I have misplaced my file with notes from a book by Henry Morris which contained the best illustration of the Trinity I have ever encountered. Most illustrations get a failing grade in that they either separate the essence of the three Persons, or they maintain the common essence but obliterate any distinction, but Morris’ use of the universe seems safe enough.
Let’s begin with Calvin’s very succinct summary of the doctrine of the Trinity in 1.13.4 (emphasis added):
Where names have not been invented rashly, we must beware lest we become chargeable with arrogance and rashness in rejecting them. I wish, indeed, that such names were buried, provided all would concur in the belief that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God, and yet that the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but that each has his peculiar subsistence.
Further in 1.13.5 we read similarly:
Say, that there is a Trinity of Persons in one Divine essence, you will only express in one word what the Scriptures say, and stop his empty prattle.
So at the risk of providing what Calvin described as an occasion “of calumny to the malicious, or of delusion to the unlearned” (1.13.18), I’m going to share my recollection of the way Henry Morris thought the universe itself functions as the best illustration of the Trinity (see his book, Studies in the Bible and Science, for the full treatment, and forgive any misstatements on my part if you have the pleasure of locating a copy of the book, since I’m going by memory).
Morris observed that everything in the universe consists of three aspects: space, time, and matter. Space he related primarily to the Father, time primarily to the Spirit, and matter primarily to the Son. But he didn’t stop there, because in each one he found a trinity of trinities. Space has three dimensions of length, width, and height. Time consists of past, present, and future. Matter consists of energy in motion manifested by phenomena (the hardest one to explain).
Now I need to interject a bit of Calvin’s Institutes here, where he characterized the distinctions expressed in Scripture in regard to the persons of the Trinity (1.13.18):
This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit.
Combining Morris’ illustration with Calvin’s distinctions, we may consider the trinity of trinities in the universe. Space (Father) is the beginning of action, where all matter (Son) is arranged, and experienced through time (Spirit). And yet space consists of three dimensions: length, width, and height. Just as no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18), so no man has seen a line at any time (having only length but no width), even so the Son of God has declared him (length plus width), and this manifestation includes depth or height (by the Spirit). Morris applied the formula for volume here, noting that 1 ft x 1 ft x 1 ft = 1 cubic foot, not three (not three gods).
Morris associated time with the Holy Spirit in that we experience the universe over time. The Father he related to the unseen future, the source of all time. The present, where the unseen future becomes manifest moment by moment, he related to the Son. The past is our cumulative experience of time, which he related to the Holy Spirit. One second in the future equals one second in the present and one second in the past, so here again we have one essence with distinctions.
Matter is the hardest one to explain, but why should we be surprised when it relates to the second person of the Trinity! He employed Einstein’s theory of relativity to show the relationship between energy (Father) and matter (Son) through phenomena (Spirit).
By now, if you can’t appreciate the remark Sinclair Ferguson’s then middle-school-aged son made when learning about the Trinity (“Daddy, this makes my head hurt”), you haven’t been paying attention. I’m glad Rick Phillips included that little tidbit in his blog!
Follow this link for more on Morris’ illustration, but still lacking the detail found in the book (if I could only find my notes!).
Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes: (all by Rick Phillips this week)