Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary
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 longhand 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 a 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 Standard (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 Dort). 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 te 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 DeCock 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 widespread.
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), a name given to designate their sorrow over the apostasy of the church and their identification over against their denomination while they were still a part of it.
Although this too was a genuine reformation of the church of Christ, Kuyper himself recognized the fact that the Separation of 1834 was also a true reformation. He set about, almost immediately, seeking contact with the people of the Separation, in an effort to unite these two into one denomination.
His efforts were, on the whole successful, and in 1892 the two denominations merged. Four hundred congregations of the Separation of 1834 and 300 congregations of the Kuyperian churches came together to form De Gereformeercle Kerken (The Reformed Churches).
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 other.
Immigrants from both parts of the church went to America and became in this country the Christian Reformed Church.
It is of no little significance that God used Kuyper also to bring about reformation in the apostate State church in the Netherlands, and to preserve the cause of His truth.
Perhaps Kuyper’s role in the political affairs of the Netherlands, more than anything else, has had its effect on subsequent generations. And it is true that much of Kuyper’s time and activity was 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 this orthodox Reformed church. 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 these kleine luyden, as he was wont to call them.
A meeting of Kuyper with Groen VanPrinsterer, an extraordinarily capable man of De Reveil, who was really the founder of the Anti-revolutionary Party, early in his career (1869) so profoundly moved Kuyper that from thenceforth he cast his lot with the Anti-revolutionary Party.
In keeping with his character, Kuyper threw himself into the work of the party with vigor and enthusiasm, and 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 Southern Europe – 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 Antirevolutionary 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 1egislation 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 Hevaut and De Starfdaard. 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.