Friday, November 6, 2009

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

Lecture #1

Wilhelmus à Brakel & the Dutch Second Reformation
By Bartel Elshout

From the inception of God's church, it has pleased the Lord to use a cloud of witnesses to fulfill the rich covenant promise of His Word that His truth shall be to every generation (Psa. 100:5; 105:8). In the execution of His eternal and sovereign good pleasure, the Lord has used a countless multitude of sinful men, quickened by His Spirit and called to the sacred ministry of the Word, to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Among them, however, God has sovereignly elevated some of His servants above the level of the common and often obscure ministers of the gospel.
For anyone conversant with the Post-Reformation history of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, the name of Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711) will immediately come to mind as one of such ministers. à Brakel is unquestionably one of the premier and most widely read representatives of Dutch Reformed orthodoxy. The prominence the Lord has been pleased to give to this man, his ministry, and his written legacy is such that until this present day his name recognition exceeds nearly all the men of God with whom Jehovah has graced His church in the Netherlands during the last three centuries. This is particularly true in those Reformed churches which highly esteem experiential preaching. In these church communities the name of Wilhelmus à Brakel is a household name, even for the common church member.
This is particularly to be attributed to à Brakel's magnum opus, De Redelijke Godsdienst (The Christian's Reasonable Service). Since its publication, the veneration for this work among those of orthodox Reformed persuasion has been such that in former generations (as recent as the pre-World War II generation) it was customary to read The Christian's Reasonable Service sequentially during long winter evenings. This long standing practice is a significant reason why this eminent divine, one of the acclaimed fathers of the Dutch Reformed tradition, continues to be held in such high esteem until the present. Already during his forty-nine-year ministry in the Netherlands (1662-1711), during which several editions of The Christian's Reasonable Service were printed, esteem for him was such that he was affectionately referred to as "Father Brakel," a name by which he is still known today in the Netherlands.
à Brakel's ministry transpired during one of the most blessed periods of Dutch church history, the period of the Nadere Reformatie, known in the English-speaking world most commonly as the Dutch Second Reformation. Therefore, in order to understand the enduring significance of à Brakel's ministry, and particularly the significance of the greatest achievement of his ministry, The Christian's Reasonable Service, we must briefly examine its historical context.
The Nadere Reformatie, which literally means "further reformation," represents a rather well-defined period and movement in the history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. This historical designation of the movement expresses the common objective of the ministers whose ministries comprise the Dutch Second Reformation: the further reformation of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands.
Its approximate chronological boundaries are the early part of the seventeenth century and the latter part of the eighteenth century. It is generally agreed among scholars that the ministry of Willem Teellinck (1579-1629) marks the beginning of the Dutch Second Reformation. He is known therefore as the father of the Dutch Second Reformation, whereas Theodore VanderGroe (1705-1784) is considered to be the last clearly distinguishable representative of this movement, and is therefore referred to as de hekkesluiter (the one who closed the gate).
Historically, the Dutch Second Reformation coincides, and largely runs concurrent with, both English Puritanism in the British Isles, and German Pietism. Each of these movements had as a common objective to make the wondrous truths of Scripture, rediscovered in the Reformation, a vibrant reality in the hearts and lives of ministers and parishioners alike, and thus strive for a life of genuine piety issuing forth from a life of intimate fellowship with God. These three movements are therefore at times placed under the one umbrella of European Pietism.
In global terms, these three movements do indeed represent one historical movement; however, each movement had its own unique distinctives. Joel Beeke, in his work, "Assurance of Faith," comments: "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." English Puritanism was primarily an ecclesiastical reaction to conditions in the Church of England, the church of compromise; German Pietism was a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of the Lutheran Church in Germany; and De Dutch Second Reformation, though a reaction against the dead orthodoxy in the Dutch Reformed Church, clearly had as its objective the further reformation of the entire nation of Holland.
The Dutch Second Reformation, though striving for the sanctification of heart and life as the other movements did, was therefore a uniquely national movement which particularly during its early, militant stage had as one of its explicit goals the national, moral reformation of the Netherlands. Stirred up by the unparalleled prosperity of the historically coinciding Golden Age of Dutch History, the Netherlands was a nation falling prey to the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
The nature and objectives of the Dutch Second Reformation are perhaps best expressed in a definition of this movement formulated in 1995 by the SSNR (The Institute for Study of the Dutch Second Reformation):

The Dutch Second Reformation is that movement within the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which, as a reaction to the declension or absence of a living faith, made both the personal experience of faith and godliness matters of central importance. From that perspective, the movement formulated substantial and procedural reformation initiatives, submitting them to the proper ecclesiastical, political, and social agencies, and/or in conformity therewith pursued in both word and deed a further reformation of the church, society, and state."

à Brakel and his ministry functioned at the approximate center of this movement, both historically and theologically. On a time line, beginning in 1606 with the ministry of the father of the Dutch Second Reformation, Willem Teellinck, and terminating in 1784 with the death of Theodorus Vander Groe, à Brakel's ministry (particularly his most important pastorate in Rotterdam from 1683-1711) marks the center of this time line. However, more significantly, his ministry represents a remarkable balance of the Dutch Second Reformation relative to both its early and concluding stages. Dr. Fieret, in his biographical essay about à Brakel, concludes: "Wilhelmus à Brakel could be considered a model for the entire movement," and must be considered as one of its primary representatives.
Early in the Dutch Second Reformation there was a strong emphasis on the outward manifestation of internal piety, i.e., a godly walk. One will find this particularly in the writings of Willem Teellinck who zealously strove to promote the godliness he had witnessed during his stay among Puritan brethren in Bambury, England. In the eighteenth century, subsequent to à Brakel's ministry, when the goal of national reformation had become an ideal rather than a reality, the Dutch Second Reformation internalized. Consequently, the preaching and the writing of the later representatives of the Dutch Second Reformation increasingly focused on the internal experiences of the heart, since an external piety which did not issue forth from internal piety became prevalent. This explains why the ministries of Alexander Comrie and Theodorus Vander Groe, two of the final representatives of the Dutch Second Reformation, are very discriminating in nature and focus more on the constituent elements of saving faith and its exercises than on the life of sanctification.
In à Brakel's ministry, both the discriminating treatment of saving faith as found in Comrie and VanderGroe, as well as the detailed exposition of the life of sanctification as found in Willem Teellinck, function in a balanced manner. Justification and sanctification function biblically as two inseparable sides of one coin. This scriptural balance does justice to the internal and external dimensions of Christian experience. Here lies the one reason for à Brakel's enduring influence as a premier divine of the Dutch Second Reformation. In fact, à Brakel's The Christian's Reasonable Service is one of the main reasons why the influence of the Dutch Second Reformation extends until this day in a vibrant and recognizable manner in orthodox Reformed circles in the Netherlands. His ministry represents a Christianity that is thoroughly scriptural, experiential, and devotional. In his major work, we find one of the most complete, comprehensive, and balanced expressions of Dutch Second Reformation theology.
F. Ernest Stoeffler, in his work The Rise of Evangelical Pietism, summarizes as follows:

His main distinction...lies in the fact that in his 'The Christian's Reasonable Service' he supplied Reformed Pietism with a theological textbook which, unlike the Marrow of Amesius, came out of a tradition wholly native to the Netherlands. In it he, too, preserved the balance between the mystical and ethical elements in Christianity which is so characteristic of the great Pietists in the Reformed communion.

This naturally leads to the question: To what extent is there a relationship between the Dutch Second Reformation, The Christian's Reasonable Service, and Puritanism?
Anyone conversant with the English Puritans who reads à Brakel will be struck by the similarity between the two. This similarity should come as no surprise. In the overall movement of Pietism, the kinship and interrelationship between Puritanism and the Dutch Second Reformation is perhaps the strongest. As Beeke states, "The Dutch Second Reformation is in fact the Dutch counterpart to English Puritanism....The link between these movements is strong historically and especially theologically." In fact, scholarship has yet to settle the question definitively to what extent both movements influenced each other.
Gisbertus Voetius, the theologian par excellence of the Dutch Second Reformation, paid a visit to England for the purpose of indulging himself in unadulterated Puritanism. Jacobus Koelman, a prominent representative of the Dutch Second Reformation, and a contemporary and friend of à Brakel, was strongly influenced by Puritanism. Also à Brakel himself was "...very enamored with the practical godliness and preaching style of the English."
Another contributing factor to the influence of English Puritanism on the Dutch Second Reformation was the translation of a large number of Puritan writings into Dutch--which occurred to a far greater extent than the other way around. The preoccupation of the Dutch Reformed Church with doctrinal controversies such as the Arminian controversy during the early part of the seventeenth century, left little time for devotional writing. This vacuum was filled by a steady stream of translations of Puritan writing which clearly put a stamp upon the Dutch Second Reformation. The men of the Dutch Second Reformation felt kinship with the Puritans, and so endorsed their writings that they imported and recommended their writings without reservation to the Dutch public.
This kinship and oneness of approach is evident in à Brakel's writings. This is particularly evident in volumes three and four of The Christian's Reasonable Service. In these volumes, à Brakel gives us a thorough and detailed treatment of the life of sanctification, the contents of which, according to Stoeffler, is "strictly reminiscent of Pietistic Puritanism."
In fact, this is one reason why the availability of à Brakel's magnum opus in the English language is significant. à Brakel's work bridges English Puritanism and the equally rich heritage of the Dutch Second Reformation, which due to the language barrier has largely been inaccessible to the English-speaking world. Those who have acquired a taste for the spiritual delicacies found in Puritan writings, will find their spiritual appetite amply satisfied by the rich treasures found in The Christian's Reasonable Service of Wilhelmus à Brakel.
Since this work was the ripe and mature fruit of his ministry, a biographical sketch of this remarkable man of God and his gospel ministry is now in order.
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, the following incident is recorded in F. J. Los' classic biography of Wilhelmus à Brakel: 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.
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.
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. Dr. 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, The Christian's Reasonable Service.
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 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.
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 to his beloved congregation: "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 Christian's Reasonable Service, a work we shall examine more closely tomorrow in the second lecture.
However, to arouse your interest in this classic, which has as its unique feature that it is an experiential and pastoral systematic theology, let me whet your appetite by introducing you to its contents via à Brakel's chapters concerning the office of the ministry. The quotes I will share with you, will quickly reveal his objective in writing The Christian's Reasonable Service, namely, to instruct and edify the congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Upon reading these chapters, once cannot but come to the conclusion that à Brakel himself was a man who took his calling to the ministry very seriously. It can truly be said of à Brakel that his pursuit of the discipline of theology, as was true for John Calvin, had but one objective: to be an able minister of the New Testament.
à Brakel describes the main elements of an internal call to the ministry, and begins by positing that one must have a knowledge of this office. He expounds this premise by stating that

