Tag Archives: John Frame

Ontological and Economic Trinities

Again, as I did yesterday, I borrow from John M. Frame’s concise introductory work to systematic theology.  Here he explains the difference subject difference between ontological and economic Trinities.

These are not two Trinities but the same Trinity viewed in different aspects.  Of course, since there is only one God, there is only one Trinity.  Ontological Trinity is the Trinity in itself, as he exists apart from the creation, as he would have existed if he had never created anything.  In the ontological Trinity there is no subordination among the persons, Father, Son and Spirit are equal; that is to say, they are equally God, equally divine.

The economic Trinity, however, is the Trinity in relation to the creation.  As we saw earlier, the three persons of the Trinity take on a sort of division of labor with regard to creation and redemption: The Father plans, the Son executes, The Spirit applies.  In this great drama the Son voluntarily becomes subordinate to the Father.  Jesus says he can do nothing of himself but what he sees the Father do (John 5:19).  In John 5:30 he says, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  The Father has commanded, the Son obeys.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit, when Jesus and the Father send him into the world, “will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).  See the order?  The Father sends; Jesus and the Spirit are sent.  The Father speaks of himself; the Son and the Spirit speak the words the Father has given them to speak.

The three persons are equal (ontological), but they take on different jobs (economical) in creation and redemption.


I like John Frame’s concise explanation on why it is unorthodox,

Some have thought to reconcile these positions by saying that God is really one but only apparently three.  Father, Son, and Spirit are just the one God playing three different roles.  Sometimes he appears as Father, sometimes as Son, sometimes as Spirit.  This position is called modalism, since it makes the three persons only modes, or ways in which God exists – not real persons.

The church rejected modalism as a heresy.  It is clearly unbiblical, for the three persons enter transactions with one another.  Jesus prays to the Father (John 17); the Father speaks from heaven while Jesus is on earth (Matt. 3:17).  The Father and Son together send the Spirit into the world (John 14:16, and the Spirit bears witness to Jesus.  The Spirit is “another” Comforter, not the same as Jesus.  The three glorify and honor one another.  Here we see three different persons, interacting with one another, conversing as human beings do, not just one person playing three roles.

In redemption, the Father foreknows, the Son sprinkles blood, and the Spirit sanctifies (I Peter 1:2).  To generalize, the Father foreordains, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies the work of Christ to the heart.

Aren’t you glad the Triune Godhead is one God in three distinct persons, not just one God that switches out between three different masks?  It is mysterious, but the distinction of the Triune Godhead is a wonderful thing!  Let us walk by faith, believing what the Bible teaches us about this glorious doctrine!

Infinite Obligation

Excerpt from a prayer in The Valley of Vision:

Let me never forget that I have an eternal duty to love, honour, and obey thee [God], that thou art infinitely worthy of such; that if I fail to glorify thee I am guilty of infinite evil that merits infinite punishment, for sin is the violation of an infinite obligation.

John Frame says,

To glorify God is to reflect that light wherever we are, so that we image God more perfectly, so that people everywhere can see Jesus in us.

The Lord Jesus says,

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Apostle Paul says,

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Living for the glory of God, yes, it is that important; an infinite obligation.

Come, Let Us Worship!

Psalm 136:3-4 and 25 say,

3-4: Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever: To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever;

25: Who gives food to all flesh, For His mercy endures forever.

So often I am guilty of simply failing to worship the Sovereign God of the Universe as I should.  These verses remind us that giving thanks to the Lord of lords should be a daily thing.  There is much to be thankful for!  Worship him because his mercy endures forever!  Worship him because he alone does great wonders!  Worship him because he gives food to all flesh!  Huh?

Yes, that’s exactly what the Psalmist meant.  Worship Sovereign God because he gives us food to eat.  Yet even deeper than that, worship Sovereign God because he sustains all flesh today.  From the mightiest to the meekest of creatures!  No lion can prey and no ant can harvest without the Sovereign Lord of the Universe giving unto them!  What a merciful God of condescension and power!

Psalm 136 is chock full of the wonders of God that should elicit worship!  And yet somehow we treat worship rather illicitly!  God made the heavens and he made the earth!  He delivered the Israelites from Egypt, and moved them across the sea on dry land!  He overthrew Pharaoh and his army!  He led his people through the wilderness!  He slew great kings!  He gave his covenant people their land!  Come, let us worship him for all these mighty wonders, and even for the wonders that we often fail to consider to be mighty, God says, “Come and adore!”

So the next time we sit down to that big slab of beef, let us worship our Sovereign Lord!  He is the one who feeds us with it.  And he is the merciful Lord God who fattened that same animal with a peaceful life of grazing.

As John Frame puts it in Salvation Belongs to the Lord,

We usually don’t think of that [feeding all flesh] as miraculous, but when you think about it, it’s pretty wonderful.  Feeding a few million Israelites in the wilderness was a wonderful thing; yet, in a way it is even more wonderful that God feeds absolutely every living thing on the earth.  So, perhaps from one perspective, God is doing miracles all the time all around us (p. 17).

May we never be found wanting to worship our Sovereign God for his miraculous wonders and deeds!  Come, let us worship!