The Christian and The WorId

“The influence which emanates from all these (non-Christian) organizations is thus without exception destructive for our Christian confession…In such anarchistic, socialistic or neutral associations a spirit is operative which never can or may be ours…Thus our principle settles down at the point of non-activity, loses its position of influence and is pressed into the corner…” These excerpts from Abraham Kuyper characterize the conclusion to this challenging series. We urge you to read and consider it carefully!

This remark is followed by another to the elect that there is in the new situation a great danger of losing contact with the world of culture. Again, a somewhat prominent minister in our denomination, after he had read my address Het Roer Om! as it appeared in English translation in the periodical Torch and Trumpet, said to me, “You have taken only one side of Kuyper, that of the Encyclopaedia with its doctrine of the antithesis; don’t forget, there is also the doctrine of common grace.” Both these expressions of opinion suggest that the relation between common grace and antithesis is a contrary one. It would seem to be the case, therefore, that the tensions among us largely revolve about the question of the relation between common grace and antithesis as that relation is determinative of the way in which we throw ourselves into the life of the cultural world.

I find it highly significant that on this point which is presently troubling us there is no essential difference of opinion among Kuyper’s descendants in The Netherlands. That fact itself, it seems to me, should give us pause. For we have already heard van Ruler affirm(33) that the “way in which we are accustomed to put the questions of Christian politics, Christian social work, Christian radio etc. is not conceivable apart from Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace.” It would seem apparent that we have to do here with two irreconcilable interpretations of Kuyper’s meaning in his De Gemeene Gratie. Thus, many who opposed what I said in Het Roer Om! defended participation in organizations such as Citizens Action, with an appeal to common grace. Last spring the Calvinistic Culture Association reccived a communication from one of our recent graduates, who insisted that he as a true-blue “Kuyperian” could not go along with the Schilder-Van Til-Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee approach—whatever that might be!—to cultural problems outlined in the Declaration of Principles and Work Program of the C.C.A. We of the Association found it difficult to repress a smile when only a few weeks later a prominent writer in the Gereformeerd Weekblad, Rev. N. J. Hommes, wrote two articles in that organ of the Reformed Churches(34) about the same document, in which he expressed his joy at seeing the principles of Kuyper(!) being applied to the American scene. Obviously, somebody is misunderstanding something somewhere. It therefore becomes imperative that in the short time remaining we try to obtain some light on the question, how Kuyper conceived the relation of antithesis and common grace, particularly as that relates to cultural activity.

Prof. van Ruler, a careful student of Kuyper’s writings, admits in his book Kuypers Idee eener Christelijke Cultuur,(35) from which I have already quoted:

“At first sight it is not clear how the doctrine of common grace leads to the idea of a Christian culture; one is then fond of having recourse to his doctrine of palingenesis (regeneration) as the antipode of his views on common grace; this is, however, at the very least, superficial; the lines here do not run parallel nor in opposite directions either, but intersect, and that more than once!” Just a little later he warns once more against forcing a contrast between particular grace (the doctrine of panlingenesis) and the doctrine of common grace. Permit me to cite this significant passage.(36)

Prof. Haitjema( 37 ) once worked out this contrast in a particularly good article that is still very worth the reading entitled ‘The appreciation of culture in neo-calvinism,’ and appearing in Onze Eeuw (Volume XIX, no. 10, pp. 83–108). He pictures neo-Calvinism as n spiritual movement that has its characteristic features in its openness to the life of modern culture, and then points out that this movement had to battle on two fronts. ‘Over against its own adherents the Christian appreciation of universal-human culture had to be supported and elucidated dogmatically. And over against the world of culture, which in our modern time is alienated from the basic Christian convictions, a most emphatic plea had once again to be made for the cultural significance of the Christian religion, more particularly, of Calvinism as life-system’ (p. 91). On the first front Kuyper developed the doctrine of common grace, and on the second front he maintained the doctrine of regeneration. “To come from the one line to the other a leap is always necessary . . . . And no wonder, for the one line of thought, that of common grace, points to a side that is situated over against the other: that of the necessity of regeneration, even in the life of this world’ (p. 103). The conclusion to which the writer comes is then: ‘The inner connection between the element of palingenesis and the doctrine of common grace he never pointed out’ (p. 107 ). With this description of the layout in Kuyper’s thinking I cannot agree. Undoubtedly, there is an element of truth in it. In writing about the truth of common grace Kuyper docs indeed come now and then to a very broad appreciation of universal-human culture. But that is most assuredly not the reason why he constructed his doctrine of common grace. This neutral appreciation of culture is but one of the results, not one of the motives, of this doctrine. And certainly Kuyper’s purpose was not to arouse his own fellow-believers out of their cultural indifference to this broad humanistic appreciation of the cultural process as such. What he wanted to arouse them to, and his reason for requiring the doctrine of common grace, that was his Christian action in all the spheres of life. Indeed, Kuyper’s theories on common grace never were so construed by his followers. (Emphasis mine ). Prof. Hepp is right when he observes that Prof. Schilder is beating the air when he goes into action against the neutral-culture-unityideals on the basis of the common grace doctrine. ‘Where are the many among us, who turn against a Christian cultivation of science, a Christian politics, a Christian art and all the rest?’ (Dr. V. Hepp, De algemeene genacle, Kampen, 1937, p. 80.)

In my opinion there is in Kuyper a very real inner connection between the doctrine of particular grace and the doctrine of common grace…One cannot make this connection too close, too intimate. Repeatedly Kuyper argues that common grace was the point ‘at which our Reformed confession diverged from the Anabaptistic path of separation (mijding)’ ( De Gemeene Gratie II, 349 et passism). In the doctrine of particular grace the bond with the universal-human, earthly, temporal life is severed, but…it is restored in common grace. The motive of the doctrine of common grace lies not in appreciation of culture but in cultural activity. Its purpose is to afford the regenerated believer possibility of existence, material for work, meaningful activity. Even when his life is enlarged in time round about the point of election and regeneration (although this is really a point of eternity), he yet is met with grace from the same God who elected and regenerated him. Grace from the same God, albeit not the same grace. Here lie all the tensions of Kuyper’s fundamental conception. In motive and design there is a very close connection and a most intimate bond between particular grace and common grace. But in the elaboration Kuyper often comes to a duality of grace, to an absolutizing of common grace, which obscures the original thought. Then it can appear as though the doctrine of regeneration and the doctrine of common grace stand opposed to each other as principles of antithesis and synthesis. Nevertheless, there are only a few passages to which this construction can properly appeal, though it must he acknowledged that just in these passages Kuyper’s soul sings out so lyrically. In general, however, this original connection of particular grace and common grace remains, I think, visible.



Even one who knows only a little about the life of Abraham Kuyper could scarcely mistake Kuyper’s meaning on the point, it seems to me. It is well to recall here the judgment of Ridderbos(38) that “one does him (Kuyper) even more justice by saying that he pushed onward from the particular problems (the school-question, politics) to the general (common grace, etc.).” When Kuyper set down to write his articles on common grace for De Heraut he had already become the great leader of the Anti-revolutionary political party, of which GuilIaume Groen van Prinsterer was the spiritual father. No one ever thought more antithetically than Groen. Dr. Bruins Slot, the editor of Trouw (a Dutch Christian daily newspaper), in his recent book Bezinning en Uitzicht (Reflection and Prospect), speaking of the necessity for the Christian-in-politics of distinguishing carefully the historical development of his time, and showing that that distinguishing must be a spiritual distinguishing, i.e. a distinguishing in the light of God’s revelation, whereby the task of the righteous for our life opens up before ow very eyes, says,(39) “So it once happened with Groen van Prinsterer…He discovered at a given moment—as if struck by lightning—the demonic element of decisive Significance in the character of the historical period in which he lived. This he fixed in his concept of the Revolution. And out of that discovery has developed the Christian-historical or anti-revolutionary political movement in The Netherlands.” Thus a discovery of actual antithesis in history had led to the insight that antithetical organization was a fundamental necessity.

Before the appearance of the common grace articles Kuyper had further shown how he felt by pleading for a Christian, preferably an Anti-revolutionary press, by urging the establishment of a Free University, by his support of Patrimonium and his acceptance of the invitation to deliver the opening address of the first Christian Social Congress.

