God, the Father, almighty
Some have thought that these words are to be coupled to the former without distinction, as if the title of God had been proper to the first Person the Father, and not common to the rest. And thus have some heretics thought. But indeed there must a pause or distinction be made, that the name or title of God may be set in the forefront, as common to all the three Persons following. For that is the very intent of the order of this Creed, to teach us to believe in one God; who is distinct in three subsistences or Persons, called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And here offers itself to be considered, even one of the greatest mysteries of our religion; namely, that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. And again, that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are one and the same God. Some at the first may possibly say that this cannot stand, because it is against all reason that one should be three or three one. The answer is that indeed if one and the same respect be kept, it is not possible, but in divers considerations and respects it may. And thus the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three, namely in Person; and again, they three are one, not in Person, but in nature. By nature is meant a thing subsisting by itself, that is common to many; as the substance of man consisting of body and soul common to all men, which we call the humanity of a man, is the nature of man. By person, is meant a thing or essence subsisting by itself, not common to many, but incommunicable; as among men, these particulars: Peter, John, Paul, are called persons. And so in the mystery of the Trinity, the divine nature is the Godhead itself, simply and absolutely considered; and a Person is that which subsisteth in that Godhead, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Or again, a Person is one and the same Godhead, not absolutely considered, but in relation, and as it were restrained by personal or characteristical properties; as the Godhead or God begetting is the Father; God, again considered not simple but so far forth as he is begotten, is the Son; and God proceeding of the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost. And if any man would conceive in mind rightly the divine nature, he must conceive God or the Godhead absolutely; if any of the Persons, then he must conceive the same Godhead relatively with personal properties. Thus the Godhead considered with the propriety of Fatherhood or begetting, is the Father. And concerning the same Godhead with the propriety of generation, we conceive the Son. And the Godhead with the propriety of proceeding, we conceive the Holy Ghost. Neither must it seem strange to any that we use the names of nature and person, to set forth this mystery by; for they have been taken up by common consent in the primitive church, and that upon weighty consideration, to manifest the truth, and to stop the mouths of heretics; and they are not so used against the proper sense of the Scriptures, nay they are therein contained (Heb. 2:3). Thus we see how it comes to pass that the three things signified by these names, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are each of them one and the same God. And this mystery may well be conceived by a comparison borrowed from light. The light of the sun, the light of the moon, and the light of the air, for nature and substance are one and the same light; and yet they are three distinct lights. The light of the sun being of itself and from none, the light of the moon from the sun, and the light of the air from them both. So the divine nature is one and the Persons are three, subsisting after a divers manner in one and the same nature.
And for the further clearing of this point, we must yet further mark and remember two things; namely, the union and the distinction of the Persons.
1. The union is, whereby three Persons are not one simply, but one in nature, that is, coessential, or consubstantial; having all one Godhead. For the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. Now, there are not three distinct gods, but one God, because there is one God and no more in nature, considering that the thing which is infinite is but one, and is not subject to multiplication. And the Father is this one God, as also the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And as these three Persons are in nature, so whatsoever agrees to God simply considered, agrees to them all three. They are all coequal and coeternal; all most wise, just, merciful, omnipotent, by one and the same wisdom, justice, mercy, power. And because they have all one Godhead, therefore they are not only one with another, but also each in other, the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and the Holy Ghost in them both. And we must not imagine that these three are one God, as though the Father had one part of the Godhead, the Son another part, and the Holy Ghost a third. For that is most false, because the infinite and the most simple Godhead is not subject to composition or division; but every Person is whole God, subsisting not in a part, but in the whole Godhead. And the whole entire Godhead is communicated from the Father to the Son, and from both Father and Son to the Holy Ghost.
But some may yet say that this doctrine seems to be impossible; because three creatures, as for example, Peter, Paul, Timothy, be three persons, and so remaining, cannot have one and the same nature, that is, the same body and the same soul. Answer: Three or more men may have the same nature in kind, but the truth is, they cannot possibly have a nature which shall be one and the same in number, in them all three. For a man is a substance created and finite, and the bodies of men are quantities, and therefore divisible and separable one from another. Hereupon it comes that the persons of men are not only distinguished by propriety, but also divided and sundered one from another. And though Peter, Paul and Timothy have all one common and universal form, yet they three are not one man, but three men. Now it is otherwise with the divine nature or Godhead, which is uncreated and infinite, and therefore admits neither composition nor division, but a distinction without any separation; so as the three Persons subsisting in it, shall not be three gods, but one and the same God.
Yet further, some will object that it is truly said of the Father that he is God, but the same Godhead is not in the Son, nor in the Holy Ghost; for the Son and the Holy Ghost have their beginning from the Father. Answer: The Son and the Holy Ghost have not a beginning of their nature or of their Godhead from the Father, but of their Person only, the Person of the Son is from the Father, and the person of the Holy Ghost is both from the Father and from the Son; but the Godhead of all three Persons is uncreated and unbegotten and proceeding from none.
Yet some may say, both the Son and the Holy Ghost have received from the Father all their attributes, as wisdom, knowledge, power etc. Now he that receiveth anything from another, is in that respect inferior to him that giveth it; and therefore the Son and the Holy Ghost are not God as He is. Answer: We must know that that which the Son receiveth of the Father, He receiveth it by nature, and not by grace. And He receiveth not a part, but all that the Father hath, saving the personal propriety. And the Holy Ghost receiveth from the Father and the Son by nature, and not by grace. And therefore though both the Son and the Holy Ghost receive from the Father, yet they are not inferior to Him, but equal with Him.
And thus much is both necessary and profitable to be learned of the union between the three Persons in Trinity, whereby they being three have all one and the same Godhead.
2. The second point to be considered is that though these three have but one Godhead, and all make but one God, yet they are distinguished one from another; for the Father is the Father and not the Son or the Holy Ghost; the Son is the Son, and not the Father nor the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost, not the Father nor the Son. This distinction of the Persons is notably set forth unto us in the baptism of our Saviour Christ; where it is said that when Jesus was baptised, He came out of the water (Matt. 3:16,17). There is the second Person; and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in the form of a dove; there is the third Person. And the Father the first Person pronounced from heaven that He was His only beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. And we must not conceive this distinction in such manner as though these three, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, were three names of one God; for the three Persons do not in name or word, but really in truth, distinctly subsist in the same divine nature. Neither must we imagine that the three Persons are three forms or differences of one God, as some heretics have dreamed, who taught that the Father alone is God, and that He is called a Father in one respect, the Son in another and the Holy Ghost in a third. For this were nothing else but to make the personal proprieties to be nothing but imaginary accidents, which indeed, or at the least in manŐs conceit, might come and go, and be either in the Persons or forth of them. For the personal relations, though in mind they may be distinguished from the divine essence, yet indeed they are one with it. But some will say, if they make this distinction, there is rather a quaternity than a Trinity, for the Godhead is one, the Father another, the Son a third, and the Holy Ghost a fourth. Thus some heretics have objected against the distinction of the Trinity; but it is untrue which they say. For the Godhead must not be severed from the Father, nor from the Son, nor from the Holy Ghost; for the Father is God or the whole Godhead, so also is the Son and the Holy Ghost. And the Godhead likewise is in every one of these three Persons, and every one of them subsisting in the Godhead, the same must be conceived to be in them all, and not as a fourth thing out of them. And therefore we must still maintain that these three Persons are distinguished and not divided, as three men are divided in being and substance; for this division cannot be in them, because all three have one divine nature and one Godhead. This is the mystery of all mysteries to be received of us all, namely, the Trinity of the Persons in the unity of the Godhead. This form of doctrine must be retained and holden for these causes:
(1) Because by it we are able to distinguish this true God from all false gods and idols.
(2) Because among all other points of religion, this is one of the chiefest, being the very foundation thereof. For it is not sufficient for us to know God as we can conceive of Him in our own imagination; but we must know Him as he hath revealed Himself in His Word. And it is not sufficient to salvation to believe in God confusedly, but we must believe in one God distinct in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Yea, and more than this, we must hold and believe that God the Father is our Father, the Son our redeemer, the Holy Ghost our sanctifier and comforter. Well then, if we must in this manner believe in God, then we must also know Him; for we can have no faith in the thing which is utterly unknown. Wherefore if we would believe in the Father, Son or Holy Ghost, we must know them in part. (John 17:3), This is life eternal, to know thee the only God, and whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ. (John 14:17), The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth, because it hath neither seen Him, nor known Him. (1 John 2:23), Whosoever denieth the Son, hath not the Father.
(3) Thirdly, this doctrine directs us in worshipping God aright; for unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. One God must be worshipped in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost; and if we worship God the Father without the Son and the Holy Ghost; or if we worship the Son without the Father and the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost without the Father and the Son; we worship nothing but an idol. Again, if we worship the three Persons not as one God, but as three Gods, then likewise we make three idols.
Note further that of all the three Persons, the first Person the Father is set in the first place, and described to us by three things:
I. By His title, that He is a Father
II. By His attribute, that He is Almighty
III. By His effect, that He is maker of heaven and earth.
Of these in order.
And first of the title: Father.
It may seem that He hath some prerogative over the Son and the Holy Ghost, because He is set before them; but we must know that he is set before them neither in regard of time, nor of dignity, for therein all three are equal; but in regard of order only. The Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Ghost the third; as may appear by this similitude. If three emperors equal in dignity should meet all in one place, being equal also in power and majesty, if all three should sit down, though one be no better than another, yet one of them must needs sit down the first, and another in the second place, and then the third. But yet we cannot say that he which sat down first is the chiefest. And so it is in the Trinity. Though none be greater or above another; yet the Father is in the first place, not because He is before the Son or the Holy Ghost in dignity and honour, but because he is the fountain of the deity, the Son being from Him, and the Holy Ghost from them both.
Now let us come to the title of the first Person. The name Father in Scripture, is ascribed either to God taken indefinitely, and so by consequent to all the three Persons in Trinity; or particularly to the first Person alone. For the first, God is a Father properly and principally, according to the saying of Christ, Call no man father upon earth, for there is but one your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 23:9); that is, principally; whereas earthly parents, whom we are commanded to worship and honour, are but certain images or resemblances of our heavenly Father, having this blessing: that they are fathers from Him. And hereupon, this title agrees to men, not simply, but so far forth as God honoureth them with fatherhood in calling them to be fathers, whereas God Himself receives this honour from none. God is termed a Father in respect both of nature and grace. He is Father in regard of nature, because He created and governeth all things. In this regard He is called the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9); and Adam is called the son of God (Luke 3:38). He is a Father in respect of grace because we are regenerate by Him, accepted to be His sons by adoption through the merits of Christ. And in this respect, the second Person as well as the first is called a Father (Isa. 9:6), and said to have an offspring (Isa. 53:10) or seed, and children (Isa. 8:18). But when the name of Father is given to the first Person, it is done upon a special consideration, because He is a Father by nature to the second Person, begetting Him of His own substance before all worlds. By this it appears that out of the title of the first Person, we may fetch a description thereof on this manner. The Father is the first Person in Trinity, begetting the Son. Now to beget, is the personal property whereby He is distinguished from the other two. If it be said that creatures do beget, and that therefore to beget is not proper to the Father; the answer is that in this point there are many differences between God the Father and all creatures. First, the Father begets the Son before all eternity; and therefore God the Father begetting, and the Son begotten are equal in time; whereas in earthly generation, the father is before the son in time. Secondly, God the Father begets His Son by communicating to Him His whole essence or Godhead, which cannot be in earthly parents, unless they should be abolished and come to nothing. Whereas, nevertheless, God the Father giving His whole nature to His Son, retains the same still, because it is infinite. Thirdly, the Father begets the Son in Himself, and not forth of Himself; but in earthly generation, the father begetting is forth of the child, and the child forth of the father. And that must not trouble us which heretics allege against this doctrine, namely, that if the Father who is of one nature with the Son, did beget the Son, then he did beget Himself; for the Godhead of the Father doth not beget either the Godhead or the Person of the Son; but the Person of the Father begets the Person of the Son, both which in one Godhead are really distinct.
Thus we see what the Father is. Now to believe in the Father, is to be persuaded that the first Person in Trinity is the Father of Christ, and in Him my Father particularly, and that for this cause, I intend and desire for ever to put my trust in Him.
The duties which we may learn hence are manifold.
1. And here we have occasion offered, first of all to consider who is our father by nature. I shall say to corruption (saith Job) thou art my father; and to the worm, thou art my mother (Job 17:14). Seeing God vouchsafeth this great prerogative to them that love Him, that He will be their Father, therefore Job in consideration hereof, would have every man to have recourse to his own natural condition, to see who is his father by nature. Job saith, corruption is his father; but if we mark well the condition of our nature, we shall further see every man to be the child of wrath, and that Satan is his father; for so long as a man walks in his sins (which every man doth by nature), so long doth he shew himself to be the lively child of the devil. And thus Christ reasoneth against the Scribes and Pharisees. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do (John 8:44). And true it is that no child is so like his father that begat him, as every man by nature is like the devil; and the whole tenor and course of his natural life without grace, is a lively resemblance of the disposition of Satan.
2. Secondly, everyone that believes God to be a Father, and in Christ his Father, must as a good child be obedient to his FatherŐs will. So Solomon saith (Prov. 10:1), A wise son maketh a glad father. How? By doing His will. And therefore when one told our Saviour Christ that His mother and brethren stood without desiring to speak with Him, He said, Whosoever shall do my FatherŐs will which is in heaven, the same is my brother, my sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50); wherein we may note that he that will have God the Father to be his Father, and Christ Jesus his brother, must do the will of God the Father. And hence God saith (Mal. 1:6), If I be a master, where is my fear? If I be a Father, where is my honour? Where it is plainly taught this second duty: that if God be our Father, then as good children we must shew obedience unto Him; but if we disobey Him, then we must know that that former saying of Christ will be verified upon us, that because men do the lusts of the devil, therefore they are the children of the devil. But lest this fearful sentence be verified of us, it is the duty of every man that maketh this confession, that he believes God to be his Father, first, to labout to know GodŐs will; and secondly, to perform continual obedience unto the same; like unto a good child that would fain please his father, and therefore is always ready to do the best he can. And without doubt, that man which unfeignedly takes God for his Father, is then most grieved when as by any sin he displeaseth Him, and no other cross or calamity is so grievous unto him. The greatest grief that the prodigal son upon his repentance had, was that he had offended his father, by sinning against heaven and against him. The same also must be our grief; and all our care must be set on this: to consider how we may be obedient children to this our loving Father.
3. Thirdly, that man that believes God to be his Father, must imitate and follow Him; for it is the will of God that His children should be like unto Himself. Now we follow God specially in two things:
(1) In doing good to them that persecute us. So saith our Saviour Christ (Matt. 5:45), Pray for them that hurt you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.
(2) Our heavenly Father is merciful; for He is the father of the fatherless, and therefore he that will be a son of this Father, must be merciful to his poor brethren. As Job saith of himself (Job 29:15,16), I was eyes to the blind, and I was the feet unto the lame, I was a father to the poor.
4. Fourthly, seeing we believe God to be our Father, we are hereby taught to use moderate care for the things of this life; for if a man know himself to be the child of God, then he also knows that God will provide for him, as we know in a family the father provideth for all. Now God is a Father and His church is this family; therefore if thou wilt be a member of GodŐs church, and a child of God, thou must cast thy care on God, and follow the counsel of Christ (Matt. 6:25,26), Be not too careful for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. And mark His reason drawn from the point which we have in hand: The fowls of the heaven (saith He) they neither sow nor reap, nor carry into barns; and yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? But alas, the practice of the world is contrary; for men have no care for the knowledge of GodŐs Word, nor the means of their salvation. All their minds are set on the things of this life, when as Christ saith (Matt. 6:33), First seek the kingdom of heaven, and the righteousness thereof, and all these things shall be ministered unto you. If you should see a young man provide for himself, and no man else for him, we should presently say, surely his father is dead. Even so, when a manŐs care is set wholly both day and night for the things of this life, it argues that God hath either cast him off, or else that he takes Him for no father of his.
5. Fifthly, if God be our Father, then we must learn to bear any cross patiently that He shall lay upon us, either in body or in mind, and always look for deliverance from Him; for whom the Lord loveth, them He chastiseth; and if ye endure chastening (saith the apostle), God offereth Himself unto you as unto children (Heb. 12:7); which may appear more plainly by this comparison: If two children should fight, and a man coming by should part them, and after beat the one, and let the other go free; every man that seeth this will say that that child which he beats is his own son. Even so, when God chastiseth us, He sheweth Himself unto us as a Father, if we submit ourselves. (Heb. 12:9), Now if our earthly fathers corrected us, and we gave them reverence, taking it patiently, should we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, that we may live? Therefore the conclusion is this: If we displease God, be ye sure He will correct us; and when His hand is upon us, we must not murmur against Him, but bear it with a mild spirit. And furthermore, when we are under the cross, we must always look for deliverance from this Father only. If a son when he is beaten should fly to his fatherŐs enemies for help and counsel; it would argue that he were but a graceless child. Sundry and diverse calamities and crosses befall men in this life; which they cannot brook, and therefore it is a common practice of many among us in these days, when GodŐs hand is upon them, to go for help to the devil. They seek counsel at witches and wise men (as I have said) but let them look unto it, for that is the right way to double their misery, and to shew themselves lewd children.
6. Lastly, if we confess and believe God to be the Father of Christ, and in Him our Father also; then in regard of our conversation, we must not frame ourselves like unto the world; but the course of our lives must be in righteousness and true holiness. Paul exhorteth the Corinthians to separate themselves from idolaters, alleging the place out of the Old Testament where the Lord biddeth the Israelites to come out from idolaters, and to touch no unclean thing (2 Cor. 6:17; Isa. 52:11). And the reason followeth out of Jeremiah, that if they do so (Jer. 31:1; 2 Cor. 6:18), then God will be their Father, and they shall be His children, even His sons and daughters; which reason Paul urgeth in the next chapter to this effect (2 Cor. 7:1): Considering we have these promises, that therefore we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and grow up unto holiness in the fear of the Lord. Where, if we mark the place diligently, we shall find this lesson: that every man who takes God for his Father, must not only in this sin of idolatry, but in all other sins, separate himself that men by his godly life may know whose child he is. But some will say, this exhortation is needless amongst us, for we have no cause to separate ourselves from others, because all amongst us are Christians, all believe in God, and are baptised, and hope to be saved by Christ. Answer: In outward profession, I confess we carry the shew of Christians, but in deed and truth, by our lives and conversations, many among us deny Christ; for in every place the common practice is to spend the time in drunkenness and surfeiting, in chambering and wantonness. Yea, great is the company of those that make a trade of it. Take this lewd conversation from many men, and take away their lives. And on the LordŐs day, it may be seen both publicly and privately, in houses and in the open streets, there is such revel, as though there were no God to fear. In the six days of the week, many men walk very painfully in their calling; but when the LordŐs day cometh, then every man takes licence to do what he will. And because of the princeŐs laws, men will come formally to the church for fashionŐs sake; but in the meantime, how many do nothing else but scorn, mock and deride, and as much as in them lieth, disgrace both the Word and the ministers thereof; so that the common saying is this: Oh, he is a precise fellow, he goes to hear sermons, he is too holy for our company. But it stands men in hand to take out a better lesson; which is, if we will have God to be our Father, we must shew ourselves to be the children of God by repentance and newness of life. He cannot be but a graceless child that will lead a rebellious life flat against his fatherŐs mind. Let us then so behave ourselves, that we may honour our Father which is in heaven, and not dishonour Him in our lives and callings. Rather let us separate ourselves from the filthiness of the flesh, loathing those things which our Father loatheth, and flying from those things which our Father abhorreth.
And thus much for the duties. Now follow the consolations which arise from this point.
But first we are to know that there are three sorts of men in the world. The first are such as will neither hear nor obey the Word of God. The second sort are those which hear the Word preached unto them, but they will not obey. Both of these sorts of men are not to look for any comfort thence. Now there is a third sort of men which, as they hear GodŐs Word, so they make conscience of obeying the same in their lives and callings. And these are they to whom the consolations that arise out of this place do rightly belong, and must be applied.
1. First therefore, seeing God the Father of Christ, and in Him the Father of all that obey and do His will, is our Father; here note the dignity and prerogative of all true believers; for they are sons and daughters of God, as saith St John (John 1:12), So many as received Him, to them He gave a prerogative to be the sons of God; even to them that believe in His name. This privilege will appear the greater, if we consider our first estate; for as Abraham saith (Gen. 18:27), We are but dust and ashes; and in regard of the depravity of our natures, we are the children of the devil. Therefore of such rebels to be made the sons of God, it is a wonderful privilege and prerogative, and no dignity like unto it. And to enlarge it further, he that is the son of God is the brother of Christ, and fellow-heir with Him; and so heir apparent to the kingdom of heaven, and in this respect is not inferior to the very angels. This must be laid up carefully in the hearts of GodŐs people, to confirm them in their conversation among the ungodly men in this world.
2. Secondly, if a man do endeavour himself to walk according to GodŐs Word, then the Lord of His mercy will bear with his wants; for as a father spareth his own son, so will God spare them that fear Him. Now a father commands his child to write, or to apply his book; though all things herein be not done according to his mind, yet if he find a readiness with a good endeavour, he is content, and falls to praise his childŐs writing or learning. So God giveth His commandment, and though His servants fail in obedience; yet if the Lord see their hearty endeavour, and their unfeigned willingness to obey His will, though with sundry wants, he hath made this promise, and will perform it: that as a father spareth his son, so will He spare them. If a child be sick, will the father cast him off? Nay, if through the grievousness of his sickness he cannot take the meat that is given him, or if he take it and for faintness pick it up again, will the father thrust him out of doors? No, but He will rather pity him. And so when a man doth endeavour himself through the whole course of his life to keep GodŐs commandments, God will not cast him away, though through weakness he will fail in sundry things and displease God. This prerogative can none have, but he that is the child of God. As for others, when they sin, they do nothing else but draw down GodŐs judgments upon them, for their deeper condemnation.
3. Thirdly, hence we learn that the child of God cannot wholly fall away from GodŐs favour. I do not say that he cannot fall at all; for he may fall away in part, but he cannot wholly. Indeed so oft as he sins, he deprives himself wholly of GodŐs favour as much as in him lieth. Yet God for His part still keepeth the mind and purpose of a Father. David loved his son Absalom wonderfully, but Absalom like a wicked son, played a lewd prank, and would have thrust his father out of his kingdom. And David, although he was sore offended with Absalom and shewed tokens of his wrath, yet in heart he loved him, and never purposed to cast him off. Hereupon when he went against him, he commanded the captains to entreat the young man Absalom gently for his sake (2 Sam. 18:5). And when he was hanged by the hair of the head in pursuing of his father, then David wept and cried, O my son Absalom, my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee, Absalom my son (2 Sam. 18:33). And so it is with God our heavenly Father, when His children sin against Him, and thereby lose His love and favour, and fall from grace, He forsakes them. But how far? Surely He shews signs of anger for their wickedness, and yet indeed His love remains towards them still; and this is a true conclusion. The grace of God in the adoption of the elect is unchangeable, and he that is the child of God, can never fall away wholly or finally. On the contrary, that is a bad and comfortless opinion of the church of Rome, which holdeth that a man may be justified before God, and yet afterward by a mortal sin, finally fall from grace and be condemned.
4. Fourthly, the child of God that takes God the Father for his Father, may freely come into the presence of God, and have liberty to pray unto Him. We know it is a great privilege to come into the chamber of presence before an earthly prince; and few can always have this prerogative, though they be great men. Yet the kingŐs own son may have free entrance, and speak freely unto the king himself, because he is his son. Now the children of God have more prerogative than this; for they may come into the presence, not of an earthly king, but of almighty God the King of kings. And as they are the sons of God in Christ, so in Him they may freely speak unto God their Father by prayer. And this overthrows the doctrine of such as be of the church of Rome, which teach and hold that a man must come to speak to God by prayer through the intercession of saints; for, say they, the presence of God is so glorious that we may not be so bold, as of ourselves, to speak unto Him; but needs must have the intercession of others.
5. Lastly, God will provide for all His church and children all things needful both for their bodies and souls. So our Saviour Christ bids His disciples, take no thought what they should eat, or what they should drink, or wherewith they should be clothed, adding this reason: for your heavenly Father knoweth all your wants (Matt. 6:31,32). And if we take thought, it must be moderate and not distrustful. It is a part of the fatherŐs duty to provide for his family and children, and not the children for the father. Now shall an earthly father have this care for his children; and shall not our heavenly Father much more provide for those that fear and love Him? Nay, mark further, in GodŐs church there be many hypocrites which receive infinite benefits from God, by reason of His elect children with whom they live. And we shall see this to be true, that the wicked man hath ever fared better for the godly manŐs cause. Sodom and Gomorrah received many benefits by reason of righteous Lot; and when the Lord was purposed to destroy Sodom, He was fain to pull Lot forth of the city; for the text saith, the angel of the Lord could not do anything, till he was come out of it (Gen. 19:22). So also in PaulŐs dangerous voyage towards Rome, all the men in it fared better for PaulŐs company; for the Lord told Paul by an angel that there should be no loss of any manŐs life, for the Lord had given to him all that sailed with him (Acts 27:24). And undoubtedly, if it were not for some few that fear God, He would pour down His vengeance upon many nations and kingdoms, there is such excess of wickedness in all sorts. Again, if the Lord do thus carefully provide for His children all kinds of benefits; what a wonderful wickedness is this, for men to get their living by ungodly means; as usury, carding, dicing and such like exercises? If a man were persuaded that God were his Father, and would provide sufficiently both for his body and soul; so that using lawful means he should ever have enough; out of all doubt he would never after the fashion of the world use unlawful and profane means to get a living. But this reproveth that howsoever much men say God is their Father, yet indeed they deny Him.
And thus much of this title Father, the first thing whereby the first person is described.
Now followeth the second point, namely, His attribute of omnipotency, in the word Almighty.
