no need to choose

In his work on the Holy Spirit, Thomas Goodwin devotes a chapter to discussing how ‘we not only partake of the effects of the Holy Spirit’s operations in us, but also of his person dwelling in us.’ He follows this up in typical Puritan fashion with a chapter on the ‘uses’ we should make of this doctrine, and in particular he calls on believers to love and worship the third person of the Trinity even more than they already presumably do.

“Let us view with admiration the riches of this gift of the person of the Holy Ghost. … As in Romans 5:6-8, [the apostle] sets out the greatness of the love of God that gave Christ to die for us, so, in [verses 1-5] he would in like manner insinuate the greatness of that love that gave us this Holy Spirit to work all these graces in us, and reveal the love which God hath so much commended. Insomuch that this hath been started as matter of debate, and most serious consideration, by some divines, whether Filius datus, ‘To us a Son is given’ (Isa 9) or Spiritus datus, ‘The Spirit given’ (Rom 5) be the richer favour? Whether the incarnation, ‘God manifest in the flesh,’ or the diffusion or ‘pouring forth of the Spirit upon all flesh,’ be the greater mercy? From heaven they both came down, the Spirit as well as the Son, 1 Pet 1:2, and from the bosom of the Father both. They are both of them [pledges] and witnesses alike, of one and the same love. … If God hath given us his Spirit, how shall he not give us, I do not say, with him only, but in him, even in that one gift of him, give us all things? In this one gift of the Holy Ghost … – not gifts, as of many, but gift, as of one – is contained all the whole, both of grace and glory; tanquam in fonte, tanquam in semine; as in the seed and fountain of both.”

In some ways it’s reminiscent of a discussion that some other famous Christian raised in the past – whether to be more thankful for justification or sanctification? There must be some value in thinking through the different aspects and features of the two things being offered for contemplation, but presumably ultimately the choice is fairly artificial. There’s no separating them, in either case. They are all unspeakable gifts; they all come from the same love.

24 thoughts on “no need to choose

  1. Deep thought / deep emotion. Thanks!

    On the one hand, I can understand why you say that there’s nothing to choose because both are equal (equally important, equally valuable). On the other hand, if we simply shrug it off, saying that it’s both the same, and we shouldn’t, yes cannot separate them, we might actually lose something of the intimacy that results from concentrating on the one and only. To love someone deeply, is to love them exclusively. If you cannot love the Son exclusively (i.e. even exclusive of the Spirit), you have not yet loved him fully. If you cannot love the Spirit exclusively (i.e. even exclusive of the Son), you have not yet loved him fully.

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t purport to have reached there. Just some musings / experiences / aspirations to be shared on the way.

    Your fellow wanderer,


  2. Interesting :)

    Posing the question in terms of which gift is the greater of the two does have the advantage of making you think of each in turn, and think through the different ways that each one is a wonderful gift in itself.

    But I’m not sure I can follow what it means to love the Son exclusive of the Holy Spirit. They are distinct persons, but they are both involved together in every work either of them undertakes. Another example would be what I was discussing with someone recently (in real life!) – how it doesn’t really make sense to think of God as only love, or only holiness – our thoughts of his love have to be tempered with thoughts of his holiness, and vice versa. So if you love Christ, surely neither his person nor his work would be what it is without the contribution of the Holy Spirit permeating it all (and you can’t even love Christ without the Holy Spirit teaching you how). And if you love the Spirit, it must be in the context of Christ’s redeeming work purchasing the gift of his person indwelling and his work of applying what Christ has merited.

    Or have I missed the point of what you were saying?


  3. Maybe, I’m too much of a mystic to really make sense here …

    To give you an example: In my latest 8-day silent retreat, my spiritual director gave me the task to contemplate the passion of Christ by looking at John 11, focusing specifically on Lazarus on his deathbed and what it must have meant for him that the only friend of whom he hoped that he could help him simply didn’t show up.

    Hindsight can subtract from fuller understanding, in my experience at least. If I really want to understand a situation, e.g. the impact which the crucifixion had on the disciples, I have to forget the resurrection lest it brings in an assurance which the disciples did not have.

