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Knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Did you know that you have a unique relationship with each person of the Trinity?
No theologian has developed this doctrine so completely as John Owen. He devoted 274 pages to helping Christians experience this glorious truth:
The saints have distinct communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (that is, distinctly with the Father, and distinctly with the Son, and distinctly with the Holy Spirit).1
I don’t want to get into all of the theological depths of Owen’s exposition here, but On Communion with God was my first entry into his works and it is dear to my heart. It was and continues to be a revolutionary idea—no, a revolutionary reality—that I have distinct relationships with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
While this theology is fascinating and rich and deep, I want to live it. I hunger for connection with God, not simply with some monadic deity but hunger for fellowship with God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; I hunger for fellowship with Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; and I hunger for fellowship with the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
One of the richest spiritual disciplines for communion with God that I have practiced over the years is the Jesus Prayer.2 But while there is a Trinitarian dimension to this prayer, it is still centered on the person and work of Jesus. Which is certainly wonderful and life-giving, to “use that name [of Jesus] as we do our own breath,” as Hesychios of Sinai put it. But within the overabundant fulness of God there are overflowing riches available to us when we live into the reality that we breath not merely by faith in the Son but also “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
N.T. Wright has a helpful and inspiring article about a more robustly trinitarian way of inhabiting this practice of prayer. His proposed prayer below is intentionally a more expansive, kingdom oriented prayer, rather than solely for private devotion. I commend those aspects of the prayer, but I use it here to highlight it for private devotion, a spiritual discipline of prayer for communing with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth: Set up your kingdom in our midst.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: Renew me and all the world.
Just as the Jesus Prayer can be linked to breathing, so too we can breath through this Trinitarian prayer. Each prayer can be split into halves (or even quarters) and synced up with inhaling and exhaling.
We breath in the life-creating, goodness-generating reality that behind all creation is a creating Father. We breath out our desire for the Father’s coming kingdom.
We breath into our lungs the lordship of Jesus and his act of assuming a human body that also breathes the air of God. As we exhale we breath out desperation for his blood-bought mercy.
We inhale the very breath of God dwelling within us, and we exhale our plea for his sanctifying presence in our lives and the lives of those in our families, churches, communities, and all the world.
In such a practice, we foster “distinct communion” with each person of the Trinity, knowing that while all the external works of God are undivided3, we yet have special, unique relationships with Father, Son and Spirit according to their unique persons and how their undivided works are also uniquely ascribed to each.
It’s hard not to be wordy when talking about the Trinity. Here it is more in biblical language: Spend time with the Father, who blesses you as a father blesses his children and has adopted you as a son or daughter (Eph. 1:3, 5). Spend time with the Son, in whom “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7). Spend time with the Spirit, who is our seal and “the guarantee of our inheritance,” he who fills our lives already now with the not-yet reality of God’s earth-covering kingdom (Eph. 1:13-14).
Quote from Samuel Rutherford
I know not which divine person I love the most, but this I know, I need and love each of them.
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, by Fred Sanders. This is by far the best book on the Trinity I have ever come across. Read it. Tell your friends to read it. Even better, read it with a friend (or 2 or 3)!
Communion with the Triune God, by John Owen, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. As I mentioned, this was a life changing book for me. It’s a lot to take in, but well worth the effort; it’s still paying me dividends 15 years later!
I won’t go as far asking which divine person you love the most, as all are equally to be loved and worshipped as God. But are you in a season, or week, or day, or hour, where you especially need the love of the Father, or the grace of the Son, or the fellowship of the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14)?
Stay tuned for a bonus post tomorrow with a favorite Christmas poem of mine. I had a lot of fun with the title, which has almost half as many syllables as the poem. I promise the poem itself is much easier on the ears. The title is On the Epistemological Nature of Hypostatic Union as the Existential Instrument of Transformation.
Works of John Owen, 2:9. Original Title: OF Communion with God The Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly; IN Love, Grace, and Consolation: OR THE SAINTS FELLOWSHIP With the Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, UNFOLDED.
I appreciate the contemporary teaching on the practice by Kallistos Ware, but I have benefited most from directly reading the tradition passed down through The Philokalia.
The Latin rule opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa.