Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. The word trinity is not found in the Bible, but the doctrine of the trinity is there. The word trinity means the unity of three; that is, the unity of the three divine persons.

II. The word person, when used on this subject, does not mean a separate individual, but a distinct existence. It denotes a distinction in the divine Being, real, but inexplicable. The doctrine of the trinity has had many enemies. The Arians contended that the Son of God was totally and essentially distinct from the Father; and so in nature and dignity inferior to the Father. They also taught that the Holy Spirit was not God, but was created by the power of Jesus Christ. The Sabellians denied that there was more than one person in the Godhead, and said that the Son and the Spirit were mere virtues or functions of divinity. The Socinians taught that Christ was a mere man, and that the Holy Spirit was not a distinct subsistence. The Unitarians confine the glory and attributes of divinity to the Father. They do not allow Christ or the Holy Spirit to be truly divine. Still, the doctrine of the trinity has been held and is now held by the great body of Christians.

III. The persons of the Trinity are clearly distinguished in the Scriptures as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19; elsewhere as God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor. 13:14. The first person of the Godhead is spoken of as one God, the Father, of whom are all things. The second is spoken of as one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. 1 Cor. 8:6. The third is spoken of as the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Comforter sent to convince men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.

IV. The Father is neither begotten, nor does he proceed from the Son or the Spirit. The Son is begotten of the Father, the only-begotten of the Father. John 1:14; 3:16. The Spirit is not begotten, but proceeds from the Father, is the Spirit of the Father, and is the Spirit of the Son, and is of the Son, and is sent by the Son. John 15:26; Romans 8:9, 14; 1 Pet. 1:11. But the words Father and Son, beget and begotten, are not to be overstrained. They are merely the fittest words to convey to our dull minds some just idea of the relation existing between the first and second persons of the Godhead.

V. No one denies the divinity of the Father. No one ought to deny the true and supreme divinity of the Son. Of him the Scripture says, "This is the true God and eternal life." 1 John 5:20. He "is over all, God blessed forever." Romans 9:5. "As the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself." John 5:26. Thomas worshiped him, calling him "my Lord and my God." John 20:28. The world was made by the Son. Col. 1:16. It shall be destroyed by the Son. Heb 1:12. All men shall be judged by the Son. John 5:22, 27. Stephen, dying, prayed to him. Acts 7:59. The very highest worship of heaven is offered to him. Rev. 5:12, 13.

So also the Spirit of God is truly God. In Acts 5:3, 4, the Holy Spirit is expressly called God. The Spirit perfectly knows God, and so is God. 1 Cor. 2:10, 11. He is joined with the Father and the Son in the form of baptism, and in the apostolic benediction. Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.

VI. This doctrine is never to be so taught as to lead men to suppose that there are three Gods. We do not deny the unity of God. We glory in it. Nor do we hold that God is three in the same sense in which he is one, for that would be a contradiction. But he is one in being, in nature, in essence; and three in personality or subsistence. When John baptized our Lord, all three persons of the Trinity were present; "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." Matt. 3:16, 17. So we find all three persons of the Godhead spoken of in John 14:26: "The Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatever I have said unto you."

VII. As all three persons of the Godhead concurred in man's creation, so do they all concur in man's redemption. The Father gave the only-begotten Son. John 3:16. The Son laid down his life for his sheep. John 10:17, 18. The Spirit reproves the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, and guides God's people into all truth. John 16:8, 13. There is a wonderful and unspeakable communion of nature, attributes, and glory in the persons of the Godhead. Christ says of the Spirit: "He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father has are mine; therefore said I that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." John 16:14, 15. It is the will of God that "all men should honor the Son as they honor the Father. He who honors not the Son honors not the Father who has sent him." John 5:23. Now if men refuse to honor the Son, and worship only the Father, or if they honor the Son not as the Son of God, but merely as a creature, they do displease him who sent his Son into the world. We must worship the trinity in unity, and unity in trinity. The doctrine here maintained relates therefore to the object of religious worship. The orthodox hold that we are to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All others worship God not as he is revealed in the Bible, but according to their own ideas. "This is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3. It is a remarkable fact, that men who hold the supreme divinity of Christ never deny the divinity of the Spirit.

VIII. We have hints of this doctrine of the trinity in the oldest writings of Scripture. In the first verse of Genesis the word rendered God is in the plural form. So in Job 35:10, the word Maker in the Hebrew is plural. So in Eccles. 12:1, the word Creator is in the plural. So in Isaiah 54:5, the words Maker and Husband are both in the plural. So in Mal. 1:6, the word Master is in the plural. Not only are nouns but pronouns found in the plural. In Gen. 1:26 we read; "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." See also Gen. 3:22. Many things like these are found in the Old Testament. Whatever arguments prove the divinity and personality of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, prove the doctrine of the trinity. For if each of these is a person, and each of them is divine, there is no more doubt of the trinity.