The Clarity of Scripture (Bavinck)

One wonderful aspect or attribute of Scripture is that it is clear in the matters of salvation. This has been called the perspicuity of Scripture. The Westminster Confession explains this teaching quite well in chapter 1, sections 6 & 7. One thing the Confession says is that both learned and unlearned people can attain a sufficient understanding of the Scriptures. “Sufficient” in this sense means sufficient unto salvation. Herman Bavinck also wrote well on this topic:

The doctrine of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture has frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented, both by Protestants and Catholics. It does not mean that the matters and subjects with which Scripture deals are not mysteries that far exceed the reach of the human intellect. Nor does it assert that Scripture is clear in all its parts, so that no scientific exegesis is needed, or that, also in its doctrine of salvation, Scripture is plain and clear to every person without distinction. It means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation. While that reader may not understand the “how” (πως) of it, the “that” (ὁτι) is clear.

The above quote is found in Herman Bavinck, ed. John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 477.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Church: A Waste of Time? (Bavinck)

Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers Bavinck, Herman cover image Herman Bavinck wrote the following words around 1890 in Holland, but they are quite relevant to our situation in the United States in the year 2019:

Humility, as is rightly said, is the garment that always suits us… Humility must be our home and traveling and wedding and mourning garment.  In order to cultivate this Christian humility, it is good and necessary to pay attention to many things in which we fall short and that can keep us from boasting.

Think only of the sermon in the church service.  The era of the powerful pulpit is no more.  Churchgoing is gradually declining, not only among the moderns but also among the orthodox in most places.  Interest in the church and desire to listen to a sermon is declining. There are now thousands who are estranged from the church, who never darken its doors, and their number increases by the day.  Many who have been called orthodox have permanently given up the practice of going to church twice on Sunday; once is more than enough for them.  For many, being in church for so long, sometimes two whole hours, is even viewed as a waste of time.  In our busy, calculating age, people think that this time could have been better, much better, used…

This aversion to the church should certainly be accounted for, in large part, in relation to the spirit that dominates in our time, under the influence of which one has formed a wholly wrong concept of ‘going to church.’ We live in an era of grandiose activity, an era of steam and power.  It hastens and turns and pushes everything forward.  We do not think about rest, silence, or calm.  Whoever does not follow suit simply belongs to the past or is trampled underfoot.  Time is money, and money is the soul of trade.  ‘What do I get from it? How is it useful?’ These are the questions of the day. Feverish excitement and stressed overwork are the hallmarks of all business. The silence of the holy and the calm of the eternal are all to sorely missed.

‘More haste, less speed’ [Festina lente] is an old proverb.  It is a rivalry, a competition to be the fastest.  This spirit has also left its mark on Christians.  Despite their confession of an ancient faith, they are also children of the era.  An industrious, active Christianity is now appearing.  Sitting in silence under the word, which should have been their strength, has fallen from their thoughts…  Now there is something else to do.  …We no longer have the time or desire to go to church twice on the day of rest, sometimes to spend an hour listening to a sermon from the mouth of a teacher they have heard so often.  What could be exciting or useful there…?

Herman Bavinck, Preaching & Preachers, p. 57-59.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Riddle or Enigma of Man (Bavinck)

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press. Here’s a great excerpt from the first chapter in Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith (aka The Wonderful Works of God or Magnalia Dei). I really like how Bavinck integrates Augustine and Pascal in his biblical reflections:

The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart. Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him. They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him. They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another. He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment. He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature. He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land. He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

Science cannot explain this contradiction in man. It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness. It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall. But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed. Man is an enigma whose solution can he found only in God.

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 22-23.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Comfort of Election (Or: Pelagianism Has No Pity) [Bavinck]

 Some people wrongly think that the biblical teaching of unconditional election is a frightening and dark teaching that hinders evangelism and makes people into fatalists.  It is true that wrong views of election (such as a hyper-Calvinist view, for example) do get in the way of evangelism and can give people a fatalistic outlook.  However, a biblical understanding of election does neither; in fact, it ascribes all glory to God, it gives comfort to followers of Jesus, and it’s a reason to share the gospel with all kinds of people!  Herman Bavinck said it well:

The Son did not move the Father to love; electing love arose from the Father himself. Scripture, accordingly, everywhere teaches that the cause of all the decrees does not lie in any creature but only in God himself, in his will and good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff.; Eph. 1:4ff.).

For that very reason, both for unbelievers and believers, the doctrine of election is a source of inexpressibly great comfort. If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one. Or if Pelagius’s doctrine were the standard, and the virtuous were chosen because of their virtue, and Pharisees because of their righteousness, wretched publicans would be shut out. Pelagianism has no pity.

But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is so often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one can actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one really believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength, of submissiveness and humility, of confidence and resolution. The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God.

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 401–402.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Word and Assurance (Bavinck)​

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity Herman Bavinck cover image Here’s a nice section on faith, the Spirit, the Word, and the Christian’s assurance of salvation.  It’s found in volume one of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics:  (Note: if you want to know why the language is somewhat choppy, see below.)

“The Holy Spirit… brings us to that point; first, through the Word by making the major premise – God’s promises are true – clear to us.  The Word, with the sacraments – in a word, the promises of God – are always the objective foundation of our assurance.  Faith must ground its assurance in the Word.  Those grounds are innumerable; think of all those passages that we mentioned in connection with the perseverance of the saints.  God, his attributes (faithfulness, goodness, love, power, etc.), the permanence of the covenant of grace that is confirmed with sacramental oath, God’s delight in conversion; Christ’s love, grace, divine and human natures, his person and work, his office and state; likewise, the work of the Holy Spirit, how he remains within us, comforts, etc.

Scripture is full of promises upon which believers can base their existence. Now it is true that Holy Scripture speaks in general: whoever believes is saved. It does not say: You, Person A or Person B, are saved. But the particular is included within the general, the universal contains the singular. Nevertheless, no matter how firm and rich those promises may be, our eyes may well be closed to them. Doubt can enter our soul regarding those promises through various causes, including the whisperings of Satan, historical criticism, the misunderstanding and ignorance of Scripture, and through various doubts: Would God, Christ even, desire to have me, such a great sinner? Am I included among those called by God? Preaching from the pulpit and pastoral visitation must counter these doubts regarding the major premise by emphasizing the permanence, richness, extensiveness, omnipotence, etc., of God’s promises. This is foundational and must be established.

This is then the means whereby the Holy Spirit usually delivers people from those doubts. By means of sermons, home visiting, reading of Scripture, etc., the Holy Spirit occasionally allows new light to fall, so that we suddenly behold the permanence of the promises and are assured.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, vol. 1, p. 399.

(Note: The manuscripts of Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics were seminary lectures that were not ready for publication.  What has been published recently in English is the product of taking Bavinck’s own manuscripts and filling them out a using extensive class notes taken by two men in Bavinck’s ethics class.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015