And whereas the Father is said to be almighty, it is not so to be understood as though the Son were not almighty, or the Holy Ghost not almighty; for every property or attribute (save the personal properties) is common to all the three Persons. For as God the Father doth impart His Godhead unto the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, so doth He communicate the properties of the Godhead to them also.
God is omnipotent two ways: (1) Because He is able to do whatsoever He will. (2) Because He is able to do whatsoever he will do. For the first, that God is able to do whatsoever He will, David saith (Psa. 115:3), Our God is in heaven, and he doth whatsoever He will. For there is nothing that can hinder God; but as He willeth, so everything is done. Secondly, that God can do more than He willeth to be done, it is plain where John Baptist saith (Matt. 3:9), God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. For though God can do thus much, yet He will not do it. So likewise, when Christ was betrayed, the Father could have given Him more than twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53) to have delivered Him out of their hands, but yet He would not. And the like may be said of many other things. The Father is and was able to have created another world, yea a thousand worlds, but He would not, nor will not. And likewise, Christ being upon the cross, was able at their bidding to have come down and saved Himself from death, but He would not. And therefore this is true: The Lord can do anything that He willeth to be done actually, yea, and more than He will. But some will say, God cannot do some things which man can do, as God cannot lie, nor deny Himself; and therefore He is not omnipotent. Answer: Although some have thought that God could do even these things, and He did them not because He would not; yet we must know and believe that God can neither lie, nor deny Himself. Indeed, man can do both, but these and many other such things if God could do them, He could not be God. God indeed can do all things which shew forth His glory and majesty; but such things as are against His nature He cannot do. As for example, God cannot sin, and therefore cannot lie. And because He cannot do these things, for this very cause He is omnipotent; for these things and such like are works of impotency; which if God could do, He should even by His own Word be judged impotent. Secondly, He cannot do that which implies contradiction; as when a thing is, to make it at the same time to be, and not to be. As when the sun doth shine, to make it at the same instant to shine and not to shine. And therefore false is the doctrine of that church which in their transubstantiation make the body of Christ (whose essential property is to be only in one place at once), to be circumscribed, and not to be circumscribed; to be in one place, and not to be in one place.
And thus much for the meaning. Now follow the duties whereunto we are moved by this doctrine of GodŐs omnipotence.
1. First, whereas God the Father is said to be almighty, we are taught true humiliation. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, saith Peter (1 Pet. 5:6); where he giveth an exhortation to humility, and allegeth the cause: because God is almighty. To make this more plain: Every one of us was born in sin, and by nature we are most wretched in ourselves. Now what an one is God? Surely He is able to do whatsoever He will, yea, and more than He will, and is able to destroy such as rebel against Him every moment. Therefore our duty is to cast down ourselves for our sins in His presence. This true humiliation was that which our Saviour Christ would have brought the young man in the gospel unto, when He bad him go sell all that he had and give to the poor. Therefore, whosoever thou art, take heed thou must; for if thou run on in thy wickedness, and still rebel against God, it is a thousand to one at length He will destroy thee; for He is an almighty God, and able to do whatsoever He will. His hand is mighty, it boots not a man to strive with Him; for He was never yet overmastered; and for this cause we must needs cast down ourselves under His hand. It is a fearful thing (saith the Holy Ghost) to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). Therefore if we would escape His heavy and terrible displeasure, the best way for us is to abase ourselves, and be ashamed to follow our sins. Christ biddeth us not to fear him that is able to kill the body, and can go no further; but we must fear Him that is able to cast both body and soul into hell fire (Matt. 10:28). Example of this we have in David, who, when he was persecuted by his own son Absalom, he said unto the Lord, If He thus say, I have no delight in thee, behold here I am, let Him do to me as seemeth good in His eyes (2 Sam. 15:26). But some will say, I will live a little longer in my sins, in lying, pride, Sabbath-breaking, in swearing, dicing, gaming and wantonness; for God is merciful, and in my old age I will repent. Answer: Well, soothe not thyself, but mark; usually when God holds back His hand for a season, He doth as it were fetch a more mighty blow, for the greater confusion of a rebellious sinner. Therefore humble, submit, and cast down thyself before God, and do not strive against Him. His hand is mighty and will overthrow thee. Though thou hadst all learning, wisdom, might, riches etc., yet (as Christ said to the young man) one thing is wanting, that thou shouldest be humbled; and until thou be humbled, nothing is to be looked for but GodŐs judgments for sin.
