Dr Abraham Kuyper

Dr. A. Kuyper, theologian, journalist, statesman, Prime Minister of Holland, was a child of the manse. In Scholten’s classroom in the University of Leyden, “the inherited faith lost its root in my heart; it shriveled under the withering heat of unbelief. Of the old treasures, I retained nothing.”

Nevertheless he went into the ministry of the church. He was settled in the country parish of Beesd. In this hamlet there was a group of Christians, members of the State Church, yet leading their religious life apart from it, with a reputed tinge of oddity that ever clings to those who will not conform to the stereotyped and worldly. Kuyper called on them and found them distant. His views were antipathetic. Yet he persisted, and gradually they opened to him.

What did he discover among them? This intellectual superman himself answers: “Their conversation was not limited to the affairs of the village. They had interest in the spiritual matters. Above all they knew something. I could not measure my impoverished Bible knowledge, the fruit of university study, with that of these plain people. And not only in Bible knowledge. They had a consistent view of life.

“But what drew me most to them was that here the heart spoke – there was inner experience. I came back to them again and again. True, I did my best to function as parson but found that I had more inclination to listen, than to teach. After these contacts the Sunday sermons went better. But what vexed me most was their uncompromising spirit. Budge they would not, not an inch. I found myself ever at the fork of the way. Either must I take sharp position against them or go with them, without condition, putting myself under sovereign grace. I thank God that I did not oppose them. Their persistence brought blessing to my heart and the dawn of the Morning Star in my life.

A poor girl, Pietje Baltus, it was, who was Kuyper’s guide to the way of peace. In his first visit to her parents’ home the new dominie sat for two hours listening to the statement of the hope that was in her. She warned him that he, too, must have this hope if he would not perish eternally. She had prayed for him incessantly. “I could not relax until the Lord Himself came and took him from my soul,” she said, “and until I had the happiness of knowing that Christ had him in charge.”

What a contrast! This gifted, cultured son of the university, versed in all the philosophies, chatting in five languages with ease at his dinner-table (one of them being Latin which he spoke as his own Dutch), the very tip and terminal bud of European culture, and the unschooled but Spirit-taught peasant girl. Kuyper throughout life retained a profound gratitude to this intercessor and her photograph stood in his study till the end.

“Through the spirit of the time I was for long robbed of my childhood faith. There were years in my life in which the same hostility to the Gospel developed that I have observed in others. The trivial tone dominant in our seminaries suppressed the serious in me. But when hunger for bread came, when life began to be an earnest thing, then I realized in its dreadful depths, how poor and empty, how devitalized and comfortless, the new religion of our time had left me. As from an evil dream, I was awakened. My hands stretched for those things I had thrown away. In the recesses of my being, the warmth of the Gospel began to drive out the freezing chill of philosophy. I came to the conviction that the foolishness of the cross was the highest and only wisdom, and with a heart of thanksgiving I ranged myself with those who fought under its banner.”

The State Church was deeply cankered with rationalism. A large fraction holding to positive Christianity could stand it no longer and seceded, forming the Christian Reformed Church. The persecutions to which they were subjected are unbelievable.

Should Kuyper join them? He felt called rather to fight the battle for the faith within the church. The first thing was to bring to account the unitarianizing clergy. Those who denied the Son of God had retained house room in the church alongside those who confessed Him, and the demands of the creed were simply ignored. In no organization save a church could such irregularities be conceived of. The General Synod, in the interest of peace, slurred over the crying contradiction. “Church visitation,” by which the position of individual pastors was made clear, had become a nominal and wholly unreal function. Churches found themselves saddled with ministers whose unbelief scandalized and embittered them.

When Kuyper stood up in the Synod and denounced this condition of things the majority broke out in hissing and stamping. His cry was, “What belongs together must unite and what does not belong together must separate.” There must be no pact between belief and unbelief; no coalition with unbelievers.

Kuyper denounced the traditional disinclination of the Christian community to take part in public affairs. “The quiet in the land” should rise in active protest against the treason and trickery of theological liberalism. He began mobilizing the Christian vote. Then he got control of the semi-religious, semi-political, Amsterdam weekly, De Heraut, and started to inform and inflame men. He was, as his opponent, the Allgemeine Handelsblatt, called him, “the man with the ten heads and the hundred arms.” This pastor and superlative preacher was also the leading journalist of Holland.

