Abraham Kuyper: Dutch Calvinist
Though it does not happen often, there are times when God is pleased to raise up in His church men of such outstanding ability and conviction that their work leaves an indelible mark on subsequent history. It is as if, by them, God alters significantly the course of events. Augustine was such a man; so was Martin Luther, and so was John Calvin. One hesitates somewhat to put Abraham Kuyper in such lofty company, and there are reasons why he does not completely fit. Nevertheless, Abraham Kuyper came close to being one of them.
Usually such men as God is pleased to use are men of extraordinary ability not only, but also men of forcible personality. They are men towards whom it is impossible to be neutral. Every acquaintance either loves them deeply or hates them passionately. Augustine was such a man; Calvin and Luther also were hated by many and loved by many. Kuyper, perhaps more than any other person of his generation, was devoutly loved and profoundly hated.
But his shadow over the church is long. It reaches to the present.
Childhood and Youth
Abraham Kuyper was born in a parsonage on October 29, 1837 from Rev. and Mrs. J. F. Kuyper in the small fishing village of Maassluis, the Netherlands. The Reformed churches in the Netherlands had fallen on bad times. Over the course of the centuries they had become thoroughly apostate. Modernists occupied thousands of pulpits and held all the significant posts in the universities and seminaries. While Reformed people could be found and Reformed ministers still preached here and there, the church itself was in the hands of and directed by those who had become enemies of the faith.
Abraham's father, a pastor in this denomination, was himself somewhere between liberal Modernism and orthodox Reformed.
Two significant reformatory movements had swept the Netherlands. The first was called De Reveil (The Renewal), a movement which was found in every country in Europe in which Protestantism had taken root. It bore, however, some marks of Humanism in the Netherlands; and it refused to engage in true church reformation, believing that the State church could be reformed from within. The second was called De Afscheiding (The Separation), of which Hendrick De Cock was the leader. The movement had demonstrated powerfully that the common people thirsted for a return to Scripture and the Confessions, to sound biblical preaching and a holy walk. It spread like wildfire through the Netherlands, but soon became the object of the persecution and oppression of the government. It was a movement that attracted thousands, but was composed mainly of the common folk, the simple and uneducated people, those on the lower rungs of society, those whom Kuyper himself was later to call "De Kleine Luyden" (The Small Folk). This separation was three years old when Kuyper was born. That hardly any mention of it can be found in Kuyper's writings in the first 20 to 25 years of his life is perhaps indicative of the fact that it was scorned by the educated and ignored by the majority in the State church -- after all, the sophisticated leaders in the church could not take seriously a movement which attracted such lowly and despised throngs. None of the influences of De Reveil or De Afscheiding seemed to have touched Kuyper.
Bram (as he was called) did not attend grade school, but was instructed by his parents in his home. Particularly his mother was his instructor, from whom he learned French. His father, fluent in German, taught him that language. Kuyper showed early in life an aptitude for languages and the ability to master any subject.
In 1841 the family moved to Middleburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland. This historical city was also on the sea, and while growing up here, Kuyper developed a strong love for the sea and a strong desire to spend his life on board ship.
In 1849 the family moved to Leiden when Rev. Kuyper took up new ministerial duties, but where Abraham had access to excellent schools. Here for six years, Kuyper attended "gymnasium," a school which was geared to the preparation of students for university studies. He graduated in 1855 and delivered the valedictory address, but delivered it in German and spoke on the topic: "Ulfilas, the Bishop of the Visigoths, and his Gothic Translation of the Bible."
Upon completion of his studies in the gymnasium, Kuyper entered the University of Leiden, a university 280 years old, with an enrollment of 500-600 students. Kuyper earned sufficient money to support himself during his three years of university studies by doing some private tutoring.
It seems as if all the influences on Kuyper at this time were bad, something not so strange when one considers the sad state of orthodoxy in the nation's universities. His most influential teacher was Dr. Matthias DeVries, professor of literary studies, under whom Kuyper learned the beauty and power of good writing and under whose tutorship Kuyper developed a unique and forceful style of writing that was to stand him in good stead all his life.
Kuyper graduated in 1858 summa cum laude, but a modernist from a modernistic school. What little orthodoxy his parents may have communicated to him was lost in the swirl of liberal thought.
