The Covenant of Grace
by Herman Bavinck 

(Chapter 14 of Our Reasonable Faith* )


[But who can stand in the judgment?] To that question all mankind has at all times and in all places given the answer that men, such as they are, may not appear before the face of God nor dwell in his presence. There is no one who can say or dares to say: I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin (Prov. 20:9). Everybody feels himself to be guilty and defiled, and everybody acknowledges, if not to others, at least internally to himself, that he is not what he should be. The hardened sinner has moments in which restlessness and turmoil master him; and the self-righteous in the last instance always continue hoping that God will blink at what is lacking and accept the intent for the deed.

True, there are many who try to banish these serious thoughts from their minds and plunge into life as though there were no God and no commandment. They deceive themselves with the hope that there is no God (Ps. 14:1), that He does not bother about the sins of men, so that whoever does evil is good in His sight (Mal. 2:17), that He does not remember evil nor see it (Ps. 10:11 and 94:7), or else that, as perfect Love, He may not seek out and punish the wrong (Ps. 10:14). And whoever holds to the demand of the moral law and lets the ethical ideal stand in its loftiness, can only agree that God must punish the wrong. God is love, indeed, but this glorious confession comes into its own only when love in the Divine being is understood as being a holy love in perfect harmony with justice. There is room for the grace of God only if the justice of God is first fully established.

After all, the whole history of the world gives an irrefutable testimony to this justice of God. We cannot speculate out of the world the special revelation in Christ which tells us of the love of God if we were to do that the general revelation with its benefits and blessings would be lost to us. But, if we were, but for a moment, in our thoughts to leave the revelation in Christ to one side there would remain very little ground for belief in a God of love. For if the history of the world clearly teaches us anything, it is this: that God has a quarrel with His creature. There is disagreement, separation, conflict between God and this world. God does not agree with man, and man does not agree with God. Each goes his own way, and each has his own idea and will about things. The thoughts of God are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8).

Therefore the history of the world is also a judgment of the world. No, it is not as one poet has said, the judgment of the world, for that will come at the end of days; and it is not judgment alone, for the earth is still full of the riches of God (Ps. 104:24). All the same, the history of the world is a judgment, a history full of judgments, full of struggle and war, of blood and tears, calamities and afflictions. Above it are written the words which Moses once spoke when he saw the race of the Israelites dying away before his eyes: We are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled (Ps. 90:7).

This testimony of history to the justice of God is confirmed by the fact that mankind has always looked for, and still looks for, a lost Paradise, for a lasting bliss, and for a redemption from all evil that oppresses it. There is in all men a need for, and a seeking after, redemption. It is just this which specifically comes to expression in religion. True, one can take the word redemption in so large a sense that it includes all the labor which men do on the earth. For when man by the world of his hands tries to supply the needs of his life, when he tries to defend himself against all kinds of antagonistic forces in nature and among men, and when in science and art he strives to subdue the whole earth, all that has also the purpose of being liberated from evil and ushered into the good.


Born on December 13, 1854, in Hoogeveen, Drenthe, Holland, Herman Bavinck was the son of the Reverend Jan Bavinck, a leading figure in the secession from the State Church of the Netherlands in 1834. After theological study in Kampen, and at the University of Leiden, he graduated in 1880, and served as the minister of the congregation at Franeker, Friesland, for a year. According to his biographers, large crowds gathered to hear his outstanding exposition of the Scriptures.

In 1882, he was appointed a Professor of Theology at Kampen, and taught there from 1883 until his appointment, in 1902, to the chair of Systematic Theology in the Free University of Amsterdam, where he succeeded the great Abraham Kuyper, then recently appointed Prime Minister of the Netherlands. In this capacity an appointment he had twice before declined Bavinck served until his death in 1921.

* Reprinted by permission of the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids Mich. Copyright, 1956

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