Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
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 on 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 contributions 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.
Kuyper was also a man among men and a Christian man among Christian men.
He was a family man who reveled 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 nine-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 losses 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. And 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 8,192O. 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