In 1858 Kuyper entered the Leiden Divinity School to study for the ministry. Again the influences were uniformly bad. Dr. L. W. Rauwenhoff, committed to an evolutionistic view of history, taught church history. Dr. Abraham Keunen, a higher critic, taught Bible studies. Dr. Joannes Henricus Scholten, an arch-heretic who denied the bodily resurrection of Christ, taught Dogmatics.
In addition to these influences, two current schools of thought in the Netherlands also moved Kuyper in the direction of Modernism. One was the Groningen School of thought which really was nothing else but a promoter of a Christian Humanism after the order of Erasmus, the Humanist of Reformation times. The other school was the so-called Ethical School which promoted an ecumenical religion of wide tolerance on the basis of an emphasis on the inner, ethical life of man.
It is no wonder that when Kuyper graduated on December 6, 1861 he came out of the school a rather thorough modernist. Yet even during these years God governed events in such a way that Kuyper's surrender to Modernism was not complete.
From divinity school, Kuyper went on to gain his doctorate, something which he accomplished in 1863.
Conversion and Early Ministry
God made Kuyper a powerful Reformed preacher and an amazingly effective defender of the Reformed faith. How did all this come about?
Three events in Kuyper's life were elements in his conversion.
The first took place during Kuyper's university days. The University of Groningen was offering a prize for the best essay submitted on the subject of a comparison of Calvin's and à Lasco's view of the church. With characteristic thoroughness and zeal Kuyper devoted all his time and energy to the researching of this subject and the development of the thought. Not content with secondary sources, he scoured Europe's libraries to find the writings of à Lasco, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, he went to the home of his old teacher, Dr. DeVries, who sent Kuyper to DeVries' father, now an old man, but one with a good library. The old minister was too old to remember what he did and did not have in his library, but asked Kuyper to return in a week. Kuyper, not expecting any help from this source, was astounded to find on the table a high pile of à Lasco's works. Kuyper considered this so wonderful, especially in the light of the fact that this was apparently the only collection in Europe, that he received it as a special miracle, a miracle which forced him to consider the reality of God's providential direction of his life and the lives of men.
The second event was directly related to the first.
Kuyper plunged into his studies of à Lasco with such vigor that he hardly slept at all. The result was that, although he completed his paper (written in Latin) and although he won the coveted prize, he suffered a total nervous collapse from overwork. He could not read or write, but had to content himself with trying a build a model ship while vacationing in Germany in an effort to recoup his strength.
It was towards the end of this eight months of recuperation that Kuyper read Charlotte M. Yonge's book, The Heir of Redcliffe. The story of a proud successful man who is humbled and a poor and lowly man who is exalted had a profound effect on him. He himself said, "What I lived through in my soul in that moment I fully understood only later, yet from that hour, after that moment, I scorned what I formerly esteemed, I sought what I once dared to despise."
The third event came during Kuyper's ministry.
After completing his doctorate (his thesis was a modification of his prize-winning work on à Lasco and Calvin), he took the call to a congregation in Beesd and married Johanna Hendrika Schaay, a girl from Rotterdam.
The congregation, a small village church, was composed of simple villagers, some of whom were themselves modern and worldly, but some of whom were orthodox and sincere. In an effort to get to know his parishioners, Kuyper visited each in turn. He was surprised and chagrined when one peasant girl of thirty, Pietronella Baltus, refused to shake his hand. Finally Kuyper prevailed upon her to do so, but she made it clear she would do this only because he was a fellow human being, not a brother in Christ.
It is quite amazing that Kuyper had the grace and humility not only to inquire from her concerning her reasons, but also to return again and again to her home when she told him that he was preaching false doctrine and that his soul was in danger of eternal hell. It was at the feet of these humble parishioners that Kuyper was led back to Calvin and the Reformed fathers, and from them to the Scriptures, the one great fountain of the Reformed faith.
Kuyper was a powerful and effective preacher. As he moved steadily towards the Reformed faith, his preaching reflected his commitment to the truth of Scripture and the heritage of the Reformed fathers. His sermons attracted others: some because they could delight in his oratorical skills and his masterful use of the Dutch language; others because Kuyper preached a gospel for which their souls thirsted and which was difficult to find in any place in the Netherlands.
That Kuyper's influence upon his times and subsequent history was so great was undoubtedly due to the fact that he was first of all a preacher. God uses preachers: Augustines and Calvins and Luthers and Knoxes. The power of reformation in the church is the power of preaching above all else.
Kuyper soon moved from Beesd to Utrecht, a church of 35,000 members and 11 ministers. The year was 1867. It was a ministry of about three years filled with many events. Here Kuyper met Groen VanPrinsterer and cast his lot once for all with the Anti-revolutionary Party. Here Kuyper became an editor of De Heraut (The Herald), a post he was to hold the rest of his life. And here his church reformation work really began, although at the time there was little evidence of it.
This latter involved the failure of the consistory to answer a questionnaire which was sent by a committee of the Classis and which was a substitute for the practice of church visitation. The consistory refused to answer, first, on the grounds that the work was not properly being done when done by questionnaire, and, secondly, that the work was hypocritical when an apostate body was inquiring into the spiritual health of a congregation. This refusal could have been construed as an act of rebellion, punishable by the Classis. But the broader ecclesiastical assemblies chose not to force the issue and backed down without requiring compliance.
In 1870 Kuyper went to Amsterdam, a church of 140,000 members, 136 officebearers, 28 ministers, 10 sanctuaries, and four chapels. It was the most prestigious church in the country, the most influential, and the most venerable. it was a strategic place for Kuyper to continue his work.
Kuyper was without any doubt the most popular minister of his day and he drew throngs of people whenever and wherever he preached. Not only were his sermons powerful defenses of the Reformed faith, but they were masterpieces of literary style and oratorical delivery. Yet always his preaching was directed towards the common folk. Kuyper had that ability to address his preaching and teaching to every one -- an ability which great preachers have. He could teach the children in Catechism in a way which would pull them to the edges of their seats. And he took the time and made the effort to visit regularly the orphanages where the orphans could also be taught the Word of God.
Not only were his sermons powerful and masterful, his liturgical work in the pulpit was meticulously done and carefully delivered. His prayers were eloquent and led the soul of the humble saint to God. His reading of Scripture was an experience in itself. One fellow professor, Dr. Rutgers, said once that hearing Kuyper read, just read, Psalm 148 was clearer exposition of that Psalm than most sermons preached on it, and brought tears to his eyes.
It was during his work as minister in Amsterdam that he strove mightily for the renewal and reformation of that church. It was a time of struggle and bitter infighting, but the result was that the church in Amsterdam became a strong Reformed church with the majority of the elders and ministers supporting Kuyper. This did not mean that the modernists and liberals were expelled from the church: this was impossible in a State church. But it did mean that the orthodox were in the majority and could control the affairs of the church so that Reformed preaching and instruction became the order rather than the exception.
Polarization was, however, the result. When Kuyper preached a sermon on "The Assurance of Election," a modernist minister followed immediately with a sermon on "Let Anyone Who Comes With Another Gospel Than That Christ Died For All Men Be Accursed." Nevertheless, for the first time in years and years, the Reformed faith and the truth of the Confessions were being proclaimed and defended from the pulpits in Amsterdam.
Because of Kuyper's great ability as a preacher, it is more than sad that he laid down his office so soon to give himself to politics.
Personally I can never understand this move of Kuyper. One who is called to be a minister is called for life, and this highest of all callings has such a grip on the soul of the faithful ambassador of Christ that to leave it is impossible. Paul himself struck the only possible note: "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." Kuyper resigned in 1874. He had been elected to Parliament and he could not take his seat in that body without leaving the ministry.
A case can be made for the fact that Kuyper's departure from the ministry was in some respects the beginning of his loss of power. That may strike some who have read his biographies as strange and untenable; it is however arguable, and we shall take a closer look at some aspects of this question.
The Journalist and Writer
It is largely through Kuyper's writings that his influence has continued over the years. Article after article and volume after volume poured from his pen. It is almost impossible to imagine that Kuyper, as busy as he was, could write as much as he did.
The only reason he did succeed in writing so much was his highly structured and disciplined life. Not only those who loved him, but also his enemies wondered if he ever slept. He himself wrote out in long hand everything he published, preached, and spoke. His mornings were reserved for his writing. He absolutely refused to be interrupted during these hours and gave strict instructions to his wife and servants that only a grave emergency could interfere with his morning's work. In the afternoon he lectured. From 5:30-6:30 was dinner hour and time to spend with his family. In the evenings he corrected proofs from the printer. And his work often continued far into the night. Kuyper spent himself in the cause of the church and the kingdom of Christ.
His literary career really began in 1866 with the publication of à Lasco's works which he had used in the writing of his award-winning essay during university days. Kuyper prepared a lengthy introduction to the set, and did the church invaluable service by making available these important treasures from the past. His life could have been profitably spent as a historian: he later edited and published selected writings of Junius and Voetius.
In 1869 Kuyper became associate editor of De Heraut (The Herald), and in 1871 he assumed the editorship of this paper. Its character could easily be determined by the motto carried on its masthead: "For a free church and a free school in a free land." In 1872 he became editor of De Standaard (The Standard), a Christian daily newspaper. He continued to function as editor of both these papers (De Heraut was a weekly) until he was 82 years old, a span of almost fifty years. Both papers took considerable time not only for editorial responsibilities, but also for filling the pages with his own writings. Many of the series of articles he wrote in them were later published in book form.
The papers were widely read by friend and foe, and exerted considerable influence on the nation, especially in the area of politics.
It has been said that Kuyper could have been an expert in anything to which he set his hands. There is truth to this. His writings are not only vast, but are on many different subjects. He wrote widely in the field of theology; his lectures on Dogmatics were published under the title Dictaten Dogmatiek (Dictated Dogmatics). He wrote hundreds of meditations, these being perhaps some of his most enjoyable writings. He prepared many articles on practical Christianity, material that remains of value to the present. He was a student of history and philosophy, of politics and aesthetics, and his writings embrace all these subjects. He prepared expositions of the Confessions, the most famous being his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism, E Voto Dordraceno (According to the Will of Dordt). After touring the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, he wrote two extensive volumes on the geography, history, and cultural life of the many peoples who lived in these lands. Some of his writings indicate that he was not a cold intellectual as some charged; emerging from his facile pen are many writings which can only be classified as Reformed Mysticism. Nabij God to Zijn (Nearness to God) is perhaps his most widely known book in this field.
His writings (as well as his speeches and sermons) abounded in illustrations and figures of speech. Some of his illustrations are memorable, although there are times when one wonders whether the illustrations were intended to prove a point rather than illustrate a point.
There can be no question about it, however, that Kuyper's vast writings have continued to influence the thinking of countless people.
After his conversion, Kuyper became an unrelenting foe of modernism which had captured the universities and divinity schools in the Netherlands, and which had sapped the church of its spiritual life.
The Separation which had taken place in 1834 under De Cock and others had been indeed a true reformation of the State church in the Netherlands. But by virtue of its very character it had attracted only the lower classes of people; it had never had any strong theological leadership; many of its members had migrated to America under the heavy burdens of poverty and persecution; and it was itself torn by strife, internal division, and ecclesiastical separation. Many faithful to the Scriptures and the Reformed Creeds had remained in the State church.
Kuyper's battle against the evils of doctrine and life in the church brought him into conflict with the theologians, professors, and leaders. They hated him and fought against him bitterly. But opposition never deterred Kuyper from doing what he believed right.
Kuyper did battle with liberalism and modernism through his preaching and writing, and as his influence grew, his work led to an increasing polarization of the orthodox and liberals.
The first open conflict was while Kuyper was minister in Utrecht. The Consistory's refusal to answer a questionnaire sent out in the place of a visit by classical delegates aroused the anger of the classical board. But it was passed over and the matter never was pressed.
It was only after Kuyper had resigned from the ministry and had become in 1882 an elder in the Consistory of the church of Amsterdam, that troubles finally came to a head.
The issues were these.
The Formula of Subscription, which formerly had bound all ministers, elders, deacons, and professors to faithfulness to the creeds, was changed to require of those signing it only a promise "to promote the interests of the kingdom of God in general and especially those of the State Church" -- where, presumably, "the interests of the State Church" were decided by those who held positions of power. The Consistory of Amsterdam, under the leadership of Kuyper, insisted on confessional integrity of its ministers and officebearers.
Furthermore, within the Consistory arose the question whether unbelieving young people ought to be admitted into full membership in the church and ought to be received at the Lord's Supper. The Consistory refused to allow such desecration of the Lord's table even though the practice was common and wide-spread.
The result was inevitable. The assemblies acted against them. Five ministers, 42 elders, and 33 deacons were suspended by the Classical Board. The Board also changed the locks in the cathedral Consistory room and put steel panels on the inside, taking possession of all the property and the archives. These actions were upheld by the Synod which deposed them all. Two hundred congregations left with about 100,000 people. This movement was called De Doleantie (The Grieving Ones, or, The Aggrieved Ones). Kuyper and his followers chose this name for two reasons: 1) It expressed their sorrow over the apostasy in their denomination; 2) It identified them as still a part of the denomination, while not in agreement with it.
Although this too was a genuine reformation of the church of Christ, Kuyper himself came to recognize the fact that the Separation of 1834 was also a true reformation. Although not immediately involved in seeking contact with the people of the Separation and although first opposed to union, eventually he became a supporter of it.
The efforts to bring about union were successful, and in 1892 the two denominations merged. 400 congregation of the Separation of 1834 and 300 congregations of the Kuyperian churches came together to form De Gereformeerde Kerk (The Reformed Church).
In some respects, the marriage was a forced one. The doctrinal differences were many and significant, although the basic difference had to do with God's covenant.
The co-existence of these two denominations in one church structure resulted in a great deal of tension. The people distinguished between the two by speaking of the churches of the Secession as the A-churches, and the churches of the Kuyperian group as the B-churches. It often happened in various cities and villages that neither the people nor the ministers of the one group would want to appear in the company or church buildings of the other.
Although immigrants from the Churches of the Secession began their trek to America already in the 1840's, churches of the Kuyper group soon followed. Both also joined the same church here and became the Christian Reformed Church.
Perhaps Kuyper's role in the political affairs of the Netherlands has, more than anything else, had its effect on subsequent generations. And it is true that much of Kuyper's time and activity were spent in politics. His goal was to restore the Netherlands to what it had once been in the golden days of its history when the Reformed church was truly Reformed and the government was a strong supporter of orthodoxy. And, as a by-product of this goal, Kuyper saw that the advantage would be an alleviation of the difficult lot of the common people.
We have noticed before that Kuyper was a man of the common people. He spoke to them in a way in which they could understand. He loved them with a deep love. He sought, throughout his entire life, the spiritual, material, and political welfare of the common folk.
In 1869 Kuyper joined the Anti-revolutionary Party, the party of Groen Van Prinsterer. In keeping with his character, Kuyper threw himself into the work of the party with vigor and enthusiasm, and eventually stood for election in the Second Chamber of Parliament. After being defeated twice at the polls, he was elected from Gouda in 1874. It was at this point that he resigned his position as minister of the church of Amsterdam and assumed the role of emeritus minister so as to give himself completely to the work of Parliament. The law also forbad anyone from being both a member of Parliament and an active minister of a church.
In 1875 he was re-elected, but this term was interrupted by his second major nervous breakdown from overwork. Fifteen months he was incapacitated, months which he spent mainly in Italy and Switzerland.
Upon his return and through his efforts, the Anti-revolutionary Party was thoroughly organized with a Constitution, a Statement of Principles, national and local organization, and a well-formulated platform. Such organization paid dividends and the party continued to increase its membership in Parliament.
Nevertheless, as Kuyper and his policies were more and more hated by the opposition, the two main parties in Parliament united against him. The result was that it soon became clear that the only way for the Anti-revolutionary Party to break the hold of the liberals on the country was to form a coalition with the Roman Catholics. This coalition was effected and was victorious in the election of 1888; but its victory was temporary and it lost the election of 1891. It was not until 1901 that the coalition once again came to power. This time Kuyper was asked to head the new government. He became prime minister. After the dissolution of the government and the defeat of the coalition in the election of 1905, Kuyper's brief term as prime minister came to an end. Twice more he served briefly, once in the Second Chamber and once in the First Chamber. But his age and infirmities were catching up with him and his terms were ineffective.
