From Bavinck to á Brakel: The Certainty of Hope

This year at the Calvin 21 conference I ran into Rev. Bart Elshout, translator of Brakel’s Christian’s Reasonable Service. He’s good people. I asked his thoughts on the great theme running through á Brakel and received two memorable answers: “Christ is so lovely, that believers come back to him a thousand times.” Speaking on our perspective of God in faith and prayer, “we are always going out of our way to beg God to be gracious. On the contrary, says á Brakel, God goes out of his way to prove he is gracious to us.”

Speaking to regeneration, Bavinck said that hope characterizes the Christian life. He then thunders down the line rounding up Pelagians. Á Brakel picks up where Bavinck leaves off: hope has certainty, a special perspective and usefulness for everyday life.

Hope is a propensity, á Brakel writes, a principle character given by the Spirit in regeneration. Hope is improved by experience. When it comes to contradictions, roadblocks, hurdles, and the drudgery of the mundane hope is no worse for the wear. God foreknows we need hope and gives it as freely as wisdom (James 1:5, 12). There are many spiritual benefits for exercising hope (against taking the attitude of unbelief and worry) but how are the believer’s goals certain if the ‘means’ are obscure?

Á Brakel says hope gains certainty and confidence in God’s promises of eternal life, salvation (temporal deliverance), and future benefits as represented in scripture. Some ministers might add to the promises a new car, home, happy marriage, and other stuff to the list which materially would solidify God’s salvation. Á Brakel might ask, with scripture, how can anything else compare with the true knowledge of God and his eternal glory (Psalm 73)? Compare anything in life next to experiencing the certainty of salvation and you discover the logic of faith to be correct, God to be true. Á Brakel believes that hope attains the right way of communion with God: “the result of hope is holy industry.”*

There are many examples of faith overcoming all odds, but hope often seems to be a missing element from the stories. Joseph was enslaved and imprisoned in ancient Egypt. The Apostles returned to Galilee not knowing what to expect. Rev. Elshout was locked in a basement for five years translating á Brakel. Faith touches reason, but hope is included as well, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).


* This is not to disparage prayer for daily needs. Brakel’s treatment of prayer is very generous. Here Brakel confines his view of hope in direct relation to God’s glory in revealing himself and providing eternal salvation.

2 Responses

  1. Bartel Elshout

    Just a quick note to say that I did indeed do my translation of Brakel’s magisterial work “The Christian’s Reasomable Service” in a basement room. However, I was not locked in this room–that is, I was not kept a prisoner there against my will! It was indeed a time that it seemed as if God had put me on a sidetrack, but now I may realize that He put me into that room to accomplish a task that has proven to be of great importance for the cause of Christ. The positive reception of this work around the world has been beyond anything I could have ever expected. It is a matter that greatly humbles me, but also greatly encourages me. God’s ways are indeed past finding out! To Him alone be all the glory–the God who has given us His Word to persuade us that for Christ’s sake He is indeed a very gracious God who delights in mercy!

    Rev. Bart Elshout

  2. Joel Heflin

    We certainly did not mean to suggest that Rev. Elshout’s labors were forced or sheer drudgery. On the contrary: its an excellent example of hope as the thoughtful endurance of the Gospel for the edification of the Church.

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