The Last Things, Hope For This World and the Next, by Herman Bavinck. Ed. John Bolt, tr. John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Book House Company, 1996. 205 pp. $14.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Pastor Arie den Hartog.]
This book is the first production of a recently organized society of business people, professionals, pastors, and seminary professors which is sponsoring the translation into English and publication of classic Reformed theological and religious literature first published in the Dutch language. The first project of this society is to translate and publish the complete four-volume work of Herman Bavinck entitled Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Reformed Dogmatics). The above mentioned book is the first volume of this work.
The reviewer of this book has deep appreciation for the writings of Herman Bavinck, having read a number of them in the Dutch language. I am therefore very excited about the publication of this volume and want to encourage the Dutch Reformed Translation Society to continue their work with all haste. The works of Bavinck are truly a treasure worthy of being made more widely available to the English speaking world.
The Last Things is of course Bavinck’s work on the doctrines of eschatology. There are few subjects that are more exciting to the Christian than the doctrine of the last things. This is as it should be. We live in the last days when the blessed and glorious day of our Lord is approaching nearer and nearer. Reading this book is truly an inspiration. As is the case with all of Bavinck’s works on dogmatics, so also in this book we find that it is replete with scriptural citations and quotations. This is the work of a truly Reformed dogmatician. His duty is to demonstrate from the whole of the Scriptures the right understanding of the great doctrines of the Word of God. He does not set forth his own ideas, as so many teachers in the church always try to do. He does not find one-text here and one text there in Scripture to “hang his own ideas on.” He ‘is under solemn obligation to present the current teaching of God’s Word found throughout the Scriptures as the only basis for the faith and confession of the church. This is the great strength of the true theologian, and this is the strength of Herman Bavinck in his writings.
Bavinck does an excellent job in setting forth the truth of Scripture concerning the many doctrines of the last things. I could quote many sections from this book to demonstrate this. The author clearly refutes the many errors regarding these doctrines that have over the years arisen in the church. He deals extensively with the errors of the Roman church regarding purgatory and the state of the departed saints and their many other false teachings. These parts of the book are extremely valuable for the controversy that the truly Reformed church must continue to carry on even today with the church of Rome, for the love of God and His church and for the defense of the truth. What is particularly interesting about this also, however, is that the very same errors continue to arise in the church today that were present at the time of the Reformation. There are today more errors than ever in the church with respect to the doctrines of eschatology. These errors often go unopposed in Protestant churches. Many systems of false doctrine promote these errors, Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Theonomy, Reconstructionism, New Age thinking, to name just a few. Bavinck’s biblical answers to the false teachings of the Roman Church and of others regarding purgatory, the worship of saints, communication with spirits in the other world, the idea of a second chance for men after death, conditional immortality, the denial of eternal punishments, the wrong understanding of the millennium, and the carnal nature of the kingdom of Christ are very relevant today. They need to be read to help equip the church to defend the truth of God.
One of the major debates involving eschatology has for years been the question of the correct understanding of the “millennium.” This debate has been stirred up again by the postmillennial teachings of theonomy and reconstructionism. Bavinck’s book is one of the best defenses of the amillennial position in print. Bavinck’s book demonstrates clearly biblical Reformed hermeneutics in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy and its application to the church of the New Testament and the final realization of the kingdom of Christ.
The Last Things contains an excellent refutation of the commonly promoted dispensationalist teaching that the whole New Testament era is an “interim age.”
Therefore the New Testament is not an intermezzo or interlude, neither a detour nor a departure from the line of the Old Covenant, but the long aimed for goal, the direct continuation of the long aimed for goal, the direct continuation and genuine fulfillment of the Old Testament. Chiliasm, judging otherwise, comes in conflict with Christianity itself. In principle it is one with Judaism and must get to where it attributes a temporary, passing value to Christianity, the historical person of Christ and His suffering and death, and only first expects salvation from Christ’s second coming, His appearance in glory. Like Judaism, it subordinates the spiritual to the material, the ethical to the physical, confirms the Jews in their carnal mindedness, excuses their rejection of the Messiah, and reinforces the veil that lies over their mind when they hear the reading of the Old Testament, and promotes the illusion that the physical descendants of Abraham will as such still enjoy an advantage in the kingdom of heaven (p. 98).
