Wednesday, February 11, 2009

experiential theology: union with Christ

The Dutch theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711) is best known for
his four-volume work, The Christian's Reasonable Service (Reformation
Heritage Books; 1993; 4 vols.). This book reflects the three
dimensions of true religion: doctrine, duty and experience. I have
gathered some quotes that reflect this, particularly in relation to
union with Christ. The translator Bart Elshout describes it as
experiential as well as systematic theology. He says:

'I would define experiential theology as that theology which explains
how the doctrines of Scripture become an experiential reality in the
hearts and lives of believers. One could say that experiential
religion is doctrine experienced. It is unquestionably à Brakel's
intense desire that his exposition of the doctrines of Scripture would
lead to the experience of the reality of these doctrines. Once you
grasp this, you will observe how in the theological sections of his
chapters he lays the ground work for the experiential application. His
aim in "doing theology" is the edification of the believer. He does
this by describing what the experiential application of the expounded
doctrine should be, and by describing what it often is when believers
struggle to appropriate the precious truths of Scripture. In doing so,
he magnifies Christ and touches the heartstrings of every true
believer. Therefore, when reading The Christian's Reasonable Service
you will be both educated and edified. What a rare and unique
combination! While it looks like another Reformed systematic theology
it is actually more practical in nature and intended to provide
content for small group discussions as Christians gather to encourage
one another in the Christian life. It is one of the beautiful works of
the "Dutch Puritans."'

à Brakel quotations

"All true godliness proceeds from the knowledge of, and a believing
union with, the Lord Jesus. This generates love and all that proceeds
from love. Whatever does not proceed from this source cannot be called
godliness. Even though nature may give us an impression of God and
religion, it does not reveal this mystery. He who has only been
illuminated outwardly is also ignorant of the frame of heart which
proceeds from knowing Jesus (that is, as both God and man)."

"Many know Jesus according to the letter, but not internally by the
illumination of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, such also have no love
for Him. They do desire Him as a servant to protect them from hell and
to help them get into heaven--of which they also have no correct
perceptions. Beyond that they have no use for Him. There is no
entering into covenant with Him, no surrendering to Him, no receiving
of Him by faith unto justification and sanctification, no heart-union,
and no exercising of fellowship with Him. They are neither acquainted
with His presence nor with His absence. They are satisfied if they are
but good church-members, partake of the Lord's Supper, live honestly,
and have the illusion that they will be saved. On that basis they
proceed--even though Jesus remains a stranger to them, remaining
outside of their heart and thoughts. Since you are acquainted with
human love, you will thus perceive that you have no love to Jesus,
whom you ought to love more vehemently than men. You may say that you
love Jesus. But then I ask you, "How is this evident? Is there esteem
and reverence for Him? Do you grieve and long for Him? Do you endeavor
to live in immediate union with Him? Is there a resemblance between
your nature and His? Are you obedient and do you keep His
commandments? Is there love for the most eminent among the godly? Is
there an aversion toward the unconverted, of whom we have dealt with
in the above, and of whom you yourself are convinced? If you consider
your love toward men, and apply this to love toward Christ, then you
must be convinced that you do not love Jesus--whatever good thought
you may also have concerning yourself" (III: 278-279).

"A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has
no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with
the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely
heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this,
which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its
growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised
concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and
communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the
unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful
men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection
will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will
strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It
will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to
fulfill the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which
in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and
love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture
speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in
Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him" (2:91).

"By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a
partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel
this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the souls may
truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul
toward communion with Him" (2:96).

"1. Take note of how intimately the Lord Jesus is united to His elect.
They have been given to Him by the Father, in order that, as His
children, He would deliver, preserve, and lead them to felicity. Would
He then not exercise tender care of them, and be compassionate towards
them when they are in distress? They are His bride, children and
members. He has their very own nature - "for which cause He is not
ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11). When they are in misery
and sorrow, they weep and long for Him, and cry out to Him for help
and comfort. How can it be any different but that the Lord Jesus is
greatly moved to compassion, especially since He is experientially
acquainted with the feeling of their suffering?

2. God is not only the cause of spiritual life, but also the object of
its motions. God Himself is all the delight, pleasure, and joy of the
regenerate man. He cannot be without God. He wishes for and must enjoy
the light of God's countenance, peace with God, and love and communion
with God. By virtue of union with God he wishes to be united to His
will, and thus to hate and shun what He hates, and to find delight in
and in doing whatever God delights in and is pleasing to Him.

3. Believers on earth love Jesus, their hearts go out after Him, and
He is the focal point of the passions of their love. "Therefore do the
virgins love Thee" (Song of Sol. 1:3). The bride continually has the
word Beloved in her mouth. Just consider how each believer mourns when
Jesus is absent; how they long for His coming to them; and how
delighted they are when they may sweetly enjoy His fellowship. All
their asking, crying and weeping is for Jesus. In Jesus only they find
all their satisfaction".

"Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you" (2:93)...a
"sweetness and overflowing delight … Here they (Christians) find balm
for their sick souls, light to clear up their darkness, life for their
deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their
troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their
sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit's end, strength for
their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies"