Wilhelmus à Brakel and The Christian’s Reasonable Service

À Brakel’s work continues to be acknowledged as one of the true classics of the Dutch Further Reformation.

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 this work is permeated with practical application of the doctrines he so thoroughly explains. À Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapable: He intensely wished that the truths expounded would become an experiential reality in the hearts of his readers.

 

Wilhelmus à Brakel is among the most venerated of the theologians representing the Dutch Further Reformation (Nadere Reformatie), a period similar to and coinciding with English Puritanism. This veneration is largely due to the profound and abiding influence of his magnum opus De Redelijke Godsdienst, available in English as The Christian’s Reasonable Service.

The importance of this work was recognized soon after its publication in 1700. Even though à Brakel had great difficulty finding a publisher for the initial edition (finally finding a Roman Catholic publisher!) his work was in demand within a very short time. New and improved editions soon followed, twenty in the eighteenth century alone.

One of à Brakel’s contemporaries, Abraham Hellenbroek, spoke of his friend as being a man of tender and intimate piety.[1] Hellenbroek recognized the importance of The Christian’s Reasonable Service when he stated in almost prophetical terms that this work was so valuable that it would transcend the passage of time.[2] History has vindicated that prediction, for à Brakel’s work continues to be acknowledged as one of the true classics of the Dutch Further Reformation.

Systematic Theology for Church Members

Why has this work been, and continues to be, so influential? What is The Christian’s Reasonable Service unique contribution to the rich heritage of post-Reformation orthodoxy? Why do pastors throughout the English-speaking world respond so favorably to this work, deeming it to be a most helpful resource for their pastoral ministries?

The uniqueness of à Brakel’s work lies in the fact that it is more than a systematic theology. His selection of the title is already an indication that it was not merely his intention to present a systematic explanation of Christian dogma to the public. In selecting the words of Romans 12:1 as the basis for his title, à Brakel not only wished to indicate that it is an entirely reasonable matter for man to serve His Creator who has so graciously revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ by means of His Word, but he primarily wished to convey that God demands from man that he serve Him in spirit and in truth, doing so in an intelligent, reasonable, and godly manner.[3]

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 this work is permeated with practical application of the doctrines he so thoroughly explains. À Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapable: He intensely wished that the truths expounded would become an experiential reality in the hearts of his readers. In a masterful way, he establishes the vital relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth.

Thus, he first establishes a solid biblical foundation for each doctrine with which he deals, by quoting profusely from the Scriptures. You will find his selection of quotes to be an impressive feature, proving he had a profound grasp of the Scriptures and their comprehensive context. This scripturalness is rationally reinforced by his frequent resorting to the scholastic method to validate his positions.

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