During Witsius’ lifetime, doctrinal disputes raged across Europe. Such questions as whether Christians were under Mosaic law, the role of grace for the believer, and the idea of moral law came to the fore, causing division and strife in the church. In Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, Witsius addresses these doctrinal concerns, expounding on the inherent nature of law, grace, and the role of the believer. He takes a close look at sin, justification through Christ, redemption, and the covenant of grace, discussing in depth, the nature of holiness, which, he declared, was the ultimate goal of grace and the gospel.
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“We must accurately distinguish between a right to life, and the possession of life. The former must so be assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded. But certainly our works, or rather these, which the Spirit of Christ worketh in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter.” (Pages 161–162)
“All these errors together, Paul impugns and confutes: proving, at large, that there is none, neither Gentile, nor Jew, who by any work done, either according to the law of nature, or the law of Moses, or devised by men themselves, can acquire, either in whole or in part, an immunity from punishment, and a right to life and salvation: but that with the denial of all our own righteousness, all these things must be sought in Christ alone, to whom we are not united but by faith.” (Page 79)
“Scripture teacheth that man must do something, that he may obtain the possession of the salvation purchased by Christ. ‘Labour, (said he) for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life,’ which indeed he interprets afterwards of faith, but so, that there he plainly reduces it to the catalogue of works; for justification is not the subject, John 6:27–29. And Paul expressly says, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ Phil. 2:12. And again, ‘Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know, that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’ 1 Cor. 15:58.” (Page 162)
“But that repetition of the covenant of works was designed to convince the Israelites of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to teach them the necessity of a satisfaction, and to compel them to cleave to Christ: and thus it was subservient to the covenant of grace, Rom. 10:4.” (Page 87)
Herman Witsius . . . was a masterful Dutch Reformed theologian, learned, wise, mighty in the Scriptures, practical . . . on paper he was calm, judicious, systematic.
A writer not only eminent for his great talents and particularly solid judgments, rich imagination, and elegance of composition, but for a deep, powerful, and evangelistic spirituality, and savor of godliness.