Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096-1141): The remedy of the sick heart


“The first man was so created that if he had not sinned he would always have beheld in present contemplation his Creator’s face, and by always seeing him would have loved him always, and by loving would always have clung close to him, and by clinging to him who was eternal would have possessed life without end. Evidently the one true good of man was perfect knowledge of his Creator. But he was driven from the face of the Lord, since for his sin he was struck with the blindness of ignorance, and passed from that intimate light of contemplation; and he inclined his mind to earthly desires, as he began to forget the sweetness of the divine. Thus he was made a wanderer and fugitive over the earth. A wanderer indeed, because of disordered concupiscence; and a fugitive, through guilty conscience, which feels every man’s hand against it. For every temptation will overcome the man who has lost God’s aid.

So man’s heart which had been kept secure by divine love, and one by loving One, afterward began to flow here and there through earthly desires. For the mind which knows not to love its true good is never stable and never rests. Hence restlessness, and ceaseless labor, and disquiet, until the man turns and adheres to Him. The sick heart wavers and quivers; the cause of its disease is love of the world; the remedy, the love of God.”

– Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096-1141), De Arca Noe Morali, Preface

John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679) on justifying faith

John Brown of Wamphray Life of Justification Opened

John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679) was a prominent Scottish Covenanter and minister in the village of Wamphray, Annandale, who, after the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne (1660) and the Act of Uniformity (1662), was forced by the authorities to flee his native Scotland due to his outspoken opposition to prelacy (i.e. Episcopal polity imposed on the Church of Scotland at the time). He went into exile for the rest of his life in the Netherlands (described by one author as “the asylum of the banished” at the time), where he settled in Rotterdam, industriously wrote in favour of the Covenanter cause, and produced a number of noteworthy theological works. One of Brown’s major works is his The Life of Justification Opened, published posthumously in 1695 with a preface written by the Utrecht professor Melchior Leydekker. In the excerpt below, the spelling and punctuation of which I have slightly edited for clarity, Brown discusses justifying faith:

“[F]aith is the man’s looking to Christ, as the stung Israelite in the wilderness did look unto the brazen serpent (Jn. 3:14, 15) and saying, as it is (Is. 45:24), ‘In the Lord have I righteousness’: and it is the believer’s putting-on of the Lord Jesus, that he may be found in Him, and clothed with His righteousness (Phil. 3:9). It is the man’s receiving of Christ (Jn. 1:12) and receiving of the atonement in Him, and through Him (Rom. 5:11) and of abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17). Therefore it is called a ‘believing on His name’ (Jn. 1:12) and ‘on Him, whom the Father hath sent (Jn. 6:29; 7:35; 17:20; Acts 16:31; 19:25). And because faith laid hold on this righteousness of Christ, therefore is this righteousness called the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Rom. 4:11) and the ‘righteousness which is of faith’ (Rom. 9:30), and that, ‘which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Phil. 3:9) Now if this be the native work of justifying faith […] to receive Christ, and His righteousness, and consequently to carry the man out of himself, that he may find and partake of that all-sufficient righteousness of Christ, to the end he may with confidence stand before God, and expect pardon and acceptance, it cannot be said without destroying the native work of justifying faith, that faith is that Gospel-righteousness unto which they may lean, and upon the account of which they may expect justification.”

What Brown is noting in this last sentence, as he makes clear numerous times elsewhere in this work, is that believers are not justified on account of their faith, as if that constituted their “Gospel-righteousness”, but on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them through faith as a mere instrument. He continues:

“Faith, in this matter, is as the eye of the soul, that seeth not itself, but looketh out to another. Beside, this would overturn the whole nature of the covenant of grace, and is irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Apostle Paul about justification […] Therefore, all who would live the life of justification must betake themselves to Jesus Christ, and lean on Him and to His righteousness: for with the robe of His righteousness must they alone be clothed, and in Christ alone must they be found, and they must think of standing before God, having on His righteousness, that God imputeth to believers, and which they receive by faith, in order to their justification.”