For nearly fifty years he edited the daily De Standaard, making it a power for Christ in the life of the nation. The first number was purposely issued on the three-hundredth anniversary of the taking of Brill from the Spaniards, a great memory in the history of Dutch Protestantism. It was a fighting organ for evangelical Christianity. It aimed to train and shape characters for its defense. The rhythm of speech was inborn in Kuyper. The smallest paragraph of De Standaard was a polished diamond. The Sunday meditations, which he himself wrote, were read in every nook and hamlet and had an extraordinary influence in quickening the spiritual life of the nation.

An extension of the suffrage was the condition precedent to church reform. When this was effected the power of theological liberalism was broken in the great city parishes. But the General Synod was in modernist hands. This now deprived the presbyteries of power to refuse the communion to those denying Christ’s divinity and other central doctrines of the Gospel. It removed from the ordination vow of the pastors the last vestige of a creed. The only pledge now required was a vague promise to work for “the interests of the kingdom of God.”

Then they went a step further and refused to allow students from the Free University (which Kuyper established) to take the examinations for the pastorate. Although hundreds of parishes were without pastors they permitted them to remain pastorless rather than to admit evangelicals to the pulpits.

The answer to these arbitrary courses was a movement for organized resistance. The church council of Amsterdam, under KuyperÂ’s lead, invited deputies from the whole country to meet to pledge themselves not to call into their parishes any minister who was not from his heart loyal to the Church confession. Plans were drafted to organize outside the church a protesting ecclesiola, as in the old days of seventeenth century Arminianism. But the General Synod did not wait for this. It passed a resolution suspending Dr. Kuyper and those associated with him from their positions in the church.

A cry of indignation went through the country. Those who dared to defend the Gospel were to be driven out of the church while unbelievers, who publicly aired their anti-Christianity, were to retain their positions and were to be protected by the Synod against the protests of the parishes.

A great body of people rallied about Kuyper, now excluded from the Synod “as a disturber of the church’s peace.” They went out of the churches into halls. Finally fifty-six pastors and two hundred churches united as a doleerende church (a church with a grievance) insisting that they were still in the national church while protesting against the arbitrary and unrighteous action of the synodal hierarchy. In an astonishingly short time new church-buildings and manses sprang up all about the country. One hundred and sixty thousand members, the most devout and active of the parishes, rallied to the movement.

Dr. Kuyper appeared to be defeated but it was only apparently so. The Free church became the conscience of “the great church.” Its theological loyalty has reacted upon the older body. The revival of orthodoxy in this body has been due to the example of the protesting church and to Kuyper’s writings.

But the liberals had also captured the common schools and secularized them. The Bible was evicted. When Christian parents built Christian schools for their children the state schools were in many places kept open and the teacher paid, even though the entire school population had gravitated to the Christian school. And the parents were for decades taxed to support the empty school and the idle teacher.

Undismayed, Christians built “schools with the Bible” throughout Holland. In 1878 the liberals, by means of the Kappeyne School Law, attempted to crush them. Requirements were made for salaries, buildings, and so on, which it was thought could never be met. Four hundred and sixty thousand heads of families petitioned against this law, without result. Then under Kuyper’s leadership the Unie voor de School met den Bybel (the League for the School with the Bible) was organized and yearly collections taken. Later, as Kuyper’s influence became greater in the government, school taxes were readjusted so that a part, at least, went to the Christian schools.

Kuyper was a man of conflict, of righteous contention, but he was also a man of most devout piety. In his family he was as a priest. The children and servants were led into biblical truth by this profoundest of scholars at family prayers. Savants and statesmen, sitting at his hospitable board, may have felt surprised when their host knelt and called, as a child, on the heavenly Father.

No man was ever more bitterly attacked than he, yet, when he passed, his antagonists acknowledged his greatness ungrudgingly. There was simply nothing else to do. “Does he not stand,” wrote the very modern litterateur Franz Netscher, “with his abilities, his convictions, his powers of work, heaven-high above the cackling, gesticulating mediocrities, ever talking about ‘science,’ whom we allow to reign over us? Let us frankly confess that we envy this man of faith and look up to him.”

And his great opponent, the Handelsblatt of Amsterdam, wrote at his death: “The bells are tolling in the Netherlands. They are tolling from the towers of the churches, for the most part little churches, where rigid and substantial men go in with rigid faces to listen to rigid teaching and to comfort their souls with psalms. They are the mourning bells rung by Kuyper’s humble folk because of the great Kuyper’s death. They toll in the press of both parties and far over the limits of that land will they roll – that land which was often too small for Kuyper’s great figure. And the bells are ringing long and heavily in the hearts of thousands for whom Dr. Kuyper was more than a statesman, journalist, theologian, professor, author, leader, man. For to these he was a prophet sent of God who raised them out of the dust; who with God’s help, poured into their souls new power from God.