2. Secondly, seeing God is almighty, we must tremble and fear at all His judgments, we must stand in awe, quake and quiver at them, as the poor child doth when he seeth his father come with the rod. Example of this we have often in GodŐs Word; as when the sons of Aaron offered strange fire before the Lord (Lev. 10:1-3), He sent fire from heaven, and burned them up. And though Aaron was very sorry for his sons, yet when Moses told him that the Lord would be glorified in all that came near Him, then the text saith, Aaron held his peace. So also we read that the apostles reproved Peter for preaching unto the Gentiles (Acts 11:18); but when Peter had expounded the things in order which he had seen, then they held their peace and glorified God. As also David saith (Psa. 39:9), I held my tongue, O Lord; because thou didst it. Isaiah saith (Isa. 30:15), In hope and silence is true fortitude. If a man be in trouble he must hope for deliverance, and be quiet and patient at GodŐs judgments. But the practice of the world is flat contrary; for men are so far from trembling at them, that they use to pray to God that plagues, curses and vengeance may light upon them, and upon their servants and children. Now the Lord being a mighty God often doth answerably bring His judgments upon them. Again, many carried away with impatience, with themselves hanged or drowned, which evils they think shall never befall them; yet at the length God doth in His justice bring such punishments upon them according as they wished. And (which is more) in all ages there have been some which have scorned and mocked at GodŐs judgments. Hereof we had not far hence a most fearful example. One being with his companion in a house drinking on the LordŐs day, when he was ready to depart thence, there was great lightning and thunder; whereupon his fellow requested him to stay, but the man, mocking and jesting at the thunder and lightning, said (as report was), It was nothing but a knave cooper knocking on his tubs; come what would, he would go; and so went on his journey. But before he came half a mile from the house, the same hand of the Lord, which before he had mocked, in a crack of thunder, struck him about the girdlestead, that he fell down stark dead. Which example is worthy of our remembrance, to put us in mind of GodŐs heavy wrath against those which scorn His judgments. For our duty is to tremble and fear; and it were greatly to be wished that we could with open eye behold the terribleness and fearfulness of GodŐs judgments; it would make a man to quake and to leave off sin. If a man pass by some high and dangerous place in the night, when he cannot see, he is not afraid; but if ye bring him back again in the day, and let him see what a steep and dangerous way he came, he will not be persuaded to pass the same way again for anything. So it is in sinning; for men living in ignorance and blindness, practise any wickedness, and do not care for GodŐs judgments; but when God of His goodness bringeth them back, and openeth their eyes to see the downfall to the pit of hell, and the judgments of God due to their sins; then (they say) they will never sin as they have done, but become new men, and walk in the way to eternal life.
3. Thirdly, we are taught by the apostle Paul, that if we be to do any duty to our brethren, as to relieve them, we must do it with cheerfulness; for he laboureth to persuade the Corinthians to cheerful liberality, and the reason of his persuasion is because God is able to make all grace to abound towards them (2 Cor. 9:7,8). Where also this duty is taught us, that seeing God is omnipotent, and therefore able to make us abound, therefore we must give cheerfully to our poor brethren which want.
4. Fourthly, whereas there are many in every place which have lived long in their sins, even from their cradle; some in wantonness, some in drunkenness, some in swearing, some in idleness, and such like; out of this place to all such there is a good lesson, namely, that every one of them do now become new men and repent of all their sins, for all their life past. For mark what Paul saith of the Jews which are cut off from Christ through unbelief, and have continued in hardness of heart and desperate malice against Him almost 1600 years (Rom. 11:23), If (saith he) they abide not still in unbelief, they may be grafted in their olive again. And his reason is this: because God is able to graft them in again. Even so, though we have lived many years in sin (and sure it is a dangerous and fearful case for a man to live twenty, thirty or forty years under the power of the devil), yet we must know that if we will now live a new life, forsake all our sins and turn to God, we may be received to grace, and be made a branch of the true olive, though we have borne the fruits of the wild olive all our life long. But some will object that they have no hope of GodŐs favour because they have been so grievous sinners, and continued in them so long. Answer: But know it, whosoever thou art, God is able to graft thee in; and if thou repent, He will receive thee to His love and favour. This must be observed of all, but especially such as are old in years and remain ignorant without knowledge; they must turn to the Lord by repentance; otherwise, if they continue still profane and impenitent, they must know this: that their damnation comes post-haste to meet them, and they to it.
And thus much for the duties. Now follow the consolations which GodŐs church reap from this, that God the Father is omnipotent.
1. First, the wonderful power of God serveth to strengthen us in prayer unto God; for he that will pray truly, must only pray for those things for which he hath warrant in GodŐs Word. All our prayers must be made in faith, and for a man to pray in faith, it is hard. Therefore a special means to strengthen us herein is the mighty power of God. This was the ground and stay of the leper, whom our Saviour Christ cleansed (Matt. 8:2). Lord (saith he), if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And in the LordŐs prayer, when our Saviour Christ hath taught us to make six petitions; in the end he giveth us a reason, or motive to induce us to stand upon and to wait for the benefits before craved, in these words (Matt. 6:13): Thine is the kingdom, thine is the power etc.
2. Secondly, hence we learn this comfort, that all the gates of hell shall never be able to prevail against the least member of Christ. I do not say, they shall never be able to assault or tempt them, for that may be; but they shall never overcome them. How (will some say) may we be resolved of this? I answer, By reason of faith; for if a Christian man do believe that God the Father and Christ His Son is almighty, no enemy shall ever be able to prevail against him. So St John reasoneth (1 John 4:4), Little children, ye are of God, and have overcome them, that is, all false teachers, because greater is He that is in you (Christ Jesus by His Holy Spirit, who is God, and therefore almighty) than he that is in the world, that is, the spirit of Satan; therefore you need not to fear. So David compareth himself to a silly sheep (Psa. 23:4), and saith: Though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that is, as it were in the mouth of the lion, yet I would fear none evil. Why so? Because the Lord is with him: Thy rod (saith he) and thy staff comfort me.
Thus much for the benefits.
Now whereas it is said the first person is a Father, and also Almighty, join these two together, and hence will arise singular benefits and instructions.
