In our former article we quoted rather at length from Kuyper’s Stone-lectures. We may therefore assume in this article that there remains no doubt in the mind of the reader as to what his conception really was; what he deemed to be a Calvinistic interpretation of the history of mankind—mankind as such apart from the work of the Wonder of Grace in Christ Jesus.
The conception developed in these lectures and the conclusions arrived at as it touches Calvinism is both negative and positive. Negative, in that it is asserted, that Calvinism is not to be understood in an exclusively confessional, ecclesiastical-dogmatical sense. And positively, it is asserted that Calvinism is a movement in the entire domain of life: religious, political, scientific and artistic. And that not merely in this sense that this indicates the entire orb of the life of the regenerated and enlightened Christian, but that this is the case with mankind as such!
In this article we wish to institute an investigation to see what method Kuyper employs in these lectures. To be sure, when we speak of method we do not mean the purely formal method in which Kuyper would make the subject matter clear of these lectures. We refer here to the question of what is known by scholars as “methodology”, that is, the science of method used by one to arrive at and to ascertain the truth of the underlying presuppositions. In this case the premise that the history of the world and of mankind must be judged to have followed the course of: Paganism, Islamism, Romanism, Calvinism, Western European civilization—San Francisco!
Speaking of “method” it will be well to remember that there are in the last analysis but two methods that can be followed. The one is to have Scripture be our guide. The other is to disregard the Word of God altogether, and to merely reason from an assumed premise by inference or observation, or to reason from the facts of experience. It stands to reason that if the first method is employed one will have to proceed exegetically-synthetically, that is, he will have to study all the testimony of Scripture having bearing on a certain matter and come to conclusion and judgments from the data of Scripture.
The question is therefore in order: Does Dr. Kuyper in attempting to establish the underlying presupposition of his conception of Calvinism proceed exegetically-synthetically? If so, does he apply this rule consistently to the very end, or does he reason from the facts of experience and draw certain fundamental conclusions from these when he draws the lines of Calvinism as set forth in these lectures? To seek to give an answer to these questions will be the burden of this writing.
It is an interesting fact, that the Holy Scriptures shed a great deal of light on the history of what it calls “the nations”. In the prophecy of Daniel this is especially the case. Both in the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (chapter 2) and in Daniel’s vision of the “Four Beasts” (chapter 7) we see the development of the world-powers in their Antichristian character. And again the Holy Spirit shows John on the Isle of Patmos the vision of the “beast” coming up out of the “sea” and also of the “beast” coming up out of the earth.. And again this is referred to and explained in . And the lines of nations there given is: Seven nations. Babel-Assyria-Babylon-Per-sin-Greece-Rome-One not yet! This is the beast with the seven heads and ten horns!
Now it must be borne in mind that we are not criticizing Kuyper’s conclusions, but we are interested merely in the question of Kuyper’s procedure to come to his conclusions. However the foregoing paragraph does shed a great deal of light on whether Kuyper’s conclusions are Scriptural.
This question becomes all the more to the point when we remember that according to Kuyper it is Calvinistic to see mankind develop in the three-fold relationship, the entire orb of life, 1. Man in relationship to God. (Calvinism and Religion) Lecture II. 2. In relation to fellow-man (Calvinism and Politics) Lecture III. 3. In relationship to the world, creation Calvinism and Science and Art) Lectures IV, V.
Once more I ask, does Kuyper in these lectures develop this conception exegetically-synthetically? By consistently applying to fallen man in his primordial relationship to God what the Scriptures teach and what the fathers of Dort had set down in confessional statements, statements concerning the things that are revealed that must soon come to pass, and from that Scripture teaches concerning the nature of these “nations”?
One might object to these questions and say: Kuyper had performed all that groundwork in other works, and he is merely giving here the product of that investigation. He might say: don’t expect a man to do everything in a few lectures. If this should be the case, then in a way, this investigation can cease here. We would merely stand before the question whether the conclusions arrived at were Scriptural. This by the way is the task awaiting us in the next installment on this subject.
