by William Ames
In this verse is contained that principal command which Christ left to his Apostles and Ministers. And it consists of two parts: in the first, the preaching of the Word, and in the second, the administration of the Sacraments, is commanded. The chief scope of both parts is shown in the last words: that men may be taught and confirmed in the true faith and obedience of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From this place the Creed was taken and framed which is called the Apostles Creed. But as to the foundation of it in these words, 1. not first taught by the Apostles, but taught to the Apostles by Christ himself, at that very time when he spoke those words. 2. By the Apostles at the command of Christ to all Christians for a rule of Faith, and a badge whereby Christians would be distinguished from Heathens as well as from Jews and other Sects. Nor was there any other or longer Creed than this, contained in the words of our Lord in the times of the Apostles, and of the Church that next followed their times. But afterwards diverse heresies laid a necessity upon the Church of adding diverse articles to this Creed, not that they should be new additions to the old Faith, but necessary explications of the same. This is why all things that are now contained in the Creed are referred to these three headings, which are set down in these words: either to the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit.
Doctrine 1. Though God is only one in essence, yet he is three in persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Reason 1. Because in this place, Faith is presupposed, and pre-required for baptizing one of age, whereby he believes in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this same Faith is as it were sealed by Baptism, as with a seal. And the open profession of this Faith is solemnised by this Badge, or Confession and Creed that our Lord himself taught and gave in command. And these things were not done once, or in a temporary way — but by an unchangeable Institution and perpetual Covenant, they were delivered to the Church to be observed through all ages as necessary foundations of salvation. The consequence of this argument has certainty and confirmation from this: that divine Faith and spiritual [devotion] neither should be, nor anywhere in Scripture is, directed to any creature, but to God alone.
Reason 2. Because one and the same authority and power is attributed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For when the Word is preached and Baptism is administered, not only in the name of the Father, but likewise of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is manifestly shown that by the authority and power of this most holy Trinity, Baptism with other similar sacred Institutions were delivered to the Church; and that for the same authority, they are to be received and acknowledged by all men, with religious subjection to it by their souls and consciences. The reason for this consequence is because, however supplication used to be made in some party’s name, without respect to his authority and power, and with respect only to the grace of God to whom we make our supplication — yet when an Institution is published as a Law, and proclaimed in the name of this or that party, the authority and power of him in whose name this was done, is always declared. And it is used as a sanction or means to make the Institution inviolable.88
Reason 3. Because a truly divine operation, and an omnipotency, is here attributed to these three. And this is true while they are set out and acknowledged as the authors of all those spiritual good things which are imparted to the faithful, and which are signified and sealed in Baptism. For it would have been in vain to mention their name and authority in that solemn promise, unless they had the power and faculties to perform and perfect the things promised.
Reason 4. Because in this place we are taught to invocate the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit so that by their grace and power Baptism may have its due effect. This is done in almost the same way as in the Apostle’s salutation: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.89 And the reason for the variation or small difference that exists between these forms seems to be this: that in Baptism, where authority and power are regarded, first place is given to the Father; but in the salutation mentioned, where regard is given to receiving consolation, which no one attains unless he first comes to Christ and lays hold of his grace, so that he may be reconciled to the Father by him, and made a partaker of the Holy Spirit — there the grace of Christ is mentioned in the first place, and then afterwards the love of God the Father. The strength of this whole argument hangs on this, that the invocation of, or praying to, and worship of God, belong to God alone.
Reason 5. Divine honour and glory are not only given here to the Father, but also to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, in as much as all those who are baptised in these names are directly consecrated to these three — that they may always live to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And hence these are Apostolic phrases in which the faithful are said not only to live merely to God, but also to live to Christ the Son, and to the Spirit of God. This reason is confirmed from this, that it is not lawful to wholly consecrate oneself to any other but God. And this is also the Tenor of the New Covenant, that God be acknowledged for our good, and that we be forever his people. From this also hangs the direction of our whole life, that we may always have this proposed to ourselves: to be serviceable to his glory in all things to which we were consecrated from the beginning.
Use. Of Instruction: that we may always keep this rule of Christian Faith safe, pure, and unviolated, against all the gates of hell, as the chief principle and foundation of salvation, on which depend both our Baptism, and all things that are signified and sealed in our Baptism.
Doctrine 2. The divine essence and all its essential attributes, and all divine external works, equally agree to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is gathered from the Text.
Reason 1. Because the same name, the same honour, the same power and glory, is attributed to the three.
Reason 2. Our Faith is here in like manner directed towards all, as the same in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Reason 3. All things that belong to the divine essence are such that they can neither be multiplied, nor divided, nor permitted to have a variety of degrees, for their immensity and perfection. Therefore, if they at all agree to the Son and Holy Spirit, as they apparently do from what has been said, then it must be that they agree identically; that is, in the greatest equality they are one and the same.
Use. Of Direction: That in exercises of our Faith, Hope, Charity, and in all parts and appurtenances of religious worship, and the practice of godliness, we lift up our minds as much as can be, not only to the name of God in common, but distinctly to the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — to be honoured and celebrated equally in all our addresses.
Doctrine 3. Between these three persons there is a certain distinction as to the form and manner, or order of subsisting.
This is gathered from the Text, because they are disposed or set in a copulative enunciation.90 For if there were no distinction between them, then that copulative would be irrelevant. It would have no more ground for using it than if one were to say, in the name of the righteous God, and the merciful God, and the omnipotent God, etc. These are not to be taken in the propriety and rigor of conjunction, but exegetically. They differ then from the essence, as essential or substantial concretes do from their abstracts.91 They differ from themselves as relatives,92 and are unlike in some ways. This unlikeness or dissimilitude is in certain of their individuated and characteristic properties, which are not inherent qualities, but relative affections or properties.
As to the point of order, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third — not in order of time, or of nature properly speaking, but in order of origination. This is why such works, in which the beginnings of things are most apparent, are attributed to the Father by appropriation, such as the Creation. But those things in which the second and successive dispensations or procurements are most conspicuous, are attributed to the Son, such as redemption. And those in which the perfection and last consummation are manifest, are attributed the Holy Spirit, such as our sanctification and glorification.
Use. Of Direction: That in receiving those blessings which are bestowed on us by God, and in performing the duty of Religion and Obedience, we regard and observe this distinction as much as may be to the glory of God, and our own consolation. For this is in every way a divine meditation whereby the heart of the faithful are singularly affected and lifted up — if they well ponder that in the descent or coming down on us of God’s benefits, of which we are made partakers, the beginning is taken from the Father, the progress is by the Son, and the accomplishment is through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, in the ascent or sending up of our duties to God, which we owe him, the beginning is taken from or through the Holy Spirit; the progress is made by the Son; and termination or resting is made by the Father. For thus, through the Holy Spirit, through his teaching and assisting or helping us, we begin to pray. That is, we conceive and make our prayers here; and our prayers that are so conceived or made, ascend and enter into Heaven by Jesus Christ; and lastly, they are ultimately heard and accepted by the Father.