a Brakel on Damnation by Faith—A Brief Meditation

The Dutch “Puritan” theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635–1711) argued that the first sin of Adam and Eve was unbelief. To state this differently, they exchanged faith in the Word of God for faith in the word of the Serpent (Christian’s Reasonable Service, I:372–373). He argued that in perfect humanity, emotion would have been subject to the intellect. Therefore, the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden consisted in appealing to the judgment of Adam and Eve. God had told Adam and Eve that in the day that they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would surely die. Satan told them that instead they would be as gods. a Brakel concluded, “The issue at hand—namely, not to die, but to gain wisdom by eating of this tree—was confirmed by faith, this being the act whereby one holds the words of someone else for truth. Therefore the first sin was faith in the serpent, believing that they would not die, but instead gain wisdom. . . . Therefore, the first sin was not pride, that is, to be equal with God, also not rebellion, disobedience, or an unwarranted appetite, but unbelief” (I:373). Unbelief was the first link in a chain that led to all other sins.

Allow me to engage in some practical reflections. These observations have far reaching consequences for the human race. All faith ultimately rests upon the testimony of another rather than upon bare evidence. This is the primary point of John Owen’s (1616–1683) book, The Reason of Faith (Works, 3:1ff). Owen argued that it is the nature of faith to rest upon the authority of testimony.  For this reason, the primary reason why believers have faith in the divine authority of Scripture is that God Himself has spoken. In light of a Brakel’s comments, it is interesting that Adam and Eve accepted the word of the serpent without prior evidence. Their true trial was considering whether they would rest upon the authority of God alone, or upon the authority of a creature. This accurately describes the history of faith in the Triune God versus unbelief ever since man’s Fall into sin. Those who reject the Word of God act as though they do so upon evidence, but they have unknowingly believed the lie of Satan by faith. The ultimate lie of Satan is that man’s reason and judgment rather than God determines the nature of reality, truth and falsehood, and right and wrong. Was this not the sin of our first parents?

Today, people trust in the authority of scholars who assure them that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist, or that Christianity has perverted the story of the “real Jesus.” People rest upon the authority of scientists to tell them about the origins of the universe rather than the Word of God. When individuals consider the diversity of religious opinions among humanity, many conclude that no one can know “the meaning of life” or that all truth is relative, otherwise all human beings would agree over these questions. The thread that ties all of these thought together is faith in the creature rather than faith in the creature. If man cannot determine truth by himself, then there must be no such thing as truth. Conversely, what man has determined to be “true” is true, regardless of what God or anyone else says to the contrary.

At the bottom of our thinking, we all rest upon the testimony of someone by faith. What a Brakel illustrates is that, like Adam and Eve, our faith either rests upon the Word of God or the word of a creature. Fallen human beings have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, by believing Satan’s original lie to our first parents. The question that continues to confront the human race continues to be, “Whose authority shall you receive by faith: God’s or the creatures?” Do not be devieved when the non-Christian tells you that you rest upon faith and that they rest upon reason and evidence. As with Adam and Eve, all reason and evidence begins with faith in some authority. Just as we receive justification by faith in Christ, our first parents received damnation by faith in the serpent.

(ADDENDUM: In another place, one friend has criticized me of reading Van Tillian presuppositionalism into Protestant Scholasticism. This is not a “scholarly” post, but a meditation, yet let me say here that I by no means impute Van Tillianism into the Protestant Scholastics such as a Brakel. There are significant differences between them. I will simply say this, let us hold to our differing positions on apologetics, yet be sure to read Richard Muller (PRRD vol. 1) on the manner in which the use of reason and natural theology shifted substantially in Reformed Orthodoxy following the Enlightenment. I fear that many modern discussions of apologetics do not adequately taken into account the diversity of views in the history of the Reformed tradition on this point.)

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