Herman Bavinck – The Immutability of God

A natural implication of God’s aseity is his immutability. At first blush this immutability seems to have little support in Scripture. For there God is seen as standing in the most vital association with the world. In the beginning he created heaven and earth and so moved from not creating to creating. And from that beginning he is, as it were, a coparticipant in the life of the world and especially of his people Israel. He comes and goes, reveals and conceals himself. He averts his face [in wrath] and turns it back to us in grace. He repents (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11; Amos 7:3, 6; Joel 2:13; Jon. 3:9; 4:2) and changes plans (Exod. 32:10–14; Jon. 3:10). He becomes angry (Num. 11:1, 10; Ps. 106:40; Zech. 10:3) and sets aside his anger (Deut. 13:17; 2 Chron. 12:12; 30:8; Jer. 18:8, 10; 26:3, 19; 36:3). His attitude toward the pious is one thing, his disposition to the ungodly another (Prov. 11:20; 12:22). With the pure he is pure; with the crooked he shows himself a shrewd opponent 12 (Ps. 18:26–27). In the fullness of time he even becomes human in Christ and proceeds to dwell in the church through the Holy Spirit. He rejects Israel and accepts the Gentiles. And in the life of the children of God there is a consistent alternation of feelings of guilt and the consciousness of forgiveness, of experiences of God’s wrath and of his love, of his abandonment and his presence.

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Herman Bavinck – Foreknowledge of God

Consequently — strictly speaking — one cannot speak of foreknowledge in the case of God: with him there are no “distinctions of time.” He calls the things that are not as if they were and sees what is not as if it already existed. “For what is foreknowledge if not knowledge of future events? But can anything be future to God, who surpasses all times? For if God’s knowledge includes these very things themselves, they are not future to him but present; and for this reason we should no longer speak of God’s foreknowledge but simply of God’s knowledge.” “Whatever is past and future to us is immediately present in his sight.” “However the times roll on, with him it is always present.” The division of God’s omniscience into foreknowledge, the knowledge of sight (the present), and reminiscence is a human conception through and through. Scripture, however, often conveys the idea that God’s omniscience temporally precedes the existence of things. And without this auxiliary image we cannot even speak of God’s omniscience. In theology, as a result, the question arose: How can this divine omniscience be squared with human freedom? If God indeed knows all things in advance, everything is set in concrete from eternity, and there is no longer any room for free and contingent acts. Hence, Cicero already denied God’s omniscience, since he could not harmonize it with free will. Along with omnipotence and goodness Marcion also denied omniscience to God on the ground that he allowed humanity to fall into sin. In a later period the Socinians taught the same thing. God knows all things, they said, but all things according to their nature. Hence, he knows future contingent (accidental) events, not with absolute certainty (for then they would cease to be accidental), but as contingent and accidental; that is, he knows what the future holds insofar as it depends on humans, but not with infallible foreknowledge. If that were the case, the freedom of the will would be lost, God would become the author of sin, and he himself would be subject to necessity.

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Herman Bavinck – The Righteousness and Justice of God

Closely related to this holiness is the righteousness [justice; Dutch, gerechtigheid] of God. The words צַדִּיק, צֶדֶק, and צְדָקָה describe the state of a law-abiding person. The first meaning seems to be a forensic one: צַדִּיק is one who is proved right before a trial judge and therefore has to be acquitted (הִצְדִּיק versus the הִרְשִׁיעַ; Deut. 25:1). It is also the word for a person who is right in a dispute or debate (Job 11:2; 33:12, 32; Isa. 41:26), and the substantive, accordingly, can denote the correctness or truth of an assertion (Ps. 52:3; Prov. 16:13; Isa. 45:23). Further, it means in general that a person is right, even aside from a trial or court, and hence that a person has the right on his or her side, is righteous and good, and in step with the law (Gen. 30:33; 38:26; 1 Sam. 24:18; Ps. 15:2). From here the word crosses into the sphere of religion and is applied to God. God is only twice called צַדִּיק in the Pentateuch (Exod. 9:27; Deut. 32:4). God’s righteousness is first of all manifested in history, in his government of the world, and in his providential guidance of Israel, and is therefore especially developed by psalmists and prophets. It is revealed everywhere and extends even to wild animals (Ps. 36:7). God is the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25). It consists in that God repays everyone according to his or her works, treating the righteous one way and the wicked another (Gen. 18:25). It is noteworthy, however, that God’s remunerative justice is far more prominent in Scripture than his retributive justice. Diestel rightly called attention to this fact, and the idea has been endorsed by many, including especially Ritschl.

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Herman Bavinck – The Holiness of God

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Very closely related to God’s goodness is his holiness. In the past it was described as “freedom from all defilement; … a purity that is total and utterly untainted.”Often it is not treated as a distinct attribute alongside the goodness, perfection, and beauty of God. Neither Lombard nor Thomas discusses it. Protestant theologians defined the holiness of God in essentially the same terms: it consists in “moral perfection” or “purity,”and it was sometimes more closely associated with God’s righteousness, his goodness, trustworthiness, or wisdom.Research into the biblical term “holy,” however, has gradually given prominence to another view. At present everyone acknowledges that the concept of holiness in the Old and the New Testament expresses a relation of God to the world. There is disagreement, however, about the precise character of that relation. With a view to texts like Hosea 11:9; Isaiah 57:15; and Ezekiel 20:9ff., Menken associated holiness with God’s condescending goodness and grace. Baudissin, however, believed it was rather God’s utter transcendence and power over all creatures that was expressed in God’s holiness,and was supported in this view by Ritschl and others,who appealed to Numbers 20:13; Isaiah 5:16; Ezekiel 20:41; 28:25; and 36:20–24, and to the linkage between glory and holiness in texts like Isaiah 63:15; 64:11; Jeremiah 17:12; Ezekiel 20:40; and so forth. Closely related to this is the view of Schultz, who, based on Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; 6:20; Isaiah 6:3; 8:13; and 10:17, associates God’s holiness with his flaming majesty, his inapproachability, the infinite distance that separates him from all creatures.Inasmuch as the greatest disagreement concerned the question of which divine attribute was in fact meant by God’s holiness, others believed that this term, so far from denoting an essential inner quality, only describes a relation and is therefore no more than a relational term. Especially Diestel argued for this view and persuaded many others to accept it as well. Also, those who do not believe that holiness can be completely described as a relation usually proceed from this idea in their definition of the concept.

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Herman Bavinck – On Eternal Generation

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The special qualification of the second person in the Trinity is filiation. In Scripture he bears several names that denote his relation to the Father, such as word, wisdom, logos, son, the firstborn, only-begotten and only son, the image of God, image (εἱκων), substance (ὑποστασις), stamp (χαρακτηρ) [cf. Heb. 1:3]. The doctrine of “eternal generation” (αἰωνος γεννησις), so called for the first time by Origen, was based on these names and a few texts cited above. In using these terms we are of course speaking in a human and hence an imperfect language, a fact that makes us cautious. Yet we have the right to speak this language. For just as the Bible speaks analogically of God’s ear, eye, and mouth, so human generation is an analogy and image of the divine deed by which the Father gives the Son “to have life in himself.” But when we resort to this imagery, we must be careful to remove all associations with imperfection and sensuality from it. The generation of a human being is imperfect and flawed. A husband needs a wife to bring forth a son. No man can ever fully impart his image, his whole nature, to a child or even to many children. A man becomes a father only in the course of time and then stops being a father, and a child soon becomes wholly independent from and self-reliant vis-à-vis his or her father. But it is not so with God. Generation occurs also in the divine being. God’s fecundity is a beautiful theme, one that frequently recurs in the church fathers. God is no abstract, fixed, monadic, solitary substance, but a plenitude of life. It is his nature (οὐσια) to be generative (γεννητικη) and fruitful (καρπογονος). It is capable of expansion, unfolding, and communication. Those who deny this fecund productivity fail to take seriously the fact that God is an infinite fullness of blessed life. All such people have left is an abstract deistic concept of God, or to compensate for this sterility, in pantheistic fashion they include the life of the world in the divine being. Apart from the Trinity even the act of creation becomes inconceivable. For if God cannot communicate himself, he is a darkened light, a dry spring, unable to exert himself outward to communicate himself to creatures.

Still, that generation is to be conceived in divine terms. In the first place, it is spiritual The Arians, in opposing the idea of divine generation, objected that all generation necessarily brings along with it separation (τομη) and division (διαιρεσις), passion (παθος) and emanation (ἀπορροια). And that would be correct if it were physical, sensual, and creaturely. But it is spiritual, divine, and therefore simple, without division (ἀρρευστως) or separation (ἀδιαιρετως). It occurs without flux and division. While giving rise to distinction and distribution in the divine being, it does not create divergence and division. Athanasius writes: “Inasmuch as God is simple, the Father of the Son is indivisible and without passion, for although in the case of humans we speak of outflow and inflow, we cannot predicate these things of anything that is incorporeal.”120 The most striking analogy of divine generation is thought and speech, and Scripture itself suggests this when it calls the Son “Logos” [Speech, Word, Reason]. Just as the human mind objectivizes itself in speech, so God expresses his entire being in the Logos [Christ]. But here, too, we must note the difference. Humans need many words to express their ideas. These words are sounds and therefore material, sense-related. They have no existence by themselves. But when God speaks, he totally expresses himself in the one person of the Logos, whom he also “granted to have life in himself” (John 5:26 NIV).

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Herman Bavinck – The Universal Proclamation of the Gospel & The Particular Call of Grace

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But universalists advance against the Reformed that the latter, on their position, cannot accept such a universal call through the gospel. According to their position, after all, Christ did not die for all, but only for the elect. Their message cannot be, “Christ has made satisfaction for you; your sins have been atoned; only believe.” For the unconverted the message can only consist in the demand of the law. If they maintain the universal offer of grace, it cannot be sincerely meant on the part of God and is, furthermore, useless and ineffective.

These objections are undoubtedly weighty and have evoked a variety of responses from the camp of the Reformed. Some got to the point where they only preached the law to the unconverted and offered the gospel only to those who had already learned to know themselves as sinners and felt the need for redemption. Others, maintaining the universal offer of grace, justified this offer by saying that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all, or that Christ had also acquired numerous and varied blessings for those who would not believe in him, or that the gospel was only offered to them on condition of faith and repentance. Still others, taking a position close to universalism, taught that, on the basis of an initial universal decree of God, Christ had made satisfaction for all, or had acquired for all the legal possibility of being saved, and had brought everyone into a “salvable state,” or even that the acquisition of salvation was universal and that its application was particular.4 However much it might seem that the confession of election and limited atonement might require something else, the Reformed as a rule maintained the universal offer of grace.

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Herman Bavinck – The Greatness of God

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On the very first page of the Bible the absolute transcendence of God above His creatures comes to our attention. Without strain or fatigue He calls the whole world into existence by His word alone. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth (Ps. 33 :6). He speaks and it is done; He commands and it stands fast (Ps. 33:9). He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. And none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, what doest Thou (Dan. 4:35)? The nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted to Him as less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will you liken God? or what likeness will you compare unto Him (Isa. 40:15-18). For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord (Ps. 89:6). There is no name by which He can truly be named: His name is wonderful.1 When God speaks to Job out of the thunder and displays the magnitude of His works before him, Job humbly bows his head, and says: Behold, I am vile, What shall I answer Thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth (Job 40:4). God is great, and we know Him not (Job 36:26). Such knowledge is too wonderful for us. It is high. We cannot attain unto it (Ps. 139:6).

Nevertheless, this same sublime and exalted God stands in intimate all His creatures, even the meanest and smallest. What the scriptures give us is not an abstract concept of God, such as the philosopher gives us, but puts the very. living God before us and lets us see Him in the works of His hands. We have hut to lift up our eyes and see who has made all things. All things were made by His hand, brought forth by His will and His deed. And they are all sustained by His strength. Hence everything bears the stamp of His excellences and the mark of His goodness, wisdom, and power. And among creatures only man was created in His image and likeness. Only man is called the offspring of God (Acts 17:28).

Because of this intimate relationship, God can be named in the terms of His creatures, and He can be spoken of anthropomorphically. The same Scripture which speaks in the most exalted way of God’s incomparable greatness and majesty, at the same time speaks of Him in figures and images which sparkle with life. It speaks of His eyes and ears, His hands and feet, His mouth and lips, His heart and bowels. It ascribes all kinds of attributes to Him – of wisdom and knowledge, will and power, righteousness and mercy, and it ascribes to Him also such emotions as joy and grief, fear and vexation, zeal and envy, remorse and wrath, hatred and anger. It speaks of His observing and thinking, His hearing and seeing, His remembering and forgetting, smelling and tasting, sitting and rising, visiting and forsaking, blessing and chastising, and the like. It compares Him to a sun and a light, a fountain and a spring, a rock and a shelter, a sword and buckler, a lion and an eagle, a hero and a warrior, an artist and builder, a king and a judge, a husbandman and a shepherd, a man and a father. In short, all that can be found in the whole world in the way of support and shelter and aid is originally and perfectly to be found in overflowing abundance in God. Of Him the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3.15). He is the Sun of being and all creatures are His fleeting rays.

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Herman Bavinck – The Origin, Essence and Purpose of Man

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The account of the origin of heaven and earth converges in the first chapter of Genesis upon the creation of man. The creation of the other creatures, of heaven and earth, of sun and moon and stars, of plants and animals, is reported in brief words, and there is no mention made at all of the creation of the angels. But when Scripture comes to the creation of man it lingers long over him, describes not only the fact but also the manner of his creation, and returns to the subject for further broad consideration in the second chapter.

This particular attention devoted to the origin of man serves already as evidence of the fact that man is the purpose and end, the head and crown of the whole work of creation. And there are various material details which also illuminate the superior rank and worth of man among the creatures.

In the first place, there is the special counsel of God which precedes the creation of man. At the calling into being of the other creatures, we read simply that God spoke and by His speaking brought them into existence. But when God is about to create man He first confers with Himself and rouses Himself to make men in His image and likeness. This goes to indicate that especially the creation of man rests on deliberation, on Divine wisdom and goodness and omnipotence. Nothing of course came into existence by chance. But the counsel and decision of God is far more clearly manifest in the making of man than in the creation of the other creatures.

Moreover, in this particular counsel of God, the special emphasis is placed on the fact that man is created after the image and likeness of God and therefore stands in an entirely different relationship to God than all other creatures. It is said of no other creatures, not even of the angels, that they were created in God’s image and that they exhibit His image. They may possess hints and indications of one or several of God’s attributes, but of man alone it is affirmed that he is created after God’s image and in His likeness.

Scripture further emphasizes the fact that God created, not one man, but men, according to His likeness. At the conclusion of Genesis 1:27 they are designated as male and female. It is not man alone, nor woman exclusively, but both of them, and those two in interdependence, who are the bearers of the image of God. And, according to the blessing that is pronounced upon them in verse 28, they are such image bearers not in and for themselves alone. They are that also in their posterity, and together with their posterity. The human race in each of its parts and in its entirety is organically created in the image and likeness of God.

Finally, Scripture expressly mentions that this creation of man in God’s image must come to expression particularly in his dominion over all living beings and in the subjection to Him of the whole earth. Because man is the child or offspring of God, he is king of the earth. Being children of God and heirs of the world are two things already closely related to each other, and inseparably related to each other, in the creation.

The account of the creation of man in the first chapter of Genesis is elaborated and amplified in the second chapter (Gen. 2:4b-25). This second chapter of Genesis is sometimes mistakenly designated the second creation story. This is erroneous because the creation of heaven and earth is assumed in this chapter, and is referred to in verse 4b in order to introduce the manner in which God formed man from the dust of the earth. The whole emphasis in this second chapter falls on the creation of man and on the way in which this took place. The big difference between the first and second chapter of Genesis comes out in these details which are told us in the second concerning the forming of man.

The first chapter tells of the creation of heaven and earth and lets these lead up to the making of man. In this chapter man is the last creature called into existence by God’s omnipotence. He stands at the end of the series of creatures as the lord of nature, the king of the earth. But the second chapter, from Genesis 2:4b on, begins with man, proceeds from him as starting point, sets him at the center of things, and then relates what happened in the creation of man, how this took place for the man and for the woman, what dwelling place was appointed for him, with what vocation he was entrusted, and what purpose and destiny was his. The first chapter speaks of man as the end or purpose of the creation; the second deals with him as the beginning of history. The content of the first chapter can be comprised in the name creation, and that of the second chapter in the name Paradise.

There are three particulars which are told us in this second chapter concerning man’s origin, and which serve as the elaboration of what is contained in the first chapter.

In the first place there is a fairly broad treatment of the first dwelling place of man. The first chapter simply stated in general terms that man was created after God’s image and that he was appointed lord over the whole earth. But it gives no hint as to where on the face of the globe man first saw the light of life and where he first lived. This we are, however, told in the second chapter. When God had made the heaven and the earth, and when He had called the sun, moon, and stars, the plants and birds, the animals of the land and those of the water, then no specific place had yet been set aside as a dwelling for man. Hence God rests before He creates man and prepares for him a garden or Paradise in the country of Eden, east of Palestine. That garden is arranged in a particular way. God lets all kinds of trees come up out of the soil there — trees beautiful to see and serviceable for food. Two of these trees are designated by name, the tree of life planted in the middle of the garden, and also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The garden was laid out in such a way that a river which had its point of origin higher up in the territory of Eden flowed through it, and then forked out into four streams, the Pison, the Gihon, the Tiger, and the Euphrates.

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Zach Barnhart – 3 Essentials of Discipleship According to Herman Bavinck

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You probably haven’t read much, if anything, by Herman Bavinck. I hadn’t either, but after hearing what impact he had on some ministers that I deeply respected, I decided to take the plunge and purchase his seminal masterpiece, Reformed Dogmatics, a four-volume, 3000-page collection that was translated into English only seven years ago. As I finish reading through the last of the four volumes, I now treasure Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics as an essential piece of my library. I have gleaned a wealth of learning from Bavinck and I know I’ll return to these again and again throughout my ministry. Even if you are familiar with Bavinck’s work, many are tempted to view him as only a systematician, doctrinal explanation without application. My aim is to not merely draw your attention to a man worthy of it, but also to show that we can learn much from Bavinck in terms of how we apply these critical teachings in our lives as we pursue a historically rooted discipleship.

THE PREFACE OF DISCIPLESHIP: GOD’S REVELATION

Our quest for discovering the depths of discipleship through Herman Bavinck’s eyes starts with a focus on God’s revelation. Oftentimes, especially in systematic treatments of theology, revelation is placed at the forefront, serving as a sort of apologetic. After all, if God can or does not reveal himself generally and specially, what argument is there for him? This point certainly should be emphasized, especially for the unbeliever. Yet, in our approach to thinking about God’s general and special revelation, we face the temptation of limiting its importance to only the unbeliever. We feel like revelation must be talked about only for the sake of those who need to be convinced of its reality, and it is often treated in such a way that Bible-believing Christians are exempted from the discussion. But “general revelation,” Bavinck observes, “has meaning not only for the pagan world but also in and for the Christian religion.”

The primary Greek word for disciple is mathetes, which means “a learner.” If we can reduce the concept of God’s revelation to knowing, we can reduce the concept of Christian discipleship to learning. Bavinck connects the task of discipleship with the function of revelation here:

“Now special revelation has recognized and valued general revelation, has even taken it over and, as it were, assimilated it. And this is also what the Christian does, as do the theologians. They position themselves in the Christian faith, in special revelation, and from there look out upon nature and history. And now they discover there as well the traces of the God whom they learned to know in Christ as their father.“

Discipleship starts with revelation, because it is in that moment that we are “equipped with the spectacles of Scripture” and thus “see God in everything and everything in God.” Revelation does not only help the Christian “feel at home in the world,” but also gives Christians “a firm foundation on which they can meet all non-Christians.” Revelation is critical to our foundation as disciples of Christ.

One last word from Bavinck on how discipleship finds its origins in revelation:

“The purpose of revelation is not Christ; Christ is the center and the means; the purpose is that God will again dwell in his creatures and reveal his glory in the cosmos…In a sense this, too, is an incarnation of God.”

While Christ is the ultimate instrument of revelation, the highest purpose of revelation itself is that God may be glorified by dwelling with his people. As we will see, once the revelation of God captivates the heart of the believer, not only can the journey of discipleship begin, but also the horizon of its purpose will come more plainly into view.

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Herman Bavinck – The Intimate Link Between God and His Name

hermanbavinck All we can learn about God from His revelation is designated His Name in Scripture… There is an intimate link between God and His name. According to Scripture, this link too is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God Himself.

We do not name God; He names Himself. In the foreground here is the name as a revelation on the part of God, in an active and objective sense, as revealed name.

In this case God’s name is identical with the attributes or perfections that He exhibits in and to the world: His glory (Ps. 8:1; 72:19), honor (Lev. 18:21; Ps. 86:10–11; 102:16), His redeeming power (Exod. 15:3; Isa. 47:4); His service (Isa. 56:6; Jer. 23:27); His holiness (1 Chron. 16:10; Ps. 105:3).

The name is God Himself as He reveals Himself in one relationship or another (Lev. 24:11, 16; Deut. 28:58). That name, being a revelation of God, is great (Ezek. 36:23), holy (Ezek. 36:20), awesome (Ps. 111:9), a high refuge (Ps. 20:1), a strong tower (Prov. 18:10).

By proper names, particularly by the name YHWH, God made Himself known to Israel. He revealed Himself to Israel by the angel in whom the Lord’s name was present (Exod. 23:20).

And He put His name on the children of Israel (Num. 6:27), caused His name to be remembered (Exod. 20:24), put His name among them and made it to dwell there (Deut. 12:5; 14:23), especially in the temple that was built for His name (2 Sam. 7:13). Now His name lives in that temple (2 Chron. 20:9; 33:4).

By that name He saves (Ps. 54:1), and on account of that name He cannot abandon Israel (1 Sam. 12:22; Isa. 48:9, 11; Ps. 23:3; 31:3; 143:11–12). Israel, accordingly, may not blaspheme and desecrate that name, or use it in vain (Exod. 20:7; Lev. 18:21; 19:12; 24:11).

On the contrary: that name must be invoked, passed on in story, magnified, known, feared, exalted, expected, sought out, sanctified (Gen. 4:26; 12:8; Exod. 9:16; Deut. 28:58; 1 Kings 8:33; Ps. 5:12; 34:3; 52:9; 83:17; 122:4; Isa. 26:8; Matt. 6:9; John 12:28; etc.).

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