Differences Between The Reformed And Remonstrants On The Trinity

3. The practical use of the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus the orthodox not only state the doctrine of the Trinity as the ground of all other Christian doctrine—they also state it as an eminently practical doctrine, as illustrated by the practical sections of Mastricht’s analysis and by Owen’s trinitarian treatise, Of Communion with God … or, the Saints’ Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Unfolded (1657).49 The Reformed orthodox theologians’ profound sense of the ultimate and foundational nature of the doctrine of the Trinity for faith and worship and for the architecture and content of theological system frequently leads them to discuss at length the “practical use” of the doctrine in the church. For the late orthodox, even this point has become a matter of debate, given the tendency of the Remonstrant theologians to argue both a more subordinationistic view of the Trinity and the inadvisability of focusing too much attention on the difficult nuances of the topic. Thus, Brakel comments that “the Remonstrants, who make no effort to deny the Trinity, still attempt to demean it by indicating that it is unprofitable. But the Word testifies to the contrary.”50

Witsius commented, still more pointedly, that “nothing is more false than that calumny of the Remonstrants, by which they deny that the article of the holy Trinity has any practical use.” Inasmuch as the Trinity is a “fundamental” article of the faith, the general character of Christian truth that it “is according to godliness” (Titus 1:1) all the more belongs to the doctrine of the Trinity: this doctrine, continues Witsius, is “the source of all genuine faith” and “of all true religion” since “he cannot have Christian faith, who does not believe that a person in the Godhead could have been given … to be a successful Mediator with God; but this would have been impossible, if the Godhead had subsisted only in one person.”51 Indeed, the Reformed orthodox are unanimous in declaring that the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary to salvation and, therefore, an integral part of the faith and piety of the church: as Calvin commented, “unless we grasp” the revelation of God as three persons, “only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.”52 Witsius echoes Calvin precisely: “He who does not adore the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as equal in divine majesty, worships not the true God, but a creature of his own imagination.”53

There is, of course, variety of formulation in the Reformed orthodox discussion of the practical use of the doctrine of the Trinity: Turretin states quite simply and briefly that

the article of the Trinity is not only theoretical, but also practical, since it conduces to gratitude and worship of God—to the end that we may devote our faith and service to the Triune God who has revealed himself to us. And [it conduces] to consolation inasmuch as [by it] we may know that Christ has truly redeemed us and that our salvation has been made secure.54

Witsius offers three basic uses, adding admonition to the instruction and consolation indicated by Turretin.55 More elaborately, Mastricht divides the topic into seven practical uses ranging from the reproof of “atheistical antitrinitarians,” to the support of worship and to the communion of saints. Ridgley, too, offers seven, the majority of which focus on redemption and the prayerful contemplation of God.56 For Owen, the great practical use of the doctrine of the Trinity—to which he devoted some three hundred pages of exposition—is that “the saints have distinct communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” in the order of “the dispensation of grace”: every gift and beneift of God “groweth originally from the Father, and cometh not to us but by the Son, nor by the Son, to any of us in particular, but through the Spirit.”57

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 154–56.


49. John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each person distinctly, in Love, Grace, and Consolation; or, the Saints’ Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Unfolded (1657), in Works, II, pp. 1–274.

50. Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I,.iv.35; cf. Limborch, Theologia Christiana, II.xii.2, 27, 29.

51. Witsius, Exercitationes, VI.xxiv.

52.Cf. Calvin, Institutes, I.xiii.2, with Ursinus, Commentary, p. 138; Turretin, Inst. theol. elencticae, III.xxiv.11–14; Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I.iv.34; Ridgley, Body of Divinity (1855), I, pp. 135–37.

53. Witsius, Exercitationes sacrae in symbolum, VI.xxiv.

54. Turretin, Inst. theol. elencticae, III.xxiv.17.

55. Witsius, Exercitationes sacrae in symbolum, VI.xxv–xxvii.

56. Cf. Mastricht, Theoretico-practica theol., II.xiv.22–28, with Ridgley, Body of Divinity (1855), I, pp. 239–41.

57. Cf. Owen, Of Communion with God, in Works, II, p. 9; Owen, Vindication of … Communion with God, in Works, II, p. 281.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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