“His name is wonderful” by Herman Bavinck

“There is certainly no book in the world which to the same extent and in the same way as the Holy Scripture supports the absolute transcendence of God above each and every creature and at the same time supports the intimate relationship between the creature and his Creator.

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.

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 relationship with 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 but 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).”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1956/2019), 115-116.

“He is an immeasurable and unbounded ocean of being” by Herman Bavinck

“God must always be God, distinct from and above all things, the Creator and Ruler of all that exists, on whom believers can rely in times of distress and death, or else God can no longer be God to them.

As such God is the strictly independent and only absolute being. This is what the concept of absoluteness meant in the past. ‘Absoluteness’ was not obtained by abstraction, deprived of all content, and the most general kind of being, but true, unique, infinitely full being, precisely because it was absolute, that is, independent being, belonging only to itself and self-existence. Absolute is that which is not dependent on anything else.

From ancient times Christian theology connected this view and description of God with the meaning of the name YHWH as that is given in Exodus 3:14. Now people can disagree on the question whether the concept of ‘absolute being’ is implied in the name YHWH, and we will expressly revisit it in the following section.

In any case it is certain that the unicity, His distinctness from, and His absolute superiority over, all creatures is highlighted throughout Scripture. However much He is able to descend to the level of creatures, specifically humans—represented as He is as walking in the garden, coming down to earth to see the city and tower of Babel (etc.)—nevertheless He is the Creator of heaven and earth.

He speaks and things come to be; He commands and they stand forth. From everlasting to everlasting He is God, the First and the Last, from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things (Gen. 1:1ff.; Ps. 33:6, 9; 90:2; Isa. 41:4; 43:10–13; 44:6; 48:12; John 5:26; Acts 17:24ff.; Rom. 11:36; Eph. 4:6; Heb. 2:10; Rev. 1:4, 8; 4:8, 11; 10:6; 11:17; etc.).

Stated or implied in this biblical teaching is all that Christian theology intended to say with its description of God’s essence as absolute being. God is the real, the true being, the fullness of being, the sum total of all reality and perfection, the totality of being, from which all other being owes its existence.

He is an immeasurable and unbounded ocean of being; the absolute being who alone has being in Himself. Now, this description of God’s being deserves preference over that of personality, love, fatherhood, and so forth, because it encompasses all God’s attributes in an absolute sense.

In other words, by this description God is recognized and confirmed as God in all His perfections. These attributes cannot, of course, be logically developed from the concept of absolute being, for what God is and what His attributes are can only be known by us from His revelation in nature and Scripture.

Yet all these attributes are only divine characteristics because they pertain to God in a unique and absolute sense. Hence, in that respect aseity may be called the primary attribute of God’s being.

We can even say—on the basis of God’s revelation, not by means of a priori reasoning—that along with His aseity all those attributes have to be present in God that nature and Scripture make known to us.

If God is God, the only, eternal, and absolute Being, this implies that He possesses all the perfections, a faint analogy of which can be discerned in His creatures. If God is the absolutely existing being, He is also absolute in wisdom and goodness, in righteousness and holiness, in power and blessedness.

As One who exists of and through and unto Himself, He is the fullness of being, the independent and supremely perfect Being.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (vol. 2; Ed. John Bolt, and Trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 2: 123–124.

“Christ is the turning point of times” by Herman Bavinck

“The whole revelation of the Old Testament converges upon Christ, not upon a new law, or doctrine, or institution, but upon the person of Christ. A person is the completed revelation of God; the Son of Man is the own and only-begotten Son of God.

The relationship of the Old and New Testament is not like that of law and gospel. It is rather that of promise and fulfillment (Acts 13:12 and Rom. 1:2), of shadow and body (Col. 2:17), of image and reality (Heb. 10:1), of shaken and unshaken things (Heb. 12:27), of bondage and freedom (Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4).

And since Christ was the real content of the Old Testament revelation (John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:11; and Rev. 19:10), He is in the dispensation of the new covenant also its capstone and crown.

He is the fulfillment of the law, of all righteousness (Matt. 3:15 and 5:17), of all promises, which in Him are yea and amen (2 Cor. 1:20), of the new covenant which is now established in His blood (Matt. 26:28).

The people of Israel itself, with all its history, its offices and institutions, its temple and its altar, its sacrifices and ceremonies, its prophecy, psalmody, and wisdom teaching, achieves its goal and purpose in Him.

Christ is the fulfillment of all that, first of all in His person and appearance, then in His words and works, in His birth and life, in His death and resurrection, in His ascension and sitting at the right hand of God.

If, then, He has appeared, and has finished His work, the revelation of God cannot be amplified or increased. It can only be clarified by the apostolic witness, and be preached to all nations.

Since the revelation is complete, the time is now come in which its content is made the property of mankind. Whereas in the Old Testament everything led up to Christ, in the New Testament everything is derived from Him.

Christ is the turning point of times. The promise, made to Abraham, now comes to all nations. The Jerusalem which was below gives way to the Jerusalem which is above and is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26). Israel is supplanted by the church out of all tongues and peoples.

This is the dispensation of the fulness of times, in which the middle wall of partition is broken down, in which Jew and Gentile is made a new man, and in which all is gathered together under one head, namely, Christ (Eph. 1:10 and 2:14–15).

And this dispensation continues until the fulness of the Gentiles is come and Israel is saved. When Christ has gathered His church, prepared His bride, accomplished His kingdom, He will give it to the Father in order that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

I will be thy God, and ye shall be my people: that was the content of the promise. This promise is brought to its perfect fulfillment in the new Jerusalem in Christ, through Him who was and who is and who is to come (Rev. 21:3).”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1956/2019), 77-78.

“A wonderful vista” by Herman Bavinck

“In His revelation, whether it passes through man or alongside of him, God is preparing Himself praise, glorifying His own name, and spreading out before His own eyes in the world of His creatures His excellences and perfections. Because revelation is of God and through God, it has its end and purpose also in His glorification.

This whole revelation, which is of God and through Him, has its mid-point and at the same time its high-point in the person of Christ. It is not the sparkling firmament, nor mighty nature, nor any prince or genius of the earth, nor any philosopher or artist, but the Son of man that is the highest revelation of God.

Christ is the Word become flesh, which in the beginning was with God and which was God, the Only-Begotten of the Father, the Image of God, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person; who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9).

In that faith the Christian stands. He has learned to know God in the person of Jesus Christ whom God has sent. God Himself, who said that the light should shine out of the darkness, is the One who has shined in His heart in order to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

But from this high vantage point the Christian looks around him, forwards, backwards, and to all sides. And if, in doing so, in the light of the knowledge of God, which he owes to Christ, he lets his eyes linger on nature and on history, on heaven and on earth, then he discovers traces everywhere of that same God whom he has learned to know and to worship in Christ as his Father.

The Sun of righteousness opens up a wonderful vista to him which streches out to the ends of the earth. By its light he sees backwards into the night of past times, and by it he penetrates through to the future of all things. Ahead of him and behind the horizon is clear, even though the sky is often obscured by clouds.

The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind. He looks over the whole earth and reckons it all his own, because he is Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:21–23).

He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1956/2019), 20-21.

“Rest in the Father’s heart” by Herman Bavinck

“God reveals Himself in His works to be such as He is. From His revelation we learn to know Him. Hence there can be no rest for man until he rises above and beyond the creature to God Himself.

In the study of revelation our concern must be a concern to know God. Its purpose is not to teach us certain sounds and to speak certain words.

Its primary purpose is to lead us through the creatures to the Creator and to cause us to rest in the Father’s heart.”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1956/2019), 19-20.

“Scripture is the handmaiden of Christ” by Herman Bavinck

“If Scripture is the account of the revelation of God in Christ, it is bound to arouse the same opposition as Christ himself who came into the world for judgment (κρισις) and is ‘set for the fall and rising of many’ (Luke 2:34).

He brings separation between light and darkness and reveals the thoughts of many hearts. Similarly Scripture is a living and active word, a ‘discerner’ of the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

It not only was inspired but is still ‘God-breathed’ and ‘God-breathing.’ Just as there is much that precedes the act of inspiration (all the activity of the Holy Spirit in nature, history, revelation, regeneration), so there is much that follows it as well.

Inspiration is not an isolated event. The Holy Spirit does not, after the act of inspiration, withdraw from Holy Scripture and abandon it to its fate but sustains and animates it and in many ways brings its content to humanity, to its heart and conscience.

By means of Scripture as the word of God, the Holy Spirit continually wars against the thoughts and intentions of the ‘unspiritual’ person (ψυχικος ἀνθρωπος). By itself, therefore, it need not surprise us in the least that Scripture has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition.

Christ bore a cross, and the servant (Scripture) is not greater than its master. Scripture is the handmaiden of Christ. It shares in his defamation and arouses the hostility of sinful humanity.”

–Herman Bavinck, Eds. John Bolt and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 439-440.

 

“An ever-continuing battle” by Herman Bavinck

“All believers have the experience that in the best moments of their life they are also most firm in their belief in Scripture. The believer’s confidence in Christ increases along with their confidence in Scripture and, conversely, ignorance of the Scriptures is automatically and proportionately ignorance of Christ.

The connection between sin and error often lies hidden deep below the surface of the conscious life. One can almost never demonstrate this link in others, but it is sometimes revealed to our own inner eye with respect to ourselves.

The battle against the Bible is, in the first place, a revelation of the hostility of the human heart. But that hostility may express itself in various ways. It absolutely does not come to expression only—and perhaps not even most forcefully—in the criticism to which Scripture has been subjected in our time.

Scripture as the word of God encounters opposition and unbelief in every ‘unspiritual’ person. In the days of dead orthodoxy, an unbelieving attitude toward Scripture was in principle as powerful as in our historically-oriented and critical century. The forms change, but the essence remains the same.

Whether hostility against Scripture is expressed in criticism like that of Celsus and Porphyry or whether it is manifest in a dead faith, that hostility in principle is the same. For not the hearers but the doers of the word (James 1:22) are pronounced blessed. ‘The servant who knew his master’s will but did not make ready or act according to his will will receive a severe beating’ (Luke 12:47).

It remains the duty of every person, therefore, first of all to put aside his or her hostility against the word of God and ‘to take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5). Scripture itself everywhere presses this demand.

Only the pure of heart will see God. Rebirth will see the kingdom of God. Self-denial is the condition for being a disciple of Jesus. The wisdom of the world is folly to God. Over against all human beings, Scripture occupies a position so high that, instead of subjecting itself to their criticism, it judges them in all their thoughts and desires.

And this has been the Christian church’s position toward Scripture at all times. According to Chrysostom, humility is the foundation of philosophy. Augustine once said: ‘When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’ ” Calvin cites this statement with approval. And Pascal cries out to humanity: ‘Humble yourself, powerless reason! Be silent, stupid nature!… Listen to God!’

This has been the attitude of the church toward Scripture down the centuries. And the Christian dogmatician may take no other position. For a dogma is not based on the results of any historical-critical research but only on the witness of God, on the self-testimony of Holy Scripture.

A Christian believes, not because everything in life reveals the love of God, but rather despite everything that raises doubt. In Scripture too there is much that raises doubt. All believers know from experience that this is true. Those who engage in biblical criticism frequently talk as if simple church people know nothing about the objections that are advanced against Scripture and are insensitive to the difficulty of continuing to believe in Scripture. But that is a false picture.

Certainly, simple Christians do not know all the obstacles that science raises to belief in Scripture. But they do to a greater or lesser degree know the hard struggle fought both in head and heart against Scripture.

There is not a single Christian who has not in his or her own way learned to know the antithesis between the ‘wisdom of the world’ and ‘the foolishness of God.’ It is one and the same battle, an ever-continuing battle, which has to be waged by all Christians, learned or unlearned, to ‘take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Here on earth no one ever rises above that battle. Throughout the whole domain of faith, there remain ‘crosses’ that have to be overcome. There is no faith without struggle. To believe is to struggle, to struggle against the appearance of things.

As long as people still believe in anything, their belief is challenged from all directions. No modern believer is spared from this either. Concessions weaken believers but do not liberate them. Thus for those who in childlike faith subject themselves to Scripture, there still remain more than enough objections. These need not be disguised. There are intellectual problems in Scripture that cannot be ignored and that will probably never be resolved.

But these difficulties, which Scripture itself presents against its own inspiration, are in large part not recent discoveries of our century. They have been known at all times.

Nevertheless, Jesus and the apostles, Athanasius and Augustine, Thomas and Bonaventure, Luther and Calvin, and Christians of all churches have down the centuries confessed and recognized Scripture as the Word of God. Those who want to delay belief in Scripture till all the objections have been cleared up and all the contradictions have been resolved will never arrive at faith. ‘For who hopes for what he sees?’ (Rom. 8:24).

Jesus calls blessed those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29).”

–Herman Bavinck, Eds. John Bolt and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 440-442.