Bavinck on the Two Kingdoms

Earlier, I noted how some Reformed teachers from around 1700 talked about the two kingdoms, the two-fold reign of Christ.  For review, Thomas Watson, Wilhelmus a Brakel, and others like them talked about Christ’s general reign over all things and his special reign over the church.  The former is the kingdom of power and the latter the kingdom of grace.  As a side note, it goes hand in hand with other distinctions: common and special grace as well as general and special providence, just to name two.

Here’s Bavinck, in vol IV of his Dogmatics (the emphasis is mine):

“The kingship of Christ is twofold.  On the one hand, it is a kingship of power (Ps 2.8-9; 72.8; 110.1-3; Matt 28.18; 1 Cor 15.27; Eph 1.21-22; Phil 2.9-11, etc).  In order that Christ may truly be king over his people, the king who redeems, protects, and preserves them, he must have power in heaven and on earth, over Satan and the world.  It is a kingship of power, subordinate to, and a means for, his kingdom of grace” (p. 371).

“On the other hand, the kingship of Christ is a kingship of grace (Ps. 2.6; Is 9.5-6; Jer 30.9; Ezek 37.24; Luke 1.33; John 18.33ff; Eph 1.22, etc).  …For it is a kingdom of grace in which Christ rules by his word and Spirit.  …It is the living Christ exalted to sit at the right hand of God who consiously and endowed with all powers gathers his church, defeats his enemies, and guides the history of the world to the day of his parousia” (p. 372).

These terms to describe the two kingdoms are standard Reformation speak.  The explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism uses the exact same terms and even many of the same proof texts.  This is one of those doctrines, like the law/gospel distinction, that confessional Lutherans and confessional Reformed/Presbyterians can agree upon; it is neither new or novel.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

14 thoughts on “Bavinck on the Two Kingdoms”

  1. If this is correct, then do you know why are Covenant theologians so critical of Dispensationalists, because some Dispensationalists make a distinction between kingdom programs related to the church and to Israel? I am not trying to start a debate here, but I am just curious.


  2. Great quotes from Bavinck there.

    Charles, the “kingdoms” are split differently. The Church (in the sense of New Testament Christian Church) and Israel are two distinct administrations in the same kingdom: grace. We actually use the word “church” to cover both, because the Bible does the same. The state is in a separate kingdom: power.

    So the problem, as we see it, is that dispensationalists try to break up the kingdom of grace into two separate kingdoms. Does that help?


  3. However, Bavinck was a neocalvinist and supported sphere sovereignty. So, I’m not sure that power and grace, as Bavinck would have it here equate to your (or others’) understanding of “two kingdoms.”

    Not that I disagree with Bavinck on this, but I have yet to see an unambiguous contemporary explication of the two kingdoms in our circles. Often times, Augustine’s two cities is conflated with now and not-yet is conflated with the state and the church is conflated with nature and grace.

    In a friendly way, I challenge you (or any other representative advocate) to clarify. Thanks!


  4. However, Shane, don’t overlook Bavinck’s admirable recognition that the Law is binding on *all* — not just those in the “kingdom of grace.” Check out vol. 2, pp. 140-141. “For the standard of sin is God’s law alone. What sin is is finally determined not by the church (Rome), nor by the state (Hobbes), nor by an autonomous moral law (Grotius), nor by the autonomous Self (Kant), nor by humanity as a whole (Comte), nor by social instincts (Darwin), but solely and exclusively by the law of God. This is clearly experssed in the concept of sin, a concept that is therefore avoided by everyone who knows no higher standard for moral evil than a human one. God is the only Agent who has absolute authority over us and can bind and obligate us in our conscience.”

    He then says that God’s moral law, as summarized in the law given from Sinai, “speaks to all humans without distinction, confronts them in all circumstances, extends not only to their words and acts but also to their moral condition, sticks relentlessly to its guns, speaks inexorably and categorically with sovereign authority, and avenges its violations with severe punishment. It is a divine decree, a revelation of the will of God, the expression of his being.”

    I don’t believe you’ll find anything (remotely) similar by Bavinck concerning the place of a so-called “natural” law for the “kingdom of power.” Christ rules by the same Law in every realm, and He demands submission from all men. Some refuse, in their sin — but the demand continues to rest upon them, such that they are admonished: “Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 2:10-12).


