Jerod Gilcher | March 31, 2020
The world welcomes the notion of a loving God. Yet its excitement vanishes when we use the word Trinity. But God is love precisely because he is triune. Many in the church, understandably, struggle with the concept of the Trinity.
How do I know this? I listen to Christians pray.
Believers address the Father and thank him for dying for their sins; they thank Jesus for sending his Son; and they attempt to activate the Holy Spirit through emotional-worship music.
Why do we struggle so? Because we, as humans, tend to shy away from thoughts that we can’t quite get our hands around. But we loosen our grip to our detriment. One of the soul’s great secrets is that rigorous and dependent thinking upon God is the means to refreshed affections for God. John Piper writes that our thinking must be “wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring of God above all things.” God formed the mind to serve the heart. We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot praise what we do not prize.
Contrary to what many believe, deep study of God does not necessarily (and should not) lead to pride or staleness, but can (and should!) lead us to increase our affection for the God on whom our minds are set. The more we discover of God, the more we delight; the more we see of him, the more we savor.
And the Puritans understood this connection between mind and heart. They understood that God crafted the head to serve the heart: that thinking less of God is not the secret to a thriving soul, but instead the nourished soul digs deeper into the beautiful character of the Almighty.
Let me provide an example. Consider how John Owen (1616–1683), regarded by many as the most refined (and admittedly complex) Puritan thinker, uses his grasp of the Trinity to inform his affections for God.
Communion with God
In his classic work Communion with God, Owen instructs Christians not only how to worship the triune God as a whole, but also how to distinctly worship and enjoy each person of the Trinity in their particular role and function.
Owen teaches us that the Father, Son, and Spirit—though equal in attributes, worth, and beauty—nevertheless differ in their distinct roles in salvation. And believers can enjoy, praise, and worship the persons of the Trinity distinctly, according to their particular roles.
Study Hermeneutics with Dr. Abner Chou – For Free
For a limited time, study the principles of biblical interpretation in an online, self-paced format—for free. This is our way of saying how much we appreciate you.
For example, the Father is to be loved and worshiped for his love. Owen writes: “Christians are often very troubled concerning how the Father thinks of them. They are well persuaded of the good will of the Lord Christ. The difficulty lies in how well they are accepted by the Father. What is his heart towards them?”
The Father is the fountain of love from which flow all of his subsequent, gracious gifts—culminating in the gift of his Son (cf. John 3:16; Titus 3:4–7).
Of the Son, he is to be loved and worshiped for his grace. Owen writes that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ makes him “suitable to fulfill the wants of all our souls. By this He becomes exceedingly desirable and altogether lovely. And as to this, the saints have distinct fellowship with the Lord Christ.” That is to say, when we understand the grace of Christ in his saving, sacrificial power in death (cf. John 1:16), then we truly see how “exceedingly desirable and altogether lovely” he is, and for this we can—and must— worship him.
Of the Holy Spirit, he is to be loved and worshiped for his comfort. In a time when the treatment of the Holy Spirit is pervasively sloppy and convoluted, Owen (as always) thinks with precision. He writes:
The life and soul of all our comforts is found in the promises of Christ….The work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ. From this we can see that the Spirit does not substitute Him for Christ, or say that He is everything in Himself. That would not be the Comforter. His work is to glorify Christ, the One that sends Him….This, then, is how He comforts. He reveals to the souls of sinners the good things…which the Father has provided, and the Son has purchased. He shows to us mercy, grace, forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance by God. He lets us know that these are the things of Christ that He has procured for us. He shows them to us for our comfort and security.
The Spirit is a comforter, and he comforts by pointing believers—with the Word of God—to Christ as the one sent by the Father to purchase forgiveness, righteousness, and acceptance by God. The Spirit takes Christ and presses him into our souls. We are to worship the Spirit distinctly for how he comforts us in revealing the beauty, worth, and achievements of Christ.
For Owen, the Trinity matters, not simply for doctrinal orthodoxy, but for the satisfaction of our souls and the ordering of our worship. If you desire to grow in your love and worship of the Trinity, John Owen would love to be your guide. Reading Owen is not easy, but that which is good for your soul rarely is.
Inform Your Affections
Deep thoughts of God matter. They ignite worship and prayer in the soul; they strengthen us in trials and suffering. The Puritans understood this well. Though not perfect, the Puritans understood that enjoyed doctrine protects the heart from the treason of sin. Put most bluntly, the Puritans understood that without rich and robust theology savored in the soul, there is no Christianity.
 John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Crossway, 2010), 19.