Although the goals of the Anti-revolutionary Party were never achieved, some accomplishments of note resulted from the years in which the party of Kuyper was a force with which the opposition had to reckon. Perhaps most importantly, a school bill was passed which gave the Christian schools legal parity with the government schools. Prior to Kuyper's labors on behalf of Christian education, the situation in the Netherlands was very much like it is in this country: government schools were supported by all taxpayers; Christians schools had to be supported by the people who did not want their children taught in government schools; a double burden of taxation and tuition fell upon them. Kuyper succeeded in getting legislation passed which gave government subsidy also to Christian schools.
Kuyper pressed hard and long for the Christianizing of the colonies under Netherlands rule, and he sought legislation which would alleviate the hard lot of the working man and abolish child labor. Kuyper was astounded to learn that little children were required to work 70 to 80 hours a week, and had to be wakened in the morning by being doused with cold water.
That Kuyper came to power at all involved a compromise of his own position. Early in his work with the Anti-revolutionary Party, Kuyper refused cooperation with the Conservative Party (its name is deceptive. Though called "Conservative," it was closely allied with the Liberal Party and was bitterly opposed to anything the orthodox stood for) because they "subjected even the honor of the holy God to calculations of political advantage." Yet Kuyper could form a coalition with Roman Catholics in order to gain political advantage.
As he became older, Kuyper not only did not actively participate in party affairs as he once had done, but he became more and more critical of his party, criticisms publicly voiced in De Heraut and De Standaard. He sometimes left the impression, rightly or wrongly, that he was becoming a bitter old man who could not tolerate the leadership of others, especially when they disagreed with him. And many complained of his autocratic leadership.
Kuyper was deeply interested in and concerned for Christian education. Not only was he concerned that the children of believers receive instruction in the ways of God's covenant, but he labored long and hard to make Christian education available for the common folk whose financial burdens were often very great.
But his interests in education went beyond the instruction offered in what we would call grade schools and high schools: Kuyper, dissatisfied with the apostasy in the universities (schools under government control), set his sights on the establishment of a Christian university free from government control. After much labor on his part, the Free University was established on October 20, 1880. It was a school for the orthodox, free from any governmental or ecclesiastical control, operated as a parental institution, and supported by the gifts and prayers of the people of God.
The university was organized under five disciplines: theology, medicine, jurisprudence, natural science, and philosophy. Its first professors were: Dr. Kuyper, Dr. F. L. Rutgers, Dr. Hoedemaker (all three in theology), Mr. D. P. D. Fabius (in law), and Dr. F. W. J. Dilloo (in letters). Five students were enrolled at the beginning, but it continued to grow and served to supply Reformed ministers to the new denomination which Kuyper had been instrumental in forming.
In this university Kuyper lectured in Dogmatics until he was forced to retire because of health.
His interests in university education led him to America. He was invited to deliver the Stone Lectures in 1898 and to receive an honorary degree from Princeton. These lectures, by no means Kuyper's better work, were later published under the title, Calvinism.
That Kuyper was a theologian of note goes without saying. His many years of teaching Reformed theology in the Free University, the publication of his Dictaten Dogmatiek, and his many theological writings give abundant testimony to his theological acumen.
He was a Reformed theologian, unsparing in his attacks in the liberals whose hatred and fury he incurred, and unwearying in his defense of the Reformed faith.
In this respect too he was a theologian of the people. He taught and wrote in a way which could be understood by the least educated of the church; he could make the most profound truths unmistakably clear; he rallied the scattered sheep of the church of Christ around the banner of the Reformed faith.
Yet at the same time his work as theologian was somewhat limited. These limitations were, in large measure, due to his wide interests, his overwhelming work load, and his involvement in all the affairs of the Netherlands, political, ecclesiastical, and social. Although Kuyper was an articulate and powerful defender of the Reformed faith, he made few significant contribution to the organic body of the faith as it had been delivered to the church of his time by the fathers from the past.