If, however, one should be inclined to put Kuyper’s practice over against his thought on this question, we can also show from his writings what his view was. In Pro Rege, Vol. III, the whole of Chapter XIX is devoted to the subject of Christian organization. The question naturally arises, Kuyper writes there,(40) “whether the subjects of King Jesus can for this purpose (the organization of society) unite themselves with those who reject him in one and the same organization, or whether it is the requirement of their conviction that they organize themselves independently, call into being a system of Christian associations, and have to accept a conscious division between themselves and the others in the social sphere also.” Kuyper then remarks that such separate Christian action is already a fact in The Netherlands, but that does not discharge us from the task of providing a principal elucidation of the rightfulness of this separation. After dealing at some length with the Scriptural basis of such separate organization he goes on to say:(41)

There is thus not the least uncertainty on this point. In mixing socially danger always lurks for Christians. One so easily allows the law to be laid down by society and its worldly form. What society can get away with, Christians too can so easily permit. One floats along on a stream to which one can offer no resistance. And unconsciously one exchanges the principle of the Christian life for the impurified principle of worldly society. Kuyper concludes the chapter with a very telling section which I am loathe to omit.(42)

It was necessary here deliberately to ground this system of private, separate organizations in Scripture, because voices are still constantly being raised among us which regard this rule as now no longer susceptible of complete application…The influence which emanates from all these (non-Christian) organizations is thus without exception destructive for our Christian confession. One reasons and acts out of principles which are absolutely opposed to ours. If now one allows oneself to enter into such organizations and if one mingles in such organizations with those who are of a wholly other mind, then what they think or judge becomes the starting-point of the decisions that are to be taken, and one supports by one’s membership what one, in conformity with one’s Christian confession, may not support but must combat. In such anarchistic, socialistic or neutral (emphasis is mine) associations a spirit is operative which never can or may be ours. The leadership in such organizations falls never to us but always and inflexibly to our opponents. They carry out their intention, and whoever of us embarks with them ends up where they want to land but where we never may land. Thus our principle settles down at the point of non-activity, loses its position of influence and is pressed into the corner…mingling with these leaders of another spirit in the organization itself leads always to a bitterly sad fiasco of the Christian principle and prepares the way for their victory and for our overthrow…If one disregards this and yet enters into such company, there then arises in addition the danger that evil companionships corrupt good morals. In the organizations we are now thinking of material interests are always and invariably in the foreground; the concern is for more power over against the employer and higher wages for one’s work. Of course, there is in itself nothing wrong with the fact that everyone stands up for his rights and also attempts to improve his material position…But just for that reason the temptation is so great even for Christians in such organizations to let the end justify the means, to let material interests prevail over spiritual, and to float along on a stream which can and may never be ours. The spirit at work in such principally unbelieving organizations is so alluring and contagious that almost none of this, once he enters into such company, can offer resistance to it. One absorbs this person without suspecting it. Especially so because once one is a part of such organizations, one sees one’s Christian principle doomed to silence. In separate Christian organizations there is the prayer, the guidance of God’s Word, mutual admonition, and one comes naturally, on each occasion, by free spiritual discussion, to test one’s attitude and method on the pronouncements of the Word of God.

That was, mind you, Kuyper speaking. Notice that he, at least, did not hesitate to speak of an absolute antithesis in this human life. Such utterances could be multiplied many times over.

In our effort to set forth the position of Abraham Kuyper on the manner in which the Christian is to relate himself to the cultural world we have pointed, first to what he did, and then, to show the harmony of his thought and practice, we quoted from a decisive section of his Pro Rege.

Nevertheless, a truly persistent opponent might still come with two objections to our citing from Pro Rege. The first objection, one more easily dealt with, is that Kuyper’s works, in their original form, were for the most part journalistic pieces, written over the years for De Heraut, and that one should not expect to find so much system and unity of thought in them as I am doing. In our particular case one might urge that, while the third volume of De Gemecnc Gratie appeared in 1904 the first volume of Pro Rege was not published until 1911. The point of the objection would then be this: on what grounds do you assert opinions expressed by Kuyper in 1911 to be the only view of Kuyper on. the subject, and, particularly, the view of the Kuyper of De Gemeene Gratie?

Bidderbos refers to this objection in his dissertation and says,(43) “Our answer is: toIle lege! It became evident to us in the study of Kuyper’s works that even in his hastily written weekly articles more system is present than one often supposes. Even though in the reading one is in danger of losing the thread now and then, and although the writer sometimes appears to involve himself in obvious contradictions, upon closer examination everything yet appears to be governed by one noble conception.” To this witness I can now add my own. In an oration dating from the year before the Doleontie, thus 1885, and entitled ljzer en Learn. Kuyper defended the antithesis, also in the organizational sense. Again two years later he developed the national significance of this antithetical activity in the cultural world in his Tweeerlei Vaderland. The idea is with him early and late.

The second objection stems from the view I have already, with the help of van Ruler, attempted to explode, viz, that there is a conflict within Kuyper’s thought (and left unreconciled by him) between the two motifs of antithesis and common grace. “Naturally,” this objector would probably say, “naturally you go to a work like Pro Rage for an expression of the antithesis. But that is one thing; the Kuyper of De Gemeene Gralie is something else.”

Obviously, this objection stands or falls with the interpretation of Kuyper out of which it takes its rise. It is so very important, however, that some further comment is called for.

It is, in the first place, highly interesting to observe how, towards the end of his life, Kuyper thinks of his work De Gemeelle Gratie. As an illustration I refer you to the preface of his two-volume Anti-revoluliollaire Staatkunde, published in 1916.(44) There he is referring to the fact that, as in earlier periods of history, as also in the nineteenth century “only the Reformed kernel felt the urgency, the need, the necessity of coming up with an all-embracing central world-view; but with one which now, no more than in Paul’s day, could ripen out of the prevailing science.” Clearly an antithetical context. He then adds this sentence; “The need of arousing the same striving and purpose once again, and, where it proved to be still awake, of directing it, I tried to satisfy to some extent first in Ons Program (an antithetical program for the A.R. Party) and later in De Gemeene Gratie” (Emphasis mine).

Here his work on common grace is, in an undeniable manner, given its place in all his practical and theoretical efforts at strengthening the antithetical cultural action of the Reformed group in The Netherlands.

The secret to the interpretation of Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace is to be found in seeing rightly the relation between common grace and particular grace (regeneration, palingenesis, antithesis). There goes out from the sphere of special grace a moral influence which strengthens, elevates, and secures common grace. Cultural activity can take place in this sinful world thanks to the existence of a common grace, but particular grace is necessary to preserve that common grace from destruction and to lead it to fulfillment. Kuyper speaks accordingly of two kinds of development of common grace:(45) 1) the general human development, which is borne up by common grace alone and thus (!) ends repeatedly (in the histories of the several nations) in sin and death, and 2) the development in Israel, where particular grace came to the aid of common grace. The former kind is also spoken of as “the anti-Christian development of common grace.”(46) In a separate series of articles published under the title De Gemeene Gratie in Wetenschap en Kunst, Kuyper writes of these two directions,(47) “conciliation. which would lead to agreement. is here utterly out of the question. There gapes here a cleft over which no bridge can be thrown. And as long as Christendom does not accept this two-ness with full conviction and in all its consequences it will be punished time after time with the obtrusion of unbelieving science unto its own premises, with a falsification of its theology, an undermining of its confession. and a weakening of its faith.”

In the section of these articles devoted to art (kunst) Kuyper tells us that in art as art also two kinds of spirit can govern(48). Here a most significant section occurs dealing with a matter much disputed among us here of late. Kuyper writes:(49) “Of course. no more than in the other spheres of life do these two spirits always stand opposite one another in absolute form…Satan stood opposite Christ only in the wilderness. But although there is here manifold gradation in weakened form, yet it is not subject to doubt, that in all this two directions are constantly running contrary to each other, and that finally even these weakened and watered down expressions always and again draw our human life either in the direction of the spirit out of the abyss or in the direction of the spirit from above.” On the basis of this passage, and others like it—think of the absolute opposition of principles in the section of Pro Rege!—perhaps we might bring to an end one of the little bits of debate among us by agreeing that, while neither of the two antithetical spirits is present in our human lives in absolute form or degree, yet the direction of the two, present to be sure in weakened form, is absolutely antithetical. That is, after all, all that Prof. Van Til means when he speaks of an absolute antithesis. And now it appears that he is saying nothing more than was said by Kuyper, the man of common grace.

One more quotation. At the beginning of volume III of his De Gemeene Gratie Kuyper is discussing the rise of the Christians in The Netherlands of the nineteenth century to responsible cultural activity. whereupon he says: (50) “This affected a turn, which necessarily had to lead to, and so did lead to making us see that we could not get anywhere with the prevailing ideas. with the results of the sciences. and thus also with the construction of principles as they are current in the non-Christian world. They did not fit our confession. It was like mixing iron with clay—think of Kuyper’s antithetical oration of 18851Thus we found ourselves before a dilemma. We either had to return to the little conventicle-circle and give up all concern with matters of science and art, of land and people, or we were compelled ourselves to build up our own construction of principles, which accorded with our Reformed confession.”

By now it must have become sufficiently clear that far from common grace and antithesis being two irreconcilable elements in Kuyper’s thinking, both are most intimately related in any concrete human situation. There is an antithetical development of common grace that takes place. That is the reason why, in Kuyper, separate Christian Schools and separate organization of society generally is a requirement of faith. As Ridderbos says somewhere in his dissertation, By a common action we prevent God’s cultural purpose in special grace from being operative. Thus, all our cultural work too must be a confessing, a witnessing. To this we may append a remark of J.A. Diepenhorst in his booklet Algemeene Genade en Antithese:(51) “But with common grace and general revelation one does not have enough when a choice must be made between good and evil. The heathen do know the state and establish an ordered life under law, but in regard to the bases of state and right they cannot come to certainty. And just these foundations are of particular importance for political science…The revolution-principle opposes the gospel in the political sphere in an entirely distinct form. That is sufficient reason why it is wrong that believers and unbelievers, at least those who recognize the gospel as norm for political life and those who reject it, continue to be linked up with each other in common activity. The spirit out of the abyss would make himself master of state and right. Proper here is only unrelenting, unflinching opposition, which does not call the antithesis into existence, but which acknowledges its existence.”

Thus Kuyper’s view turns out to be much the same as Calvin’s, at least in the interpretation of Berkouwer. And it is in the sense we here described it, biblical. Kuyper himself, in the series on De Gemeene Gratie in Weteruchap en Kunst (p. 27) says: “Holy Scripture says clearly that the wisdom and science which the world derives from her own principles is directly opposed to the true, substantial science, and as sharply as possible it is established that the difference between that science of the world, which for God is foolishness, and the true science which for him is valid, arises out of the difference of heart-condition in the investigating subject. There are two kinds of men. Scripture calls them ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ men.”

This is the doctrine of the two ways, as found in Psalm 1 and Proverbs 2.

We have seen that in Kuyper the Church first possessed a critical accounting of the world of culture and of the Christian’s relation to it, and that in that theory common grace and antithesis, two false abstractions when taken alone or absolutized. mingle with each other in the most intimate fellowship as two elements in the concrete life situation. We have seen that this view demands organizational antithesis and that such a consequence has been accepted by all of Kuyper’s spiritual descendants in The Netherlands.

At this point one cannot refrain from asking oneself how it has come about that in our Christian Reformed Church Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace is so frequently appealed to in defense of an attitude towards the world of culture that is the very opposite of antithetical. After some years of reflection on the subject the present writer has concluded that the best explanation of this riddle is perhaps given by the Rev. Herman Hoeksema in his book The Protestant Reformed Churches in America. On page 15 f. of that book we read:

About the time of which we are writing (1918) other evils developed. There was a gradually growing spirit of confessional indifferentism, largely caused by ignorance of the Reformed truth and not infrequently manifesting itself in open disdain of and antagonism to the Reformed principles; and as might be expected, there developed a pronounced tendency toward a falsely conceived “broadmindedness” together with the manifestation of a spirit of worldly-mindedness that would hide behind the name of “Calvinism” as a shield. Especially during the years of the (first) World War, these evil tendencies received a new impetus and asserted themselves with a new confidence and emphasis. There began to appear what may be called a latitudinarian party in the churches, a group of men that assumed a certain leadership, who opposed the antithesis, stood for a “broader” view of the Christian’s life and calling in the world, and strove “to abridge the gap between the world and the Church. These men were wont to speak of the urgent need of a “re-statement” of the truth; they lauded the movement of the jongeren in (he Netherlands, who clamored for something new though they knew not what; and they frequently appealed to the alleged development of a “new mentality,” that required new methods of approach, new forms and new truths. This “broad-minded” party, it must be recorded, did not appear to have any sympathy with the views of Dr. Abraham Kuyper Sr., until they discovered—(I should have to write “discovered”! H.E.R)—that his theory of common grace offered them a philosophy that would support their latitudinarian views in the name of Calvinism. The antithetical conception of Kuyper they fairly disdained.

Whatever we may think in detail of these statements of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, we are confronted in fact in our circles with an interpretation of common grace which has an effect the very opposite of what it had for Kuyper himself. But if another view than Kuyper’s own is to be held, propagated and practiced in our communities, ought we not to be told the origin of the new view and should not its biblical basis be shown? Right at this point Kuyper’s own warning must be kept in mind that our answer to the question how our influence on public life is to be restored cannot come from a process of bargaining but must be derived from the Reformed principle itself (see above, installment III, vol. 5, no. 3).