Herman Witsius (1636-1708): Definition of a theologian



In his inaugural lecture at the University of Franeker in 1675, Herman Witsius (1636-1708) spoke on the character of a true theologian (De Vero Theologo). Below is his definition of a theologian:

“By a theologian, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of divine things derived from the teaching of God Himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God and thus lives entirely for His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wiredrawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and His Christ. Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears but, impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behaviour, in harmony with their profession and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.”

This lecture can be found in his Miscellaneorum Sacrorum Libri IV, and, should you be interested, an English translation is available here.


Herman Witsius (1636–1708): Predestination in Covenant Theology


This passage from the covenant theologian Herman Witsius (1636–1708) bases predestination in biblical sources, and, once again, displays the Reformed attentiveness to the original biblical languages. Covenant theology has been thought to temper the severity of orthodox predestinarian doctrine by holding that God’s decrees always operate in the context of a gracious covenantal relationship with humanity. The stress in the opening paragraph on the election of Christ himself was taken further in the 20th century theology of Karl Barth. This excerpt is from Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants, Book 3, Chapter 4:

“The beginning and first source of [the covenant of grace] is Election, both of Christ the Saviour and of those to be saved by Christ. For even Christ was chosen of God, and, by an eternal and immutable decree, given to be our Saviour; and therefore he is said to be foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). And they whom Christ was to save were given to him by the same decree. They are therefore said to be chosen in Christ (John 17:6). That is, not only by Christ as God and consequently the elector of them, but also in Christ as Mediator… to be saved by his merit and power and to enjoy communion with him…

We thus describe it: Election is the eternal, free, and immutable counsel of God about revealing the glory of his grace in the eternal salvation of some certain persons [cites Eph. 1:4-6]. We call election the counsel of God, by which term we mean that which is commonly called decree. Paul on this subject calls it προθεσις, the ‘purpose’ or ‘fore-appointment’ of God. This term appears very choice to the apostle… and denotes a sure, firm, and fixed decree of God which he can never repent of and which depends on nothing out[side] of himself [i.e. not on human merit] but is founded only in [God’s] good-pleasure [cites 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28; 9:11]…

This election to glory is not some ‘general’ decree of God about saving the faithful and the godly who persevere in their faith and piety to the end of their life; but a particular designation of certain individual persons, whom God has enrolled as heirs of salvation…

The very term προοριζειν, ‘to predestinate,’ which the apostle more frequently uses on this subject, does not obscurely discover this truth. For as οριζειν signifies ‘to point out’ or ‘ordain’ a certain person [cites Acts 17:31; 10:42; Rom. 1:4]… so προοριζειν, as applied to the heirs of eternal life, must signify ‘to enroll,’ ‘to write down’ some certain persons as heirs in the eternal testament.”

Herman Witsius (1636–1708) on the petition of the Lord”s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses”


“We confess that we are chargeable not merely with one sin, but with many and highly aggravated sins (1 John 1:9, James 3:2). We confess also, that on account of our transgressions, God could justly cast us into the prison of hell, from where we would not be permitted to escape until we had paid the uttermost farthing (Matt. 28:34). We acknowledge the righteousness of all those judgments which God inflicts upon us, to manifest his wrath and his hatred of sin (Ps. 51:4, Rom. 3:19)…

We confess, in summary, that our salvation must not be sought in any merits or in any satisfaction of our own; but instead in the free remission of our debts – debts which we ourselves are equally unable to deny and to unable to clear (Rom. 4:6, 7)…

Attentive consideration and sincere confession of these truths are highly useful and necessary to produce in us that humility and that holy self-despair. For without humility and holy self-despair we can neither participate of the Divine favor, nor flee to Christ as our refuge, nor build a firm and solid hope on his grace…

Let this therefore be the prayer of the soul trembling before God at the sight of its offences: ‘Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you’ (Ps. 143:2).” [This is repeated in the New Testament: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Lk. 18:13).]

– Herman Witsius (1636–1708), Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, p. 395-396