Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christ's Incarnation: A Cause of Joy for Christians

...the description of the incarnation of Christ also ought to arouse in us a joyous gratitude towards God, and we ought to welcome the fact that the Lord Jesus has assumed our nature. This the angel conveyed in his message to the shepherds when he said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). If our soul should rejoice in anything, it ought to rejoice in this great and wondrous work of God. To this end consider the following:

(1) It was prophesied that men would rejoice upon the Savior’s advent into the world. “They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa 9:3, 6); “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa 25:9); “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation” (Zech 9:9). Since it has been prophesied as such, and since we are living in the fulfillment of all this, we ought to lift up our souls with joy and thanksgiving.

(2) Consider the longing of the saints for the coming of Christ in the flesh. After Eve had given birth to her first son, it appears that she was of the opinion that the promise had been immediately fulfilled, for she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (Gen 4:1). The Lord Jesus said concerning Abraham, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day” (John 8:56). David gave expression to his desire when he said, “For this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow” (2 Sam 23:5). This desire was also present in the God-fearing kings and prophets. “For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see” (Luke 10:24). Yes, all the saints of the Old Testament longed for this. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them” (Heb 11:13). What joy they would have manifested if they had seen the Lord Jesus in the flesh! We may experience the fulfillment of this. Therefore it behooves us to rejoice and to thank the Lord for this most precious gift, for such a dear and precious Savior.

(3) When Christ came into the world, heaven and earth were filled with joy. John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). Mary sang a doxology, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47). The tongue of a dumb Zacharias broke loose, exclaiming, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69). Old Simeon took the child in his arms, praised God, and exclaimed, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). Come, join and rejoice with them. Will your heart always be heavy-laden? Would you not rejoice for once? And if your heart would rejoice, what could be more motivating than the incarnation of Christ? Therefore, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).

However, someone may possibly say, “My heart remains in bondage; I cannot rejoice in this, for I fear that He was not born for me anyway, and that I am not a partaker of all this.” I respond to this by saying that:

(1) This is merely a fear, for you are also not assured that the contrary is true;

(2) This is not the only problem. The reason one does not rejoice in the incarnation is for lack of holy meditation upon the subject, its miraculous nature, the promises, the Person, the fruits, and this great salvation brought about by His suffering and death. What reason for rejoicing would he who does not attentively reflect upon this have?

(3) Since there is such a Savior, however, can it be a matter of indifference to you whether or not there is such a Savior? If you are not indifferent to this, why do you not rejoice over His coming into the world, even if you still are no partaker of Him?

(4) You who yearn for Jesus, however, in order to be justified and sanctified by Him, even if it is accompanied by much darkness, fear, anxiety, and concern (John 6:40); you, in whose heart Jesus dwells by faith, so that your desires are repeatedly drawn towards Him (Eph 3:17); you, in whom Jesus has been formed (Gal 4:19) and in whom Jesus lives (Gal 2:20), so that He is all your joy and desire, generating within you a hatred towards sin, a desire to walk as He walked, and perceiving within you a battle between spirit and flesh; you, who love Jesus (1 John 4:19)—you have reason to be assured that He has been born for you. Therefore you have double reason to rejoice with delightful and unspeakable joy, and to jubilate concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus in the flesh.


Source: Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, vol. 1, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992), 514-16.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Preface" to Wilhelmus à Brakel's The Christian's Reasonable Service

Those acquainted with Dutch Reformed orthodoxy will know that the name of Wilhelmus à Brakel is among the most venerated of the theologians representing the Dutch Second Reformation (Nadere Reformatie) period which is similar to and coincides with English Puritanism. This veneration is largely due to the profound influence of his magnum opus De Redelijke Godsdienst, now being made available in English for the first time as The Christian’s Reasonable Service.
The importance of this work was recognized soon after its publication in 1700. Even though à Brakel had great difficulty finding a publisher for the initial edition (finally finding a Roman Catholic publisher!) his work was in demand within a very short time. New and improved editions soon followed, twenty in the eighteenth century alone. The respect for à Brakel was such that he was commonly referred to as “Father Brakel,” a title not only expressive of high esteem but also of the authority he commanded and the influence he exerted. He is still known today in the Netherlands by this honorary title. It ought therefore to be self-evident that Father Brakel is considered one of the fathers of the Reformed tradition to be found in present day orthodox Reformed circles in the Netherlands.
One of à Brakel’s contemporaries, Abraham Hellenbroek, who spoke of his friend as being a man of tender and intimate piety, recognized the importance of this work when he stated in almost prophetical terms that this work was so valuable that it would transcend the passage of time. We trust that the very fact that this work is now being made available to the English-speaking world will assist in validating these words.
To provide one practical illustration of the influence of this work in the Netherlands which now spans nearly three centuries, we wish to relate an incident from the life of the Rev. G. H. Kersten, the founder of the denomination (the Gereformeerde Gemeenten—the Netherlands Reformed Congregations) which has initiated and undertaken the translation and publication of this

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classic. When Rev. Kersten was approximately twelve years old, his parents discovered that their young son, in whose heart the Lord had begun a saving work, was reading regularly far beyond midnight. In order to keep himself awake, he placed his feet in a basin filled with cold water. What book was it that so captivated the mind and heart of this young seeker after God? à Brakel’s Redelijke Godsdienst. When asked by his parents why he sacrificed his sleep to read this weighty book which was well beyond the level of twelve-year-olds, he responded, “I must know how the Lord converts His people.” The reading of these volumes clearly placed a stamp upon the writings and entire ministry of Rev. Kersten.
Why is it that à Brakel’s work is one of the true classics of the Dutch Second Reformation? Why has this work been so influential? Why do we trust that The Christian’s Reasonable Service will be a valuable addition to the rich heritage of post-Reformation orthodoxy?
The uniqueness of à Brakel’s work lies in the fact that it is more than a systematic theology. His selection of the title is already an indication that it was not merely his intention to present a systematic explanation of Christian dogma to the public. In selecting the words of Romans 12:1 as the basis for his title, à Brakel not only wished to indicate that it is an entirely reasonable matter for man to serve His Creator who has so graciously revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ by means of His Word, but he primarily wished to convey that God demands from man that he serve Him in spirit and in truth, doing so in an intelligent, reasonable, and godly manner.
This brings us at once to the heart of the matter. à Brakel wrote this work for church members—not for theologians, though it was his wish that they benefit from it as well. This explains why this work is permeated with practical application of the doctrines he so thoroughly explains. à Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapable: He intensely wished that the truths expounded may become an experiential reality in the hearts of those who read. In a masterful way he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth. He first establishes a solid biblical foundation for each doctrine with which he deals, by quoting profusely from the Scriptures. You will find his selection of quotes to be a most impressive feature of this work, proving he had a profound grasp of the Scriptures and their comprehensive context. This scripturalness is rationally reinforced by his frequent resorting to the scholastic method to validate his positions.
As a man taught of God, he very ably defined and described Christian experience in biblical terms. The undeniably mystical flavor of this work represents biblical mysticism at its best—a Spirit-

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wrought mysticism that fully harmonizes with the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. This explains at once why Jesus Christ truly has the preeminence in this work. It is the Logos, Jesus Christ, who is the very marrow of God’s Word and every doctrine contained in it. It is therefore self-evident that in the subjective experience of this Word, Jesus Christ also has the preeminence. No wonder then that this work brims with references to Him whom the Father has given a name above every name. For à Brakel the name of Jesus is sweeter than honey; you can almost sense the inner stirrings of His soul when He exalts Jesus as the Father’s unspeakable gift to fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
These rich experiential applications found at the conclusion of each doctrinal chapter in the first two volumes make this work invaluable and pastoral. à Brakel was first and foremost a pastor who made his astute theological acumen entirely subservient to the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of His church. In writing this work, à Brakel practiced what he advised all ministers to do. In chapter 28 he writes: “He [the minister] ought to use all his scholarship to formulate the matters to be presented, in order that he might express them in the clearest and most powerful manner. While using his scholarship, however, he must conceal his scholarship in the pulpit.” When necessary, however, he will cause his scholarship to bear on an argument, thereby proving himself to be a theologian par excellence.
In reading this work, one cannot but be struck by its kinship with English Puritan literature. This is particularly evident in the third and fourth volumes which are devoted almost entirely to the life of sanctification. As is true for the Puritans, à Brakel was a most able physician of souls. How ably he proves himself to be a divine intimately acquainted with spiritual life and all its vicissitudes! The chapters pertaining to sanctification particularly validate Hellenbroek’s observation that à Brakel was a man of tender, intimate piety. Like the Puritans, he makes it unmistakably clear that godliness is a scriptural vindication that we have experienced the truth in our souls. Inward experience manifests itself outwardly in true piety. à Brakel does not leave us in the dark as to what he understands the Christian life to be. We believe it will be difficult to find a work in English devotional literature which spells out the nature of true holiness as specifically and meticulously as à Brakel does.
The obvious similarity between à Brakel’s writings, which represent the cream of Dutch Second Reformation literature, and Puritan literature is highly significant. It proves that the Puritans and the Dutch Second Reformation divines (sometimes referred to as

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the Dutch Puritans) were essentially cut from the same cloth. It will be difficult to find essential differences in Christian experience between à Brakel and such English Puritans as John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and John Bunyan. The divines of the Dutch Second Reformation have translated literally hundreds of English Puritans into Dutch, recommending them warmly to their congregations. The Dutch Second Reformation was greatly indebted to English Puritanism for a wealth of sound experiential material. On the other hand, few writings of Dutch Second Reformation divines were translated into English. The translation of à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service is an initial attempt to redress an imbalance of several centuries.
To acquaint the English reader somewhat with à Brakel’s life and times, as well as provide him with an overview of the Dutch Second Reformation, we have included the following in this volume:
(1) A translation of the applicable portion of Theodorus à Brakel, Wilhelmus à Brakel, en Sara Nevius (Houten: Den Hertog, 1988), authored by Dr. W. Fieret and A. Ros. Dr. Fieret is the author of the Wilhelmus à Brakel biography;
(2) A slightly revised appendix to Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation, by Joel R. Beeke (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), entitled: The Dutch Second Reformation (De Nadere Reformatie).
Hopefully, the translation of à Brakel’s work in four volumes (volumes 2, 3, and 4 should be available within a year, D.V.) will initiate in some small measure the merger of the rich heritages of the two premier experiential movements of the post-Reformation period: English Puritanism and the Dutch Second Reformation. Orthodox Reformed circles in the Netherlands have enjoyed this privilege already for centuries and have witnessed divine approbation upon these writings.
May God grant that the publication of this work will enhance the ongoing proliferation of Reformed experiential writings throughout the world. May this phenomenon prove to be preliminary to a Spirit-worked revival of lukewarm, famished Christianity. Then the vital Christianity à Brakel promotes throughout this work will again flourish and adorn the church of Jesus Christ. May David’s cry therefore be ours, “O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary” (Ps 63:1-2). To that end may we pray without ceasing to the God of the covenant of grace—a covenant that has such a central place in this work—

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crying out with the bride, “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my Beloved come into His garden, and eat His pleasant fruits” (Song 4:16).

Joel R. Beeke
Bartel Elshout


Source: Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, vol. 1, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992), xix-xxiii.

Friday, November 20, 2009

B. K. Campbell's Comment on Wilhelmus à Brakel's The Christian's Reasonable Service

I have read all the major Reformers from Augustine to Calvin to Luther, all the big name classics, but I must admit, I have never read anything clearer than Brakel. When first purchasing this set the man who sold it to me said that “if he was forced to live on a desert island and could only take one set this wd. be it” . I thought he was crazy, and very much under read. Then I read Brakel for myself. The man’s rational was totally justified! I wd. take Brakel over Calvin. To many Christians this sounds like a big leap, but Brakel is possibly the easiest work I have ever read. Far easier than Calvin, and for myself, I take what I can know. No point in reading a book if you will never understand it. For the record, I do understand Calvin, Luther and friends, but I can understand Brakel first and I can understand him better. Importantly, this work is not readable because it contains shallow fragments and watered down doctrine suitable only for beginners. Instead, the work is in-depth and easy to understand; in most cases this is a rare combination. Contains no puritanical-wordiness, or John Owen five page sentences, doctrine is sound, thoroughly Reformed, practical and concise. If I only had one choice wd. I take this set to a desert Island? Well… I wd. have to give it a bit more thought, but I assure you it wd. be on the very top of my list and should be on every Christian’s shelf...
--B. K. Campbell

Source: Monergism Books

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Dutch Second Reformation (“Nadere Reformatie”)

by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

The Dutch Reformation proper may be divided into four periods: the Lutheran period (1517-26), the Sacramentarian phase (1526-31), the Anabaptist movement (1531-45), and the most influential—the Calvinist infiltration. From the outset of the Calvinist penetration into the Netherlands (southern Netherlands, c. 1545; northern, c. 1560), the movement showed greater strength than its persistent numerical inferiority might suggest. Nevertheless, the buds of Dutch Calvinism did not flower profusely until the seventeenth century, initiated by the Synod of Dort in particular (1618-19), and intensified by the Dutch Second Reformation (Nadere Reformatie), a primarily seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century movement, which may be dated from such early representatives as Jean Taffin (1528-1602) and Willem Teellinck (1579-1629), to its last brilliant lights, Alexander Comrie (1706-74) and Theodorus van der Groe (1705-84).

The Term “Nadere Reformatie”


The term Nadere Reformatie poses a problem. There is no standard English translation of “nadere,” no doubt partly due to its inexactness, and perhaps also because the movement has been unaccountably ignored in English-speaking scholarship. Literally, “Nadere Reformatie” means a “nearer,” “more intimate,” or “more precise Reformation.” The intended emphasis lies on working out the

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initial Reformation more intimately in personal lives, in the church’s worship, and in society as a whole.
Translations of Nadere Reformatie inevitably express judgments of its significance. Consequently, it has been translated on occasion as “Further Reformation.” This is not altogether accurate, since “further” implies that the first Reformation did not proceed far enough. This was not the contention of the Nadere Reformatie. Rather, it sought to apply Reformation truths to daily life and “heart” experience. To avoid this false implication, Cornelis Graafland has suggested the terms “Continuing Reformation” or “Second Reformation.” But the term “continuing” has three disadvantages: It does not sufficiently distinguish the Nadere Reformatie from the Reformation proper; it is of recent usage in English; furthermore, it sounds awkward.
We prefer to use “Dutch Second Reformation” or “Second Reformation.” While this is a weak translation and “misses the Dutch term’s emphasis on continuity,” it has a long pedigree and appears to be gaining acceptance among scholars, albeit partially by default. Moreover, “Second Reformation” was a term used by some of the Dutch divines of that era. For example, Jacobus Koelman (1632-1695), who had much contact with Scotland’s Second Reformation, spoke of the Dutch movement as a “second reformation” and a “second purging.”
Others have dubbed the Nadere Reformatie descriptively as “Dutch Precisianism,” “Dutch Puritanism,” or “Dutch Pietism.” There are objections to each of these designations.
First, “Dutch Precisianism” is a pejorative rather than a constructive expression. It is the least acceptable representation of the Nadere Reformatie, since it attributes to the movement a legalistic (wettisch) tone which caricatures the whole. It is true that most Second Reformation divines promoted a strong negative ethic. Voetius, for example, forbade “such practices as visiting public houses, playing with dice, the wearing of luxurious clothes, dancing, drunkenness, revelry, smoking and the wearing of wigs.” Nevertheless, such “precisianism” was not an end in itself. Rather, it was cultivated “in the face of the alleged worldliness then prevailing” and “as a means of sustaining and developing individual faith and conduct against spiritual shallowness.”
Secondly, the Nadere Reformatie is in fact the Dutch counterpart to English Puritanism (and in some senses, to the Scottish Covenanters). The link between these movements is strong, historically and especially theologically. Keith Sprunger has documented that during the seventeenth century there was an English-Scottish community of Puritan persuasion numbering tens of thousands in the

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Netherlands, at one point consisting of more than forty congregations and 350 ministers. The Dutch government allowed them to organize churches and form an English Classis within the Dutch Reformed church. Cornelis Pronk rightly notes:

The presence of so many English and Scottish Puritans was bound to have some influence upon the Dutch churches. Many Dutch Reformed ministers were impressed by the practical divinity of the English Puritans. They saw it as a healthy corrective to the dry intellectualistic sermonizing that was becoming the trend in their churches.

And Douglas MacMillan summarizes:

Both Puritans and Covenanters were to interact very intimately with religious life in the Netherlands. This linking ... helps identify the point at which British and Dutch Calvinism had their closest contact. Both these great spiritual movements were concerned with Second Reformation issues and that concern was to shape the course of the 17th century in England and Scotland. Events there were, in turn, to reach deeply into the Netherlands, influencing its theology, deepening its spirituality, and linking it closely into the traumatic experiences of the British Church. We have to learn to look at the Second Reformation, not as a small, localized, Scottish, or even British, phenomenon but as a movement of international significance.

The divines of these groups held each other in high esteem. They influenced and enriched each other through personal contact and especially a vast array of translated writings, particularly from English into Dutch. More Reformed theological books were printed in seventeenth-century Netherlands than in all other countries combined. These movements embraced similar ideals and bore similar roles: to foster biblical and God-glorifying experiential piety and ethical precision in the life of individuals, churches, and the entire nation. Only England, however, had an opportunity to work out these ideals in full, during the Cromwellian years.
Thus, despite similar outlooks, these parallel movements did have and would develop historically and theologically distinctive identities. To call the Nadere Reformatie “Dutch Puritanism” denies the endemic nature of the Dutch movement. Hendrikus Berkhof provides too simplistic an analysis when he states that the Second Reformation resulted merely from “the practical piety of the English Calvinists blowing over to the Netherlands.” Though English Puritanism was of primary influence on the Nadere Reformatie, as Willem Jan op ‘t Hof has ably and perhaps exaggeratingly emphasized (particularly in stressing the need for a personal, domestic, and congregational lifestyle of experimental and practical godliness), it was not an exclusive influence, for the Dutch movement was coupled with other non-English factors. In fact, in some

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respects the Dutch movement was more Puritan-Reformed than English Puritanism itself:

In England from an orthodox Reformed perspective, for all but a short period under Cromwell, there were always grossly unbiblical things to fight: the presence of bishops, superstitious rites in the Book of Common Prayer, vestments, etc. In the Netherlands none of these were present, and the task was all the more subtle. Defenders of the status quo were not so clearly unreformed as in England. In this context the true spirit of Puritanism came to the fore.

Despite similar emphases, English Puritanism and the Nadere Reformatie differed from each other in significant ways. Generally speaking, Dutch Second Reformation divines were less interested in reforming the government and organization of the church (as long as the church was not controlled by the state) than were their English brethren. Theological emphases also varied at times; this work has shown that variations existed between these groups on the doctrine of assurance. The Dutch were more inclined to emphasize theology as a science, whereas the English emphasized the practical aspects of theology. These variations are not respected sufficiently when the Dutch movement is collapsed too fully into the English by the use of “Dutch Puritanism.” As Jonathan Neil Gerstner concludes:

To notice a similar role between two movements does not imply that one is dependent on the other. Even if English thought had given the initial impetus to the Continuing Reformation, it does not follow that its success was not due to similar ideas present in the Netherlands.

“Dutch Pietism” might appear at first to be an acceptable alternative to represent the Nadere Reformatie. Its usage has been the most widespread, underscoring that the Nadere Reformatie was pietistic in many respects. Problems with this term, however, also exist. (1) Calling the Dutch movement Pietism suggests too strongly an intimate German connection. Moreover, the Nadere Reformatie predates Spener’s initial appeal for reform by nearly half a century and became a more extensive movement than German Pietism. (2) Pietism in German Lutheranism came to be regarded as being largely concerned with the believer’s inner life rather than with transforming society, whereas most Nadere Reformatie divines were dedicated also to the latter. (3) Pietism is usually regarded as a protest against rational Protestant scholastic theology and doctrinal precision, whereas many Nadere Reformatie divines were formulators of Reformed orthodoxy and meticulous doctrinal analysts:
Gisbertus Voetius is generally acknowledged as both the greatest Dutch Reformed scholastic theologian and one of the greatest representatives of the Continuing Reformation. Pietism as it would later develop

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would more and more show marked antipathy for all but the most simple doctrinal concepts. ... Pietism was ready to embrace and work with all other believers who strove after a godly life, regardless of their confession. Zinzendorf tried to bring all churches together ignoring theological differences. The Continuing Reformation, on the contrary, was on the polemical forefront against theological errors, seeing the divisions within Protestantism as far from irrelevant. William Ames, one of the direct links between English Puritanism and the Dutch Continuing Reformation called Lutherans heretics. When Pietism appeared on the continent, leaders of Dutch Continuing Reformation like Wilhelmus à Brakel attacked the movement.
Confusing misconceptions arise when the term “Pietism” is used to describe the Second Reformation, for these terms represent distinct movements which vary in a number of important senses. German Pietism, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation had much in common. Each was rooted deeply in the sixteenth-century Reformation and longed for more thorough reform; yet each movement retained a distinct historical, theological, and spiritual character.

The Essence of the Dutch Second Reformation


Several additional factors also served to promote the emergence of the Dutch Second Reformation. After the Reformation in the Netherlands, strenuous efforts were made to replace the Roman Catholic Church with the Reformed Church as an inclusive people’s church (volkskerk). During the Reformation, one-tenth of the population held membership in the Reformed church. By the end of the seventeenth century more than sixty percent of the Dutch population were members of the Reformed Church which possessed a “preferred status” (bevoorrechte) with the government. The church’s success in acquiring external growth, however, had dire consequences for spiritual life. Abraham Kuyper claimed that this additional fifty percent of the population which flooded into the church ruined its Reformed distinctiveness: “From that moment on it was impossible to maintain church discipline.” It became easy to confuse being anti-Catholic with being Reformed. Nominal church membership and loose living became fashionably acceptable. Spiritual and ethical sterility grew rampantly, particularly when combined with newfound prosperity. The United East-India Company, formed in 1602, and other Dutch industry ushered in a period of unparalleled affluence. The majority were inclined to live for this life rather than for the world to come. Moreover, the state increasingly interfered in church matters and church discipline. The state controlled the universities where Reformed ministers were

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being trained under the increasing influence of Rationalism, particularly the philosophy of Descartes and Spinoza.
These spiritual, social, and intellectual conditions existed in sharp tension with historic Dutch Calvinism which was intrinsically oriented toward sound doctrine and piety. The Calvinism of the Canons of Dort stood in marked contrast to the spirit of the age. Moreover, the stipulations the Synod of Dort had laid down with regard to the supervision of pastors, professors, and theological writings were not being followed. All of these circumstances, combined with the influence of English Puritanism, German Pietism, the Genevan reform, and native Dutch influences (e.g., medieval mysticism, the Devotio Moderna, and Anabaptism —each of which emphasized sanctification), gave rise to the Dutch Second Reformation and its protest against the laxity of the age. Reflecting the concern of the Second Reformation, P. de Witte wrote, “Oh times, oh morals! What do parents do but bring up their children to become the prey of all kinds of seductive spirits, such as the papists, Anabaptists, Arminians, and libertines? Yes, even to become the booty of the devil, to be the heirs of eternal damnation and the firewood of hell.”
The Dutch Second Reformation was a movement that arose out of the ashes of the burning expectation which had moved the early Reformers. Also the early Second Reformation divines envisioned a theocratic society and an ideal church in which the bulk of the population would be involved in personal and communal renewal. Reference was frequently made to the unbreakableness of a “three-fold cord,” consisting of God, the Netherlands, and the House of Orange. But the vision that the Netherlands would yet become “the New Israel of the West” in society and church life proved to be an unattainable ideal. The post-Reformers lived to view the failure of that dream. They faced the painful reality that the majority of parishioners had not become more spiritual as a result of the Reformation. To their followers, many of whom found conventicles (gezelschappen) more spiritually edifying than formal worship, the church was no longer the communion of saints, but at best a very mixed multitude and at worst a “Babylon” or an “Egypt.” Jodocus van Lodenstein’s assessment of the Reformed church in his day is typical of that of later Second Reformation divines: “Babylon of Babylons, a thousand times worse than that of the Papacy because of the light that she had but did not rightly use.” The church seems “more deformed than reformed,” he lamented. “There is no practicing of the truth, but a parroting of the words of the catechism is all that one finds among Reformed people.”

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Another prominent Second Reformation divine, Bernardus Smytegelt complained:

There are few converted preachers. Many of them are lazy idlers, vain fops.... Among external professors you will find much chaff and hardly a grain of wheat. There are heaps of external professors, and are they not indifferent and ungodly? What are they like in the families? Dear man! Do you not know how scarce pious parents are? How rare it is to find a godly mother or grandmother! How unusual to find a pious servant or maid! How unusual to find godliness among children as with Timothy! ... How few are acquainted with the Bible! How few use the Bible regularly in the home! How few pray with each other, teach each other, and seek to lead each other toward heaven!

Consequently, in opposition to sin and complacency, an urgent, zealous call went out for fresh personal, church, and societal reform: The scriptural appeal for sanctification must be zealously pursued; Reformation doctrine must be lived.
S. van der Linde, a leading Dutch scholar on the Second Reformation, rightly affirms that the movement must not be equated with “non-dogmatical” (ondogmatisch) Christendom; rather, its goal was to join doctrine (leer) to the whole of daily life (leven):

The Second Reformation ... is not at all a-dogmatic or anti-dogmatic. It only desires that dogma be experienced as spirit and life. ...
The protest of the Second Reformation is not primarily against dogmatism as engendering a quenching of the Spirit, but much more against a certain vitalism as well as secularism whereby one observes the Spirit as being grieved.

Elsewhere van der Linde expands these concerns and notes:

The Second Reformation sides entirely with the Reformation and levels criticism not so much against the reformata (the church which is reformed), but rather against the reformanda (the church which needs to be reformed).

Moreover, though the Second Reformation is preeminently concerned with spiritual life (geestelijk leven) and experience (bevindelijk), so that a heavy accent falls on the practice of piety (praxis pietatis; praktijk dergodzaligheid) and even on precision (preciesheid), there is notwithstanding an array of emphases:

In Voetius we have the church-organizer, in Ames a very original theologian, in Teellinck and Brakel, divines of practical religion, and in Lodensteyn and Saldenus, the men of “mysticism,” cross-bearing, and meditation upon the life to come.

Despite diversity, however, van der Linde concludes that there is an underlying element of “precision” in the Second Reformation which

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is inseparable from a fervent desire to counteract prevailing impiety with a piety which “consciously consecrates all of life to God.”
Several attempts have been made to define the core of the Dutch Second Reformation as a logical development from and application of the Reformation proper. Herman Witsius emphasized that the motto, “the Reformed church needs to be ever reforming” (ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda) applies only to the church’s life and not to doctrine since Reformation doctrine was established as foundational truth. Every Second Reformation divine was convinced he was following his Reformed forebears and upholding Reformed orthodoxy, although some pointed out defects in the Reformation era, usually centering around the fact that the Reformation divines were also sons of their time. For example, Teellinck gently chides the Reformers for being more concerned with the reformation of doctrine than of life, with justification than sanctification.
Consequently, Heinrich Heppe defines the Second Reformation as “a striving for the completion of the church reformation of the sixteenth century (as being a mere reform of doctrine) by way of a revival of piety or by a reformation of life.” Johannes Hofmeyr concludes:

Although this movement also had other spiritual fathers, it can be contended that the central thrust of the Second Reformation (which involves a personal spiritual piety, an articulated ecclesiology and a theocratic outlook on society) is broadly derived from Calvin. It should therefore be regarded not as a correction but as a development of the Reformation.

J. van Genderen enlarges these concepts:

By this term, Nadere Reformatie, we mean a movement in the 17th century which was a reaction against dead orthodoxy and [the] secularization of Christianity in the Church of the Reformation and which insisted on the practise of faith. This may also be called a special form of Pietism, because the central idea is the “praxis pietatis.” The origin of the pietistic trend lies in England and the father of Puritan Pietism [who] was William Perkins. Via Willem Teellinck and Guilielmus Amesius a direct influence on a kindred movement in Holland ensued. To this movement belong the Teellincks, Voetius, Van Lodenstein, Saldenus, the two Brakels, and especially also Witsius. This movement is not meant as a correction of the Reformation but as the consequence of it. The background of the conspicuous preciseness is the desire to serve God fully according to His will.

Cornelis Graafland, another leading Dutch scholar on the Second Reformation, refers to it as a movement “which turned against the generally poor conditions prevailing in the Reformed church ... to achieve a radical and complete sanctification of all facets of life.”

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Graafland describes the movement as a “deepening and broadening of the sixteenth-century Reformation.”
Another attempt to express the heart of the Second Reformation is that of P. B. van der Watt, which is paraphrased by Hofmeyr as follows:

[The Second Reformation] revolted against the unspiritual state of the nation, ministers, and congregations. They plead also for a personal commitment to Christ. The experienced and tested religion is to them of central importance. Although nothing is done to undermine the church, the office, the sacrament, and the covenant, they regard rebirth as the priority. They also assume a reasonably strong Puritan point of view. They plead for the observance of the Sabbath and the carrying out of the demands of the Lord. The church must be pure and should be cleansed of all that is unholy. Finally, they had a high regard for the Scriptures and for the Heidelberg Catechism.

Finally, a definition of the Second Reformation was formulated in 1983 by the group of scholars responsible for Documentatieblad Nadere Reformatie:

This movement within the “Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk,” while opposing generally prevailing abuses and misconceptions and pursuing the broadening and progressive advancement of the sixteenth-century Reformation, urges and strives with prophetic zeal for both the inner experience of Reformed doctrine and personal sanctification, as well as the radical and total sanctification of all spheres of life.

Despite these somewhat oversimplified generalizations of the versatile Dutch Second Reformation, its complexity is not to be underestimated. Graafland points out that the Second Reformation had no organizational structure beyond a strong feeling of spiritual kinship existing among its divines. At times this led to small organized circles such as the so-called “Utrecht Circle” under the leadership of Voetius or to programs for action such as those promoted by Willem Teellinck and Jacobus Koelman. For the most part, however, each Second Reformation divine brought the message of the necessity of reform to his own parishioners. The contours of this call to reform naturally took on distinctive shapes in each locality and generation.
Due to this lack of organization and an increasing emphasis on internal, experiential life, the Second Reformation’s initial call to action in every sphere of life diminished rapidly. For example, in its earlier, so-called classical period, the Second Reformation strongly opposed a state-dominated church and worked strenuously for the church’s independence. Due to opposition from both the government and citizens, however, the classical Second Reformation could not retain this position. Anabaptist tendencies towards isolation increased

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with time. Various sub-movements, such as the Labadists, tended to withdraw from civil and church affairs, and became separatists, but continued to bear substantial influence on the larger movement. Though few Second Reformation pietists condoned separatism, numerous conventicles (gezelschappen) were formed for the nourishing of spiritual life. Gradually the Second Reformation became increasingly reminiscent of the Devotio Modern in its emphasis on thorough separation from the unredeemed world. This is exemplified in a comparison of Willem Teellinck and Wilhelmus Schortinghuis (1700-1750; renowned for his Het Innige Christendom [Inner Christianity]) as typical early and late representatives of the movement:

For Teellinck the experience of the heart remained central, but then as a center which penetrated a wide area, including not only the family and the congregation, but also the entire church and nation, politics inclusive. For Schortinghuis subjective experience is the fort to which the believer withdraws himself from the world and even from the congregation around him.

These differences must not be exaggerated, however, for Teellinck also displayed elements of internal withdrawal, as did other early Second Reformation proponents such as Koelman and Lodenstein, whereas van der Groe, often considered the last representative of the movement, strongly emphasized church and social life as a whole, including the political context. Van der Linde concludes:

Most of those who can be considered representative of the Second Reformation, being promoters of a theocratic structure as far as the relationship between church and state are concerned, are open for that which is not so purely spiritual, such as the political state.

Generally speaking, the complex Dutch Second Reformation focused on a variety of major themes. In summarizing the movement, Graafland addresses the following contours: election, regeneration, sanctification, the family and the congregation, the church, creation and natural theology, eschatology, and theocracy. Through promoting a pious lifestyle and a theocratic concept of all social relationships based on family worship, the parish, and the church as a whole, the Second Reformation aimed to establish and enforce moral and spiritual discipline in all spheres of life. Second Reformation sermons addressed all of these mostly active themes, but simultaneously stressed the fall of Adam, the natural man’s inability to aspire to good, the absolute sovereignty of divine predestination and grace, dependence upon God, the necessity of adequate conviction of sin, the experience of conversion, and the simplicity of true worship. C. Vogelaar’s summaries of the content of the preaching of Bernardus

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Smytegelt (1665-1739) and Johannes Beukelman (1704-1757), are typical particularly of the later period of the Second Reformation:

In [Smytegelt’s] sermons much emphasis was laid on the practice of godliness, on the holy duties of Christians, on the life of God’s people and on the frames of their hearts, as well as their experiences of light and darkness, the leading and operation of the Holy Spirit, and giving instructions and directions to the godly.
In his sermons [Beukelman] applied the message to his hearers: revealing clearly the false, sandy foundations of the nominal Christians, proclaiming plainly our misery and total depravity, recommending especially the way of reconciliation with God in Christ, bringing the sincere invitations and callings of the gospel, encouraging the concerned souls of true seekers of God, showing unto the godly ones the causes for their little progress in faith and sanctification, and also giving the right means to make their calling and election sure—and to live in true sanctification in the fear of God’s Name and to His honor.

Thus, the preaching of the Second Reformation emphasized experiential theology, which M. Eugene Osterhaven has defined as “that broad stream of Reformed teaching which, accepting the creeds of the church, emphasized the new birth, the conversion, and the sanctification of the believer so that he might acquire an experiential or personal knowledge of Christ’s saving grace.” External religion, orthodox doctrine, sound theological propositions are all insufficient for salvation; feeling, experience, spiritual warfare, and genuine prayer are essential for faith and practice. The “head” knowledge of doctrine, albeit necessary, must be accompanied by the “heart” knowledge of scriptural experience:

There were some, of course, who carried the emphasis on feeling, on intense religious experience of an emotional nature, to dangerous lengths, but most Reformed pietists stopped far short of making that the norm. The norm is Scripture alone but, they held, as the Frisian Catechism put it, that “true faith demands an experiential knowledge, emerging from a conviction and an experiencing of God’s Spirit, and conforming to the word of truth.”

For Second Reformation adherents, “formal Christianity, by which they meant a Christianity exhausting itself in externals, was only slightly better than none at all. For that reason they, like the mystics before them, emphasized the primacy of the inward response to God.” Hence struggles of faith held a central place.
With regard to assurance of faith, the Second Reformation as a whole not only emphasized the promises of God and the witness of the Spirit, but also increasingly accentuated the syllogisms, making a transition from the syllogismus practicus in the classical period to the syllogismus mysticus in the later period. Graafland

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and van der Linde are sharply critical of this transition, but the latter fails to note that also the mystical syllogism is inseparable from the enlightening of the Spirit:

Rather than seeking assurance in the Spirit, i.e., in the promise of the gospel and thus not in ourselves, the “marks of grace” have come upon the scene. It is difficult to view them with anything but pity since they yield so much melancholy and uncertainty. It is thus obvious that one believes to honor the Spirit the most by seeking assurance of faith and salvation primarily in the so-called mystical syllogism, i.e., that one endeavors to draw the conclusion that he is indeed a true Christian due to being acquainted with mystical, inner stirrings and emotions of which a worldly person has no knowledge.... Our Heidelberg Catechism does as yet have the courage to state that we can be assured of our sonship by our good works as being fruits of faith. In the course of Reformed tradition this practical syllogism has increasingly fallen into abeyance. This did not only occur in conjunction with a turning away from all that is external in order only to deem “internal” matters as being spiritual and valid (incorrectly in our opinion), but also due to a fear for hypocrisy when considering how our “pious flesh” is capable of adorning itself. ...
We are without expectation as far as the syllogismus mysticus is concerned. If this is not conjoined to the external practice of faith, there will be nothing to hold on to for the man who is genuinely in need.... His only certainty is definitely not a syllogism, for it is not logic which reigns in the grace of God, but only the witness of the Holy Spirit in and through the gospel.

Assessment in Secondary Sources

The complexity of the Dutch Second Reformation is compounded by its assessment in secondary sources. The nineteenth-century theologians at Groningen were the first to make an effort to view the Second Reformation as a movement from a historical perspective. W. van ‘t Spijker shows, however, that these divines, such as P. Hofstede de Groot, differed little from the view of Ypeij and Dermout in their Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk (History of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands). Neither Ypeij and Dermout nor the Groningen professors researched the movement from its primary sources, but tended to model the movement after their own ideals. In particular, the Groningen theologians viewed Thomas à Kempis, Wessel Gansfort, Willem Teellinck, Jodocus van Lodenstein, and others as their ideal.
Later in the nineteenth century (1879), Heinrich Heppe published Geschichte des Pietismus and der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche, namentlich der Niederlande (The History of Pietism and Mysticism in the Reformed Church, particularly in the Netherlands). The following decade

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Albrecht Ritschl’s three-volume history of Pietism was published (Geschichte des Pietismus, 1880-86). These works helped to establish the seminal issues involved in the Second Reformation and are still being discussed by scholars of the movement. Heppe concludes that the roots of Pietism are found in Puritanism, for he posits that the “second reformation” moved from English Puritanism to the Dutch Second Reformation to German Pietism. Ritschl placed Pietism in a broader framework of movements of reform present in the Western church since the Middle Ages, pointing particularly to Franciscan observances, the mystical theology of Bernard de Clairveaux, and the Anabaptists with regard to the Dutch Second Reformation.
Van ‘t Spijker views the 1911 work of W. Goeters (Die Vorbereitung des Pietismus in der reformierten Kirche der Niederlande bis zur labadistischen Krisis 1670; The Groundwork for Pietism in the Netherlands until the Labadistic Crisis in 1670) as a significant step forward in research on the Dutch Second Reformation in that he emphasized the need to study the divines of the movement on an individual basis. Goeters detected various streams of thought in the Second Reformation and avoided simplistic assessments as to their origins. Moreover, in addition to theological and practical issues, he pointed to social and historical roots which paved the way for the movement. He also highlighted some important themes of the Second Reformation, such as the striving for an ideal church. In fact, he defined “the essence of this movement to be a striving of the visible church to approximate her essence (which is found in the invisible church) as much as possible.”
Much negative reaction against the Second Reformation can be traced to Abraham Kuyper and his emphasis on the church’s cultural mandate. Early in his ministry Kuyper was profoundly influenced by a simple, God-fearing woman of Second Reformation persuasion, Pietje Baltus, who emphasized the necessity of experimental conversion. Subsequently, however, he became troubled that the Christians among whom he labored had become too pietistic and sheltered due in part to a constant diet of reading the “old writers” (oude schrzjvers), as experimentally oriented laymen were fond of calling Second Reformation authors. At times Kuyper disparagingly called the pietistic elements in the Dutch church, “Methodists,” though he retained a strong element of piety in his devotional writings as well as respect for the Second Reformation divines. Kuyper’s attempts to teach laymen to apply Christianity to all spheres of life led to a revival of Calvinism in the Netherlands. His followers, however, frequently called neo-Calvinists, went far beyond

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Kuyper by rejecting nearly all semblances of piety and by “externalizing the gospel” in a flurry of kingdom-activity. Still today “the neo-Calvinists in The Netherlands on the whole are quite antagonistic toward the Second Reformation. They see it as an other-worldly, anti-cultural and scholastic movement which has done the church more harm than good.”
Also reacting negatively to the Second Reformation are Otto Ritschl who views the Second Reformation as a falsification of the Reformation; Theodorus L. Haitjema who regards it as degeneration (ontaarding); and Aart A. van Schelven who esteems it to be overly baptistic, spiritualistic, and influenced by Semi-Pelagianism. E. D. Kraan considers the Second Reformation to be too steeped in subjectivism, while Rudolf Boon states that it “inclines to Anabaptism.” Teunis Brienen sets Reformation gospel preaching over against Second Reformation preaching which speaks to various “soul conditions” among the hearers.
Positively, Hans Emil Weber, Arie Vergunst, James Tanis, J. H. R. Verboom, Jonathan Gerstner, Willem Jan op ‘t Hof and others view it largely as a profitable outgrowth of Calvinism. Also Stoeffler’s assessment is largely positive and a most helpful, needed corrective:

[The Second Reformation] was by and large a thoroughly responsible, evangelical movement. On the personal level it emphasized love for God and man and a type of daily conduct based on what it regarded as the New Testament ethic. Its larger aim was the reformation of the visible Church according to the pattern of apostolic Christianity. Intellectually it was highly respectable in so far as practically all of its leaders had enjoyed the opportunity of excellent theological training. For that reason it had the support of the best minds of the day. Voetius, Essenius, Hoornbeeck, and later such Coccejans as Witsius endorsed it enthusiastically. ... [It] constituted a significant and influential party with the Reformed churches. ...
The coming of Pietism [i.e., the Second Reformation], like the rise of any reform movement which tends to challenge the established order of things, caused some strains and difficulties. At the end, ... however, the Reformed churches were the better for having made the necessary adjustments.

Still others provide mixed assessment, noting the evolving changes within the movement itself. This is particularly true of several Reformed scholars in the Netherlands (such as J. G. Woelderink, Arnold A. van Ruler, S. van der Linde, Cornelis Graafland, Willem Balke, K. Exalto, W. van ‘t Spijker, J. van Genderen, and others ) who have done considerable pioneer work on the Second Reformation. Generally speaking, these Dutch scholars have varying degrees of appreciation for the Dutch Second Reformation (particularly its

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classical period) though they feel that it was not as theologically rich as the Reformation proper. S. van der Linde and Cornelis Graafland affirm the early Dutch Second Reformation as embracing some positive characteristics, but see decay setting in largely through excessive introspection such that the movement failed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries “to combine breadth with depth.” Similarly, Hofmeyr asserts that “the classical phase of the Second Reformation shows definite links with Calvin, while the distance between Calvin and the stricter pietism of the later phase of the Second Reformation is much greater.” In a different vein, Prozesky concludes that “the movement as a whole underwent gradual change with its early precisianism losing ground to devotional and on occasion mystical pursuits, besides also evolving or adapting its own typical institutions, such as conventicles, edificatory sermons and Pietistic literature.” Osterhaven discerns two streams in the Second Reformation:

The one stream emphasized mysticism, inwardness, felicity, prayer, spiritual elation, and joy in the Lord. Overworked words among these folk were gelukzaligheid and godzaligheid. ... Involving the whole person, his intellect, feeling, and will, it is the ultimate blessing that God can give one in this life and the greatest proof that God is a gracious father to his children. The other stream was activistic and laid stress on doing the will of the Lord. Here the law as an expression of God’s will was much to the fore and the practice of piety was conceived largely in thinking, saying, and doing what is right before the Lord. This latter emphasis ...came to be know as Preciesen in Dutch, or, as they were sometimes called by their opponents, Fijnen, sanctimonians, we might say.
Whatever the emphasis, all pietists believed heartily in experiential theology and were known as de ernstige, the earnest, zealous Christians of their place and time. ...
In its better representatives, like Wilhelmus à Brakel, the experiential theology sought a healthy balance between mysticism and precisionism.

Van Ruler calls the movement as a whole a “legitimate experiment.”
The wide divergence of these opinions calls for further studies in the Dutch Second Reformation as a movement in its own generations. In future studies the Second Reformation should be evaluated in its distinct spiritual, theological, and political milieu. Too often the Second Reformation is judged by the Reformation proper, the latter being regarded as normative. Calvin is presented by A. Ritschl and others as an ideal and all differences from him (even in areas where his thinking is largely embryonic, such as covenant theology) are prone to be considered in a negative light. The unfair conclusion is then reached that the Second Reformation is not a “further reformation” (nadere reformatie), but

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a “further deformation” (verdere deformatie). It is our conviction that a more careful, objective study of the Second Reformation will yield the conclusion that these Dutch divines as a whole did not misread Calvin and the Reformers, but simply adapted the teaching of the early Reformers in a practical way to their own day.
Additional work also needs to be done on the influence of Phillipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Friedrich Adolph Lampe, Gerhard Tersteegen, and other German Pietists on the Dutch Second Reformation. Monographs need to be written on several important Second Reformation divines who are either the subjects of outdated studies or who, as yet, have not been thoroughly studied. Caricatures against the movement and the influence of Reformed scholastic orthodoxy need to be unveiled for what they are. Particularly needed are both primary and secondary sources published in English on the Dutch Second Reformation.
English and American Puritanism have received considerably more attention from Dutch writers than the Dutch Second Reformation has received from English writers. The Dutch Second Reformation divines deserve to be treated with the same scholarly care devoted to their Puritan counterparts. Such treatment will recognize that the long-term influence of the Second Reformation has been seriously underestimated. An amplification of Stoeffler’s reassessment is needed:

While the [Second Reformation] dream of reforming the Reformed never succeeded it could hardly be doubted that the perfectionistic ideals of this reform party brought about significant changes in the life of the Church. It was responsible for an emphasis upon effective, religiously significant preaching such as is seldom found in territorial churches, together with a similar emphasis upon pastoral work which is equally unusual under such surroundings. Many of the classes and synods began to stress catechization to a degree unknown since the early days of the Genevan reformation. Church discipline, which had been exercised almost solely with regard to faith and order, was oriented to include the daily conduct of church members. A devotional literature was created such as continental Protestantism had never known because its need had not been recognized. Family worship was encouraged and free prayer found a place along with printed prayers. In fact prayer was encouraged as perhaps never before within the Reformed churches. Even conventicles ... were authorized by various ecclesiastical bodies. For the first time since the days of Geneva the Reformed churches knew of genuine religious awakenings such as the one at Friesland in 1672, where a group of pastors entered together upon an evangelistic venture with noticeable results. Last but not least the matter of training an effective ministry, interested in piety as well as doctrine and polity, was given serious attention. The result was the later development of theological seminaries.

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Further, the influence of Second Reformation devotional writings and sermons in the eighteenth and nineteenth (and even twentieth) centuries remained great among the conservative, experimental Reformed in the Netherlands, South Africa, and North America. Today their writings are being reprinted as rapidly as the Puritans are in the English-speaking world. It is our hope and prayer that the translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s classic, De Redelijke Godsdienst, may serve to arouse interest in the history and theology of the Dutch Second Reformation.

Source: Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, vol. 1, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992), lxxxv-cxi.

The Christian's Reasonable Service: A Brief Synopsis




The Christian's Reasonable Service

à Brakel's Objective in Writing this Work: To Minister to the Congregation
à Brakel's objective in writing this work was straightforward: to instruct and edify the congregation of the Lord. In this work we hear the heartbeat of one who was consumed with love for Christ and His church and who deemed it to be his singular calling to be a faithful pastor to His flock. This explains why à Brakel does not claim to have presented a ground-breaking treatment of Reformed theology--and indeed, his work is not a systematic theology in the classic sense of the word. It is more than a systematic treatment of theology: It is experiential systematic theology.
That this was à Brakel's intent is evident from the subtitle, in which he expressed that De Redelijke Godsdienst is a work "in which divine truths concerning the covenant of grace are expounded, defended against opposing parties, and their practice advocated [emphasis mine]." In other words, what à Brakel presents in this work is applied theology. The theology he presents is a living, experiential theology. One does not need to read long in this work to detect its warmth and spiritual vibrancy. Therein lies the secret of the success and prevailing influence of this work. à Brakel speaks the language of Scripture from and to the heart.
Its importance was therefore recognized soon after it was published (though à Brakel initially had difficulty finding a publisher). F.J. Los comments: "Being founded upon God's Word, Brakel's work has become the most popular dogmatics of the Reformed in the Netherlands."
As of today, at least twenty-six editions have been published in the Dutch language, to which must be added a translation into the German language and the recently published four-volume English translation, entitled The Christian's Reasonable Service. Never could à Brakel have anticipated that his work would be so widely received and would exert its influence until this very day--much less that this work would become available to the English-speaking world. Stoeffler makes a striking observation in this regard:

It is not difficult to see why this extensive treatment of Christian theology was most highly regarded by Reformed Pietists. All the subjects dear to their hearts were treated fully, and each carefully balanced with all the other, the whole having only one aim, namely, the promotion of godliness. The words of scripture and what could logically be deduced therefrom were regarded as the sole basis for any valid assertion. The preciseness of Lodensteyn and Voetius were combined with the lush mysticism of the older Teellinck and the older Brakel. The knowledge of the renowned Coccejus was drawn upon for purposes of interpreting God's dealings with his Church, and that of the famous Witsius in the interpretation of the covenant and of saving faith. All the Pietists on both sides of the channel had ever thought and said was here summarized and put in the language of the people. It is safe to assume that had it not been for the language barrier the younger Brakel would have achieved the distinction of being one of the outstanding Pietistic theologians in Europe and America [emphasis mine].

In the preface of this work, à Brakel expresses the wish that he could preach to all of the Netherlands, and even to all the world. He therefore rejoiced in the invention of the printing press which, by way of the printed word, enabled him to reach every Dutchman with the truth he yearned to preach. His wish has been fulfilled beyond what he could have anticipated. Stoeffler's prophetic assumption is presently being validated!
Since the value of this work is for a considerable part due to the experiential application of the truths it sets forth, let us briefly consider the experiential dimension of De Redelijke
Godsdienst.

The Experiential Dimension of this Work
In selecting the words of Romans 12:1 as the basis for his title, à Brakel not only wished to indicate that it is an entirely reasonable matter for man to serve the God who has so graciously revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ by means of His Word, but he primarily wished to convey that God demands from man that he serve Him in spirit and truth, doing so in an intelligent, reasonable, and godly manner.
This brings us at once to the heart of the matter. à Brakel wrote this work for church members--not for theologians, though it was his wish that they benefit from it as well. This explains why his work is permeated with practical application of the doctrines he expounds. In a masterful way he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth. He first establishes a solid biblical foundation for each doctrine with which he deals, quoting profusely from the Scriptures. His selection of quotes is an impressive feature of this work, proving he had a profound grasp of the Scriptures. This scripturalness is rationally reinforced by his frequent resorting to the scholastic method to validate his positions.
As a man taught of God, he ably defined and described Christian experience in biblical terms. The undeniably mystical flavor of this work represents biblical mysticism at its best--a Spirit-wrought mysticism that fully harmonizes with the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. This explains at once why Jesus Christ truly has the preeminence in this work. It is the Logos, Jesus Christ, who is the very marrow of God's Word and every doctrine contained in it. It is therefore self-evident that in the subjective experience of this Word, Jesus Christ also has the preeminence. No wonder then that this work brims with references to Him whom the Father has given a name above every name. For à Brakel the name of Jesus is sweeter than honey; you can almost sense the inner stirrings of his soul when he exalts Jesus as the Father's unspeakable gift to fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
The rich experiential applications found at the conclusion of each doctrinal chapter in the first two volumes make this work invaluable and pastoral. à Brakel was first and foremost a pastor who made his theological acumen subservient to the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of His church. In writing this work, à Brakel practiced what he advised all ministers to do. In chapter 28 he writes: "He [the minister] ought to use all his scholarship to formulate the matters to be presented, in order that he might express them in the clearest and most powerful manner. While using his scholarship, however, he must conceal his scholarship in the pulpit." When necessary, however, he will cause his scholarship to bear on an argument, thereby proving himself to be a qualified theologian.

The General Outline of this Work: The Six Loci of Reformed Systematic Theology
Even though the covenant of grace is the dominant theme and organizing principle of De Redelijke Godsdienst, the outline of à Brakel's devotional systematic theology follows the order of the six loci of Reformed systematic theology, which by that time had become the accepted structural framework for the presentation of Reformed doctrine. In examining the table of contents (see appendix), one will observe, however, that approximately sixty percent of his work is devoted to soteriology. If we consider that applications found at the end of nearly every chapter in his treatment of the first three loci are soteriological in nature, we could conclude from the table of contents alone that the experience of doctrine in the heart, and the outworking thereof in one's life, is the dominant theme of this work.
Though the scholastic structure of this work as such is not as pronounced as one would find for instance in the systematic theology of Francis Turretin, à Brakel's doctrinal chapters do have a scholastic flavor, as he uses the polemical objection/rebuttal and question/answer approach to bring important issues into focus. He uses this approach especially to define the truth sharply against the background of the frontburner issues of his day: Cocceianism, Labadism, and Roman Catholicism. Even when he uses this approach, however, one cannot help but detect the beating of a pastoral heart in the answers he gives. His overriding goal is to edify and build up the saints in their most holy faith.
This possibly explains why à Brakel unconventionally deals with ecclesiology before soteriology. Against the background of the Labadistic controversy and the pernicious influence of Anabaptism, à Brakel was leery of the individualism, unbiblical mysticism, and denial of the organic nature of the church that was infecting the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. This, along with the covenantal theme of De Redelijke Godsdienst, may have motivated him to define the church in Biblical terms as the divine organism in which the Spirit applies the work of Christ, thereby adding living stones to His spiritual temple. This prominence of the church in the divine operations in the hearts of men appears to be implied in the words of Psalm 87 that the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than the individual dwellings of Jacob. Strange and unbiblical practices prevailed in à Brakel's days, making the doctrine of the church a matter of paramount importance to him. à Brakel was first and foremost a pastor, and this makes it rather likely that he made theological considerations subservient to pastoral concerns.

Source: Bartel Elshout, The Pastor and Practical Theology of Wilhelmus à Brakel (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997), 20-24).

Brief Biographical Summary of à Brakel

A Biographical Perspective

Youth and Education (1635-1662)
Wilhelmus à Brakel was born on January 2, 1635, in Leeuwarden, the capital of the Dutch province of Friesland. He was the only son of two very godly parents--a renowned minister of the gospel, Theodorus à Brakel, and Margaretha Homma. The godliness of these parents placed its stamp on the rearing of their son, the only survivor of six children. Wilhelmus was trained in the fear and admonition of the Lord. His mother would at times pray so intensely for him that she would forget herself. Of his father Theodorus, Dr. Fieret relates the following incident recorded in the classic biography of Wilhelmus à Brakel by Dr. F.J. Los: "Following his childhood, Wilhelmus attended the Latin school in Leeuwarden. At that time his father pastored in the village of Beers, southwest of Leeuwarden. Distance made it impossible to travel back and forth each day. Wilhelmus would come home on Saturday and return to school on Monday. His father would accompany him for a distance. As long as possible he would watch his son in the distance while quietly beseeching the Lord to protect him. This concern and dependency upon God made such a deep impression upon Wilhelmus that he would frequently be in prayer himself as he continued his walk to Leeuwarden."
To the joy of his parents Wilhelmus manifested the fear of the Lord at an early age. "Later in his life à Brakel said he knew of no change in his life. From his earliest years he remembers having a great love for His Savior Jesus Christ."
His parents provided him with a thorough education, culminating in his study of theology at the Franeker Academy in preparation for the ministry of the gospel. In 1659, at the age of twenty-four, à Brakel was declared a candidate for the ministry. Since there were hardly any pastoral vacancies in Friesland, he was not ordained into the ministry until 1662. The interim period was a very fruitful period for him, however, as he
studied at the University of Utrecht under the well-known theologians, Gisbertus Voetius and Andreas Essenius. Particularly Voetius greatly influenced him in regard to his personal piety.

Pastor in Friesland: Exmorra, Stavoren, Harlingen, Leeuwarden (1662-1683)
For twenty-one years à Brakel served in his native province Friesland. With great zeal he began his ministry in the difficult and indifferent congregation of Exmorra. His diligent labors during his three-year pastorate there were not in vain, as there was evidence of a noticeable stirring and blessing during his tenure. While laboring in Exmorra, the Lord also granted him a godly and faithful wife, Sara Nevius, with whom he enjoyed a blessed marriage in the Lord.
From Exmorra, the Lord's way led to Stavoren in 1665. Though little is known about his ministry in Stavoren, his close friend, Abraham Hellenbroek, wrote: "The extraordinary fruit which he enjoyed in Stavoren has been very significant and widely recognized."
He became pastor of Harlingen in 1670, where he labored for three years with great blessing. As Rev. Hellenbroek noted: "The shining forth of the countenance of God upon his ministry was also...evident for him there.... A wondrous change took place under his ministry. He has begotten a multitude of spiritual children there."
In 1673 à Brakel accepted the call from the congregation in Leeuwarden, the city of his birth. For ten years he ministered to this large congregation as one of six ministers. His pastorate there was not without controversy. When intense desire to instruct his flock in the ways of the Lord led him to organize house services or "conventicles," he met with opposition from his consistory which was fearful of the formation of churches within the church. à Brakel finally acquiesced in conducting a public catechism under the auspices of the consistory.
He also came in conflict with his consistory and the governing officials of Friesland when he permitted his exiled fellow minister, Jacobus Koelman, to preach in his pulpit. When the government of Friesland also wanted to forbid him to preach, à Brakel stood his ground and challenged the government's right to interfere in the government of the church. à Brakel prevailed, and as a result of both his courage and the publicity surrounding this controversy, he became a man of national renown.
After weathering the Van Giffen controversy, in which à Brakel took a public stand against Rev. David Flud Van Giffen and his Cocceian views concerning the interpretation of the Old Testament, à Brakel accepted the call from Rotterdam where he would serve for twenty-eight years until his death in 1711.

Pastor in Rotterdam (1683-1711)
Through his previous pastorates, the Lord had prepared à Brakel for the great task that would await him in Rotterdam. He was installed on November 21, 1683 by Peter Tilenus and preached his inaugural sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20. Fieret writes: "In this sermon he only allowed God's Word to speak for itself; he
shared nothing concerning himself. He did not mention where he came from, where he had served, what labors he anticipated to perform, etc. He spoke as one who had been commissioned to pass on the words of His Master, or as he himself wrote later: to be the mouth of God to the congregation. This certainly is indicative of the seriousness with which he commenced this new episode in his life."
During his lengthy pastorate in Rotterdam, three matters stand out: his struggle against the Labadists, his battle for the independence of the church, and the publication of his magnum opus, De Redelijke Godsdienst.
The Rotterdam pastor took a strong stand against the teachings and practices of the Labadists, the followers of the converted French Jesuit, Jean de Labadie. De Labadie, who had come to the Netherlands from Geneva, spoke out strongly against the ills that plagued the church and promoted "a pure church in which the Christian religion would be practiced as strictly as possible." He became a strong proponent of a pure church consisting only of true believers, to which he joined a unique unbiblical mysticism. Initially he had a tremendous reputation and following, and caused a great stir in the Netherlands. à Brakel, deeply troubled about the corruption of the church and the lack of vital godliness, confessed that during his pastorate in Stavoren he felt very much inclined toward de Labadie and his teaching. After an intense spiritual struggle concerning this matter, he was persuaded that de Labadie's views were unscriptural.
Once à Brakel had a settled conviction about this matter, he took the Labadists and their views to task, being convinced that their teachings were detrimental to the well-being of the church. As was so common in these days, he became involved in a battle of the pen. His best known polemical work in regard to Labadism is Leer en Leydinge der Labadisten (Doctrine and Government of the Labadists). History proved à Brakel to have been correct in his analysis of Labadism, which, due to the unbiblical extremism of its teachings and practitioners, largely collapsed as a movement.
As he had done in Friesland, à Brakel strenuously opposed any manifestation of Erastian church government. His unwavering conviction was that Christ alone is the Head of His church and that the government--be it local, provincial, or national--has no business intermeddling in church affairs. This uncompromising stand resulted in a confrontation with the city fathers of Rotterdam who annulled the call extended by the consistory of Rotterdam to David Combrugge to fill the vacancy of the deceased Johannes Ursinus. When à Brakel, in response to this, preached a sermon about Psalm 2:6, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion," the battle lines were drawn. à Brakel was consequently prohibited to preach--an order which he ignored due to his conviction that as a minister he was accountable to King Jesus only. For a while he even had to live in exile, though he continued to preach. This conflict, in which à Brakel had the full support of his consistory, was finally resolved by the intervention of Governor William III (who later also became king
of England). He persuaded the magistrate to let the matter rest.
The third matter for which his Rotterdam pastorate is best known is the publication of De Redelijke Godsdienst (The Christian's Reasonable Service). After all the upheaval he experienced in battling the Labadists and the local city fathers, he entered a tranquil period of his ministry during which he could devote himself to the work that has endeared him to the hearts of so many, and was without question the most significant accomplishment of his lengthy ministry.

Last Days
On August 30, 1711, Wilhelmus à Brakel preached the gospel for the last time. In his last sermon, during which he often had to sit down, he expounded the preamble of the Lord's prayer. This message concluded the public ministry of a man of whose preaching Hellenbroek said that he could thunder as a Boanerges, comfort as a Barnabas, instruct as a Paul, and allure as a John.
Until his last day he remained a man of prayer who continually interceded for the welfare of Zion, and particularly for his beloved congregation of Rotterdam. He also remained faithful to his calling to speak on God's behalf, exhorting whenever he had the opportunity. One evening, when suffering from much anxiety, he asked that the following message be conveyed: "Tell the congregation in my name that I have preached to her the truth which I have known; which I have tasted; which one can rely upon; by which one can obtain salvation; and trusting in which I die."
On October 30, 1711, an hour before he died, someone asked him how he was doing, to which he replied, "Very well; I rest in my Jesus; I am united to Him; I but wait that He might come; however, I submit myself with all quietness."
After having been comforted by his son-in-law, Rev. Van der Kluit, Brakel closed his own eyes, and calmly entered the eternal rest that remains for the children of God. He died in the Lord at the age of seventy-six after having served His Master faithfully for forty-nine years in the ministry. His Spirit-anointed ministry lives on, however, in the work we shall now examine more closely.

Source: Bartel Elshout, The Pastor and Practical Theology of Wilhelmus à Brakel (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997), 14-19.

Lectures on Brakel & The Christian's Reasonable Service (Given at 2003 Banner of Truth Minister's Conference)

Lecture #2

Wilhelmus à Brakel & the Christian's Reasonable Service
By Bartel Elshout

As stated yesterday, à Brakel's objective in writing The Christian's Reasonable Service was straightforward: to instruct and edify the congregation of the Lord. In this work we hear the heartbeat of one who was consumed with love for Christ and His church and who deemed it to be his singular calling to be a faithful pastor of His flock. This explains why à Brakel does not claim to have presented a ground-breaking treatment of Reformed theology--and indeed, his work is not a systematic theology in the classic sense of the word. It is more than a systematic treatment of theology: It is experiential systematic theology.
That this was à Brakel's intent is evident from the subtitle, in which he expressed that The Christian's Reasonable Service is a work "in which divine truths concerning the covenant of grace are expounded, defended against opposing parties, and their practice advocated." In other words, what à Brakel presents in this work is applied theology. The theology he presents is a living, experiential theology. One does not need to read long in this work to detect its warmth and spiritual vibrancy. Therein lies the secret of the success and prevailing influence of this work. à Brakel speaks the language of Scripture from and to the heart.
Its importance was therefore recognized soon after it was published (though à Brakel initially had difficulty finding a publisher). His biographer, F.J. Los, comments: "Being founded upon God's Word, Brakel's work has become the most popular dogmatics of the Reformed in the Netherlands." It became a spiritual guidebook to all who were committed to intelligent piety--that is, subjective piety grounded and rooted in the objective truths of God's Word.
As of today, at least twenty-six editions have been published in the Dutch language, to which must be added a translation into the German language and the recently published four-volume English translation. Never could à Brakel have anticipated that his work would be so widely received and would exert its influence until this very day--much less that this work would become available to the English-speaking world. Stoeffler in his The Rise of Evangelical Pietism makes a striking observation in this regard:

It is not difficult to see why this extensive treatment of Christian theology was most highly regarded by Reformed Pietists. All the subjects dear to their hearts were treated fully, and each carefully balanced with all the other, the whole having only one aim, namely, the promotion of godliness. The words of scripture and what could logically be deduced therefrom were regarded as the sole basis for any valid assertion. The preciseness of Lodensteyn and Voetius were combined with the lush mysticism of the older Teellinck and the older Brakel. The knowledge of the renowned Coccejus was drawn upon for purposes of interpreting God's dealings with his Church, and that of the famous Witsius in the interpretation of the covenant and of saving faith. All the Pietists on both sides of the channel had ever thought and said was here summarized and put in the language of the people. It is safe to assume that had it not been for the language barrier, the younger Brakel would have achieved the distinction of being one of the outstanding Pietistic theologians in Europe and America.

Simply stated, The Christian's Reasonable Service is a masterful synthesis of Puritan and Dutch Second Reformation theology--or to use a recently coined phrase, of North Sea piety.
In the preface of this work, à Brakel expresses the wish that he could preach to all of the Netherlands, and even to all the world. He therefore rejoiced in the invention of the printing press which, by way of the printed word, enabled him to reach every Dutchman with the truth he yearned to preach. His wish has been fulfilled beyond what he could have anticipated. Stoeffler's prophetic assumption that Brakel would have been one of the outstanding Pietistic theologians in Europe and America had it not been for the language barrier, is presently being validated!
Since the value of this work is for a considerable part due to the experiential application of the truths it sets forth, let us briefly consider the experiential dimension of The Christian's Reasonable Service.
In selecting the words of Romans 12:1 as the basis for his title, à Brakel wished to indicate that it is an entirely reasonable matter for man to serve the God who has so graciously revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ by means of His Word. More importantly, however, he wished to convey that God demands from man that he serve Him in spirit and truth, doing so in an intelligent, reasonable, and godly manner.
This brings us at once to the heart of the matter. à Brakel wrote this work for church members--not for theologians, though it was his wish that they benefit from it as well. This explains why his work is permeated with practical application of the doctrines he expounds. In a masterful way, he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth. He first establishes a solid biblical, foundation for each doctrine with which he deals, quoting profusely from the Scriptures. His selection of quotes is an impressive feature of this work, proving he had a profound grasp of the Scriptures. This scripturalness is rationally reinforced by his frequent resorting to the scholastic method to validate his positions.
As a man taught of God, he ably defined and described Christian experience in biblical terms. The undeniably mystical flavor of this work represents biblical mysticism at its best--a Spirit-wrought mysticism that fully harmonizes with the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. This explains at once why Jesus Christ truly has the preeminence in this work. It is Jesus Christ, the Logos, who is the marrow of God's Word and every doctrine contained in it. It is therefore self-evident that in the subjective experience of this Word, Jesus Christ also has the preeminence. No wonder then that this work brims with references to Him whom the Father has given a name above every name. For à Brakel the name of Jesus is sweeter than honey; you can almost sense the inner stirrings of his soul when he exalts Jesus as the Father's unspeakable gift to fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
The rich experiential applications found at the conclusion of each doctrinal chapter in the first two volumes, make this work invaluable and pastoral. à Brakel was first and foremost a pastor who made his theological acumen subservient to the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of His church. à Brakel himself confirms this assertion when in his preface he expresses the desire that ministers and theological students would profit from this work.

I will also rejoice if my work may be useful in giving direction to theological students, student preachers, and young ministers. May it enable them to comprehend the unique, distinct nature of divine truths so that they may safeguard and practice these truths in deed. May they present them to the congregation in such a manner that it may result in the conversion and strengthening of souls and in the edification of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Regarding the contents of The Christian's Reasonable Service, we can say that the covenant of grace is its dominant theme and organizing principle. This is primarily to be attributed to the fact that The Christian's Reasonable Service is the enlargement of à Brakel's exposition of Psalm 8, consisting of a rather extensive treatise of the covenant of grace. As to its outline, however, à Brakel's devotional systematic theology follows the order of the six loci of Reformed systematic theology, which by that time had become the accepted structural framework for the presentation of Reformed doctrine. In examining the table of contents, one will observe, however, that approximately sixty percent of his work is devoted to soteriology. Furthermore, if we consider that applications found at the end of nearly every chapter in his treatment of the first three loci are soteriological in nature, we could conclude from the table of contents alone that the experience of doctrine in the heart, and the outworking thereof in one's life, is the dominant theme of this work.
Though the scholastic structure of this work as such is not as pronounced as one would find for instance in the systematic theology of Francis Turretin, à Brakel's doctrinal chapters do have a scholastic flavor, as he uses the polemical objection/rebuttal and question/answer approach to bring important issues into focus. He uses this approach especially to define the truth sharply against the background of the frontburner issues of his day: Cocceianism, Labadism, and Roman Catholicism. Even when he uses this approach, however, one cannot help but detect the beating of a pastoral heart in the answers he gives. His overriding goal is to edify and build up the saints in their most holy faith.
This pastoral and practical dimension of his work we shall now examine more closely by considering selected quotations from the practical applications found in every chapter of The Christian's Reasonable Service.
In the locus of Theology Proper, the treatment of the doctrine of Scripture, for instance, is not merely a dogmatic and academic exercise for à Brakel. His explicit goal is that his readers
might read the Scriptures in a God-glorifying and edifying manner, so that spiritual growth and prosperity might result. For this purpose, he gives directions which are practical and to the point:

The eunuch read while riding in his chariot (Acts 8:28). The Bereans searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). How everyone ought to practice this in private, prior to going to work, both by himself alone, and with his family! At noon when one nourishes his body, he ought also to nourish his soul. In the evening after work, one must end the day by seeking some refreshment from the Word of God. In the meantime, while engaged in his occupation, by meditating upon what has been read, the soul will maintain communion with God. He will be enabled to understand the spiritual meaning and also experience the power of God's Word. This will cause the soul to grow in grace, protect against vain thoughts, control the tongue, suppress corruptions, and direct man to fear God.

Then, after having expounded the doctrine of God's essence, it is the evident desire of this pastoral theologian that his readers might worship the God of theology. As an astute theologian, he therefore stresses long before he deals with Christology the necessity of knowing God in Christ, in whom alone the Father has revealed Himself to the children of men as a gracious and merciful God.

It is essential that one considers God to be His God in Christ. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is to be found in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Outside of Christ, God is a terror, and can only be viewed as a consuming fire. In Christ, however, one may have liberty; and God reveals Himself to such who approach unto Him in that way. Then one will better be able to endure the light of God's countenance, rejoice in it, and therein glorify God. One ought to be cautious, however, of becoming too free and irreverent when considering God as Father in Christ and in the contemplation of His perfections which are unveiled by means of the covenant of grace. The proper frame for contemplation upon God is to be humble, reverent, and to tremble with awe before the majesty of the Lord.

In dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity, he writes as a man who adores the God of whom he writes,

Behold, must you not admit that faith in the Holy Trinity is profitable? Is it not the only foundation of a truly godly life and the fountain of all comfort? Therefore, consider God as being one in essence and existing in three Persons... There will be a wondrous illumination concerning the unity of the Godhead as you consider each individual Person, and of the Godhead in its Trinity as you contemplate its unity. If so much light, comfort, joy, and holiness may be derived from perceiving what is but an obscure glimmer of the Trinity, what will it be and how will the soul be affected when he may behold God's face in righteousness, and awake, satisfied with His likeness? (Psa. 17:15).

A bit further on, when à Brakel deals with the extrinsic works of the divine Being, he concludes his chapter about the covenant of redemption by underscoring the steadfastness which issues forth for the believer from a proper understanding of this covenant:

The elect need but be still and let the Lord work. They need but to open their mouths to receive, for whatever is comprehended in the articles of this covenant will most certainly be given to them. On the other hand, they must focus upon this covenant, be active in entering into the covenant of grace, and living therein, they must make it the foundation of their life. This will motivate the godly to proceed with understanding and steadfastness, neither resting in the steadfastness of their faith or godliness nor, as one is so often inclined to do, being tossed to and fro when both (i.e., faith and godliness) appear to diminish.

In the locus of anthropology, à Brakel alludes to the steadfastness of this covenant in his chapter about the Breach of the Covenant of Works. As pastor, he knows how inclined God's children are to look within themselves rather than outside themselves to the finished work of Christ, the Mediator of the covenant. He therefore moves from the doctrinal to the practical when he concludes this chapter with the following exhortation:

Thus the covenant of works has been broken and it would be to the advantage of God's children to look away from this covenant. How much yearning there still is for the covenant of works! This becomes evident both in the manifestation of unbelief when falling into sin--as if sin would nullify all the promises and as if one must find something within himself before coming to Christ--and by secretly resting in our own works, being more encouraged when things go reasonably well. Therefore one must make Christ in the covenant of grace the foundation for all rest and comfort and seek holiness from Him as a principal element of salvation.

In treating the doctrine of sin, à Brakel, as we would expect from this shepherd of souls, does not conclude without pointing to God's remedy for sin--and thus direct sinners to flee to Christ, the Savior of sinners:

Now consider all this together, and take some time to meditate on how completely abominable, condemnable, and hopeless your situation is. If you are unconverted, it may be a means to stir you up to seek and to ask, "Is there yet help? Is there no hope? Is there yet a way whereby I may be saved?" If you are then directed to Jesus Christ as the way, He will become precious, and you will earnestly seek to become a partaker of Him by faith. If you are converted, the contemplation upon the state of sin, no matter what it may have been for you prior to your conversion, will make and keep you humble; it will teach you to esteem Christ highly and to make use of Him continually. It will motivate you to glorify God as an expression of gratitude for sending His Son to deliver poor sinners through Him and to lead them to eternal felicity.

In the locus of Christology, we meet Father Brakel as a man who has a burning love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It is this evident love for Christ that makes à Brakel's theology a living theology. In his masterful treatment of the doctrine of Christ, he always aims for the heart. Many times, therefore, he is actually preaching to his readers, inviting them with all the love of his pastoral heart to come to the Jesus who has the preeminence in his heart and ministry. As a balanced Reformed theologian, he does not hesitate to invite sinners freely, unconditionally, and compellingly to flee to Christ by faith: Thus he writes in his chapter about "The Necessity of the Satisfaction by the Surety Jesus Christ":

Oh, that you were truly destitute and perplexed! Then there would be hope for your salvation, not because of your perplexity, but because there is a Surety for such perplexed ones--Jesus Christ, whose voice sounds forth, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mat. 11:28). To you who are perplexed, without hope, destitute, and troubled, I proclaim that there is one Savior--a Savior unknown to the heathen. Although they know that there is a God, they do not know that there is a Savior and Surety who is proclaimed among us. This Surety calls you, invites you, and promises to save you if you come to Him. Therefore rejoice in such a blessed reality. Look outside of yourself, go to Him, receive Him by faith, and be saved.

The experiential flavor of à Brakel's work can also be perceived in his chapter about the kingly office of Christ. As a worshiper of this exalted Christ himself, he exults,

How blessed are the footsteps of this King to such a soul [the believer]! How it draws his heart in love to Him! His will is the soul's will, and it is the greatest delight of such to do and refrain from doing as pleases Him. Oh, how the soul longs for immediate communion with Him, to behold Him face to face, and to sink away eternally in this mutual and perfect love! Already on this side of the grave, the name of Jesus is written with golden letters in his heart. For Jesus' sake the soul would readily part with his honor, belongings, friends, husband, wife, parents, and children.

Also near the end of his Christology section, when expounding the doctrine of Christ's exaltation, he stresses the experiential acquaintance of the believer with Christ:

There is nothing more delightful for a child of God than to behold Jesus. It is God's desire that His children be joyful, for He frequently exhorts them to this, promising that He will meet "him that rejoiceth" (Isa. 64:5). There is nothing in which they find more inward and consistent joy, than in beholding the glorified Jesus. Therefore let your meditations of Him be sweet.

In the Ecclesiology section of his work, à Brakel gives us a stirring definition of the purpose and calling of God's church--a definition which is again anything but academic:

The primary purpose of the church's existence is the glorification of God. Since the church is the kingdom of heaven, the people of God have God as their Father and the Lord Jesus as their king, so the glory of God can be observed when these people live in the love and fear of God. This is true when they are obedient to Him as their Lord, trust in Him as the almighty and faithful One, and live pure and holy lives personally among each other and towards others. The Lord's name is desecrated, however, when this people who are called after His Name do not conduct themselves accordingly. It is the Lord's will that His Name be hallowed by the coming of His kingdom (Mat. 6:9-10). He has formed that people to show forth His praise (Isa. 43:21); to show forth the praises of Him who hath called them (1 Pet. 2:9); to be to the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 8:23).

In light of the fact that this Church is the purchased property of the Lord Jesus Christ, he exhorts office-bearers as follows:

Reflect upon the congregation over which the Lord has appointed you as overseers. It is the church of God, the Church which Christ has bought with His blood, which Christ has loved, and for which Christ has given Himself. There you have the Lord's precious sons and daughters, his darling children, over whom the Lord has appointed you as nurses. Will you then not tenderly treat such darlings of the Lord--protecting them from the violence of those who wish to harm them, keeping them from error, giving them food and drink, and instructing them as such beloved ones of the Lord Jesus? Did Jesus buy them with His blood and would you not concern yourself with them? If the love of Jesus towards His church fills your heart towards the church, it will also make you diligent to care for her with all your might and to seek her welfare.

The soteriology section of The Christian's Reasonable Service is the lengthiest section of this work. Especially in these chapters we hear the heartbeat of the Dutch Second Reformation. à Brakel understood that soteriology is the Spirit-wrought experience of Christology. We could say that soteriology is the doctrine of Christian experience, as it details the saving and applying ministry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God's elect. As expected, à Brakel deals with this doctrine in a thoroughly experiential fashion. Let me illustrate. In his chapter about faith, à Brakel characteristically describes the life of faith as a continual fleeing to and feeding upon Christ:

They [believers] frequently, if not a thousand times, receive the Lord Jesus by faith. They always believe that their reception of Him has not been as unreserved as it ought to have been and that it has not been with sufficient clarity and sincerity; it was not as wholehearted as it ought to have been. This receiving of Him is their daily food and therefore they repeat it over and over.