One must know what it means to be a servant of Christ, to be the mouth of the Lord, to proclaim that great gospel, to teach ignorant men the way of salvation, to be instrumental in delivering men from the devil, and to lead them to Christ. One must know that it consists in comforting those who mourn, stirring up the indolent, bringing back those who have strayed, exposing hypocrites and temporal believers to themselves, defending the truth against error, rebuking the ungodly, helping to keep out or expelling from the church those who lead offensive lives, and adorning the church, so that by the holiness of those who profess the truth she would bring glory to Christ. One must know that it consists in being an example and in being able to give an account of the souls entrusted to him. How can he who is neither thoroughly acquainted with these matters, nor perceives the weightiness of it all, nor takes this to heart, have intentions to be faithful?

He then describes as additional aspects of the internal call:
a) the knowledge of one's aptitude for this work;
b) an extraordinary love for Christ, His church; and the souls of the lost;
c) a willingness to deny all that is of the world, such as honor, material goods--yes, even life itself;
d) and, a great desire for this work.
Subsequently, he proceeds to list the qualifications a man must have to be an able minister of the New testament, which, not surprisingly, parallel the five components of the internal call to the ministry. Among other things, he stresses that a minister, in addition to having a thorough knowledge of theology, must also be apt to teach, stating that "All good theologians are not able to be pastors and teachers. Everyone does not receive the gift to communicate the treasure of truth, to make oneself understood, express himself in a clear and desirable manner to the consciences of men."
Having said that, however, he quickly adds,

All of this is nevertheless of no avail if he himself has not been illuminated and converted by the Holy Spirit, so that the truths which he reads in God's Word are also found in his own heart. He should know by personal experience what conversion, prayer, believing in Christ, the wrestlings of faith, the subtle delusions as well as the assaults of Satan, darkness, the sealing work of the Spirit, self-denial, and mortification of sin, etc. are....He will then be able to say, 'That...which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; that...declare we unto you' (1 John 1:1, 3).

à Brakel also gives a stirring, nine-fold description of what the disposition of a minister of the gospel ought to be as he contemplates fulfilling the chief obligation of his calling: the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us, among other things, that for this sacred work

it is needful:
(1) that, in lifting up his heart, he seeks to remind himself in a lively manner that God has sent him, that he ascends the pulpit as an ambassador of God, speaks in the name of God, and is as the mouth of the Lord unto the congregation. This ought to cause him to fear and tremble concerning the matters he will bring forth, as well as the manner in which he will do so, as the Lord will take careful notice as to whether he preaches as he was directed to preach;
(2) that he have the heart of a preacher; that is, he must stand in awe of the God in whose Name he preaches, and with love seek the welfare of the souls to whom he preaches. He must know himself to be entirely undone in himself and have a lively impression of his own inability, so that he will not trust too much in having studied properly.
(3) He 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. To labor to be reputed as being scholarly, and to bring much Latin into the pulpit for this purpose, is only a seeking of self. Every word of Latin is nothing but a pound of flesh (that is, carnality) and is frequently held in contempt by scholarly divines, whose objective it is to make themselves pleasing to the consciences of men by the revelation of the truth.
(4) having performed his task, he ought to descend from the pulpit as Moses descended from the mountain, so that his awe for God and the weightiness of that great task may as yet be manifested upon his countenance.
(5) that upon arrival at home, he immediately ought to go to his room and consider in what frame he has preached. There he ought to humble himself before God concerning that which was lacking, to thank the Lord for His assistance, and to pray for a blessing upon the Word for himself and for the congregation.

