THE DOCTRINE OF THE DIVINE AND UNDIVIDED TRINITY IN THE UNITY OF GOD MOST HIGH
WHAT has been said in the fourth chapter concerning the way of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be properly understood by the seeker for the truth until he has studied the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. Our use of the word Trinity is often a stumbling-block to our Muslim brothers, because they do not know what the Christian doctrine on this subject really is. Hence they fancy that it is directly contrary to belief in the One True God. But this is by no means the case. God forbid! On the contrary, the doctrine of the Divine Unity is the very foundation of our belief in the Trinity. All Christians believe in One God, not in three Gods.
Any one who studies the commentary of Jalalu'ddin on Surah 5:77, and his note, as well as those of Baizawi and Yahya' on Surah 4:156, will see that these commentators fancied that the Christians believed that the Most Holy Trinity consisted of Father, Mother and Son, imagining that the Virgin Mary was a goddess, and was one of three separate Deities. Now there can be no doubt that in Muhammad's time the common people among the Christians were very ignorant and had fallen into gross errors, offering worship to the Virgin Mary and to the saints, just as ignorant Muslims to-day perform pilgrimages (زيارات) to the graves of dead Walis (أولياء). But as no man of learning can say that such conduct is in accordance with the teaching of the Qur'an. so no scholar now fancies that the errors of ignorant Christians in Muhammad's time should be supposed to represent the teaching of the Bible on this point. The Qur'an condemns the worship of the Virgin, and the Bible nowhere sanctions it. But this has nothing whatever to do with the doctrine of the Trinity. Christians have never acknowledged three Gods. 1
Since such thoughtful and learned men as these three famous commentators were misled on this point through prejudice, it is clear that all wise men should inquire into this important matter very carefully for themselves, lest they too should be deceived, and should through this mistake reject the truth. We Christians regard belief in three Deities, one being the Virgin Mary, with exactly the same abhorrence as do the Muslims. This will be seen from what we now proceed to explain with regard to our real doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity.
We have already pointed out that belief in the Oneness of God is taught in the Torah in the words “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the Injil we find the Lord Jesus Christ quoting these very words as the foundation of His own teaching (Mark 12:29). The doctrine of the Trinity is an expansion of this, founded upon the rest of His teaching,—for example, upon His command to His disciples to baptize their converts into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). Here it is evident that the Unity of God is taught, because the word Name is in the singular: yet the three Hypostases (اقانيم) are mentioned separately. The Son and the Holy Spirit cannot be creatures, for it would be manifestly wrong to associate creatures with the Creator in the Unity of the Most Holy Name. Nor can the titles “Son of God” and “Holy Spirit of God” be properly applied to creatures, however exalted. This is evident to everyone who reflects upon the matter.
The Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity may be briefly stated 2 thus:—
1. The Father, the Son and Holy Ghost are One, and only One God.
2. Each of these three Divine Hypostases has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others.
3. No One of these three Divine Hypostases, if He could be entirely parted from the others, which is impossible, would alone and by Himself be God.
4. Each Divine Hypostasis (اقنوم), being united with the other Two in eternal (ازلي وابدي) and inseparable unity, is God.
5. Each Divine Hypostasis is of the same Nature (ذات) and Dignity as the other Two.
6. The chief office of One Most Holy Hypostasis is best expressed, as in Holy Scripture, by the titles Creator and Father; of the Second by the terms The Word of God, the Son of God, the Redeemer; of the Third by the words Sanctifier and Comforter.
7. As the three Most Holy Divine Hypostases are one in Nature (ذات), so they are in Will, Purpose, Power, Eternity, and in all other attributes.
It is often said that this Christian doctrine is a contradiction in terms. This statement is manifestly incorrect, and betrays ignorance of what we really believe. It is true that the doctrine involves a mystery, but that is quite another thing. If the Most Holy Nature (ذات) of God Most High were devoid of mystery, that is to say, if the mode of His Existence could be fully comprehended by the finite intellect of His creatures, He would not be God, because He would be finite. The fact that the doctrine of the Trinity contains a mystery is not therefore an argument against its truth. For a mystery is a thing about which we do not know how it is, though we know that it is. For example, we know that the grass grows, though we do not know how it grows. The Universe of God is full of mysteries, and man is a great mystery to himself. He does not know how the spiritual can influence the material, yet he is himself a spirit dwelling for a time in a material body. If therefore God has revealed in Scripture certain doctrines regarding His own Most Holy Nature (ذات), we cannot expect to find these doctrines devoid of mystery. Nor is their mysteriousness a ground for refusing to believe them, provided that we find that they are really taught in the Word (كلام) of God. Every careful student of the Bible will find that the doctrine which we have above stated is undoubtedly taught there. It may be stated in other words than those which we have used. For example, the Doctrine of the Trinity is often couched in the following words, 5 which all Christians will confess to be in accordance with the teaching of the Bible.
