Friday, November 6, 2009

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!

1 comment:

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