Mysticism, philosophy and the unsearchable Trinity


In a previous post, The Incarnation or Substitutionary Atonement, which is the grand miracle? CS Lewis and John MacArthur say the former; George MacDonald, definitely not the latter, I began with this quotation from Hugh Binning on the Trinity: “All mysteries have their rise here, and all of them return hither. This is furthest removed from the understandings of men,—what God himself is, for himself is infinitely above any manifestation of himself. God is greater than God manifested in the flesh, though in that respect he be too great for us to conceive.” (Lecture X11 “Of The Unity Of The Godhead And The Trinity Of Persons”).

The Trinity is the bedrock of all the teachings of the Bible. What I’d like to raise here is the human desire of those seeking to understand the Christian God to penetrate into the great mystery of the Trinity. One tries to do so through two means: mysticism or philosophy.

Most calvinists accept ”mystical unions” – what other way is their around ”we’re seated in the heavenlies – but are uncomfortable with mystical (that is, very personal) encounters with God. Owing to the excesses in mysticism, they do have a point. Christians, though, are meant to experience (feel) the presence of Christ/God here and now. That is no big stretch, because when we are born again, we are lifted up to the heavenlies (no not necessarily “up”). Yet we remain caught ”up” in this corruptible body, struggling, sinning, and groaning for the redemption of our bodies. (See Inviting Jesus into your aorta: Personal and Mystical Union at the White Horse Inn).

In summary, here is the “mystical union” in a nutshell (the “Truth Project,” Lesson 8). The Mystical Union between:

A. Husband and wife

B. Christ and His church

The Body of Christ – Making many One (i) Many members – we form one body with unique gifts and roles (ii) The Mystery of Christ – “… for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (III) Jesus’ vision for the church 1. John 17: 20-23 ” …that all of them may be one …so the world may believe that you have sent me …may they be brought to complete unity …”

C. God and the individual – the Unio Mystica 1. Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you” 2. John 15:5 “If a man remains in me and I in him” 3. John 14:16-17 “for he lives with you and will be in you” 4. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “God’s Spirit lives in you.” (See Of mysticism, cooking and them goose bumps).

So, mysticism does not have to – as someone said (I wish it wwere G.K. Chesterton) begin in a mist and end in a schism. The issue is how much can we know in this life about what the Bible calls the unsearchable doings (Job 5:9), judgements (Romans 11:33, greatness (Psalm 145:3), riches (Ephesians 3:8) of God, and – in our specific topic – about the Trinity.

Here is a great piece from Hugh Binning who deals with this human desire to unlock the Trinity. As you read, consider this question: Is Binning talking about philosophical/rational or mystical endeavours to penetrate the Trinity?

(I notify when I come to the end of Binning).

All mysteries have their rise here, and all of them return hither. This is furthest removed from the understandings of men,—what God himself is, for himself is infinitely above any manifestation of himself. God is greater than God manifested in the flesh, though in that respect he be too great for us to conceive.

There is a natural desire in all men to know, and, if any thing be secret and wonderful the desire is the more inflamed after the knowledge of it. The very difficulty or impossibility of attaining it, instead of restraining the curiosity of man’s spirit, doth rather incense it. Nitimur in vetitum is the fruit, the sad fruit we plucked and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If the Lord reveal any thing plainly in his word to men, that is despised and set at nought, because it is plain, whereas the most plain truths, which are beyond all controversy, are the most necessary, and most profitable, for our eternal salvation. But if there be any secret mystery in the Scriptures, which the Lord hath only pointed out more obscurely to us, reserving the distinct and clear understanding of it to himself, (Deut. xxix. 29.),—that is the apple which our accursed natures will long for, and catch after, though there be never so much choice of excellent saving fruit in the paradise of the Scriptures besides. If the ark be covered to keep men from looking into it, that doth rather provoke the curious spirit of man to pry into it, 1 Sam. vi. 10.

If the Lord show his wonderful glory in the mount, and charge his people not to come near, lest the glorious presence of God kill them, he must put rails about it, to keep them back, or else they will be meddling. Such is the unbridled license of our minds, and the perverse dispositions of our natures, that where God familiarly invites us to come,—what he earnestly presseth us to search and know,—that we despise as trivial and common, and what he compasseth about with a divine darkness of inaccessible light, and hath removed far from the apprehensions of all living, that we will needs search into, and wander into those forbidden compasses, with daring boldness. I conceive this holy and profound mystery is one of those “secret things” which it belongs to God to know, for who knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, or who knoweth the mind of God but the Spirit?

Yet the foolish minds of men will not be satisfied with the believing ignorance of such a mystery, but will needs inquire into those depths, that they may find satisfaction for their reason. But, as it happeneth with men who will boldly stare upon the sun, their eyes are dazzled and darkened with its brightness, or those that enter into a labyrinth, which they can find no way to come out, but the further they go into it, the more perplexed it is, and the more intricate, even so it befalls many unsober and presumptuous spirits, who, not being satisfied with the simple truth of God, clearly asserting that this is, endeavour to examine it according to reason, and to solve all the objections of carnal wit and reason, (which is often “enmity against God,”) not by the silence of the Scriptures, but by answers framed according to the several capacities of men. I say, all this is but daring to behold the infinite glory of God with eyes of flesh, which makes them darkened in mind, and vanishing in their expressions, while they seek to behold this inaccessible light, while they enter into an endless labyrinth of difficulties out of which the thread of reason and disputation can never extricate them or lead them forth. But the Lord hath showed us “a more excellent way,” though it may be despicable to men.

Man did fall from blessedness by his curious and wretched aim at some higher happiness and more wisdom; the Lord hath chosen another way to raise him up again, by faith rather than knowledge, by believing rather than disputing. Therefore the great command of the gospel is this, to receive with a ready and willing mind whatsoever the Lord saith to us, whatsoever it may appear to sense and reason, to dispute no more, to search no more into the secret of divine mysteries, as if by searching we could find them out “unto perfection,” but to believe what is spoken, “till the day break, and the shadows flee away,” and the darkness of ignorance be wholly dispelled by the rising of the Sun of righteousness. We are called then to receive this truth,—That God is one, truly one, and yet there are three in this one, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This, I say, you must believe, because the wisdom of God saith it, though you know not how it is, or how it can be. Though it seem a contradiction in reason, a trinity in unity, yet you must lead your reason captive to the obedience of faith, and silence it with this one answer, The Lord hath said it. If thou go on to dispute, and to inquire, “How can these things be?” thou art escaped from under the power of faith, and art fled into the tents of human wisdom, where thou mayest learn atheism, but no religion, for “the world by wisdom knew not God,” 1 Cor. i. 21.

End of binning.

Initially, I thought Binning was talking about mysticism. Both the mystical way and the rational/philosophical way lead away from biblical truth – and biblical experience of the Trinity.



4 thoughts on “Mysticism, philosophy and the unsearchable Trinity

  1. You do realize, don’t you, that Hugh Binning is, himself, claiming to know what God wants and what God doesn’t want? And from where does Binning get this ‘knowledge’ of the truth? From various writers of the Bible. And who are these different writers? People. People who have thought and hoped and feared and dreamed and imagined.

      • John 3

        31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God[i] gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

  2. Pingback: Is Knowledge and Rationality a Highway or a Roadblock? | Low-Hanging Fruit

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