“There is but one Living and True God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons” (Hypostases اقانيم), “of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Not only is this in accordance with Holy Scripture, but the earliest Christian writers whose works have come down to us show in them that they understood the Bible as teaching the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, just as we do now.
Reason itself teaches us that we can know nothing of God's Nature but what He has Himself revealed. Hence the wise have well said, “Disputation 6 about the Nature of God is blasphemy.”
Some of our Muslim brothers assert that the doctrine of the Unity of God is opposed to belief in the Trinity. But as both these doctrines are revealed in the Word (كلام) of God, they cannot really contradict one another. The idea of unity does not exclude all kinds of plurality. For instance, it is admitted that God has a plurality of Attributes, such as mercy, justice, power, wisdom, eternity. In fact, Muslim theologians rightly teach that He is the “Union 7 of Good Attributes”. 8 But plurality of Attributes is not a contradiction of the Divine Unity. So, too, the doctrine of the existence of three Hypostases in the Unity of the Divine Nature is not contrary to that Unity, belief in which is the foundation of all true religion. It is granted that no perfect illustration (مَثَلُ) of the Divine Nature can be found in creation, yet imperfect illustrations may be helpful to our finite understandings. The Torah tells us that God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27): and in accordance with this is the wise saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, “Whoso 9 knoweth himself knoweth his Lord.” Hence we may institute the following imperfect comparison. Each man is one single personality, yet he may correctly speak of his spirit (روح) as “I” (أنَا), as also of his mind (عقل) and his soul (نَفسْ). These three things are in some measure distinct from one another, for the mind is not the spirit, nor is either of these the soul: yet we cannot say that it is incorrect to call each of them the Ego, though the Ego is one, not three. Strictly speaking, any one of them, apart from the other two, is not the whole personality, yet all three are so united that they together form the Ego, nor are they ever separated, at least in this life. This is a mystery, one of the many mysteries in our own nature. We do not understand it, yet we know that so it is. Each individual is a single person, yet none the less is he conscious of this distinction within himself, which does not, however, contradict the fact of his own single personality. We do not adduce this illustration as in any sense a proof of the truth of the doctrine of the Divine Trinity in Unity. The proof of the doctrine, as we have already said, is found in the Bible, and especially in the New Testament. We accept this doctrine solely because it has been Divinely revealed by Him who is the Truth (الحقّ). What we are now endeavouring to do is merely to show that certain arguments commonly brought against the doctrine are not sufficient to refute it. On the contrary, they arise in some measure from misunderstanding the Christian doctrine on the subject of God's Most Holy Nature. Hence it is our duty to try and explain this doctrine, and thus to remove out of the path of our Muslim brothers one of those stumbling-blocks which now prevent them from coming to the knowledge of truth.
It is a very remarkable fact that the Qur'an agrees with the Torah in using the first person plural of the verb and of the personal pronoun in speaking of God. In the Torah this usage seldom occurs, though examples of it are found in Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7: but in the Qur'an they occur with great frequency. For instance, in Surah 96, Al 'Alaq, which some say contains the earliest revelation which Muhammad claimed to have received, although the Almighty is called “the Lord” (ver. 8) and “God” (ver. 13), a singular noun being used in each case, yet in ver. 17 He is represented as saying, “We too will summon the guards of hell,” using the verb in the first person plural. As both the Bible and the Qur'an therefore agree in the use of such language, it cannot be devoid of meaning. The Jews explain it by saying that God was addressing the angels: but this explanation does not suit the Torah, and is absolutely incompatible with the language of the Qur'an. Nor does the usual explanation, that the plural is used to express God's majesty, completely satisfy an earnest inquirer. It is not our duty to comment upon the use of the plural in such places, but we can hardly be wrong in saying that the acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity, as we have above set it forth, would render it easier to understand how belief in the Divine Unity can be reconciled with the use of “We” in the Qur'an in reference to God.