– John Brown of Wamphray (c. 1610-1679), The Life of Justification Opened, p. 58

For previous posts on justifying faith, see these by Henricus Siccama, H.C.G. Moule, William Ames, and Thomas Chalmers.

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) on the guilty conscience as a subjective witness to man’s fallen nature


In vol. 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek), Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) discusses man’s guilty conscience as a subjective witness of man’s fallen nature, in addition to God’s objective witness and verdict in the divine law:

“There really is a divine curse resting on humanity and the world. It is impossible to interpret life and history in light of the love of God alone. At work throughout the creation is a principle of divine wrath that only a superficial person can deny. Not communion but separation prevails between God and humankind; the covenant has been broken; God has a quarrel with his creatures. All stand guilty and punishable before his face (Matt. 5:21-22; Mark 3:29; James 2:10). The whole world is accountable to God (Rom. 3:19); it is subject to divine judgment and has no defense.

Subjectively this is confirmed by the divine witness in the conscience of every human being. Guilt and the consciousness of guilt are not the same. Those who try to deduce guilt from the consciousness of it block themselves from understanding guilt in its true significance and gravity. Ignorance can to some extent excuse sin (Luke 23:34; Acts 17:30), just as conscious and intentional violation aggravates sin (Luke 12:47; John 15:22; 9:41). But there also exist sins that are hidden from ourselves and others (Ps. 19:12), and also sins of ignorance are culpable (Acts 17:27-30; Rom. 1:19-21, 28; 1 Tim. 1:13-15). Yet objective guilt is more or less firmly reflected in the human consciousness. Immediately after the fall, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and they discovered that they were naked. Implied here is that they knew and recognized that they had done wrong. Shame is the fear of disgrace, an unpleasant and painful sense of being involved in something wrong and improper. Added to shame was fear before God and the consequent desire to hide from him – that is to say, the human conscience was aroused.  Before the fall, strictly speaking, there was no conscience in humans. There was no gap between what they were and what they knew they had to be. Being and self-consciousness were in harmony. But the fall produced separation. By the grace of God, humans still retain the consciousness that they ought to be different, that in all respects they must conform to God’s law. But reality witnesses otherwise; they are not who they ought to be. And this witness is the conscience. […] [The conscience] is proof that communion with God has been broken, that there is a gap between God and us, between his law and our state. This is clearly evident when our conscience accuses us. But also when in a given case it excuses us, that is, keeps silent, that separation from God underlies it (Rom. 2:14-15). The human conscience is the subjective proof of humanity’s fall, a witness to human guilt before the face of God. God is not the only accuser of humankind; in their conscience humans condemn themselves and take God’s side against themselves. The more precisely and meticulously the human conscience functions, the more it validates God’s idea of humans in Scripture.”

– Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, p. 172-173

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Why should God be loved?


“You wish to hear from me why and in what manner God should be loved. I answer then: the reason for loving God is God [himself]; and there should be no measure [of that love]. Is that enough to say about the matter? For a wise man it most probably is, but I am a debtor to the unwise also. And though I may have said enough for those with understanding, I must have due regard for others too. For those less apt, then, I gladly will explain what I have said more fully, if not with greater depth.

I might have said there was a twofold reason why we are to love God [solely] for himself. Firstly, nothing is more just, and secondly, nothing is more profitable. The question ‘Why should God be loved?’ includes both of these, for it may mean either ‘What is his claim upon our love?’ or ‘What benefit shall we derive from loving him?’. My former answer stands in either case: there is no other worthy cause for loving God except himself.

