Solving Some Perplexities Concerning the Trinity
In our last chapter we endeavored to show that there is one God in one person who is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the testimony of the Old Testament, the testimony of the New Testament, and the testimony of reason all join together to establish the fact of the oneness of God, and the fact that that one God is in one Person who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Now and then there occur certain passages of Scripture which seem to indicate the existence of more than one person in the Trinity, passages which have perplexed the minds of earnest seekers after the truth. First let us consider the passage which describes the Lord's baptism in the River Jordan. We read in Matthew: "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him . . And Jesus when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him: and lo, a voice from heaven saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'." (3:13,16,17)
Some have read into this description a trinity of persons,. whereas all that is actually mentioned is a trinity of a Son, a dove, and a voice. We should not understand from this a trinity of a Son, a Holy Spirit, and God the Father speaking out of heaven and saying that He was pleased with His Son. f it had been the intention of the Gospel to teach us that there are three Divine persons in the Godhead, it would have been easy to have written that, as Jesus came up Out of the water, the person of the Holy Spirit was seen descending upon Him, and that God the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son in Whom l am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; John 1:32) But the facts of the case are that there was only one person seen, and that was the person of the Son; the Spirit was not a dove, but was seen descending "like a dove"; and a voice was heard out of heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son." In order to understand this we must have some comprehension of what was taking place with the Lord, and the manner of His incarnation, that is, His coming down to dwell among men in the flesh, and how that incarnation led to His glorification.
At birth the Lord had a soul which was continuous with the Divine. He had a body which was purely material, which He had assumed from the Virgin Mary, so that the Christ-Child that the shepherds adored on Christmas night had a human body and a Divine soul. He was the Son of Mary as to His body, but was also the Son of God because He had a Divine soul which was continuous with the Father, that is, with the Infinite God of the universe. It is true that the God of heaven and earth was just as present in Bethlehem the night before He was manifest to the shepherds as He was the night that He became manifest. But before Christmas night His presence was invisible. However, when He was born in Bethlehem He took on a body visible in this world which should more and more clearly reveal the Divine soul within it. The babe, Jesus, gradually grew up, and as He matured the process of glorification was taking place. Therefore, the Lord said in prayer to the Father, "Glorify Thou Me with Thine ownself with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." (John 17:5) Every man was created into the image of God, and man is human because God is Divinely human; and God was Divinely human before any man was ever created. In the process of His glorification the Lord gradually, little by little, put off the human which He had taken purely from His mother Mary, and in its place put on the Divine Human which He had with the Father. This was the Divine Human quality into whose image and likeness man was originally created.
Let me illustrate this principle with sight. When the Lord was born in Bethlehem as a babe, He could see only as far as His natural sight extended. This human sight He derived from His mother Mary. But as the Lord was glorified He put off the limited sight from Mary, and in its place He put on unlimited sight from the Father, that is, omniscience, the ability to see everywhere. To give an example of what I mean: On the occasion when He sat at the table of Simon the Pharisee and a woman came in and anointed His head with precious ointment and washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, the Lord saw not merely Simon, but He saw into Simon's heart as well, and disclosed what Simon had said within himself: "This man if He were a prophet would have known who and what manner of woman this is that touched Him for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39) By reading Simon's thoughts the Lord showed that He had put off the human limited sight from Mary, and had put on the Divine Human sight from the Father.
The teaching about our Lord's glorification is profound, but it can be comprehended rationally. Permit me to recall for you Samuel Noble's comparison: Suppose that a linen handkerchief represents the natural body that the Lord took on from Mary. If we pull out a thread of linen, and in its place weave in a thread of gold, and if we do this for every thread of the warp, and then for every thread of the woof, in the end we will have a handkerchief that is the same shape, and the same size as the original, but it is all transformed into gold. The point of the illustration is this: The Lord came into the world primarily to give us an image of God that we can know, see, worship, and love; and, if, when He departed out of the world He had left no image of Himself, the work of the incarnation would have been in vain. But He did leave such an image because, although He gradually glorified the body taken from Mary, and put off everything human and finite from her, nevertheless, He has given to our minds the picture of His earthly personality, in that although He is now glorified, we can still see Him as the Lord Jesus Christ.
This process of glorification with Him was gradual. It did not happen suddenly. When He was twelve years of age, He began to realize that the temple was His Father's house. He became conscious that He was not Joseph's son. He therefore said to Mary and Joseph, when they found Him in the temple, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49) He was beginning to perceive that God's temple was His Father's temple, and that the worship of God was His Father's business, and so from those words we know that there was commencing to come into His consciousness the idea of His Messiahship. But this realization took place gradually in Him.
At the time that He was baptized in the River Jordan He was thirty years of age. In the letter of the Word we have no hint except for His appearance in the temple at twelve years of age as to the states which He passed through, but in Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia where the spiritual sense of the Word is given we have many, many details as to the progressive states that He underwent as He gradually glorified the human taken from Mary by putting it off and replacing it with the Divine Human from the Father.
At His baptism, which took place at the beginning of His public ministry, there is recorded a further revelation to His own consciousness of the meaning of His Messianic mission. The voice from heaven which said, "Thou art My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased", was the voice of the Divine soul within Him, giving Him a clearer perception as to His calling. It was not the voice of a second person sounding from heaven. For that matter, we know that heaven is not up in the clouds, but heaven is the perception of good ends, the perception of the real purpose of life. "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
As to the dove, surely we cannot think that the Holy Spirit is a dove, even if Luke states that it "descended in bodily appearance like a dove." What could it be but a symbol, a representative appearance? Now, if we study a dove, as it is used in the Word of God, we will understand its true meaning. When Noah sent out a dove to make sure that the earth was dry, it first came back empty; it then brought back an olive leaf and finally it went forth and returned no more. Here the dove is the symbol of the truth of faith from good. We further learn that the dove is a bird which is peculiar for its monogamic mating instincts, and because of that has become a symbol of conjugial love; and in the deeper sense the dove is a symbol of the marriage of good and truth, which is the very fruit of regeneration, for when man tries to do the things he knows how to do, and turns the knowledge he has into the deeds of life, then good and truth with him are married, that is, the "desire" is wedded to the "know-how." The end product is a state of regeneration. The dove which descended upon the Lord represented the communication between the Divine soul and the body which was being glorified a communication which, as He progressed toward glorification, would end in a complete oneness; for, after the resurrection on Easter morning, we no longer find any mention of the Father and the Son, but He is always as Thomas expressed it, "My Lord and My God." (John 20:28)
Let me leave one thought for you to ponder before turning from the scene of the baptism. If we dwell on the letter only, there is mention made of one person only, for a dove can hardly be thought to be another person, and certainly a voice cannot. In close connection with this, in the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation, the same type of symbolism is used. John said that in his vision he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne. Before Him he saw seven golden candlesticks. Those seven golden candlesticks were said to be the spirit of the churches, the Holy Spirit. If we are inclined to take things literally, we cannot be satisfied with having one spirit, but now we have seven Holy Spirits. If we go on to the fifth chapter, again we have God upon the throne, and we have the Lamb mentioned; and the Lamb that had been slain and was alive again very obviously refers to the Lord's life in this world. In order scrupulously to avoid any appearance of two persons, the symbolism, the innocence of the Lamb, is used so that there can be no shadow of a doubt but that there is only one person, the person sitting on the throne. And the chapter says that the Lamb that was before the throne, and which represents the Lord dwelling in this world, this Lamb had seven eyes, and the seven eyes again were the spirit, the Holy Spirit, that went out through the church. Are there seven spirits? is the Lord a Lamb? Of course the Lord is not a Lamb, hut the Lamb represents the innocence of the Lord, the innocence by means of which He takes away the sins of the world, by bringing people into a state of innocence similar to the innocence which He Himself had.
