Witsius is Back!

Herman Witsius (1636–1708) was a faithful and godly Dutch Reformed pastor who also taught at Franeker, Utrecht, and Leiden. The traditional story about Witsius is that te sought to mediate between G. Voetius’ (1589–1676) concerns about piety and orthodoxy with the more progressive biblical theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603–69). The great work of Willem van Asselt and (WSC graduate) Brian Lee on Cocceius has made it much more difficult to tell such a facile story.

Nevertheless, Witisus’ contribution to the articulation of the main lines of Reformed covenant theology, which was nothing more than the expression of Reformed theology in covenantal or redemptive-historical terms, should not be diminished. Witsius was a gifted, thoughtful, and faithful Reformed theologian. His survey of covenant theology, The Economy of the Covenants is one of the most important works available in English. Anyone who wants to understand Reformed covenant (or federal, the adjectives are interchangeable) theology must read this work.

One of Witsius’ virtues was that he was (and remains) very clear. The other is that he is an honest broker, i.e., he gave a clear picture of a variety of points of view and then explained why he took the position he did. One of the sillier and unhistorical claims that I’ve heard repeatedly over the last decade is that there was “Dutch”  Reformed theology and “English” (or British) Reformed theology and they were more or less sealed off from each other. Witsius makes it impossible to maintain such a myth. Witisus was not only keenly aware of the developments in the British Isles he was involved in them. Further, he held and taught the very views which some would have us to believe are distinctively “English” and not Dutch: the covenant of works (foedus operum), the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae), and the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis).

Witsius was Dutch (born in Holland).

Witsius taught the three-covenant (i.e., the covenants of redemption, works, and grace) scheme

Ergo: Dutch theologians taught the three covenant scheme

Ergo: The three-covenant scheme was not a distinctively English/British scheme

Ergo: The distinction between “Dutch” covenant theology and “British” that some have asserted repeatedly since the 1930s cannot be correct.

Witsius was intentionally mediating to his readers the main points of covenant theology accepted by virtually all the Reformed orthodox pastors and theologians in the 17th century.  In other words, what strikes some folk as “radical” or “novel” today was regarded as quite ordinary in the mid to late 17th century (and before).

Now, thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Books, it’s about to become much easier to get hold of not only his work on covenant theology but also his other major works as well. In August, RHB is releasing Witsus’ five major works in a set: Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed (2 vols), Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (1 vol), and The Economy of the Covenants (2 vols). They are selling the entire set for only $70.00. Frankly any one of these works is worth $70.oo, so this is a remarkable value.

No, I’m not being paid for encouraging you to buy this set. I already own and have profited (spiritually and intellectually) from these works. I’m a fan. Listen, I’m not entirely sure how they can do it, but RHB is doing a brilliant job of bringing into print truly important (i.e., tradition shaping) Reformed works. It is works such as these that take us beyond milk to the meat of the Word. If you want to know what confessional Reformed theology and piety looks like and how we understood Scripture before Barth turned the tradition upside down there are few authors whose work will repay your investment of time and money more completely than Herman Witsius.

Who should buy and read these volumes? Any elder, any minister, and certainly every Reformed seminary student. If you love your pastor and if he doesn’t have these works, you should make sure that he has them. If you know a seminary student who is studying to enter the ministry or otherwise to teach the Reformed faith, be sure that he has these volumes.

In case you’re uncertain what I’m saying here: buy these books. Read these books and encourage others to do the same.

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    • Warren,
      Yes, if you purchase it now your credit card will not get charged until they arrive on August 15, at which time they will be shipped to you.
      Kyle Borg
      Director of Marketing, RHB

  1. Warren, remember books are far more important than anything. Remember what Erasmus said, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left over I buy food and clothes.” 🙂

    • Oh, surely, to a degree, of course. 😉

      It wouldn’t be prudent to spend all the kids’ milk money on books. Hehe.

      I got Horton’s “Christ the Lord” at the behest of Dr. Clark’s endorsement.

  2. The Den Dulk reprint from 1990 of “The Economy of the Covenants” is a facsimile of the 1822 edition.

    The first volume includes a fine 18-page essay by J. I. Packer, “Introduction: On Covenant Theology.”

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