    Similarly, if I want to understand what it means for the Son to “have left his father’s throne”, and presumably even part of the intimacy of the Holy Spirit (after all, Jesus grew in understanding during his childhood, and how else do you explain the “kenosis” described in Philippians 2), I have to focus on the Son without the knowledge or assurance of the Spirit. Maybe, that doesn’t make sense but it sure helps me in experiencing each person more fully.


  4. I’m waiting … really curious now … espcially after having to find that “conflate” is not in my dictionary … the only word in there starting with confla- is “conflagration” … so, I’m waiting …


  5. Forgive me…time is very limited. I should be hasting to be ready for my work and instead I am scribbling away here. So forgive me for what may be ill thought out thoughts and presented in what may sound a negative way.

    I agree that hindsight can make us underestimate what people are going through. We know the ending and therefore forget what it is like not to know the ending.

    I believe the scriptures are everything. As soon as we go beyond these then we are in the realm of imagination (which might or might not be correct…but as we do not know, it is more or less useless). So our focus has to be on experiencing the living Word of God and that is life…. Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

    I am not convinced therefore that the best way to come to a better understanding of the scriptures is by trying to put ourselves in the place of people who are recorded in the scriptures. This is taking how we think we would feel in that situation so that we can understand how the person would feel. But this leads to a subjective understanding because we simply do not know what God’s dealings are with another person unless He tells us. The scriptures do not tell us how Lazarus was spiritually at this time and therefore we do not know whether he had a deep assurance of God’s love or whether he was assailed by doubts or what. The most we can say is that Lazarus could have been afraid and feeling forgotten but that he was not and that we should take courage from this as christians when we feel afraid and forgotten.

    I am also not convinced that it really helps to focus on one person to the exclusion of all others in an attempt to understand them better. We can only understand/experience anything through the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore it seems impossible to me to speak of thinking of the Holy Spirit in isolation from the Lord Jesus Christ.

    However I must run………..


  6. to conflate = to bring together; meld or fuse

    I am also curious what Berenike will say. For myself, I fully agree with Cath’s first comment.
    As an extremly insufficient comparison, it seems to me that contemplating the truths of Faith is somewhat like looking at the most beautiful picture where every detail is so splended you could gaze at it for your lifetime, and yet everything is a part of a marvellously composed whole, not to be separated from it – and indeed, by stepping back, one can to some smaller or larger extent see how those details fit together in the overall composition.


  7. Sarah, those last 2 paras are spot-on!

    The only thing i was going to add was: I think hindsight does sometimes have the disadvantage of allowing the novelty to wear off from things that should really be always vivid and startling to us. Eg the fact that the gospel is now extended to the Gentiles as well as Jews – it came as a wonderful surprise to the earliest believers, but now it hardly seems out of the ordinary in the least. But to deal with that, i wouldn’t suggest that the primary way should be to try to envisage ourselves without the familiar facts that we’re all party to – it’s simply counterfactual, and we can arrive at the right response to the wonderful fact that as Gentiles we have access to the same Messiah by considering other factors. It’s not novel, in the sense of being news to us, but it should still be fresh, in the sense that it should still evoke responses of admiration and worship, even given our hindsight.

    I suppose that’s really a reaction against dealing in hypotheticals (imagining you don’t know something that you do know) and aiming instead for a much more comprehensive grasp of the realities of things, as all-embracing it possibly can be given our finitude.
    Which, i think, fits with what Notburga is saying with the picture analogy – the details can be considered distinctly for a while, but never completely dissociated/dissociable from the whole.


  8. @notburga – thanks for the definition. (I’m not always online when replying; connection at times highly unreliable here in Kenya; so I might download a comment and reply offline; like I’m actually doing with this one. But thanks for the dictionary link anyway.)
    And thanks for the beautiful metaphor of the big picture which we can look at from close up (focusing on one specific detail) and from afar (thus taking in the tapestry of complementing forms and colours).

    @Sarah – Don’t worry. I took your remarks as neither ill thought out nor as negative. We simply don’t come from the same direction. (If Christians worship a Triune God, is it any wonder that we tend to see different facets of Him? Most Christians I got to know start with *one* person of the Trinity, not with all. By which I mean to say that we start our journey of faith at different starting points and consequently have to take in different aspects in order to become truly Trinitarian worshippers.) Excuse the excursion which was only my perspective on why we differ.

