Warfield on the Trinity (part 3/4)
By Fred Zaspel–
B.B. Warfield emphasized that the Triunity of God is God’s highest and most profound self-revelation. In the created order we learn of God’s glory, power, wisdom, and so on. In the Old Testament revelation we learn, further, that God is one, that he is personal, righteous, sovereign, and merciful. And of course all this is only heightened and clarified in the New Testament revelation. But in the New Testament the most significant advance on the previous revelation is in regards to the persons of God. Here we are faced not with a simple monotheism but a clearly Trinitarian monotheism – that there is one God but three Persons who equally share the whole essence of deity. And as we saw in our previous to posts, all this is explicit in the pages of the New Testament and even “presupposed” in the thinking of the early church.
Warfield likens the Old Testament revelation of God to a dimly lighted room — all the Trinitarian “furniture” was there, but it just could not be clearly seen. Here and there it almost appears, but the fact is, it was never seen. Then in the New Testament the lights are bright, and Trinitarian monotheism comes into plain view.
But Warfield emphasizes that Trinitarianism is purely a revealed theology. It is not something that is discoverable by man apart from God’s own self-disclosure. Indeed, it is not even discoverable in “general revelation.” Warfield considers the theological speculations of Augustine and Jonathan Edwards in this regard, that perhaps the knowledge of God as a loving person might force one to conclude that God is more than one person. The logic works well. But the fact remains that no one ever surmised this before it was revealed as such. This truth about God is known only by special revelation. It is not discernable in the created order. It is not discoverable by reason. And it is not provable by reason. It is revealed theology in every sense of the term. More specifically, it is only in biblical revelation that this truth is found. It is not only taught in Scripture — it is taught only in Scripture. And we can know nothing else and nothing more about the Trinity beyond what is revealed in Scripture. This is specially revealed truth in every sense of the term.
Yet reflecting again on the speculations of Augustine and Edwards Warfield acknowledges that there is something to their argument. The personhood and love of God were not considerations that brought anyone to consider Trinitarianism before it was revealed. But this revelation is necessary to satisfy the mind in its conception of God.
Difficult, therefore, as the idea of the Trinity in itself is, it does not come to us as an added burden upon our intelligence; it brings us rather the solution of the deepest and most persistent difficulties in our conception of God as infinite moral Being, and illuminates, enriches and elevates all our thought of God. It has accordingly become a commonplace to say that Christian theism is the only stable theism. That is as much as to say that theism requires the enriching conception of the Trinity to give it a permanent hold upon the human mind — the mind finds it difficult to rest in the idea of an abstract unity for its God; and that the human heart cries out for the living God in whose Being there is that fulness of life for which the conception of the Trinity alone provides.
That is to say, impossible as this doctrine is to discover apart from special revelation, and difficult as it is to comprehend once it is revealed, having seen it, it is easier to believe than not! Once we learn it, it becomes an aid in our understanding of God and our worship of him.
(For more on this see The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary)
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.