Another passage that presents some difficulty is one which occurs in one of the Lord's discourses. "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, hut shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto Him, Thou bearest record of Thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of Myself, My record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, My judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent Me. It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me beareth witness of Me. Then said they unto Him, Where is Thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know Me nor My Father: if ye had known Me ye should have known My Father also." (John 8:12-19)
It has been argued that the Lord spoke of two persons when He said, "It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true," and added, "I am one that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me He beareth witness of Me." But let us look at the language itself. If this is rightly understood, it not only testifies that the Lord and the Father are not two persons, but it testifies to their complete and perfect oneness. "I am not alone" "I and My Father that sent Me." The Divine Soul within Him and the body that manifested Him were inseparably one, and consequently, wherever He was, the Father that sent Him was also present. Note that this is often misquoted as if it had meant, "I am one that bear witness of Myself, and the Father is another that beareth witness of Me." But there is no such word as "another" in the text. The text reads, "I am one that beareth witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me beareth witness of Me."
A falsity can usually be reduced to an absurdity. Suppose you apply the Mosaic law literally to the passage, with the idea that the Lord was using this means to prove to the Jews that He and the Father were two persons, and consequently, being two persons, they could bear a true witness. What would this imply? Would you not have to interpret it in one of two ways? Either the testimony of two men establishes the truth, or the testimony of two gods; either the Lord and the Father are two finite men that bear witness, or they are two Gods that bear witness; because otherwise you do not have the two men, in the mouths of whom an act is to be established. 'I am one man, and My Father is another man', or 'I am one God and My Father is another God'. Both of these ideas are repugnant to our thought.
The Jews believed that the Lord was quite a different person than God. They did not believe that they were one person. Jesus had to convince them that the Father was in Him, and He was in the Father, and so He went on to say, "Ye neither know Me, nor My Father", and they said, "Where is Thy Father?" And Jesus replied, "If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also." These words are an exact parallel to the words He spoke to Philip His own disciple and to the Lord's answer to this wondering disciple. But the Jews were trying to corner Him, trying to prove that He was not the light of the world, that He had no right to say that He was the light of the world, and no right to claim any Messiahship; so that when they said, "Where is Thy Father?" it was asked from malice and skepticism. When Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father", it was asked from love and from a real desire to be instructed; and yet the Lord's answer to the two questions was so very similar. To Philip He said, "He that bath seen Me hath seen the Father"; and to the Jews He said, "If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also."
To the New Churchman it is revealed that the whole of the Word is written to inspire man in his spiritual journey. It is not written for the purpose of teaching scientific facts, or merely as a guide for his life in this world. It is written to teach him about the world of spiritual life. So let us see what the subject of two witnesses yields when we take up Deuteronomy, the seventeenth chapter, where it says, "At the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death." (v. 6) It does not take very much imagination to understand that as soon as you interpret the Hebrew law in a broader way than the letter you come to see spiritual values which apply to Christians, but which were never recognized by the Jews. For example: we do not enforce the rite of circumcision, but we do plead for purification of the heart, (Jer. 9:25) the reformation of baptism which it represented. All of the Jewish laws are part of the Word of God and contain a spiritual sense that relates to man's regeneration in every age and nation.
The beautiful words of the Lord, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) means that where a man has truths and goods wedded in his mind this makes possible the Lord's presence with him. The two witnesses are the will and the understanding, which, if they are united in falsity and evil, condemn a man to hell, but if they are united in good and truth invite the presence of the Lord.
Returning to the text under consideration: the Lord says that He is one witness, and the Father is the other witness. This fits the parallel exactly. The Father is the Divine Love or Will, and the Son who manifested Him in this world is the Divine Wisdom, the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us, and makes the Divine Love visible. When the Lord said that He was the light of the world, and said that He was not alone, but was one that bore witness, and the Father bore witness of Him, the spiritual meaning is that the Divine Wisdom, of which He, as the Word made flesh, was the embodiment and the Divine Love dwelling within Him both bore witness and testified to the fact that He was the light of the world.
If the Jews had really known Him, they would have known the Father also, just as, if Philip had really seen the Lord, he too would have seen the Father, because the Father was present in Divine power and majesty in all the deeds which the Lord did: the feeding of the five thousand, the giving of sight to the blind, and the like. All of these acts were done through the power of His divine soul. Therefore, if we rightly understand this passage it not only does not teach that there are two persons in God, but it shows the unity between the Divine Soul and the Son who was born to manifest that Soul, and who, through glorification was ever progressing toward unity with that Soul.