    Actually, an even bigger difference seems to me your conflation – now that I’ve learned that new word, I might just as well use it ;-) – of the two Words of God: Jesus and the Bible. The first is to be worshipped, the latter not at all lest you become guilty of bibliolatry. The first generation Christians didn’t have the New Testament writings yet. So, we’re faced with some difficult questions here. (You may have guessed that I’m not a dispensationalist. That answer to those questions strikes me as too simplistic.)

    But even when reading the Holy Scriptures, how can you understand any of it without your God-given imagination? (I’m not saying that imagination is the *main* means of understanding, not at all! But definitely part of it, imho.) Do you never have a picture of a Biblical scene in front of your inner eye when reading the corresponding Bible passage? I bet there are more details in that picture than in the words of the Bible. And how many people came to a saving knowledge of Christ through paintings of Biblical scenes? (John Wesley being one of them if I remember correctly.)

    Yes, I too endeavour to “regard no-one through human eyes, not even Christ” (2.Cor.5:16). So, how do we get there to see with Christ’s eyes? Is St.Paul the only one who “knows a man who … was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things” (2.Cor.12:2-4)? Or are these gifts new in every generation (although that can only be infered from passages like Joel 2:28-29)? Of course, even such glorious visions are not the main thing. “Strive for the greater gifts!” (1.Cor.14:12)

    Oops, I wanted to stop before I fell into preaching … too late! ;-)
    Bye for now, and greetings from Nairobi,


  9. Not sure if Sarah’s going to come back on this? (I hope so, but will be sympathetic about competing demands for time & energy!)

    Oliver, this is extremely interesting. On the Trinity, I think you might have said something similar the last time we talked, but I’m not fully convinced (about differences among Christians being traceable to concentrating on different persons of the Trinity i mean). I’m going to post something else by Goodwin which your phrase “becoming truly Trinitarian worshippers” reminded me of – from a different part of his writings altogether, but might as well stick with him since he’s the one that’s sparked this all off.

    I’d be very interested to see what anyone else has to say about the “two Words of God” and the benefits of imagination … I’ve got plenty I could say but am happy to hold off for a wee while to see if any other contributions emerge :)


  10. I am not sure if what you have written is merely blog-commenting and you haven’t written out clearly distinctions that are clear in your mind, or whether you haven’t made distinctions.

    In your first comment you wrote: “If you cannot love the Son exclusively (i.e. even exclusive of the Spirit), you have not yet loved him fully. If you cannot love the Spirit exclusively (i.e. even exclusive of the Son), you have not yet loved him fully.” In your second you wrote: “ I have to focus on the Son without the knowledge or assurance of the Spirit.”

    Is it clear to you whether and where you are referring to the Son in His divine nature and where to Him as man?

    About devotions St Ignatius said “whatever floats your boat”. That’s a rough translation. But “whatever floats your boat” that is in accord with the mind of the Church. If you stand by the first comment I have quoted, then it seems to me you should be very clear indeed in your Trinitarian theology. I think the phrasing is extremely unfortunate – there are things in the writings of the great saints and mystics that sound a bit off the wall, but there we can be sure that they had things straight in their heads even if the words came out sounding odd to us losers.

    Re the persons of the Trinity (how strange it feels to be typing so casually about this!): there is nothing in the Trinity that is not one except the relations of the persons. The persons of the Trinity are entirely towards one another – there is nothing in any of the persons that is not towards, in some sense, the others. One might consider the Father’s fatherhood of the divine Son, but one can hardly do so without thinking of the existence of the Son, because “son” is included in the very nature and name of “father”. No child, no father. And vice versa. I can love my chum Cleopatra exclusively of her three amusing children, because “mother” does not exhaust who she is. I cannot love the Father exclusively of the Son or Spirit, because His relations with them ARE Who He is as Father. [I am racking my brains for where there was the most wonderful pithy expression of this I read two years ago. I can remember telling someone about it, it was a sunny day. o where was it?] In what could “loving the Son exclusively of the Spirit” consist?