However one would wish to judge of this matter, the fact is that one looks in vain for any semblance of an attempt in these lectures to proceed from the plain teaching of Scripture. That is an undeniable fact. Nowhere does Dr. Kuyper show that his conclusions are in accord with Scriptures, neither does he show that the positive line, of which he speaks, is in harmony with the plain teaching of the prophecies in this matter.
We would here discontinue our discussion were it not for another matter in these lectures worthy of notice. It also touches the matter of Kuyper’s Method.
To understand this point it should be borne in mind that Kuyper has one underlying thesis which lies back of his entire conception and presentation of Calvinism. It is what he denominates as: Common Grace. He brings this to play when he discusses fallen and unregenerate man’s relationship to God. Thus the matter must be stated. He is not speaking of the regenerated man in Christ Jesus. In unregenerated mankind there is the sense of the Divine, the Seed of religion. This has a positive content. There is something well-pleasing to God’ here in their endeavors. This is due to the restraining influence of common grace, p. 63.
Again this principle of Common Grace is brought to bear in the relationship of man to man, that is, in the field of Politics and Social life. Also here there is a restraining influence. The Magistrate is there because of sin and is really a gift of Common Grace. And finally in the last relationship of man’s relationship to the world. Also here the great and noble endeavors of men are by reason of the restraint of sin due to Common Grace.
The question has been asked repeatedly by interested laymen: “Where did Dr. Kuyper obtain this teaching?” We believe that the following quotation from Lecture IV on “Calvinism and Science” p. 159, will shed some light on this question, and we believe also demonstrates Kuyper’s method. We quote: “Now I proceed to consider the dogma of “Common Grace”, that natural outcome of the general principle, just presented to you, but in its special application to sin, understood as corruption of our nature. Sin places us before a riddle, which in itself is insoluble. If you view sin as a deadly poison, as enmity against God, as leading to everlasting condemnation, and if you represent a sinner as being “wholly incapable of doing any good, and prone to all evil” and on this account salvable only, if God by regeneration changes his heart, then it seems as if of necessity all unbelievers and unregenerate persons ought to be wicked and repulsive men. But this is far from being our experience in actual life. (I underscore, G. L.) On the contrary, the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages that devour you. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and the literary productions of professed infidels, how much there is that attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent, which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. (I underscore, G. L.) Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not unfrequently you entertain the desire, that certain believers might have more of this attractiveness, and who himself among us has not been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen.”
“It is a fact that your dogma of total depravity by sin does not always fully tally with your experience in life.”
What does this quotation from this lecture teach us as to the author’s approach to the question of Common Grace? Of the possibility of a good world-life in the threefold relationship of God, fellow-man and the world?
Briefly stated the method is: the approach of experience. Practical life does not tally with questions 5 and 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism, neither with and . What is the conclusion? This I must learn to tally my experience with God’s verdict? Not at all. The good that we experience is better than the Scriptures say. Hence an explanation must be given. And that explanation is: Common Grace!
What to say of this method of procedure? It is the same rule that in the last decades has been applied to Genesis 1-3. Scientific observation finds that it cannot square its facts with Genesis 1, the biblical account of creation. And what is done about it? Either the facts of Genesis are denied, or the text is made to fit the case. Scientific conclusions rule in deciding the meaning of the text. And thus also Dr. Kuyper attempts to construe the sense of the Scriptures to fit with, to tally with experience.
But what Kuyper does is more ingenious. But what Kuyper attempts in his method is to show that there are two operations of the Holy Spirit in sinful mankind. Hence there is not only the work of God in regeneration, the positive line in history which runs Abraham-Prophets-Paul-Augustine-Calvin, but there is also the line which runs: Paganism-Egypt-Babylon-Greece-Rome-Islamism-Romanism-Calvinism. Two parallel lines, the lines of natural grace and of saving grace.
Our conclusion: Kuyper did not arrive at this conception in the way of exegetical-synthetical study, but in the way of attempting a reconciliation of what he considered a discrepancy between the doctrine of total depravity and the good that the unregenerate do.
And: this was not the method of the Reformers.