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Wilhelmus à Brakel's Lord's supper

A Reformed Experiential Reflection on "The Christian’s Reasonable Service" by Wilhelmus à Brakel's

 


Introduction

In the annals of Reformed theological literature, Wilhelmus à Brakel's "The Christian’s Reasonable Service" emerges as a remarkable treasure. Its publication by Reformation Heritage Books in 1993, with the deft translation of Bartel Elshout, offers the English-speaking world a meticulous and profound exposition of Reformed doctrine. The focus of this blog post falls on Chapters 40 and 41, which delve into the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. These chapters stand not only as a doctrinal exposition but as a rich tapestry woven from the threads of scriptural truths, historical context, and practical application, offering an immersive experience into the Reformed perspective on this vital Christian rite.


Chapters 40 and 41 of "The Christian’s Reasonable Service" illuminate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as more than a mere ecclesiastical practice; they present it as a spiritually nourishing encounter, essential for the believer's growth and sanctification. à Brakel's handling of the topic reflects his deep commitment to the experiential understanding of faith, where the act of communion is integrally tied to the believer’s spiritual journey and combat against sin. These chapters are replete with insightful theology, personal reflection, and an emphasis on the practical outworking of faith within the Reformed community. Through these lenses, à Brakel encourages a profound and personal engagement with the Lord's Supper, asserting its place as a cornerstone of Christian worship and individual piety within the Reformed tradition.

 

 

Summary of the Book

à Brakel's magnum opus is both a doctrinal treatise and a manual for devotional practice. In the chapters under review, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is discussed in its rich theological and spiritual dimensions. The author draws upon the deep wells of Scripture to articulate the nourishment the sacrament provides to those reborn in Christ, arguing that it follows baptism and serves as spiritual sustenance. The book’s structure adeptly transitions from biblical exposition to practical application, demonstrating the author’s aim to make the theology of the Lord's Supper accessible and applicable to the believer's life.

 

Critical Analysis

Theologically, à Brakel's stance is firmly grounded in the tenets of the Reformed faith. He skillfully navigates the discussion on the Lord’s Supper, adhering to the principle of sola scriptura to interpret the sacrament as a symbolic communion with Christ. He vehemently rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as a "popish fabrication," upholding the Reformed conviction of Christ's unique, unrepeatable sacrifice for sin. The author's intellectual rigor is evident as he engages with the Reformed tradition's interpretations and challenges opposing views using Scripture as his foundation.

 

Experiential Perspective

Personally, à Brakel’s chapters on the Lord's Supper resonate with the experiential dimension of Reformed piety, which emphasizes a reflective and active faith. His discourse on the spiritual battles that believers face in preparation for the sacrament underscores the tension between the already-but-not-yet reality of our redemption. For the Reformed community, the author's emphasis on preparation for the sacrament is an invaluable reminder of the gravity and grace that characterize the Christian life.

 

Comparative Perspective

While à Brakel's work shares a common theological framework with foundational Reformed texts like Calvin's "Institutes," it stands apart in its pastoral tone and practical guidance. The detailed instructions for self-examination and spiritual readiness for the Lord’s Supper provide a unique contribution to the Reformed tradition's understanding of the sacrament. His pastoral heart shines through as he encourages believers to cultivate a deep longing for communion with God.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the primary strengths of "The Christian’s Reasonable Service" is its comprehensive nature, blending doctrinal depth with practical insights. à Brakel’s ability to make profound theological truths accessible is a testament to his skill as a theologian and pastor. However, the book could benefit from a more ecumenical approach, which might foster greater understanding and unity among the wider Christian community without compromising Reformed principles.

 

Conclusion

In summation, Wilhelmus à Brakel's "The Christian’s Reasonable Service" is a theological gem, rich in biblical wisdom and practical guidance. Chapters 40 and 41, in particular, provide a thoughtful and profound exploration of the Lord's Supper, making them essential reading for anyone in the Reformed tradition eager to deepen their sacramental understanding and practice. This book is highly recommended not only to theologians and church leaders but also to laypersons who desire to experience the Lord's Supper in a manner that is both reverent and richly informed by Reformed theology.

 

Reference

à Brakel, Wilhelmus. The Christian’s Reasonable Service. Edited by Joel R. Beeke. Translated by Bartel Elshout. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1993.

 

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