But what is meant by the Hebrew law that no one should be condemned except from the mouth of two or three witnesses? This is very interesting and very important. We cannot imagine that when a man, shortly after death, is to be judged either to heaven or to hell, the Lord would have to call witnesses from among the angels who have known that person, and that if two or more be found that agree together, he would be condemned. Rather does the Lord judge each man from the man's own book of life the book of life that is written on man's internal memory. That book of life is composed of the affections of his will, which is one witness, and of the things inscribed on his understanding, which is the other witness. The two witnesses that go with man into the spiritual world are thus thoughts of his understanding, and the deeds of his will.
No man is condemned to hell either from the will alone, or from the understanding alone. A man, through no fault of his own, may be brought up in many falsities for which he is not responsible. His understanding may need a great deal of instruction after he comes into the spiritual world, but if he has lived according to the conscience that he has, he will be taught the truth after death, and his understanding will be reformed and brought into a true marriage with his good will; so that the witness of man's understanding alone, without witness of the will, would never condemn him to hell. Similarly we are taught that all who die as infants go to heaven, although no one has a regenerate will until it has been slowly and gradually formed by shunning evils as sins against God. No one is sent to hell unless intelligently, knowingly, he gave the consent of his understanding to the evil desire of his will. Only when the witnesses confirm each other, or when the will and the understanding are mated in the evil deed from set purpose, is he condemned. For then there are two witnesses to condemn him.
Another passage that has given some difficulty, when it was not rightly understood, concerns the Lord's outcry on the cross, "Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46) Some have supposed that because He cried out to God that this is evidence that God was somewhere else, and that the God to whom He cried was another person, supposedly the Father. But isn't it strange that if there really were a trinity of persons that He did not call from the cross, "My Father, My Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Orthodox Christianity believes that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. When He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" did He then cry out to the God who was the Father, the God who was the Holy Spirit, or the God who He Himself was? Christianity is based firmly on the belief that Christ was God; why, then, should we suppose that He cried out to any other Divinity beside the Divinity that was within Himself? Since He is God, is it not most natural to suppose that He felt in the torture of the cross that His Divine Soul was slipping from Him? It seems most logical that, if the Father had been a Being apart from the Son, and He was appealing to the Father for help, crying in lamentation that He had been abandoned, He would have said, "My Father, My Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" But he did not. Comparison with human experience will show us why.
Each one of us has his ideals, and we all know that from time to time we fall short of living up to our ideals. Sometimes we do things that are contrary to our ideals, and looking back and reflecting on those deeds we wonder why we abandoned our ideals. David voices the same sentiment in the psalm, when he says, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?" (Ps. 42:5) David was not talking to some one else; he was talking to his better self, to his higher nature, to the things that he really believed and strove for, for these things seemed to have deserted him.
So with the Lord on the cross. He had no evils to regret, but this was the last and final temptation by which He completely purified the body taken from Mary, and hence, there was, as it were, a last cry of despair of the human body from Mary which was now being put off by the Divine and seemed to be separated from it. It was not a prayer to a third person to intercede, nor a despairing cry to a third person because He had abandoned Him. This whole episode is another instance of how a knowledge that the Father was the Divine Soul within our Lord makes clear what might otherwise be construed as an evidence of more than one person in God. If we once gain the concept that the Divine was ever working in and through the human, these passages yield more and more light.
In this chapter 1 have endeavored to point out how the voice, the dove, and the Son at the baptism can be regarded as a foreshadowing of the process of the glorification, preparatory to the Lord's entrance into His public ministry. I have shown how the two witnesses, when rightly understood, represent the witness of the soul within, or the Divine good as manifested in the Divine wisdom, which was the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, the two witnesses being love and wisdom, or good and truth. Lastly, I explained that when the Lord cried out on the cross, He did not cry out to the Father, but to the God within Himself, which, during this last and most grievous of all His temptations seemed to have forsaken Him.