    So much for the immanent whatsit. Ad extra – well, let’s shorten the comment, I’ll just put in links, eg. CCC or auf Deutsch, KKK (in both cases scroll down to 257) – says not only what I would say better, but says better things better.

    As for the Incarnation. Fr Benedict Groeschel says of the Incarnation in one of the early parts of his series of talks on Christian devotion (they are very “popular” indeed in tone, but very good) “if you think you’ve understood it, you’ve got it wrong”. And particularly with the words of Our Lord on the cross. “Why hast Thou abandoned Me?” You won’t understand it if you try to consider the Word as Man separate from the Father or the Spirit, because then you won’t be understanding the Word as Man, but something of your own invention.

    Basta for one comment, I think. Also a bit weird to be opening my big mouth where the angels fear to tread type thing. Am going to press the “submit” button and try not to think about it … where’s the Laphroaig? …


  11. Thanks, Berenike … and “Amen to that, sister”!
    If only I had more time …

    Just briefly: The inseparability of the Trinity and of the dual nature of Christ is very clear to me and I would by no means subtract from any of it (I hope not to be as megalomaniac as to think I could better the explanations of 2000 years of Christian saints, thinkers, authors, philosophers and theologians, most of whom were much better endowed upstairs than yours truly).

    If the full picture blows my mind, I’m concentrating on a little bit (until I realize that it’s intricately connected with the next little bit …). At other times, I simply let my mind get blown … Going mystic is exhausting, exhilarating, indescribably yeah! ;-)

    And finally, as Cath has moved this discussion to the next blog post, I shall follow suit.

    PS: Any chance of continuing some of this face to face? I expect to be meeting Cath in Edinburgh first half of November … Vive Laphroaig …


  12. Hi (that was the easy bit!!). These are some hard questions:


    It seems an unusual suggestion to me. Every christian’s life by its nature must begin with the Lord Jesus Christ although perhaps some are more conscious of that than others.

    I cannot see that we can harm our understanding of the Triune Godhead by following the Lord Jesus Christ and looking to Him with all our strength. Paul says, As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. FOR IN HIM DWELLETH ALL THE FULNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY (Col 2 v 6) and, For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor 2 v2)

    It can only be through the Lord Jesus Christ that we can know the other members of the Godhead at all. There is nothing good in us so there is no way we can contemplate the Father or the Holy Spirit aside from the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who reveals them. When Philip asks, “Lord shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us” He says “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself; but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” (John 14 v 9-10) and “Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also. (John 8 v 19) and “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14 v 25)


    We can only know Christ through the scriptures. He says “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5 v 39) True the Lord Jesus Christ is a person not a book but it is the book which reveals Him and we are to hang onto that. How else can it be.. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”? And it is the Comforter who applies that Word to us personally so we know God is dealing with us as individuals in a special way, as it says above “and bring all things to your remembrance”.

    I do not think that this emphasis on the scriptures as the way the Lord Jesus is revealed requires one to be dispensational. It is quite clear in Hebrews that the old testament saints were saved by faith in Christ as we are. I accept that the Lord used not only the written word but prophets and speaking directly to people in those days – that does not detract from it being His Word. Peter says “And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Pet 18 – 21)


    Knowing that God is speaking to oneself personally has to be the most amazing thing in the world. The bible says “in thy presence is fulness of joy” and when we hear the Lord speaking to us we must be in his presence. That must be the greatest desire we have “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God (Ps 42 v 1) “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way, O when wilt thou come unto me? (Ps 102 v2) “Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?” (Ps 119 v 87) “Mine eyes prevent the night watches that I might meditate in thy word” (Psalm 119 v 148) “But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee” (Ps 88 v 13) I accept that the scriptures are the voice of God and these are applied to us in a personal way through the Holy Spirit bringing it to remembrance and through his providence. When that happens it is often utterly amazing.

    But it is so easy to be led up the garden path by ones imagination – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17 v 9) That is why I am very nervous of my imagination and like to make sure it is at least flagged as imagination. I like to think that when it says “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” that it is not that we enter heaven with tears of sadness and regret still on our cheeks but that the view we will have will be so stupendous that we will be so happy that we cannot bear it and we will be in tears of overwhelming happiness needing to be strengthened by the Lord wiping them away. But there is no warrant for that interpretation whatsoever – it is my imagination. But in this case I am happy to imagine because the bible says “eye hath not seen nor ear heard neither hath it entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for those that love Him” so I know I am wrong but that is fine because I cannot possibly know what it will be and whatever I imagine it is even better. But normally I think we should approach the scriptures with as little imagination as possible. We need to ask the Lord to apply it to us personally. When we don’t understand how it applies to us we need to ask Him to show us and change us and so we are purified although it does not yet appear what we shall be. (see 1 John 3 v 2-3)

    And we have grounds to expect that the Lord will speak to us in His house if we are personally searching after Him. “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Ps 73 v 16 – 17) “Thy way, O God is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God (Psalm 77 v 13) One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. (Ps 24 v 4) So may it be “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us” (Psalm 90 v 17).

    But whatever we are given in the sanctuary or elsewhere (for we cannot limit the Lord) we must test it again by the Scriptures (that is our one sure infallible reference point). “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so”. Even personal experience must bow to the scriptures. Should our personal experience appear to prove the scriptures wrong yet must we hold onto the scriptures and act accordingly unless the Lord shows us that we have not rightly divided his Word. We trust in the Lord’s word – personal experience assures us but we do not trust in it.

    And yes glorious visions are not the main thing. The Lord may give us amazing things but if they distract us from daily fellowship with Him through prayer and the scriptures and seeking his face then we are off the path. So we need to be very watchful to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; (2 Cor 10 v 5)

    Sorry about the length of the reply – and I am sure with hindsight I will regret what I have said because I will understand more and know that I was not only seeing through a glass darkly but darkening the glass with my own ideas and faults and sins. But even through such a dark glass the glimpses are truly amazing.


  13. Thanks Sarah! Three comments for the price of one, can’t really add much to that :)

    In the choice between Newcastle and Warsaw, Newcastle seems more immediately viable, speaking personally, altho I do tend to migrate northwards from Ed around the 25th Dec rather than southwards. We shall see.


  14. Sorry it took me until today to notice Sarah’s reply. Thanks a lot! And don’t be afraid to have darkened the glass but let your light – which shouldn’t be hidden under a bushel – freely shine among men that they may praise Our Father in Heaven.

    Alas, no time now to go to greater lengths …
    Maybe just a couple of questions:
    Do you presume that it is possible to get to know the Lord Jesus Christ equally well from reading the Holy Scriptures than from meeting Him in person as the first disciples did?
    If all true Christians have to *start* with Jesus (rather than meeting Him somewhere along the way), does that mean that most of us aren’t real Christians if we’ve begun our journey of faith elsewhere? Or do you only start to call us Christians from the moment we’ve met Christ? (Of course, meeting Him in Spirit and not in the letter which kills.)

    Don’t feel obliged to respond here, especially not if you should be doing something else ;-)

    As my questions have diverged from the original theme of ‘trinitarian worshippers’, maybe Cath will start a new post for this new thread …


  15. Oh, and btw, the “unusual suggestion”, I’ve come across in the work and research of NCD International ( Of course, that’s not Gospel. At least, let me say that I’ve benefitted quite significantly in my spiritual growth from those insights and practical exercises. You may want to try Christian Schwarz’s book “The 3 Colours of Ministry – A trinitarian approach to identifying and developing your spiritual gifts” or “The 3 Colours of Love – The art of giving and receiving justice, truth, and grace” (which includes a chapter on ‘How to experience love in all three dimensions’). He struck me as deeply rooted in the Word.


  16. Oliver, splendid idea. I’ll start a new thread on that – v interesting & important issue. But I think Sarah’s away for a few days herself now, so i’ll wait a day or so before posting


  17. Hi,

    I just wanted to clarify Oliver please,

    are you saying that the depth of relationship that the disciples had with the LORD cannot be attained today
    are you are saying that it cannot be attained today through reading the Holy Scriptures?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s