I suppose this statement will be sharply challenged, for there are many who see Kuyper as one of the greatest of all original theologians. Nevertheless, where Kuyper did introduce new ideas into the body of the Reformed faith, these ideas were often outside the mainstream of the Reformed faith of the past and innovative in the sense that they could be challenged as unbiblical, unconfessional, and, therefore, wrong. This was true of his view of presumptive regeneration, e.g., (the idea that one must presume the regeneration of all the children born of believing parents). This doctrine became a major bone of contention in later years and it was rejected by the church after him. This was also true of his views on common grace, although here his influence was very wide and his ideas of common grace are still widely held both in the Netherlands and in this country.
Although attempts have been made to prove that Kuyper, also in the doctrine of common grace, stood in the line of Reformed thought beginning with Calvin, it is generally admitted that Kuyper introduced into Reformed thinking a novelty which can hardly stand up under the test of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. Kuyper's world-view was closely connected to his views on common grace.
Kuyper was a man of the antithesis. He believed strongly that the antithesis required absolute separation of the church from the world in all areas of endeavor, to the point that he himself labored mightily for a Christian labor union, a Christian political party, a Christian system of education free from any government control. Yet he formed a coalition with the Roman Catholics and taught a doctrine of common grace which paved the way for cooperation between believers and unbelievers in many areas of life.
But all this is not to minimize his strenuous efforts, blessed by God, to return the churches in his country to the faith of their fathers.
The Christian Man
Kuyper was also a man among men and a Christian man among Christian men.
He was a family man who revelled in the life of his own covenant family. To him and his wife were born five sons and two daughters. Family devotions were important to Kuyper. During the evening meal, Kuyper would gather also the servants into the family circle, read the Scriptures with them, explain these Scriptures to them, and lead the household in prayers to God. Mealtime itself was a time of discussion, fellowship, laughter, and fun.
The old year passed away and the new year entered with Kuyper and his family reading the Scriptures and in prayer. This was a family custom preserved until nearly the end of Kuyper's life.
The amount of work Kuyper did was incredible. But he was, after all, human. And the heavy load of work twice brought him to complete nervous exhaustion. Kuyper, as so many faithful servants of Christ, spent himself in the cause of the gospel. When Kuyper learned his own limitations he took three vacations a year, usually spent in Europe and often involving mountain climbing. He had learned to love mountain climbing when he was in Switzerland after his second collapse.
He was also a man of most unusual gifts. His learning was vast, his knowledge of history, philosophy, the natural sciences, and politics was wide and profound. He was capable of speaking fluently many of the languages spoken in Europe. He was thoroughly versed in Greek and Hebrew. He lectured and wrote in Latin.
Sorrow also touched his life. In 1892 his 9-year old son died, and in 1899, at the age of 58, his beloved wife died. Kuyper never married again and bore the sorrow of these loses to the grave.
Though short of stature, his presence was commanding and his eyes were piercing. He literally preached and spoke hundreds and hundreds of times. But he could hold his audience spellbound with his marvelous voice and forceful oratorical style. He was uncompromising in his convictions and conveyed what he believed with passion and sincerity. He had the ability to move people deeply.
His own spiritual life was one of devotion and reflection on the Word of God. Though no mystic in the wrong sense of that word, Kuyper spoke often and eloquently of the union of the soul with Christ. That was the joy of his life and the hope that sustained him as he looked beyond life to glory.
But he was not without his own flaws. It is probably characteristic of a forceful personality, as it was of Kuyper, that he not only held strongly to his convictions, but was intolerant of anyone who disagreed with him. He tended to be dictatorial in ecclesiastical and political affairs, and could not easily abide contradiction from those who were with him in the same cause. As he grew older, these weaknesses became sharper, and the last years of his life were not the happiest. It seems as if the temptations of old age for one who has labored long and hard in the cause of Christ are uniquely temptations to succumb to bitterness. Kuyper did not always successfully resist these temptations.
He died on November 8, 1920. The funeral was attended by thousands, yet the services were simple. Not even one flower or sprig adorned the casket. The climax was the singing by the throng of Kuyper's favorite Psalm: Psalm 89:7, 8 of the Dutch Psalm book. On his tombstone were engraved the words:
Dr. A. Kuyper
Born October 29, 1837
And fallen asleep in his Saviour
November 8, 1920