(Kuyper has been talking about the role which the magistrate must take in the work of church reformation. In the last paragraph he spoke vehemently against Article 36 of our Belgic Confession which gives to the magistrate the right to exterminate heresy. Although Kuyper does not deny that the magistrate is called to enforce both tables of the law, he insists that the magistrate has not the right to punish the heretic with capital punishment.)
63. Concerning Reformations Which Already Exist and Their Distinct Character.
Because the Reformation of the sixteenth century is usually considered to be the Reformation, many live under the impression that there is no mention made either in Holy Scripture or in history of other reformations.
This is a false idea.
Reformations are always happening, even if not as thoroughgoing or as significant in consequences as the Reformation which is connected to the names of Luther and Calvin.
Attention must be given to this.
If people are accustomed to consider the Reformation of Luther as the only real Reformation, this then is the consequence: “Reformation” is regarded as something which happened only once and there is nothing further to say about it. If, on the other hand, one realizes that “reformation” has been a constant phenomenon in the history of Jesus’ church so that again and again, after error and degeneration have crept in, recovery by reformation is tried and is often successful, then the idea of reformation begins to live again for us, speaks to us, and of itself poses the question: “Can my church also be raised by reformation from her deep fall?”
This in turn impels us to look at the distinct reformations which Holy Scripture and history mention and at the same time to point out the character, to shed light upon the significance, and to bring out the earmark which each of these reformations bore.
To accomplish this we speak separately, first of the reformations which are preserved in Holy Scripture and, after this, of the reformations which are mentioned in the history of the church.
This distinction must not be neglected. This is true because in our opinion even our best historians, overlooking this distinction, actually have brought about not a little confusion in the ideas concerning reformation.
Indeed, who will deny that the danger is very real to take as a standard for our reformation of the church that which is mentioned of reformation in Holy Scripture? But this would be erroneous. For example, in the instance where the maintenance of the Mosaic political, social, ceremonial, and family laws are required to be kept by everyone, we would err if we explained the whole of this series of laws (even though they are in Holy Scripture) as still binding on us in any literal sense. We should insist upon the fact that distinction must be made between the principle ideas of these laws and their special application, and thus between their moral and ceremonial implications. First of all, holy discretion is required so that the question is asked in connection with these reformations of Holy Scripture: which elements of these reformations are connected with Israel’s own peculiar life as people of revelation, and which elements bear a general character—in order then to choose only this latter as a rule of conduct for ourselves.
Four elements ought especially to be pointed out in these reformations of Holy Scripture.
1) As long as such a revelation still continued, some men of God received a direct communication, an assignment and calling from heaven in a sense in which such an assignment and calling no longer come to anyone.
2) In the Israelite state the giving of the law was of direct divine origin so that transgression of the law even in the smallest respect concerned sin in an absolute sense, while now ecclesiastical regulations have their origin in human insights and thus lack that absolute character.
3) In Israel the king was not only a citizen but also an ecclesiastical figure who, as a bearer of the Messianic image, possessed an office in the church just as much as the priest or prophet. Also this has fallen away because Jesus Himself is now King of the church. All the conclusions for our magistrates which one would want to draw from the work of David and Solomon, of Josiah, Joash, and Hezekiah are therefore defective.
4) In Israel men could shed in streams the blood of idolatrous heretics, as Elijah did. They could employ capital punishment against teachers of error as often as God the Lord gave a direct command for this, as He did to Elijah and Moses. The theocratic character of laws made this absolute punishment necessary and at the same time justified it. Now that both this direct giving of the law and this direct command are absent, the imitation of Elijah’s way of treating the Baa1 priests becomes a horrible injustice.
Those of our brethren who wish to appeal in the future to the Old Testament as an example and directive for church reformation shall have to reckon with this fourfold distinction. Indeed, they must’ bear in mind that as Franciscus Junius expressed it: “The maintenance of a shadow image, after the reality itself has come, is not only inadvisable and purposeless, but in fact is sin.” (Cf. Junius, The Observance of the Mosaic Law, in ed. Anst. 1882, p. 336-392.) To continue to offer heifers and rams after Golgotha is to minimize Jesus’ unique offering. Thus it also detracts from the sovereign kingship of Jesus over His church if one grants to an earthly magistrate the same power over the church as David’s successors possessed, who were only predecessors of Christ, Who is now ascended into heaven and exercises divine and continual administration from heaven.
After these preliminary observations our summation of Biblical reformation can be short.
Already before Israel appeared as a people, we hear of four incidents in which the church of God was reestablished after a decline, or was kept from total degeneration through separation.
The first of these reformations happened by the separation of the children of Seth from the sons of Cain. In the days of Enoch, so we read, men began to call upon the name of the Lord.
The second tremendous reformation worked by God Himself, took place by a deluge when all the corrupted people drowned in the flood, and only the ark, with its precious treasure of the church of the Lord, floated and after a short time returned the church to the earth.
The third all-controlling reformation came about through Abraham when he, at God’s command, brought out the church of God from the generations of Terah which had become idolatrous and transferred the church to the land which God would show him.
Finally, the fourth reformation was carried out by the separation of Jacob and Esau. Also Esau was born in the church of God and received the sacrament of the covenant of his body. But evil crept in and the church of God would have degenerated entirely if the Lord had not, by separating Jacob and Esau, pushed away the Edomites in their sins in order to free His church with Jacob.
All four of these reformations came about in such a way that they bore less the character of something done by man than the character of God’s own work. They are reformations which therefore cannot serve as examples for us because mankind no longer, as then, coincides with the church. God’s administration takes other paths than it did at that time.
After these four reformations which came before Israel, the reformations which happened in the nation of Israel took place and they can be divided into two categories according to whether they fall before or during the kingly administration.
Those reformations in Israel which came before the kingly administration are four in number.
First, the deliverance of the church of God from the doom with which Egypt’s government threatened it and by the transfer of the entire church from the land of Goshen to the wilderness.
Secondly, the reformation by Moses brought about after the establishment of calf-worship by Aaron.
Thirdly, the different reformations which were wrought in the nation by Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and the other judges.
Fourthly, the reformation which Samuel pursued and which he in part brought about.
The character of the last three mentioned reformations was a rooting out of the wrong, a spiritual awakening of the people and a forceful victory over unrighteousness. Yet it was again and again wrought by men of God who have received a particular mandate to do this.
The reformations which were brought about by the kings are seven in number: those under Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah, and Manasseh in Judah, under Jehu, and under Ahab through the work of Elijah in Israel.
These reformations were repeatedly brought about by the terrible outbreak of idolatry and godlessness among the people. What Scripture informs us concerning this defies description. Sometimes the sacraments were not administered for years. All keeping of the law fell into disuse. All kinds of idolatrous worship were openly perpetrated in villages and cities, even in Jerusalem. Moral corruption knew no bounds. Holy things were mocked. God’s faithful servants were killed. Reckless corruption penetrated even into the temple and the priesthood.
And against these horrors the kings rose up five times: Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Manasseh, while also Asa’s and Joash’s names are mentioned with thanksgiving and honor.
In Israel Jehu was the only king who rose up with Hezekiah’s zeal against the corruption of the church, while the reformation under Ahab did not proceed from the king, but from Elijah and was actually against the king.
In connection with these seven reformations which pretty well bear a similar character, it is worth noting that they did not lead to a break with the existing church, but happened by the lawful, God-ordained offices of the church. They did not lead to a renewal of the form of the church or a change of the worship, but extended exclusively to a rooting out of idolatry, a checking of immorality, and a restoration to honor of the neglected church worship.