à Brakel also addresses the lack of abiding assurance in the hearts of so many believers. Rather than endorsing this to be the norm, he counsels believers concerning the way in which such abiding assurance may be obtained:

Many who are truly justified do not attain to assurance, or readily lose it, since they wish to be their own judge and establish their feelings as the foundation of their assurance. It would be a blessing if someone could always have this; however, it is not God's normal way always to seal His children and to give them the sense of this assurance. The Lord has established another foundation which is more steadfast, durable, and consistent: His Word. Turn to the Word of God to observe what promises are made there, and to whom they are made. Let him, while lifting up his soul, ascertain the certainty of these promises as being pronounced by a God who is true.

Consistent with this, he stresses in his chapter about spiritual joy (as one of the fruits of justification) that

God is pleased with the joy of His children. It is His will that they delight themselves, value the benefits, fully trust in His Word and in His promise, and jubilate, leap for joy, and sing His praises with joyful and singing lips. Cheerfulness and joyfulness are a delight to Him.

Realizing that the believing use of the promises is of pivotal importance for the experience of spiritual joy, Pastor Brakel gives this advice:

Seek out a promise which is applicable to your situation. Consider this promise as having been made by the God of truth to His children, and that they will be fulfilled with more certainty than certainty itself. Consider that the behavior of His children (whatever it may be) will not cause God to change and nullify His promises since this given promise has been made in an absolute sense--as is true for all the promises of the covenant of grace. Their fulfillment is not contingent upon any condition from man's side.

à Brakel's detailed and exhaustive treatment of the doctrine of sanctification truly qualifies him as a Dutch Puritan. Knowing how much believers can struggle with the inadequacy and failure of their sanctification, and how this inclines them at times to discredit their Christian experience, he writes, in typical Puritan fashion, a chapter in which he presents 13 cases of conscience in which hew addresses 13 possible reasons why believers may doubt the genuineness of their faith. When dealing with the complaint of spiritual deadness, he writes,

If you were as dead as you imagine yourself to be, from whence then does this displeasure with your condition, your sorrowful brooding, and your languishing proceed? A dead person does not have any feelings. However, the fact that you are sensible of your insensitivity shows that there is life--though it be feeble....When spiritual life is held before you in its preciousness, consisting in sweet union with Jesus, a leaning in love upon Him, peace of conscience in light of the forgiveness of sins, and a humble and tender walk before the Lord--aren't you then acquainted with it? Does not your previous experience come to mind? If it could be given to you in one word, wouldn't you then wholeheartedly and eagerly choose for this, as you love such a disposition? These are indeed clear evidences that in all your deadness there is yet life, and that therefore you ought not to disown your state due to your deadness.

The Christian's Reasonable Service ends, as expected, with the doctrine of the last things. The final paragraph of this work (excluding the appendix), in which à Brakel stirs up the believer to anticipate joyfully the glory that awaits them, is a truly fitting ending to this experiential and pastoral body of divinity. In it, à Brakel reminds the believer once more what his reasonable service is while he anticipates the glorious return of his precious Savior.

He who may have such a lively expectation of glory, holding this before him, will be motivated by that hope to prepare himself for this. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). Believers, you may therefore anticipate that such glory will shortly be your portion. Thus, haste to complete your task, and be an example of godliness, faith, courage, and hope upon glory. Make this glory, and the way which leads to it, known to others and lead them along unto felicity, so that you may join the Lord Jesus in saying, "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do...I have manifested Thy name unto...men. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me!" (John 17:4-6). HALLELUJAH!

This brings to a conclusion the brief sampling of the pastoral and experiential applications which make the Christian's Reasonable Service such a unique and valuable work. And unique it is indeed! In which systematic theology do you also find chapters such as this: Love toward God; Love toward the Lord Jesus; Contentment; Self-denial; Secret prayer; Singing spiritual songs, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual desertion, etc.?
Is it not this powerful combination of solid Reformed, systematic theology and the pastoral and experiential application of this theology which yields the reason why the veneration of à Brakel and his magnum opus continues unabated in the Netherlands today? Is this not the reason why the reception of the English translation of this work has greatly transcended our expectations, and why this work is presently finding its way into the libraries of many ministers and theologians throughout the world? Is it not because à Brakel in his masterful exposition of the doctrines of Scripture simultaneously touches the heart strings of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity?
More important than human approval, however, is the historically validated divine approval The Christian's Reasonable Service has received. Throughout recent centuries, God has owned this work to be a faithful exposition of His mind as revealed in His Word--even though this work also has its human weaknesses and inaccuracies.
While yet alive, the value and divine approbation of this work were already recognized. Abraham Hellenbroek, a contemporary Dutch Second Reformation divine, a fellow minister in Rotterdam, and a close personal friend of à Brakel, therefore highly recommended the purchase and reading of it: "No family should be without it: the fruit which it has borne everywhere, and still bears, is extraordinary: from afar and near one hears of the most lofty and remarkable testimonies." This explains why during the eighteenth century, next to the Bible, there was hardly a book read more frequently in the Netherlands than this work.
To verify the latter statement, let me conclude by giving you several quotes from one of my favorite chapters of The Christian's Reasonable Service, entitled, "Love toward the Lord Jesus." Especially in this chapter, one senses how greatly à Brakel loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and how he desires to encourage others to love Him in sincerity as well.
As background for his treatment of this subject, he first identifies those professing believers who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ--an approach much needed in preaching today. He writes that

Many know Jesus according to the letter, but not internally by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, such also have no love for Him. They do desire Him as a servant to protect them from hell and to help them get into heaven--of which they also have no correct perceptions. Beyond that, they have no use for Him. There is no entering into covenant with Him, no surrendering to Him, no receiving of Him by faith unto justification and sanctification, no heart-union, and no exercising of fellowship with Him. They are neither acquainted with His presence nor with His absence. They are satisfied if they are but good church-members, partake of the Lord's Supper, live honestly, and have the illusion that they will be saved. On that basis they proceed--even though Jesus remains a stranger to them, remaining outside of their heart and thoughts. Since you are acquainted with human love, you will thus perceive that you have no love to Jesus, whom you ought to love more vehemently than men. You may say that you love Jesus. But then I ask you, "How is this evident? Is there esteem and reverence for Him? Do you grieve and long for Him? Do you endeavor to live in immediate union with Him? Is there a resemblance between your nature and His? Are you obedient and do you keep His commandments?

After these searching questions, posed by a man who knows that he must deal honestly with souls, à Brakel proceeds to encourage all who do love the Lord Jesus Christ.

As wretched as those are who do not love Jesus, so blessed are they who do love Him. He who does not love Jesus, readily imagines that he does love Jesus, but he who loves Jesus in truth frequently fears that he does not love Him. Such a person finds two reasons within himself causing him to have such suspicion about himself: He does not feel the sweet motions toward Jesus which, in his opinion, ought always to be inherent in love. Furthermore, if he loved Jesus, he would be more obedient to Him and live a holier life. Such ought to know first of all, that the probability of love being present is very great if one is so suspicious of his conduct. If this is accompanied with a desire to love Him, and if there is grief that he does not love Him; if this does not only issue forth out of a fear for the judgment which will come upon those who do not love Him, and a desire to be saved (thus desiring love as but a means to acquire something); but if these concerns issue forth and are accompanied with the desire to love Jesus--since one delights in the act itself of loving Him--then there is not only a probability, but there is proof that one loves Jesus. It is natural for upright souls to distrust themselves if they do not clearly perceive a matter within themselves. Such is the conduct of God's children. 'Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting' (Psa. 139:23-24).

Then he addresses those believers who grieve over the deficiency of their sanctification, and therefore question whether they truly love the Lord Jesus. Pastor Brakel has a ready answer for them also:

Deficiency in sanctification is indeed indicative of the imperfection of love, but no proof of its total absence. Love is still small, and besides that, the old Adam is still present; these two strive against each other. Our corrupt nature prevents love from breaking through--and furthermore, sins do not proceed from love but from our corruption. Love is, however, not strong enough to prevent and overcome these sins; love groans under them and is grieved by them. "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:17). Wherever there is aversion for, hatred for, and opposition to sin; wherever there is a desire and love for godliness; wherever there is prayer to the Spirit for sanctification; and wherever there are elements of a desire to please Jesus (motivated by love), there is true sanctification. Believers, from this you may now observe that your reasons for concern are unfounded and that they ought not to prevent you in the expressions of your love toward Jesus.

With great pastoral sensitivity, he also seeks to encourage the believer who grieves over the coldness and deficiency of his love for Jesus.

To further assure you that you love Jesus, consider the following: Place all that you love upon earth next to Jesus and observe then toward which side your heart leans. Would you rather be in the presence of those whom you love dearly, or would you rather be with Jesus if you were given and permitted to delight yourself in His love? Do you prefer money, valuables, and that which is beautiful, and delightful--or do you prefer Jesus? I do not ask for your judgmental observation, but what the issues of your heart are. If you were to make such a comparison, would you not say, "For me it is a thing of great importance. It is Jesus and Jesus only. Everything else, apart from Jesus, would only be grievous to me. To have Jesus, however, while having to miss everything else, would gratify me, and I would willfully forsake everything for Jesus' sake as long as I might live with Jesus in the enjoyment of love toward Him.

Finally, à Brakel lists six impediments which keep the believer from growing in love toward the Lord Jesus Christ. They are: Ignorance, partial love, lack of fellowship, unbelief, willful sins, and fearfulness. Concerning lack of fellowship he writes,

Be on guard against a lack of fellowship. Love wants to be maintained. If we are too far from the fire, we shall become cold. The closest friends will become estranged due to lack of fellowship. Such is also the case here. Jesus wants to be sought for and perceive that His friendship is of great value to us. Jesus wants to be waited on and to have time made available for mutual manifestations of love. You must therefore frequently endeavor to speak to Him and to tell Him again what your heart's disposition toward Him is, while in an intimate manner expressing your desire toward Him, and your grief that you cannot love Him more. That stirs up love.

Brothers, may God grant that our love for Jesus may be such that we would fully concur with Father Brakel when he states,

If the soul may sit in the shadow of the love of Jesus, and if her love sweetly issues forth to her Beloved, she has a heaven full of joy, and only then is she in her element. Then she wishes that this love would never be disturbed...a loving soul rejoices in the expressions of her love to Jesus, and in the sensible enjoyment of Jesus' love toward her.

Is it not evident from this quote and others that the author of The Christian's Reasonable Service is a God-fearing rather than a mere academic theologian? Does he not show us the way as ministers of the gospel by illustrating for us that the power of faithful preaching lies in the experiential application of divine truths to the souls of men?
Brothers, it is therefore my earnest wish that à Brakel's work would not only be a source of instruction and edification for you, but that we would also view à Brakel's approach as a model for our pastoral ministries.
Finally, as we now conclude our brief excursion into The Christian's Reasonable Service, this masterful exposition of intelligent piety, may Father Brakel's wish, expressed in his preface, be richly fulfilled in our day:

May the almighty and good God, who repeatedly encouraged me when I had intentions of discontinuing this task and who is the Author of whatever good is to be found in this work, pour out His Holy Spirit upon all who will either read or hear this book read. May it be to the conversion of the unconverted, the instruction of the ignorant, the restoration of backsliders, the encouragement of the discouraged, as well as to the growth of faith, hope, and love in all who have become partakers of a measure of grace.

Therefore, take and read -- and, take and buy!