Knowledge, wisdom, and passion—those are the three qualities that coalesce to form the greatest theologians. Knowledge: a thorough understanding of what Scripture teaches and what the church has said about it. Wisdom: the application of knowledge to life and the growth of the heart in conformity to Christ. Passion: an unabated desire to commune with God and fill others with the beauty and grace of God, ushering them into worship and wonder. Herman Bavinck, my friends, has all three. For me, he’s one of the greatest Reformed theologians the world has ever seen.
But because of these qualities, he’s not just a theologian for the bookish Christian. He’s a theologian for EVERY Christian. He knows, lives, and loves his God. And you can sense his devotion to Christ bleeding off every page of his prose. His recently republished work, The Wonderful Works of God, is perhaps the crown jewel of his publishing career. I’ve read his larger 4-volume work, Reformed Dogmatics, cover to cover, and it was worth every second of my time. But in this book, that larger work is distilled and presented simply for the lay Christian.
There’s a whole lot I could say about this book, but let me just give you 10 great quotes. Perhaps that will entice you to buy the book and add it to your shelf. That’s an important decision, I think, in a world where over 1 million books are published in the US each year. Amidst the mountains of new books, I would say that THIS is a theological work every Christian—learned and lay—needs to have in the home library. You can return to it again and again.
10 Great Quotes
- “Art is . . . in the first place an evidence of man’s ability to do and to make. This ability is spiritual in character and it gives expression to his deep longings, his high ideals, and his insatiable craving for harmony” (5).
- “All men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15)” (6).
- “Christ is God expressed and God given. He is God revealing Himself and God sharing Himself” (8).
- “In the light of the knowledge of God, which the Christian 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 stretches 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” (21).
- “The article of the holy trinity is the heart and core of our confession, the differentiating earmark of our religion, and the praise and comfort of all true believers of Christ” (128).
- “In the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is contained the whole salvation of men” (143).
- “The confession of the ever-wise counsel of God is a source of rich comfort. Thus we come to know that it is no blind chance, dark destiny, no unreasonable or malign will, nor any undetectable natural force which governs mankind and the world, but that the governance of all things rests in the hands of an almighty God and a merciful Father. Certainly, faith is necessary to understand this. For often we fail to see this, and men walk about on the earth in riddles. But it is the faith which keeps us constant in the struggle of life, and because of it we move into the future hopefully and confidently” (146).
- “It is not good for the man that he should be alone. He is not so constituted, he was not created that way. His nature inclines to the social—he wants company. He must be able to express himself, reveal himself, and give himself. He must be able to pour out his heart, to give form to his feelings. He must share his awarenesses with a being who can understand him and can feel and live along with him. Solitude is poverty, forsakenness, gradual pining and wasting away” (170).
- “The teaching that everyone will be rewarded according to performance is a hard doctrine for the poor and the sick, the miserable and the destitute. There is no compassion in it. It stands in dark contrast to the rays of Divine grace of which the Scripture speaks” (221).
- “When God speaks, it is done (Ps. 33:9). His word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes that which He pleases, and prospers in the thing for which it is sent (Isa. 55:11). By His word He brought everything into being from nothing at the beginning (Gen. 1:3ff. and Ps.33:6), and by the word of His power He upholds all things (Heb. 1:3). This word has such a creative and sustaining power because God speaks in the Son ( John 1:3 and Col. 1:15), and through the Spirit (Ps. 33:6 and Ps. 104:30), and in both these, as it were, gives Himself to His creatures. There is a voice of God in all creatures; they all rest on thoughts which He has spoken. They all owe it to the word of God that they exist and that they are such as they are” (388).
That’s such a shallow sampling for a work so rich and deep. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.
I’ll say it again: Bavinck is a theologian who exemplifies Christian knowledge, wisdom, and passion. This book is one of his greatest works for the church. Read, contemplate, and grow.
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