Jodocus Van Ladonstein's Experiential & Practical Theology
Typical of Dutch Further Reformation ministers, van Lodenstein longed to see the Reformation find flesh in vital godliness, resulting in experiential and practical theology. Consequently, he often preached the need for spiritual renewal.
Let us look at what thoughts dominated the mind of van Lodenstein and how they influenced the Dutch Further Reformation. Three matters that were closest to his heart were his view of the Reformation, his pietism, and his mysticism. Let’s look briefly at each.
His View of the Reformation
Van Lodenstein viewed the Reformation as doctrinally sound but incomplete in terms of practice. Because of the atrocities of the Roman Catholic Church, he agreed that the Reformation was sorely needed. In that sense, van Lodenstein was of Reformed persuasion.1 However, he believed the Reformation did not go far enough. Van Lodenstein equated the Reformation to Ezekiel raising bones in the valley of dry bones. The Reformation renewed good doctrines, but it was only a skeleton on which flesh was yet needed.2 This flesh, van Lodenstein said, consisted of two needs:
1. The need for the Spirit.
- Van Lodenstein believed the reformation of the church stopped short of its ultimate goal of godly living. The church was not yet as purified as she should be.3 She had gotten rid of many Roman Catholic heresies, but she did not sufficiently emphasize the need for the saving work of the Holy Spirit in their place. The result was a cold and dead orthodoxy, which in turn produced nominal Christians who did not experience truth and did not cultivate holiness. The Reformation fell so far short in this area, van Lodenstein believed, that the Reformed church was now embracing her own heresies and was even worse off in some ways than when she suffered under Rome.4
2. The need for perpetual reformation.
- Van Lodenstein believed a single reformation was insufficient; there was a continual need for reformation. The consequence of failing to continue the Reformation was spiritual apathy, which was already prevalent in the Netherlands. According to van Lodenstein, many church members had lost their first love and had become worldly. Thus, his preaching continually emphasized the need for further reformation.5
It is important to understand van Lodenstein’s emphasis on the Spirit and perpetual reformation for two reasons. First, the incompleteness of the Reformation was the focus of many of his thoughts, sermons, and publications. Van Lodenstein was not content to let the Reformation die short of spiritual transformation. Second, though van Lodenstein was critical of the shortcomings of the Reformation, he was still deeply Reformed. His pietistic and mystical tendencies were never divorced from what began in 1517; rather, they served to further the cause of the early Reformers. Van Lodenstein’s practical theology, pietistic emphases, and mystical tendencies were always hedged in by the Reformed faith.6
His Pietistic Emphases
Cornelis Graafland defines Reformed pietism as,
a development which characterizes itself by an increasing internalization and particularization of the experience of salvation, as well as by a more negative view of the possibility of revival in church or state in the Reformed sense, due to opposition and continuously worsening decay.7
Van Lodenstein’s call for further reformation was directly related to his pietistic emphases. In calling people to cultivate holiness, van Lodenstein stressed truth, godliness, self-denial, and sanctification.8
Even at an early age, van Lodenstein was drawn to asceticism and self-denial.9 Viewing the world as diametrically opposed to the kingdom of God, he renounced the pleasures that often marked aristocratic life. In later years, he was a quiet man and a good listener. He did not dispute with people unless he felt compelled to do so. His meals were primarily vegetarian, and he ate for nourishment, not enjoyment. He gave thanks for every cup of water he drank. He slept little and only as needed. His leisure time was spent doing only those things that were profitable for eternity.10
Van Lodenstein’s asceticism was influenced by the monastic orders of the ancient and medieval church. He thought the Reformers erred in abandoning monasticism, which he believed was an important training ground for holiness.
He asked, if monastic orders were rooted;
in the old ascetics, or trainers of themselves to godliness, should men themselves not have the use of such as them to train the service of the church?I11
The heart of self-denial was to realize the all-sufficiency of God and the nothingness of man, Van Lodenstein said.12 He thus drew a direct line between inward sanctification and self-denial. Unlike Luther, he reasoned that justification is not the pillar by which the church stands or falls; rather, justification is a servant to sanctification. Sanctification is so dominant in van Lodenstein’s thinking that he believed God took our nature upon Himself to sanctify and glorify it. The Incarnation thus is closely linked with sanctification.13
With his strong views on sanctification, van Lodenstein put his imprint on the Dutch Further Reformation. He and others called for a more profound commitment to Christ, for only such a commitment could deliver the church from shallowness and unholiness. By preaching repentance sermons each month, he hoped his congregation would not just embrace the truth with their minds, but experience it in every aspect of their lives. Carl Schroeder writes of van Lodenstein,
He both modeled and taught a strong commitment to a process of growth in devotion to Christ that spells out what sanctification as taught in the New Testament is all about. Few who listened to van Lodenstein regularly in Sunday morning worship could fail to feel his sense of urgency in these matters.14
Central to van Lodenstein’s understanding of sanctification is the lordship of Christ. Van Lodenstein saw the church as the “school of holiness” where members come to learn propositional truths of the Scriptures and how to apply these truths outside of church. Through the model of the church as a progression towards holiness, the lordship of Christ is played out on earth by those who are truly saved and live out their commitment to Him.15 Without both inward and outward sanctification, the saints cannot live lives of holiness.16
His Mystical Tendencies
In 1659, the stresses of life (a lack of sanctification in his congregants, difficulties with the magistrates, and lack of renewal throughout the Netherlands) caused a profound personal crisis in van Lodenstein. Spiritual dejection caused him to look inward and see that the only thing he could control was his personal devotion to Christ, which moved him to embrace more individualization. At this time, van Lodenstein learned more about what he called “the language of love.”17
For consolation, van Lodenstein turned to the Song of Solomon. He feasted on these songs of love and often preached from them in relation to the Lord’s Supper.18 He was also influenced by the medieval writings of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471). In these writings and the Song of Solomon, van Lodenstein learned how to develop and cultivate personal devotion to Jesus.19 He viewed the Songs as portraying the inner chamber where a believer’s soul and God are united. This union is not one of a King to His people but of a King to His bride. Through bonding in love to Christ as the perfect Bridegroom, the spiritual bride is brought to self-denial, acknowledging that God is the all-sufficient, and man, in himself, is nothing.20
For van Lodenstein, the beautiful language of the Song of Solomon expresses Christ’s precious benefits for His bride and the bride’s spiritual longings for her bridegroom. Van Lodenstein particularly emphasizes the royal aspects of the believer’s bride groom. By calling the bridegroom King, he underscores Christ’s immense attractiveness, majesty, and glory, as well as the bride’s need to render Him honor, service, and subjection.