  5. Christ’s mediatorial kingship (the Kingship of Grace) is to be distinguished from His Kingship of Power, since the latter is inherent in Him as the God the Son, while the former is the kingship “received” from God as the Messiah (Acts 2:26).

    Thus, the history of the New Testament church is the history of the Kingdom of God under the mediatorial kingship of Christ. This is the Kingdom of Grace. Hence, it is not entirely correct to include the Old Testament era into the history of the Kingdom of Grace.

    Nonetheless, both the Old Testament church and the New Testament church are under the so-called “covenant of grace”; regardless of ages, the only way of salvation is by the gracious imputation of righteousness of God through faith. In this regard, there is no distinction between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, as Paul argues in Romans 4. Thus, the crucial difference between the Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology is that the former emphasizes the unity of the people of God, the covenant people, in the Body of Christ, namely, the Church, while the later treats the Israelites separately.


  6. Hun, Christ’s mediatorial kingship is also over all things heaven and earth (Kingship of Power) and was obtained by Him as Second Adam and Messiah. His headship and rule of the church (or of Grace) is not unique in this regard. Redemptive-historically, Christ’s mediatorial kingship (in both Grace and Power) is obtained after His resurrection, and so his kingship of power, in that sense, is not included in the Old Testament era either.

    The distinction between Christ’s rule as God and His rule as exalted Messiah is a different distinction than the one Bavinck is making here. However, illustratively, you are confusing/conflating things typical of much contemporary discussion of the two kingdoms.

    [On an unrelated note, I notice you study Math and Physics. Here are some interesting resources for you: ]



  7. Thanks for the comments, guys; as always, we enjoy them.

    I’ll have to do some more Bavinck quotes in the future on these things. For now, I do want to say that it is very easy to see all the common Reformed scholastic distinctions in Bavinck’s writings. It is not at all anachronistic or wrong to say that Turretin and the like are always in Bavinck’s mind when he writes. I should do a paper on all the lines I’ve seen from the scholastics to Bavinck!

    For now, just let me say that I do fully believe that when Bavinck talks about the kingship of power and the kingship of grace, he means exactly what Watson and a Brakel (and all those in that group) meant by the terms.

    That’s all I have time to write for now; more later.



  8. Dear Baus,

    Thank you for clarifying things; you are right that the kingship of power is included in his mediatorial kingship. It was my misuse of the term “Kingship of Power” to denote the kingship He has as the 2nd person of God. The point I wanted to make was that we usually use the term “Kingdom of Grace” to denote the mediatorial kingdom, which began with His mediatorial kingship.

    Thanks also for the interesting links :-)


  9. Sorry, but it’s emphatically not true that confessional Lutherans can agree with you guys here. Not by a long shot!
    We detect a definite tendency among our Reformed brethren to confuse the Two Kingdoms by attempting to “Christianize” the social order.

    The Kingdom of the Left Hand is about morality, decency and fair play. But only the Kingdom of the Right is distinctively Christian. All human beings are citizens of the Kingdom of the Left- and there are many outwardly righteous Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, atheists and agnostices who are even *good* citizens of the Kingdom of the Left!

    President Obama, ironically, posed what I think is a useful distinction which the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms urges upon us when carrying our moral concerns into the public square: in order to be effective (as well as theologically orthodox), we ought to make the case against gay “marriage” or abortion not on the basis of God’s will as expressed in special revelation, but rather upon common sense and the Law as written on the human heart.


    1. Bob:
      There is a tendency among the Reformed to confuse the two kingdoms, no doubt. At the same time, this distinction is in our (Reformed) heritage, and though we may not stress it as much, several of “our guys” have used the exact terms that early and later Lutherans did – i.e. Kingdom of Power, Kingdom of Glory, and Kingdom of Grace. I’m arguing that when our earlier guys used these terms, they were using much like the Lutherans did – it was one of those Reformation things that both the Reformed and Lutheran had/have in common. Same with the law/gospel distinction. Some recent Reformed people hate the distinction, some don’t know about it, but it is there in our theology. For example, Ursinus and Olevian sounded exactly like Luther when they clearly and purposefully distinguished between law and gospel.

      We’re not always true to our tradition, but these things are in it!

      Thanks for the comment. By the way, there are quite a few confessional Reformed theologians/pastors today who are recovering these old-school Reformation teachings.

      thanks again,


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