The Sum and Substance of the Gospel (Bavinck)

 One reason I always enjoy reading Herman Bavinck is because his discussions are so clearly based on Scripture.  I especially like those parts where he explains a doctrine by using his own sort of paraphrase of verses along with the Scripture references.  For example, this week I’m studying Christ’s ascension in sermon preparation.  So I turned to volume 3 of Bavinck’s Dogmatics where there is a good section summarizing the biblical and theological aspects of Christ’s resurrection and ascension; I’ve put it below.  I like it for further study but also because it’s quite devotional and edifying to read!

Bavinck wrote that the sum and substance of the Gospel isall about the Messiah, the Christ…

…who died and rose again. The cross was an immense offense—also for the disciples (Matt. 26:31). But for them that offense was removed by the resurrection. Then they perceived that Jesus had to die and did die in accordance with the counsel of the Father (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28), and that by his resurrection God had made him a cornerstone (4:11; 1 Peter 2:6), Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), a Leader and a Savior (5:31), the Lord of all (10:36), the Lord of glory (James 2:1), in order by him to give repentance, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 1 Peter 1:3ff., 21), outside of whom there is no salvation (Acts 4:12).

Now taken up into heaven, he remains there until he comes again for judgment (1:11; 3:21), for he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead (10:42; 17:31), and then all things will be restored of which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets of old (3:21).

Similarly Paul teaches that Christ, though he was the Son of God even before his incarnation (Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15), was designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Then he received a spiritual, glorified body (1 Cor. 15:45; Phil. 3:21), became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17), the firstborn of the dead (Col. 1:18), who from then on lives to God forever (Rom. 6:10). Precisely because of his deep humiliation, God highly exalted him, giving him the name that is above every other name, that is, the name “Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11), granting him dominion over the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9), and subjecting all things under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25, 27). As such he is the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), seated at God’s right hand (Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 2:8), in whom the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9), who is the head of the church, prays for it, and fills it with all the fullness of God (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:23; 3:19; 4:16).

The Letter to the Hebrews further adds to this profile the unique idea that Christ, the Son, who with the Father was the Creator of all things, was also appointed “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2; 2:8) by the Father and designated eternal high priest (5:6; 7:17). But for a short time, in order to attain this destiny, he had to become lower than the angels (2:7, 9), assume our flesh and blood (2:14), become like us in all respects except sin (2:17; 4:15), and learn obedience from the things he suffered (5:8). But thereby he also sanctified, that is, perfected himself (2:10; 5:9; 7:28), and was designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10). This, accordingly, is the sum of the things of which the Letter to the Hebrews says that we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (1:13; 8:1; 10:12). He who is the liturgist of the heavenly sanctuary (8:2), a high priest, therefore, who is at the same time the king whose throne is established forever (1:8), who is crowned with honor and glory (2:9), subjects all things under him (2:8), and is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them (5:9; 7:25; 10:14).

The Apocalypse, finally, loves to picture Christ as the Lamb who purchased us and washed us by his blood (5:9; 7:14) but also as the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who with the Father sits on the throne, has power and honor and glory, even the keys of Hades and death (1:18; 3:21; 5:12–13; 19:16). Clothed with such power, he rules and protects his church (2:1, 18; etc.) and will one day triumph over all his enemies (19:12f.).

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 423–424.

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

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The Center Point of Religious Life: Corporate Christian Worship (Bavinck)

 In Kampen on November 28, 1889, Herman Bavinck gave a lecture to seminary students at the theological school there.  The lecture was called “Eloquence” and it was all about Christian preaching.  Due to demand, Bavinck wrote this lecture out and it was later published.  Just recently it has been translated into English and made available in the book called Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (translated and edited by James Eglinton).  There are other selections in this book as well, such as an article by Bavinck called “The Sermon and the Service” and one of his few surviving written sermons called “The World-Conquering Power of Faith.”  Anyway, it’s an outstanding resource and I very much enjoyed it.  If you’re a preacher, I highly recommend it.  If you’re not, I’d say: get one for your pastor!  Below are a few paragraphs I underlined that I’d like to share.  It’s from the foreword to “Eloquence.”  (Note: the (brackets) are mine and are added for clarification.)

These new circumstances (e.g. secularization, a waning of the knowledge of the truth, ignorance of the Bible and catechism) place a costly obligation on the church and call its ministers to an ever more faithful care for the office entrusted to them, especially in the ministry of the word. In content and form, the church’s gatherings may not be inferior to the [secular] meetings that call to the people day and night.  The church’s gatherings are and, by virtue of the divine institution, must remain the center point of the religious life, the source of spiritual power, the inspiration for the work everyone is called to do, by the sweat of his brow, each weekday.

Whatever influence there may be from the word in print or spoken that reaches us from elsewhere, it cannot be compared with the blessing there is for heart and life, family and society, in the word spoken to us in the gatherings of the congregation.  Here alone do we find the ministry of God’s Word and the sealing of his covenant. Here, Christ himself lives in our midst and works by his spirit, here we taste the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the principle of eternal life. The Sabbath is the best of days; no other day is like it. And the church is the meeting of God with his people; no other gathering can take its place to compensate for its loss.

I agree!  These are helpful words for us to remember today since such a high view of corporate worship is not the norm.  May God give his all people this kind of outlook on weekly corporate worship and preaching.

Herman Bavinck, “Eloquence”, in Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (edited and translated by J. Eglinton), p. 18-19.

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

He Submitted Himself to the Covenant of Works (Bavinck)

 Romans 5 is a great passage in Scripture that compares and contrasts Adam and Christ.  Paul uses legal and covenantal language to explain how Adam was a type of Christ.  For example, here’s verse 19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (NIV).  I appreciate how Herman Bavinck commented on these great truths:

…While it is certainly true that as a human and with reference to himself Christ was subject to the law, it must be emphasized that his incarnation and being human occurred not for himself but for us. Christ never was, and may never be regarded as, a private person, an individual alongside and on the same level as other individuals. He was from the very beginning a public person, the second Adam, the guarantor and head of the elect. As Adam sinned for himself and by this act imposed guilt and death on all those he represented, so Christ, by his righteousness and obedience, acquired forgiveness and life for all his own. Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.

The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own.

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 379.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Means and Ends Cooperate (Bavinck)

Here’s a deep theological thought for the day, a truth that magnifies the sovereignty of God: “With God, means and ends always cooperate.”  Herman Bavinck wrote those words, followed by these statements which highlight God’s sovereign decree:

“In his decree the causes and the consequences, the pathways and outcomes are established in indissoluble connection with each other.  His decree is no loose assembly of various incidental phenomena that exist on their own, but consist of a complex of decisions intimately related, forming an unbreakable whole and a system of divine ideas, one single arrangement of everything that will exist or occur within time.

God executes this decree within time.  Therefore everything that happens within time is mutually related in the same unbreakable way as the ideas and decisions within God’s eternal decree are related.  Therefore we human beings are bound to means; anyone pursuing a goal must travel the path leading toward that goal.  …The Lord holds himself to the means which he established in his counsel for attaining his ends.  Predestination embraces not only the eternal state of rational creatures, but also the determination of the means and paths leading to that eternal state.”

For the biblical background of these statements, see Isaiah 40-46 and Ephesians 1, among other texts.  And if you’re interested in the larger context of the quote, you can find it in Saved by Grace, page 133.

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

Adam, Christ, the Covenant of Works, & Us (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ Paul very clearly taught that Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5, 1 Cor 15).  I appreciate in Reformed theology how this is explained using other biblical truths.  Here’s how Herman Bavinck discussed Adam, Christ, the covenant of works, and Christians:

While it is certainly true that as a human and with reference to himself Christ was subject to the law, it must be emphasized that his incarnation and being human occurred not for himself but for us. Christ never was, and may never be regarded as, a private person, an individual alongside and on the same level as other individuals. He was from the very beginning a public person, the second Adam, the guarantor and head of the elect. As Adam sinned for himself and by this act imposed guilt and death on all those he represented, so Christ, by his righteousness and obedience, acquired forgiveness and life for all his own. Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.

The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own.

 Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2006). Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Vol. 3, p. 379). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Grace: Radically Excluding All Merit (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics : Volume 2: God and Creation by [Bavinck, Herman] Here’s a helpful brief discussion of grace by Herman Bavinck:

…His (God’s) election and guidance, his rescue and redemption, and all the benefits that Israel received in distinction from other peoples, can only be attributed to God’s grace (Exod. 15:13, 16; 19:4; 33:19; 34:6–7; Deut. 4:37; 7:8; 8:14, 17–18; 9:5, 27; 10:14ff.; 33:3; Isa. 35:10; 42:21; 43:1, 15, 21; 54:5; 63:9; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9, 20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 8:14; 11:1; etc.). Whether in history or law, in psalmody or prophecy, the basic note is always: “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). He does all things for his name’s sake (Num. 14:13ff.; Isa. 43:21, 25ff.; 48:9, 11; Ezek. 36:22; etc.). That grace, accordingly, is continually being praised and glorified (Exod. 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; Jon. 4:2; Joel 2:13; Zech. 12:10).