Van Lodenstein equates what happens in the King’s inner chambers with Christ’s sympathetic love and the believer’s intimate fellowship with Him. Through spiritual communion with Christ, the believing bride tastes the first fruits of heavenly communion. When the bride sees the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus in the King’s inner chambers, she no longer sees herself but is increasingly conformed to Christ’s image and is more fully assured of the King’s unchangeable faithfulness and love for her. She then loves God with her entire mind, soul, and being, and desires Him for His own sake, viewing Him as wholly delightful.21
Hughes Oliphant Old fascinatingly writes of van Lodenstein’s sermons:
What got these sermons across was their interiority. That is not quite the same thing as subjectivity. These sermons have a tremendous sense of interiority in that they bring us into the inner room, just as the Sacrament (of the Lord’s Supper) itself does. We find in these seventeenth-century Dutch sermons the same thing we find in the seventeenth-century Dutch paintings. The Dutch Masters had a marvelous ability to intimate the interiority of our existence. The interiors of seventeenth-century Dutch homes as painted by Pieter de Hooch, Gerard Terborch, and Jan Vermeer tell us much about life and what it meant to these people. One looks at an interior of de Hooch and marvels at the eloquence of its simplicity and order. Or again, one looks at an interior by Vermeer and senses the quiet of the room. Perhaps it is a woman reading a letter or doing a simple household task. Perhaps it is a man contemplating the vanities of life. It all had to do with the mystery of the inner room, that Holy of Holies, the Song of Songs. That is what Protestantism is all about. It is not about baroque power and authority but interiority, the secret communion with God. That is what justification by faith is all about and that is what sanctification by faith is all about as well.22
Though van Lodenstein was influenced by medieval mystics, his commitment to Scripture and Reformed theology were the hedge that spared him from falling into aberrant forms of mysticism. He has been accused of coming close to speaking of a tangible union between Christ and the believer, but van Lodenstein was careful to cite a difference between an actual and a gracious self-revelation of God. In his opinion, an actual divine self-revelation must be rejected. By gracious self-revelation, he means that, by considering God’s character through Spirit-inspired Scriptures, we can be united to God by faith.23
Van Lodenstein’s definition of mystical theology was inseparable from “words of writings that express an experience or exercise of the holy truth.”24 He stressed the need for a personal experience of God. Viewed in this light, we do not need to condemn van Lodenstein’s mystical tendencies, since he stresses that experience is always grounded in the Scripture and is brought to us by the Spirit’s work through faith.
Van Lodenstein’s stress on the word exercise also kept him from falling into extreme mysticism. His mystical tendencies served his views of sanctification, for he believed that believers are led to the inner chamber of God’s love, not for an ecstatic experience, but to equip them to serve. Thus, there is always a strong ethical dimension to van Lodenstein’s mystical tendencies.25
Van Lodenstein’s writings are interwoven with his view of the Reformation, his pietism, and his mysticism. In his opinion, the Reformation had become a “deformation.”26 It was sound in doctrine, but failed to achieve the true goal of reformation, which is self-denial and sanctification.27
His convictions about the Reformed faith and his pietistic per suasions did not allow van Lodenstein to stagnate in his commitment to Christ. He urged believers to keep growing by experiencing loving fellowship with Jesus Christ and to know, beyond mere cognition, the sweet and vital union Christ’s bride can share with Him. By promoting this mystical experience, van Lodenstein teaches us to be discontent with nominal and skeletal reformation so we can go through the process of being emptied of self and filled with Christ.
To understand the depth of van Lodenstein’s mystical tendencies, we should read his poems and his later writings. Outwardly, van Lodenstein was a very temperate man. Inwardly, however, his soul yearned to know more about union with Christ and personal holiness, worked by the Holy Spirit.
Van Lodenstein has been called “the most prominent exponent of Reformed praxis pietatis” (the practice of piety) among the Dutch Further Reformation divines.28 He stressed sanctification more than justification, and urged the Dutch Further Reformation to call sinners to repentance. In so doing, he paved the way for later pietists to follow in his steps.