Although no similitude (مَشَلْ) drawn from created things can at all perfectly set forth the Divine Nature, yet there are others besides that already mentioned which may help to show that there are certain kinds of plurality which are quite consistent with a real unity. For example, in a single ray of white sunlight there exist three distinct kinds of rays, those of (1) light, (2) heat, and (3) chemical action. Yet these cannot be so completely separated from one another as to form three distinct rays: on the contrary, the unity of the ray requires the existence of all three within it. Another way of putting the illustration maybe employed. Fire, light, and heat are three, and yet one. There is no fire without light and heat, while light and heat are of the same nature and origin as fire. They are, moreover, of the same age with it. We may say that the fire gives out light and heat, and that light and heat are produced by fire, or that they proceed forth from the fire. But this does not imply that they are ever separated from the fire, and do not continue to exist in the fire at the very time at which they are rightly spoken of as having issued forth from it. In the same way, Mind, Thought, Speech, are one, and yet are distinct from one another. We cannot conceive of a mind utterly destitute of thought, and thought has within it speech (كَلاَمْ), whether uttered or unuttered. Here again we see that certain forms of plurality are not opposed to unity, and that there exist certain things the very nature of which is plurality in unity.
Hence we conclude that the existence of the three Most Holy Hypostases in the Divine Unity is not opposed to enlightened reason. It is, on the contrary, supported by certain analogies among the works of the great Creator of the Universe; and it is taught in the Word (كَلاَمْ) of God.
There is another matter which must be considered in connexion with this doctrine. One of the Most Excellent Names of God among Muslims is Al Wadud 10 (الودود), “the Lover.” This is in complete accord with many passages of the Bible, as, for instance, with Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-11. God's Nature is unchangeable; therefore, as He is now The Lover, He must always have been such. That is to say, the Attribute of Love (الوِدود) must from all eternity have existed in the Divine Nature. But Love implies an object. Before Creation, nothing existed but the Necessarily Existent One (واجِب الْوجود). Unless therefore we admit the heretical idea of a change in the unchangeable Divine Nature, and hold that God began to love only after He had created His creatures, we must acknowledge that in the Divine Unity there exists at least a Lover (وادّ) and a Loved (مَوْدُود). This is the deduction of Reason, and it is in accordance with John 17:24, where the Word of God (كَلِمَةُ الله) says to His Father, “Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.” The doctrine that in the unity of the Divine Nature there are three Hypostases of one and the same Nature, Power, and Eternity, explains, and alone explains, the existence of the Attribute of Love in God in a way consistent with our necessary belief in the changelessness of Him who has said, “I the LORD change not” (Malachi 3:6).
But some one may ask, “What is the benefit of believing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?”
To this there are many answers, of which we give a few.
1. Belief in this doctrine removes all intellectual difficulty in believing that God is Self-Sufficing (الكافي) and Independent (الصمد, Surah 112:2) and Changeless. This is clear from what has just been said. Reason therefore demands the doctrine.
2. It enables us to accept the doctrine of the Bible, while it explains certain parts of the teaching of the Qur'an.
3. It enables us to believe the truth of Christ's claim to be the Word of God, which is asserted both in the New Testament and in the Qur'an. This title (كَلِمَتُهُ, Surah 4:169, and قَوْلَ الْحَقِّ, Surah 19:35) must express His true Nature and Office, since it is given Him in the Kalamu’llah (كلام الله). Now the term Kalimah (كَلِمَة, Λογος, Word, Speech) denotes the expression of what is in the mind of the speaker, who in this case is God Most High. If Christ were a Word of God, it would be clear that He was only one expression of God's will: but since God Himself calls Him “The Word of God”, it is clear that He must be the one and only perfect expression of God's will and the only perfect Manifestation (مَظْهَرْ) of God. It was through Him that the prophets spoke when He had sent them God's Holy Spirit to enlighten them (Luke 10:22; John 1:1, 2, 18; 14:6-9; 1 Peter 1:10-12). Since, then, the title Kalimatu’llah shows that Christ only can reveal God to men, it is clear that He Himself must know God and His will perfectly (as He asserts in John 8:55; 10:15). In this He differs from him who said, 11 “We have not known Thee with the truth of Thy knowledge.” Muslim theologians 12 admit that the Holy Nature of God is too high and lofty and the Truth of the Necessarily Existent One is too exalted and transcendent for its Essence (كُنْة) to be known by any one of the wise (العُرَفَاء) or learned (الحُكَماَء), or even by the saints (الأولياء) or prophets (الأنبياء). Hence God would be unknown and unrevealed except for the Kalimatu’llah. 13 Therefore “the Word 14 of God”, who knows God perfectly, cannot be a mere creature. Even were He the highest of the archangels, He would still fall infinitely short of being able perfectly to know God. None can fully know God but God Himself, for even a man's mind and thoughts cannot be fully known by any but God who searches the hearts. We see therefore that Reason demands the Deity of the Kalimatu’llah. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity shows that Reason is here justified. It thus helps us to believe that Christ's claims are true, and to accept the salvation which He offers.
4. Belief in the doctrine of the Divine Trinity in Unity abolishes the blind and hopeless belief in a stern and unchangeable Fate, which oppresses the Muslim as much as it does the Hindu. This belief in Fate is one of the chief causes of the apathy which has caused Muslim nations to become unprogressive, and hence to fall behind Christian nations in progress and civilization. The Arabs, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Turks, are at the very least as intellectual, as brave, as enterprising, as the nations of Europe. Ancient history proves this beyond the possibility of doubt. If it were not for their fatalism they might renew their strength. When we believe that God has loved us so much that He has revealed Himself in the Kalimatu’llah, who has for our sakes become man, has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, has lived and died and risen again for us, then we feel that we can trust God, for in all this His Love has been proved to us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-16). It is because our Muslim brothers reject the doctrine of the Trinity that they reject the Deity of Christ. Therefore, if they think at all deeply, they find themselves absolutely unable to know God. Hence in Egypt at the present day the following proverb has become current: “Whatever 15 has entered into thy mind is thine own state, and God is the converse of that.” Thus Islam leads to Agnosticism. But belief in the True Manifestation (مَطْهَرْ) enables us Christians to know God, and so to love Him who has first loved us (1 John 4:19). His Holy Spirit ever abides with true Christians, rendering their hearts His shrine, and leading them nearer to God and into fuller knowledge of the truth (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7,15; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19). They are thus reconciled to God and brought into communion with Him, as sons with a loving Father in Heaven, instead of trembling like slaves in the presence of a wrathful (قهّار) Master.
We learn, then, from the Bible that God Most High has revealed Himself to us: (1) as the Holy and Loving Father, who, although in His perfect Holiness He abhors sin, yet has from all eternity purposed to Himself, in accordance with the abundance of His love and mercy, to adopt one special method by which all men, if they be willing to accept His freely offered grace, may be saved from sin and reconciled to Him in heart and mind and in will and in conduct. (2) This revelation of God is given to mankind by means of His Word (كَلِمَتُهُ), the Only Son of God, through whom alone can any created being attain to the knowledge of the Heavenly Father. Becoming incarnate and taking upon Him human nature, the Divine Word “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”. He died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our justification (Romans 4:25). (3) And that mankind may accept the salvation thus wrought out for them by the Kalimatu’llah, He has sent the Holy Spirit of God, the third Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, to convince them of sin and of their need of a Saviour, and to enlighten their hearts by making known to them the riches of the Gospel, thus leading them to seek, obtain, and enjoy eternal life.
Let it not fail to be noticed that the proof of the truth of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the same as that upon which depends belief in the life after death, belief in the Resurrection Day, and belief in all other doctrines which involve faith and distinguish worshippers of the One True God from all heathens and polytheists: that is to say, the fact that all these doctrines alike are revealed in the Word (كلام) of God.
We now proceed to show very briefly how we may in our own hearts realize the salvation which the Lord Jesus Christ offers us, and how we may through Him obtain eternal life (John 17:1-3) and all the other great blessings which God is willing to bestow on His creatures.
According to the teaching of the New Testament, it is only through a living trust in and reliance upon Christ (Acts 4:12; 16:31; 1 John 3:23) that we can become heirs of those unspeakable joys and blessings and of those “things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Faith in Christ does not mean merely an acknowledgement that His teaching is true. It means a perfect trust in a living, loving Saviour, who came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) from their sins (Matthew 1:21), and who is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). Such a living faith unites us spiritually to Christ (John 15:4-10), and makes us in Him Children of God (John 1:12, 13; 1 John 3:1-12). It strengthens us to break loose from the love of sin and from slavery 16 to the Devil, to cast away the works of darkness, 17 to walk worthy of the holy calling wherewith we are called, walking in the light as children of light (John 8:12; 12:35, 36).
But, since man cannot by his own power acquire such a living faith in Christ, God has therefore, of His great love for mankind, provided for us the grace of His Holy Spirit, in order that His gracious influence upon our spirits may give us spiritual life and strengthen us to believe in Christ, unless we determinately oppose His benign influence.
We have already seek that Christ is The Word of God, the only true Divine Manifestation. It is clear therefore that only through Him can man come to God (John 14:6). Hence without faith in Christ men cannot be accepted in God's sight, and cannot obtain forgiveness of their sins. The Holy Spirit therefore urges men to repent of their unbelief and of all their other sins, to embrace the salvation freely offered by Christ, and to forsake sin. He shows us the evil state of our own hearts, convicts us of sin, and warns us of the coming judgement (John 16:8). He urges us to seek reconciliation with God through the one propitiation once offered by Christ (Hebrews 10:10-14). Those who follow the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit are justified through their faith in Christ, and have peace with God through Him (Romans 5:1). He gives them the peace of heart which the world cannot give (John 14:27). Then the penitent sinner is freed from the fear and dread which he previously felt on account of his sins, the burden which pressed like a mountain on his spirit is removed and cast into the fathomless sea of God's mercy (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23). His inner darkness is dispelled and heavenly light shines into his heart, for the love of God now reigns there, and God is known to him as his Heavenly Father through Christ. The sinner now forsakes his sins and endeavours by God's grace to keep God's commandments. He therefore, through communion with God, enjoys unspeakable happiness here on earth, even amid persecutions, sorrows, and trials. He knows from his own experience that all which the Bible declares concerning the fruits of salvation is certainly true.
The change, then, which the influence of the Holy Spirit produces in the heart of the believer in Christ is such that it not only turns the heart from sin to righteousness, from darkness to light, from Satan to God, but is really a new spiritual birth (John 3:3, 5), by virtue of which the true believer in Christ becomes spiritually a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; compare Galatians 6:15).
It is the will of God that every man should repent of his sins and should obtain salvation through faith in Christ (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9). Hence no one is shut out from the hope of salvation. Everyone who sincerely seeks for redemption through Christ will assuredly obtain it (John 6:37). But those who, trusting in what they consider to be their own good deeds and the store of fancied merits which Satan tells them they have laid up for themselves, refuse to come to Christ for salvation, are resisting the Holy Spirit and are pronouncing their own condemnation (John 3:16-21; 5:40). Though here they may resist Christ's love and mercy, yet finally they will be compelled to bow down before Him, as the Scriptures say (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11).
From what has been said it will be evident that the change of heart produced by faith in Christ does not allow men to remain in carelessness or to continue in sin. It is a living and life-giving faith, urging men to do all that is good and to refrain from evil. Thus the believer in Christ, if his faith is real, by the grace of God's Holy Spirit overcomes sin in his own heart, resists the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, treads down his own evil desires, and devotes from himself to living in accordance with the Will of God Most High in holiness of character and conduct. He has tasted of God's exceeding great love and mercy in Christ, he knows what deep joy and happiness his faith gives him. Therefore he shuns every sinful thought and action, while night and day he strives to keep all God's commandments and to walk in the light as befits a child of the light.
1. In proof of this, see the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and also the Confessions of the Reformed Churches [in Augusti's Corpus Librorum Symbolicorum].
2. [Mainly from Joseph Cook's Boston Monday Lecture, The Trinity, a Practical Truth.]
3. John 14:28.
4. John 10:30.
5. [The first of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.]
6. البحث عن ذات الله كُفرٌ
7. مجمع الصِّفات الحسنة ـ جامع صفات كمال.
8. In the Mizanu'l Mavazin, p. 14, it is said: خداى ما از كُلّ جهات كامل است يعنى تمامىُ صفات كماليّة را بطور اكمل در مقام موصوفيّة عنوان ذاتش موجود بدانيم.
9. مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ فَقَدْ عَرَفَ رَبْهُ.
10. Surah 85:14: see also Mishkatu’l Masabih, Book “On the Names of God”, § ii, pp. 191, 192.
11. [Muhammad, as quoted in the Persian work, Hidayatu't Talibin p. 42:] مَا عَرَفناَكَ حَقْ مَعْرِفَتِكَ.
12. Cf. Hidayatu't Talibin, p. 10.
13. [The Word (λογος) of God.]
14. [Arabic distinguishes clearly between “The Word of God” (كلمة الله) applied to Christ and what in English is the same title, but in Arabic is quite different (كلام الله),applied to the Bible.]
15. كُلّ مَا خَطرَ فِي بَالِكَ ـ فَهْو حالُكَ ـ وَاللهُ بِخِلاَفِ ذَلِكَ.
16. John 8:34-36.
17. Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:11; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:6.