In the New Testament that grace proves to be even richer and deeper in content. Objectively, χαρις means beauty, charm, favor (Luke 4:22; Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29); and, subjectively, it means favor, a positive disposition on the part of the giver, and gratitude and devotion on the part of the recipient. Ascribed to God, grace is the voluntary, unrestrained, and unmerited favor that he shows to sinners and that, instead of the verdict of death, brings them righteousness and life. As such it is a virtue and attribute of God (Rom. 5:15; 1 Pet. 5:10), demonstrated in the sending of his Son, who is full of grace (John 1:14ff.; 1 Pet. 1:13), and additionally in the bestowal of all sorts of spiritual and material benefits, all of which are the gifts of grace and are themselves called “grace” (Rom. 5:20; 6:1; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Titus 3:7; etc.), thus radically excluding all merit on the part of humans (John 1:17; Rom. 4:4, 16; 6:14, 23; 11:5ff.; Eph. 2:8; Gal. 5:3–4).

 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 214.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Radical Duality of Anabaptist Ecclesiology (Bavinck)

(This is a repost from August 2015)

One thing that Herman Bavinck did so well was put his finger on the pulse of the radical Anabaptist theology in the post-reformation era.  Here’s one of his many penetrating insights into the Anabaptist dualism.

“Anabaptism proceeded from the premise of an absolute antithesis between creation and re-creation, nature and grace, the world and the kingdom of God, and therefore viewed believers as persons who in being born again had become something totally different and therefore had to live in separation from the world.  Its program was not reformation but separation: Anabaptism wanted a separated church.  For centuries [they said] there had been no church but only Babel, and Babel had to be abandoned and shunned.  In Munster it was said that there had been no true Christian in 1,400 years.  The true church was a church of saints who, after making a personal profession of faith, were baptized, and who distinguished themselves from others by abstaining from oaths, war, government office, and a wide assortment of worldly practices in food and drink, clothing, and social contact” (Reformed Dogmatics, IV.292).

This is pretty significant to understand, especially in light of an earlier post here concerning the conversion experience.  Over and over Bavinck reminds us that grace restores nature; it does not work against or remain outside, above, or beside nature “but rather permeates and wholly renews it.”  In other words, conversion experiences are as diverse as the scores of people who have been converted: there is no one conversion that trumps the others.

This is where the conversion experience and the doctrine of the church go hand in hand: if one sharply distinguishes grace from nature, he sees conversion as a separation from (or destruction of) nature instead of a renewal/reformation of it.  When it comes to the church then, it has to be made up of only those who are separated from nature and show it by their sharp distinction between themselves and everything else.  In pretty blunt terms, it is as if conversion is a lightning-bolt-supernatural-shock which results in something totally different, and those who are totally different make up a totally different church (almost an a-natural church).  In Reformed terms (and Bavinck’s terms), this is a dualistic principle that underlies more than a few sects that emerged within Protestantism following the Reformation.

What is the Reformed response?  It is quite detailed, but the first thing to note with Bavinck is the organic working of grace, the way grace restores and works through, in, and with nature.  We see this principle 1) in the writing of Scripture (God didn’t destroy the personalities of the author, but used them for his purposes), 2) in the unfolding promises of his covenant of grace (his ordinary way of working is through the natural means of parents and their seed), 3) in conversion (which is a renewal [not destruction] of the imago dei), 4) in sanctification (God reforming his people – including their various personalities and emotions), and 5) in the church (he uses natural things like speaking, bread, wine, and discipline – the 3 marks of a true church – to help his people).  These are just five areas – there are more.

There is a pastoral side to this.  Just as with conversion we don’t always need to see the “hell to heaven” experience that one can pinpoint (though those are fine), so too with sanctification and the doctrine of the church.  In a church, we’re going to find a whole bunch of people with different personalities, different ways of struggling with sin, different methods of speaking about Jesus, and so forth.  Since grace renews nature, we should expect to see one parishioner fight sin with tears, another fight it with a more upbeat attitude, and yet another fight it quietly behind the scenes while a fourth sings a favorite Psalm to combat sin.  When I counsel a believer who struggles with some type of addiction, for example, though we follow general Scriptural principles, he may not fight that addiction like I would.  This sometimes frustrates me, since I tend to be Luther-like, fighting sin with fists flying.   When Bavinck reminds me that grace restores nature, I can rest at night knowing that God’s gracious renewal gives us the same weapons to fight, but we all use those weapons in different ways.   Just because the sinner-who-is-a-saint doesn’t throw fists at sin like I do doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting it!  Just because a church is made up of people who are at different stages of struggling and have different methods of struggling doesn’t mean the church is impure!   A church is made up of sinners using the same weapons to fight sin, only they wield the weapons differently.  Grace renews nature!

This post is too long already, but this topic also has implications for preaching.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI