Word was God. Are They one or two? They are both. This is a mystery.
Second Corinthians 3:17 says that “the Lord is that Spirit.” Here the Lord and the Spirit are one, for the Lord is the Spirit. Then, in the same verse, it speaks of “the Spirit of the Lord.” This indicates that They are two. Are the Lord and the Spirit one or two? It is a mystery.
Notice how, in Hebrews 1:8-9, the Son is addressed as God, then God is referred to as His God; “Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever…therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee….” How can you explain this? Can you say, “O God, Thy God”? This is also a mystery.
Finally, in Revelation 1:4; 4:5; and 5:6 we read that the one Spirit (Eph. 4:4) of God is called “the seven Spirits.” Here again is a mystery. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we must learn to simply take the pure Word.
We know what the Bible says concerning our Triune God, and we believe it. We pray for those who oppose us that God may grant them to see the truth according to the pure Word. I say, once again, that the arguments and disputations concerning this matter of the Trinity are endless, for the Trinity is a mystery. It is impossible for anyone to explain it thoroughly or adequately. The Triune God cannot be fully comprehended as a doctrinal matter by our limited mentality. The Triune God is for our experience and enjoyment. God as a Trinity is for His economy, that is, for the dispensing of Himself into us to be our life and our everything. This is why we have spent so much time to point out that the Father is in the Son and that the Son is now the life-giving Spirit, indwelling our spirit to be our life and our everything for our enjoyment. If it were not for the matter of experience, we would not care to talk about it very much. However, since the attacks have come, we have had to make what we experience clear to people.
J. Oswald Sanders in his Spiritual Maturity (published by Moody Press), page 144, says: “William Barclay comments: Paul seems to identify the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit. We must remember that Paul was not writing theology; he was setting down experience. And it is the experience of the Christian life that the work of the Spirit and the work of the Risen Lord are one and the same. The strength, the light, the guidance we receive come alike from the Spirit and from the Risen Lord. It does not matter how we express it so long as we experience it.” Thus, the Triune God is not for terminology or for teaching. The Triune God is for our experience and enjoyment.
© 1976 Living Stream Ministry. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.