Monday, June 7, 2010

Trinity Sunday 2010, Acts 2:37-47

I reread part of last week’s Scripture because someone I was reading that week had pointed out that this is a Trinitarian passage. I don’t remember who made the observation, but since today is Trinity Sunday, I thought we could look at it again.
Today is also Presbyterian Heritage Sunday, so I decided to include a bit of what Jean Calvin has to say regarding the Trinity. One of the things Calvin says also goes with this passage.
Once again hear verses 38-39. (READ) Notice all 3 Persons of the Trinity are mentioned— be baptized in Name of Jesus, receive the promise of the Holy Spirit, and this promise if for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Him—the Father.
Referring to the book of Ephesians, Jean Calvin says, “Paul connects together these three, God, Faith, and Baptism, and reasons from the one to the other—viz. because there is one faith he infers that there is one God; and because there is one baptism he infers that there is one faith. Therefore, if by baptism we are initiated into the faith and worship of one God, we must of necessity believe that he into whose name we are baptised is the true God. And there cannot be a doubt that our Saviour wished to testify, by a solemn rehearsal, that the perfect light of faith is now exhibited, when he said, “Go and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19), since this is the same thing as to be baptised into the name of the one God, who has been fully manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Hence it plainly appears, that the three persons, in whom alone God is known, subsist in the Divine essence. Then, as the baptism of faith is a sacrament, its unity assures us of the unity of God. Hence also it is proved that it is lawful only to be baptised into one God, because we make a profession of faith in him in whose name we are baptised. What, then, is our Saviour’s meaning in commanding baptism to be administered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, if it be not that we are to believe with one faith in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?98 But is this any thing else than to declare that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God? Wherefore, since it must be held certain that there is one God, not more than one, we conclude that the Word and Spirit are of the very essence of God.”
Peter is making a similar connection here in Acts. God, faith and baptism are connected. Peter, in saying to his audience, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus,” is emphasizing Jesus because this is the Person of the Trinity that his audience had not grasped until now. They had not until this sermon understood that Jesus really is the Messiah. And Peter had used the quotation from Psalms to prove that Jesus is also Divine. Being baptized always involved being baptized by the Divine name. With Jesus included, it shows that Jesus is God.
Calvin goes on to elaborate on the distinctions of the members of the Trinity. “The Scriptures demonstrate that there is some distinction between the Father and the Word, the Word and the Spirit; but the magnitude of the mystery reminds us of the great reverence and soberness which ought to be employed in discussing it. Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from His works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. For example, John 1 shows that the Son has a distinct subsistence from the Father, because the Word could not have been with God unless he were distinct from the Father; nor but for this could he have had his glory with the Father. In like manner, Christ distinguishes the Father from himself when he says that there is another who bears witness of him (John 5:32; 8:16). To the same effect is it elsewhere said, that the Father made all things by the Word. This could not be, if he were not in some respect distinct from Him. Besides, it was not the Father that descended to the earth, but He who came forth from the Father; nor was it the Father that died and rose again, but He whom the Father had sent. This distinction did not take its beginning at the incarnation: for it is clear that the only begotten Son previously existed from the beginning. Christ intimates the distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Father, when he says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and between the Holy Spirit and Himself, when He speaks of him as another as he does when he declares that he will send another Comforter; and in many other passages besides (John 14:6; 15:26; 14:16).
Moreover, this distinction is so far from interfering with the most perfect unity of God, that the Son may thereby be proved to be one God with the Father, inasmuch as he constitutes one Spirit with him, and that the Spirit is not different from the Father and the Son, inasmuch as he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.”
The church fathers use a big theological word to describe the Trinity—hypostatis. This word is found in Hebrews 1:3, where it is translated, “exact representation” or “exact imprint.” “He, the Son, is the reflection of God’s glory and the hypostatis, the exact imprint, of God’s very being. Hypostatis denotes being. The Father is a being; the Son is a being, and yet they are the same. I don’t really understand how it works either. Someone said to think of persons like “persona”. You can take on a persona, a different character. The difference with the Godhead is that the character part is what is exactly the same. It is the roles that differ; although they also overlap.
Calvin explains it this way…”In each hypostasis the whole nature is understood. The only difference being that each has his own peculiar subsistence. The whole Father is in the Son, and the whole Son in the Father, as the Son himself also declares (John 14:10), “I am in the Father, and the Father in me;” nor do ecclesiastical writers admit that the one is separated from the other by any difference of essence.”
Augustine explains it this way…“By those names which denote distinctions is meant the relation which they mutually bear to each other, not the very substance by which they are one.” For example, “Christ, as to himself, is called God, as in relation to the Father he is called Son.” And again, “The Father, as to himself, is called God, as to the Son he is called Father. He who, as to the Son, is called Father, is not Son; and he who, as to himself, is called Father, and he who, as to himself, is called Son, is the same God.”
Calvin goes on. “In this way, the sentiments of the Fathers, which might sometimes appear to be at variance with each other, are to be reconciled. At one time they teach that the Father is the beginning of the Son, at another they assert that the Son has both divinity and essence from Himself, and therefore is one beginning with the Father. Therefore, when we speak of the Son simply, without reference to the Father, we truly and properly affirm that he is of himself, and, accordingly, call him the only beginning; but when we denote the relation which he bears to the Father, we correctly make the Father the beginning of the Son. It is far safer to rest contented with the relation as taught by Augustine, than get bewildered in vain speculation by subtle prying into a sublime mystery.”
Even Calvin doesn’t understand it and says that it can get bewildering if we think about it too much, and yet the doctrine of the Trinity is important and even useful. Cavlin concludes, “Let those, then, who love soberness, and are contented with the measure of faith, briefly receive what is useful to be known. It is as follows:—When we profess to believe in one God, by the name God is understood the one simple essence, comprehending three persons or hypostases; and, accordingly, whenever the name of God is used indefinitely, the Son and Spirit, not less than the Father, is meant. But when the Son is joined with the Father, relation comes into view, and so we distinguish between the Persons. But as the Personal subsistence carry an order with them, the principle and origin being in the Father, whenever mention is made of the Father and Son, or of the Father and Spirit together, the name of God is specially given to the Father. In this way the unity of essence is retained, and respect is had to the order, which, however derogates in no respect from the divinity of the Son and Spirit.”
Returning again to Peter’s sermon, Calvin points out, “Paul besought the Lord in the same sense in which Peter quotes the passage of Joel, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:28). And nothing prevents us from holding that the Holy Spirit is the entire spiritual essence of God, in which are comprehended Father, Son, and Spirit. This is plain from Scripture. For as God is there called a Spirit, so the Holy Spirit also, in so far as he is a hypostasis of the whole essence, is said to be both of God and from God.”


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