We challenge all dispensational premillennialists to read Bavinck’s book and try to refute his mighty defense of the teaching of the Scriptures. Included in this book is some excellent exegesis of difficult passages that are often debated and misinterpreted in the discussion of the question of the millennium, such as Romans 11, Revelation 20, and a number of others.
This reviewer particularly appreciated Bavinck’s clear demonstration of the truth of Scripture concerning the spiritual and heavenly nature of the coming kingdom of Christ. This is one of the major issues of our day in the debate with theonomists. Both Premils and Postmils are looking for a carnal and earthly kingdom of Christ. They are both guilty of seriously misguiding the church in this. Read what Bavinck has to say about this delusionary expectation:
The chiliast expectation that a converted nation of Israel, restored to the land of Palestine, under Christ will rule over the nations is without biblical foundation. Whatever the political future of Israel as a nation, the real ekklesia, the people of God, transcends ethnic boundaries. The kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus is not a political reality but a religious-ethical dominion born of water and of Spirit. The salvation rejected by Israel is shared by the Gentiles, and the community of Christ-believers has in all respects replaced national Israel. New Testament passages such as Romans 11, which initially seem to teach the contrary, in fact confirm the teaching that God’s promises are fulfilled in a spiritual offspring of Abraham, even though they may be only a remnant. Furthermore, the New Testament nowhere suggests that the church of Christ will ever achieve earthly power and dominion such as that of Old Testament Israel. Instead, like its master, the pilgrim church can expect a cross of persecution and suffering. The New Testament does not recommend virtues that lead believers to conquer the world but rather patiently to endure its enmity. Johns apocalypse assures the suffering church of all times that it shares the certainty of Christ’s victory even in the face of terrible anti-Christian apostasy, lawlessness, and persecution. Revelation 20, in analogy with the rest of Scripture, confirms this conclusion rather than lending support to chiliast dreams of world rule (as well as those of theonomists, AdH). Also, Revelation 20 does not teach the chiliast doctrine of a twofold resurrection; the “first” resurrection simply refers to those faithful who die and immediately live and reign with Christ in heaven. When human apostasy and wickedness reach the apex of power and the world is ripe for judgment, Christ the king will suddenly appear to bring about the end of world history. Jesus’ disciples are to be watchful of the signs but they are also forbidden to calculate. All believers ought at all times to live as though the coming of Christ is at hand (p. 99).
One more excellent quote which is a powerful refutation of errors promoted today even in Reformed and Presbyterian churches:
The whole New Testament, which was written from the viewpoint of the “church under the cross,” speaks the same language. Believers, not many of whom are wise, powerful or of noble birth (1 Cor. 1:26), should not expect anything on earth other than suffering and oppression (Rom. 8:36; Phil. 1:29). They are sojourners and foreigners (Heb. 11:13); their citizenship is in the heavens (Phil. 3:20); they do not look at the things that can be seen (2 Cor. 4:18), but mind the things that are above (Col. 3:2). Here they have no lasting city but are looking for the city that is to come (Heb.13:14). They are saved by hope (Ram: 8:24) and know that if they suffer with Christ they will also be glorified with Him (Rom. 6:8; 17; Col. 3:4). Therefore, along with, the entire groaning creation, they wait with eager longing for the future of Christ and for the revelation of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:19; 1 Cor. 15:48), a glory with which the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing (Rom. 8:l8; 2 Cor. 4:17). Nowhere in the New Testament is there a ray of hope that the church of Christ will again come to power and dominion on the earth. The most it may look for is that, under the kings and all who are in high positions, it may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (Romans 13:l; 1 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, the New Testament does not first of all recommend the virtues that enable the believer to conquer the world, but while it bids them avoid all false asceticism (Rom. 14:14; 1 Tim. 4:4,5; Titus 1:15), lists as fruits of the Spirit the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:32; 1 Thess. 5:14f.; 1 Peter 3:8f.; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 John 2:15, etc.) (pp. 109-110).
The theonomist will sneer at Bavinck’s eschatology as being “pessimistic and defeatist.” Bavinck clearly shows that it is biblical, spiritual, heavenly, Christ-centered, and truly triumphant and victorious.
This is an excellent book. Get it as soon as possible and read it for much clear, sound, biblical teaching on eschatology.