And firstly, as to his claim upon our love, he surely merits much from us who gave himself to us, unworthy as we were: what better gift could he have given than himself? If, then, it is his claim we have in mind when asking ‘Why should God be loved?’, the first and foremost answer is, ‘Because he first loved us’ (1 Jn. 4:19). Most plainly is he worthy of being loved in return by us, especially if we consider who he is who thus bestows his love on us, who the objects of it are, and how great it is. For who is he, save he whom every soul confesses, ‘Thou art my God, my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16:2). His is indeed that majestic love which ‘seeketh not its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5). But who are they to whom he shows this selfless love? ‘When we were enemies,’ says the Apostle, ‘we were reconciled to God’ (Rom. 5:10). God, then, has loved us freely, while we were enemies. How much has he loved us? John says: ‘God so loved the world the world that he gave his only begotten Son’ (Jn. 3:16). ‘He that spared not his own Son,’ says Paul, ‘but delivered him up for us all’ (Rom. 8:32). The Son, moreover, tells us of himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn. 15:13). This is the claim that the Just One has on sinners, the Highest on the lowest, and he who is Almighty on the weak. You say, perhaps, Yes, that is true of men, but with the angels it is otherwise. That I admit: the angels had not our human need. For the fact is that he who helped man in his misery kept them from falling into such a plight at all; and he whose love gave men the means to leave their lost estate, by a like love preserved the angels from sharing in our fall.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), De diligendo Deo, Chapter 1

Jean Frédéric Ostervald (1663-1747) on the method of theological study


In the prolegomena of his work Compendium Theologiæ Christianæ, section 4, Jean Frédéric Ostervald (1663-1747) notes that one of the chief reasons why many students of theology make little or slow progress, is that they lack a method. Despite Ostervald’s leanings towards Arminianism and Socinianism, the advice he offers here is worth taking note of. While Ostervald himself does not lay down a very elaborate method, he does make a few points which beginners in theology should take to heart. I have slightly edited the format for clarity:

“In order to discover my own sentiments, relative to the method of Theological study, in the first place I would observe, before I treat of Theology itself, that there are some kinds of study which ought to precede, or even be annexed to it.

  1. The first is the study of the languages, especially Latin, the utility of which extends itself to almost all sciences, but especially Theology. Likewise, Greek and Hebrew, which, it is plain, are necessary in order to attain an accurate knowledge of the Sacred Scripture. Now, the study of the languages is peculiarly adapted to youth, because in that age they are attained with greater ease. With respect to the languages, this rule is to be observed, much practice, and but few precepts. The knowledge of them may be attained with little trouble, by frequent reading, daily exercise, and repeated interpretation.
  2. Some knowledge of Philosophy is also requisite, viz. so much as is necessary for the investigation of truth, and to direct the mind in a proper method of reasoning. Logic is of service to this purpose. The other branches of Philosophy, though not contemptible, yet are not of such utility. But here caution should be used, lest vain curiosity, too much subtlety, a spirit of contradiction, or an itching desire for disputation be extracted from it: these are the common defects of philosophers.

These things being premised, we come to Theology itself, and here it is to be observed:

  1. That at their very entrance upon theological study, they ought to begin with the reading of the Sacred Scripture, and persevere in it, through their whole lifetime, according to that of Paul, 2 Tim. 3, where he says that the Sacred Scripture can make the man of God perfect; and here again, method should be used, the historical books ought to be attended to first, then the dogmatic and moral [books], and afterwards the prophets. About this, see Etienne Gaussen’s dissertation De Natura Theologiae.

  2. To the reading of the Scripture ought to be annexed Sacred History, extracted from a short compendium of History and Chronology, which ought indeed to be carefully perused and understood by beginners, so that they might have an accurate knowledge of the principal epochs, most memorable events, illustrious men, and other things of similar importance, according to the order of the different periods of time.

  3. Before they come to a more tedious study of the several topics of Theology, they ought to have their minds furnished with a more general idea of it. Beginners ought to avoid all prolix [i.e. verbose, overly elaborate] authors, and lay them entirely aside, until a more proper season; let it suffice them for the present to have some short and simple compendium of Christian Theology, nay, even a Catechism. For the capital points of Theology are treated in catechisms. Formerly, in the primitive Church, no such persons were to be found as we at present call Professors, but only Catechists. Such a compendium ought to be seriously and frequently read, until it be firmly riveted in the memory. Afterwards let them proceed to the study of more prolix and special systems.”

Ostervald adds a last piece of advice to the above, saying that the scholastic method should be avoided as it is “the pest of Theology and Religion,” since, according to him, it takes “the Gospel, which is plain and perspicuous in itself, and reduces it to a hard science.” However, recent scholarship has shown that scholasticism, as used among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation era, was merely a useful method employed in the schools which sought clarity and precision in theology, and did not necessarily lead to an alteration in the content of theology. For more on this, read Willem J. van Asselt’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).

To summarize, beginners in theology should take heed to study, as handmaidens to theology, the biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) and the language of the Western Church for 1800+ years (Latin), together with philosophy, particularly logic. With regard to theology itself, beginners should diligently study the Bible, redemptive history, church history, and the catechism/confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort). This should lay a firm foundation for a beginner to build on and discern from in his future studies.

John Edwards (1637-1716) on the wrong and right ends of studying divinity


“…when we apply our selves to the study of divinity, if we do not propound to our selves pure and upright ends, we shall miscarry in our enquiry into those divine truths. Want of true intention in these sacred studies doth oftentimes blast them. Some are busy in their searches after divine knowledge, but it is to satisfy their curious and inquisitive humors. Or they intend to make their reading and studying subservient to nice quarrels and controversies. They read many authors, and devour many books, that they may talk and dispute, and nourish and maintain that principle of opposition which is in them. Or, they desire to know more than others out of a principle of pride and ostentation: they know, to be known, and to conciliate applause. Or, they make the study of divinity serviceable only to their preferment, which is no uncommon thing with this rank of men. Or there are some other sinister designs which they are governed by.

But the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are different, as on several other accounts, so in regard of the end. It is no wonder then that those who in their search after religion and truth are led only by by-ends (such as curiosity, affectation of disputes, pride, ambition, or covetousness) never attain to a spiritual discerning of the most important doctrines of Christianity, and the saving truths of the Gospel, and to any relish of the goodness and excellency which are in them: it is no wonder that these are hid and sealed up from them.

But the right and true ends whereby men should be acted in their pursuit after divine knowledge are of another nature. They should make God’s glory the first and chief end of all: and next to that they should desire to know the truth, that they may acquaint themselves with their particular duties, and that they may live and practice according to their knowledge: also that they may be beneficial to those who are of weak understandings and mean capacities: that they may edify the Church of Christ, and set forward the conversion and salvation of mankind. These are godly intentions which should be prosecuted in the discharge of the pastoral office: the want of which it is to be feared is one root of that defection and degeneracy in the doctrines of Christianity which I’m complaining of. For an upright and well-designing mind is the best refiner of our thoughts and notions in religion: and a man of simplicity of heart will understand more than an Angelick or Seraphick Doctor. But on the other side, the truth is hidden from those men’s eyes whose aims are corrupt and unwarrantable, selfish and worldly; as we may remember that one of the reasons assign’d by our Saviour why the persons he spoke to did not understand his doctrine, was because they sought their own glory, John 7:18.”

– John Edwards (1637-1716), The Preacher, Vol. 2, p. 78-80

John Owen (1616-1683): Distinguishing between the matter and manner of knowing


“The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge, is not so much in the matter of their knowledge, as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers some of them may know more, and be able to say more of God, his perfections and his will, than many believers, but they know nothing as they ought: nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly; nothing with an holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is not, that he hath a large apprehension of things, but that what he doth apprehend (which perhaps may be very little) he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving soul-transforming light: And this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts, or curious raised notions.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (3rd edition), p. 141-142