Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? (Part 17) The Eternal Procession of the Holy Spirit Proved
As I write this, it is December 6, and it has been just about one month since my last blog on the Trinity. It has been more months than that since some of you kindly responded to various posts in this blog series. My apologies are extended to each of you who responded with comments. I have read and thought about your comments, and in this blog and the following will respond to some of their concerns. The only thing that extenuates my tardiness is a very busy semester of teaching and travel. Tonight is the final for the Doctrine of Christ and Salvation at MCTS and next week are my finals at KWC. Thus, a little mental space has been cleared to return to the subject of the Trinity.
Several of the comments that were made in past months had to do with the doctrine of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit. In this and my next blog I take up that important topic.
In this blog, I will answer the question, What is the proof for the doctrine of the spiration or procession of the Holy Spirit?
The proof text usually cited here is John 15:26: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” Often this is dismissed as simply a reference to the economic Trinity and to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. While this is certainly the reference of the first clauses of the verse, it is not so certain that it is the reference the words, who proceeds from the Father. This is because Jesus speaks of the Spirit proceeding from the Father not in the future tense (which He uses in the first two and last clauses of the verse), but in the present tense. This strongly suggests that this procession is not identical to His sending from the Father by the Son. It is possible and even likely that this present tense is (like the use of the I am in John 8:58) an eternal present and speaks of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit.
The true strength of the doctrine of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit is, however, based on the analogy with the eternal generation of the Son. This is true in several respects.
(1) The eternal sonship of the second person of the Trinity rests on an eternal relationship of derivation by way of generation from the Father. The names, Son and Word, find their true basis in the eternal derivation of the second person of the Trinity from the first. Similarly, the names, Spirit of the Lord or Holy Spirit, must also reflect not merely an economic relationship in redemption, but an eternal relationship. Thus, the name, Spirit, suggests to us that He is the person who is eternally breathed out or spirated by the Father. He is not generated for this would make Him a second son, but He is breathed out and in this mysteriously different way derives His person from the Father.
(2) The analogy of eternal generation also teaches us that the economic Trinity reflects the eternal Trinity. The historical sonship of Christ and His role in redemption reflects and is appropriate to His eternal sonship and role in the eternal Trinity. Everything that has been said by way of support of the eternal generation of the Son supports the idea that the economic Trinity reflects the eternal Trinity. But if this is so, then the role of the Spirit in redemption as sent by the Father (and the Son) must also reflect the eternal procession and role of the Spirit in the eternal Trinity. Just as Son speaks of the place and role of the second person in the eternal Trinity, so also Spirit must speak of such a place and role.
(3) Finally, the analogy of the eternal sonship and wordship of Christ allows us to argue that the place of the Spirit in the work of creation reflects His eternal role in the Trinity. If we are to find in God’s speaking in Genesis 1:3 the eternal Word of God—as John’s reference to creation John 1:1-3 suggests—then we must surely find in “the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the waters” a reference to the person of the Holy Spirit also. The Spirit occupies a subordinate (but necessary role) in redemption as the one who applies redemption and actually brings light to the night of our souls. Thus, also in creation He is the one who in response to the Father’s speaking actually causes light and life to arise in the darkness and the deep.
Granted, if one can reject the multiplied evidences for the eternal generation of the Son in my previous blogs, then he will find nothing impressive in the arguments brought forward here. On the other hand, if one appreciates the weighty Scriptural reasons to credit the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation, then, I think, he will find more than adequate reason by way of analogy to credit the doctrine of eternal procession.