In addition to describing the proper disposition of the preacher, à Brakel also focuses on the manner in which he ought to preach. Characteristic of both Puritan and Dutch Second Reformation preaching, à Brakel stresses the necessity of aiming the word at the heart and conscience of the hearer, and thus applying the word in a most personal manner. He also stresses to ministers that their preaching must function as one of the keys of God's Kingdom. It must open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.

A minister must use this key by making specific application...from the pulpit. He must first of all give a clear analysis of who true believers are, so that every one may perceive what his own condition is; he must then proclaim to such the forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, he must clearly and forcefully uncover the condition of the unconverted, proclaiming unto them that they are still objects of the wrath of God and must anticipate condemnation if they remain unconverted. The minister must use this key faithfully with much tenderness of heart, without respect for persons, and with boldness, upon the authority given him by Christ, to promote the building up of His kingdom. He must therefore give heed to the manner in which he uses this key. If he leaves this key unused, he is unfaithful to Christ and His church. If he thereby grieves the godly and hardens the ungodly, he ought to fear for the judgment of God.
Needless to say, a minister who takes his calling seriously, will be motivated to do so by love to the God who called him, and love toward the congregation to which God has sent him. This necessarily makes a faithful minister a man of prayer--or in the words of à Brakel:

This love will cause a minister to pray much for the congregation and pray that he himself might receive grace to communicate this to the congregation. He will study for his sermons prayerfully, and he will prayerfully traverse the street towards the pulpit....Love will cause him at all times to pray for the congregation, thereby seeking her benefit. 'Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith' (1 Th. 3:10).

In addition to being a man of prayer, a minister must also exemplify the truth he preaches in his walk. McCheyne has said that the life of a minister is the life of his ministry. à Brakel expresses this as follows:

A minister must therefore diligently give heed to his internal condition and his external behavior. He is like a polished diamond; the smallest hair or thread on it will easily be detected. He must be aware of the fact that he is observed to a far greater degree than one would be inclined to think; and that men are more aware of his internal condition than he would suspect.

Recognizing that among the ministers of the gospel there are also hirelings, à Brakel intersperses his treatment of the office of the ministry with warnings against those who hold this sacred office presumptuously. With great earnestness, he warns that

There is no creature more abominable under the sun than a minister who seeks himself, for he uses God and all that is sacred to satisfy his own evil lusts. How abominable it is to display holy zeal in prayer, preaching, and speech, and yet to have nothing but strange fire or to pretend love for God in order to receive love and honor for self!

à Brakel shows his pastoral bent when throughout his work he makes his applications very practical and to the point--and at times seasoned with some humor. This is also true in his exhortations to ministers. Let me give you a sampling:

One must not be pretentious. One then seeks to create the appearance of gravity even though such is not the case, or desires as it were to be pointed out with the finger and have people say, "There he is." One accordingly becomes pretentious in all things, wears his hat accordingly, holds his head in the air, and walks with a ridiculous gait. How abominable is such ridiculous pretention which has self-aggrandizement as its mother!

When dealing with the matter of public prayer, he writes,

He must also refrain from referring too much to his bodily weaknesses if he either does not feel well or imagines this to be so. This gives too much an impression of soliciting pity from people or providing an excuse if he does not preach too well, either because he did not study enough, or to solicit adoration for doing well in spite of being so weak.
Finally, à Brakel concludes his chapter about the ministry with great pastoral earnestness by focusing on the day of judgment when every minister will have to give an account of the ministry God has entrusted to him. He first issues a loving warning to all who are unfaithful in their calling, and concludes with a word of encouragement to God's faithful servants:

How dreadful will this investigation and interrogation be for many overseers! How pitiful and dreadful will be the sentence that will be pronounced upon them! If only they had never been born and had never been an overseer! What will it be to perish due to one's own sins, and then also to be burdened by so many souls. They will see you in the last judgment and rise up against you, saying, "You knew very well that I was ignorant, and that I lived in sin. If you had looked after me--had warned, rebuked, instructed, and led me in the way of salvation--I would have been saved. Look, however, you unfaithful minister...I am now going lost! Let God require my blood from your hand, and deal with you as a wicked and lazy servant!"
However, what a precious moment it will be for faithful ministers, elders, and deacons when the Lord will make manifest their labors, their prayers for the congregation, their special discourses, their exhortations, their warnings, and the manner in which they gave direction to souls. He will then cause them to enter into glory, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Mat. 25:21).

May God grant that we too, by the grace of God, may be such good and faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that our ministries in some measure may be an emulation of the ministry of Wilhelmus à Brakel, this beloved servant of God who truly practiced what he preached!


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