1. First, whereas we are taught to confess that the first Person is a Father Almighty, we, and every man, must learn to have experience in himself of the mighty power of this Almighty Father. Why, will some say, that is nothing, for the devil and all the damned souls feel the power of the Almighty. True indeed they feel the power of God, namely as He is an almighty judge condemning them; but they feel not the power of an Almighty Father. This is the point whereof we must endeavour to have experience in ourselves. Paul prayeth (Eph. 1:19,20), that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom, to see what is the exceeding greatness of His power in them which believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ. Which place must be considered; for here the apostle would have us have such a special manifestation of GodŐs power in ourselves, like to that which He did once shew forth in Christ.
But how did Christ see and find the power of God as He was man? Answer: Divers ways:
(1) On the cross He died the first death; which is the separation of body and soul; and He suffered the sorrows of the second death, for in His soul He bare the whole wrath of God, and all the pangs of hell, and after was buried and laid in the grave, where death triumphed over Him for the space of three days. Now in this extremity, God did shew His power in that He raised Christ from death to life. And look as His power was manifested in Christ the Head, so must it be manifested in all His members; for every man hath his grave, which is natural sin and corruption, which we draw from our first parents, and look as a man lies dead in the grave, and can move neither hand nor foot; so every man by nature lieth dead in sin. Now as God did shew His power in raising Christ from death; so everyone must labour to have this knowledge and experience in himself of the mighty power of God, in raising him from the grave of sin to newness of life. For thus Paul makes a special request, that he might know Christ, and the virtue of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10), that is, that he might feel in himself that power whereby Christ was raised from death to life, to raise him also from the bondage of his sins to a new life more and more.
(2) Furthermore, when Christ was upon the cross, and all the gates of hell were open against Him, then did he vanquish Satan, He bruised the serpentŐs head; and, as Paul saith (Col. 2:15), He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly, and hath triumphed over them on the cross. He overcame the devil and all his angels by the power of His Almighty Father, and by His own power as He is God. And even so must Christian men labour to find the same power in themselves of this Almighty Father by which Christ did triumph over Satan; that by it they may tread him under their feet, which men can never do by any power in themselves.
(3) Again, Christ prayeth that that cup might pass from Him; and yet he saith (Luke 22:42), Not my will, but thy will be fulfilled. For it was necessary that Christ should suffer. And this request was heard, not because He was freed from death, but because God His Father Almighty gave Him power and strength in His manhood to bear the brunt of His indignation. Now look as this power was effectual in Christ Jesus the Head, to make Him able and sufficient to bear the pangs of hell; so the same power of God is in some measure effectual in all the members of Christ, to make them both patient, and of sufficient strength to bear any affliction, as St Paul saith (Col. 1:11), Being strengthened with all might through His glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness. And this is a notable point which everyone ought to learn, that whereas they confess God to be their Almighty Father, they should here withal labour to feel and have experience in themselves that he is Almighty in the beginning and continuing of grace unto them, and in giving them power and patience to suffer afflictions.
(4) Further, Christ Jesus, when the work of our redemption was accomplished, was lifted up into heaven (Eph. 1:20-22), and set at the right hand of God, in heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers etc.; even by the power of His Father. Well, as this power was made manifest in the Head, so must it be in the members thereof. Every child of God shall hereafter see and feel in himself the same power to translate him from this vale of misery in this life, to the kingdom of heaven.
Wherefore, to conclude, we have great cause to be thankful and to praise God for this privilege: that He shews His power in His children in regenerating them, in making them die unto sin and to stand against the gates of hell, and to suffer afflictions patiently; as also that he translates them from death to life. And everyone should shew his thankfulness, in labouring to have experience of this power in himself, as Paul exhorteth us in his epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians. Yea, read all his epistles, and we shall find he mentioneth no point so often as this, namely, the mighty power of God, manifested first in Christ, and secondly in His members; and he accounts all things loss, that he might know Christ, and the virtue of His resurrection (Phil. 3:8,10).
This point is the rather to be marked because this power in the matter of grace is not to be seen with eye; and few there be in respect that have felt the virtue thereof in themselves; for the devil doth mightily shew his contrary power in the greatest part of the world, in carrying them to sin and wickedness.
2. Secondly, hence we learn that which Paul teacheth (Rom. 8:28), namely, to know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God. God is Almighty, and therefore able to do whatsoever He will. He is also a Father, and therefore is willing to do that which is for our good. But some will say, we are subject to many crosses, yea, to sin. What? Can our sins turn to our good? Answer: If God Almighty be thy Father, He will turn thine afflictions, yea thy sins which by nature are evil, beyond all expectation unto thy salvation. And thus much God will do to all such as be obedient unto Him. Yet no man must hereupon presume to sin.
3. Thirdly, whereas we believe that God is a mighty Father, it serves to confirm GodŐs children in the promises of mercy revealed in His Word. The chiefest whereof is that if men will turn from their sins, and believe in Christ, they shall not perish, but have life everlasting. I know some men will make it an easy thing to believe, especially those which never knew what faith meant. But such persons need no means of confirmation of faith. Therefore let all those which have tasted of the hardness of attaining unto it, learn how to establish their wavering hearts in the promise of God, by the consideration of these two points: God is a Father, and therefore He is willing; He is Almighty, and therefore He is able to perform His promise. He that will be resolved of GodŐs promises, must have both these settled in his heart and build on them as on two foundations.