Bavinck on Calvinism

In 1894 Herman Bavinck wrote an article entitled “The Future of Calvinism” for the The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, in which he laid out an argument for the resilience of the Reformed tradition in his native Holland and abroad.  During the course of his piece, he offers this ode to the Calvinist tradition, and in doing so stretches the limits of a “paragraph”:

The root principle of this Calvinism is the confession of God’s absolute sovereignty.  Not one special attribute of God, for instance His love or justice, His holiness or equity, but God Himself as such in the unity of all His attributes and perfection of His entire Being is the point of departure for the thinking and acting of the Calvinist.  From this root principle everything that is specifically Reformed may be derived and explained. It was this that led to the sharp distinction between what is God’s and creature’s, to belief in the sole authority of the Holy Scriptures, in the all-sufficiency of Christ and His word, in the omnipotence of the work of grace. Hence also the sharp distinction between the divine and human in the Person and the two natures of Christ, between the external internal call, between the sign and the matter signified in the sacrament. From this source likewise sprang the doctrine of the absolute dependence of the creature, as it is expressed in the Calvinistic confessions in regard to providence, foreordination, election, the inability of man.  By this principle also the Calvinist was led to the use of that throughgoing consistent theological method, which distinguishes him from Romanist and other Protestant theologians.  Not only in the whole range of his theology, but also outside of this, in every sphere of life and science, his effort aims at the recognition and maintenance of God as God over against all creatures. In the work of creation and regeneration, in sin and grace, in Adam and Christ, in the Church and the sacraments, it is in each case God who reveals and upholds His sovereignty and leads it to triumph notwithstanding all disregard and resistance. There is something heroic and grand and imposing in this Calvinistic conception. Viewed in its light the whole course of history becomes a gigantic contest, in which God carries through His sovereignty, and makes it, like a mountain stream, overcome all resistance in the end, bringing the creature to a willing or unwillling, but in either case unqualified, recognition of His divine glory. From all things are, and accordingly they all return to Him. He is God and remains God now and forever; Jehovah, the Being, the one that was and is and that is to come.

 Bavinck goes on to explain what this means for the Calvinist:

For this reason the Calvinist in all things recurs upon God, and does not rest satisfied before he has traced back everything to the sovereign good-pleasure of God as its ultimate and deepest cause.  He never loses himself in the appearance of things, but penetrates to their realities.  Behind the phenomena he searches for the noumena, the things that are not seen, from which the things visible have been born.  He does not take his stand in the midst of history, but out of time ascends into the heights of eternity.  History is naught but the gradual unfolding of what to God is an eternal present.  For his heart, his thinking, his life, the Calvinist cannot find rest in these terrestrial things, the sphere of what is becoming, changing, forever passing by. From the process of salvation he therefore recurs upon the decree of salvation, from history to the idea. He does not remain in the outer court of the temple, but seeks to enter into the innermost sanctuary.


That last part is written like a true systematician.  Read it all here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *