Of The Divine Essence
What do we mean when we say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the same in essence? What is this essence? This terminology began to be used in the early centuries of the church when a man named Arius declared that the Son of God had a beginning, and that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist. A man named Athanasius stood up to combat this heresy. Athanasius said, “The Word who admittedly gives life and order to, and is in, the whole, must also be in the part; and in a part He manifested Himself—namely, in a human body. He gives life and being to everything, yet is essentially distinct from creation, being one in essence with the Father only.The Son, Athanasius declared, is one in essence with the Father. The essence speaks of being. It speaks to us of nature and character. When we say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the same in essence, we are saying along with Christians of many centuries that they are the same being and of the same nature and character.
While it is indeed obvious that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, it is often difficult to see that they are one essence, being, or character. Let us consider the following:
- The Father is God: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)
- The Son is God: “Inthe beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3)
“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:8)
- The Holy Spirit is God: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Acts 5:3–4)
What we mean when we say this is that each of the Divine persons is of the same being, nature and character. Thus, if we say that God is eternal, we must say that the Father is eternal (Deuteronomy 32:39-41;Matthew 6:13). We must also say that the Son is eternal (John 1:1-3;Colossians 1:15-17;1 John 1:1-4). Then we must also say that the Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). Thus, the essence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one.
It is necessary that we maintain this, because the Scriptures present us only one God. From the very beginning we are taught that the one true God created all things. It is He who said to Israel, “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lordthy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1–3) Again, “Hear, O Israel: The Lordour God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lordthy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) There is only one God, and must worship only one God. God’s holy and righteous jealousy demands that (Exodus 20:1-7; 34:14). We do not worship three different Gods; but we do worship one God who subsistsin three distinct persons. Thus, to worship the Son as God is not to be a polytheist who is provoking God to jealousy. Neither is it sinful to say that Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27), when we are speaking of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (Ephesians 1:12-14). Nor is it wickedness to call the Holy Spirit God, as though we were claiming that the Holy Spirit is a separate God from the Father; because we know that the Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of Him who raised up Christ from the dead (Romans 8:9-11). To worship God is to worship the three persons of God. We believe in the Trinity, the three-in-one God, the God who is three persons in one essence. To do otherwise would be to worship a god who is a figment of our sinful imaginations, as Scripture presents us three persons who are all God, and are the same in essence.
Finally, if the three persons are not of the same essence, then which is the God of our salvation? God is the only Savior, we find. “Tell ye, and bring them near; Yea, let them take counsel together: Who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; A just God and a saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: For I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, The word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall swear.” (Isaiah 45:21–23) Yet we also read that Jesus is our Savior: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) (See also 1 Timothy 1:15;Titus 2:13.) Then we read of the Holy Spirit in relationship to our salvation. “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) Either the Bible is inconsistent and contradictory in claiming that all three persons are our Savior, or the Bible is teaching us that all three of the persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are equally God, being the same in essence. It is imperative for us and for our salvation that we believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
To Him alone be the glory.
Athanasius of Alexandria, Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. T. Herbert Bindley, Second Edition Revised (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1903), 15–16.