The Father of the Christian School

Groen van Prinsterer, the father of the Christian Schools was born 150 years ago, in 1801. He died 75 years ago, in 1876. Christians in the Netherlands, especially the school-people, have remembered the occasion this past summer. A friend gave me a copy of “School en Huis,” the official organ of the “Unie, Een School Met Den Bijbel.” The entire issue is devoted to Groen’s memory. Since I had just written an article on the “isolationist,” I was all the more interested. I believe it will be good for us to know, and to keep on knowing, and to tell our children that they may know this man and his convictions. “The memory of the just is blessed,” said Solomon. (Prov. 10:7)

Biographical Data

A bit of biographical material; did you know

that: at 22, Groen received his doctor’s degree in Law and in letters at the University of Leyden?

that: at 26 he was appointed “referendaris” and later secretary to the Cabinet of the King (Willem I)?

that: from his 32nd year on he was in charge of the Archives of the Royal House of Orange?

that: though he was of the aristocracy and a very rich man, he spent his entire life opposing unbelief with the Gospel of the Cross?

that: for 20 years, ‘37–‘57, he tried to make the state-school a Christian school because in his opinion it was right that a nation based on the principles of the Reformation should be taught to live by the principles of the Reformation?

that: for more than four years Groen, with seven other men, tried to start a Christian school in The Hague but the City Council, the Provincial Government, and the Crown crushed these efforts?

that: Groen is one of the originators of the Association for Christian National Education which now has more than 700 schools?

that: as a Member of Parliament, Groen pleaded passionately for the freedom of parents to give their children Christian education?

that: at the end of his life he had come to the firm conviction that the free Christian school must be the rule, and the public, state school only a supplement?

Isolation and Strength

Professor Dr. K. Dijk, the Editor of “School en Huis” says, “Not many mottos have been so often misunderstood and misused as Groen’s ‘In my isolation is my strength.’”

There is no question; Groen identified his “isolation” with his “strength.” For him, the first was the source and cause of the latter. Without isolation he had no strength. Without faithful and complete submission and adherence to Christian principles there is no strength. Without entire surrender to Christ there is no strength. Not being wholly wrapped up in Christ, contact with the world at any point is short-circuit; is dissipation of strength. “In the world, not of the world.” Part of the Rock because we are one with the Rock, we stand firm in the seething, boiling sea of humanity, and say, “Let the sea roar and be troubled; we shall not be moved.”

The Need for the Christian School

Groen did not begin with the idea that “a Christian School would be a nice thing to have.” Groen became alarmed about the process of secularization in his nation. It was not alarm about the condition as it was; but about the progressive increase, the growth of godlessness. Pondering in this process he traced it to its main source and found it to be in “the School without the Bible.” Then he went to war against that so-called “neutral” education.

His opponents argued that the state school had to be neutral and could still teach children about a “common Father of all men.” In this way it could still cultivate love for such a common Father.

Groen’s answer was, “Can our nation benefit from an education that teaches about a Supreme Being but not about a Mediator; that teaches about a Father but not about the abyss of sin that separates us from that Father?”

To those who claimed that the neutral school would inculcate both Christian and national (civic) virtues, Groen replied, “Your public school which removes the Cross, removes also Christ and Christianity. Christless education is to blame for the fact that our people no longer fear God. If there is to be any blessing in education, the Cross of Christ must have the place of honor in the entire program of education.”

These are some of Groen’s leading ideas about the public school.

His “axiomata” for Christian Schools were summed up as follows: “Above all, education must be according to the Word of God. And therefore: the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all knowledge (science), the love of the Lord is the fountain of all morality and virtue, the Word of the Lord is the instruction of both, pupils and teachers, the prayer to the Lord is the guarantee of all blessing and success, the active faith in the Lord is the agency and the condition for the health of the soul; the Lord and his service is to be the beginning and the end of the School.”

Choose for Isolation

Of course, to us, who champion Christian schools there is nothing startlingly new here. We know these things. Our danger is that we know them too well; so well that familiarity has bred contempt. The important thing is that they indicate the meaning of Groen’s “isolation.” They show us the source of his strength. That strength is what we need so desperately today! We cannot have it unless we will choose isolation, Groen’s isolation. It is the isolation of which Jesus spoke as he sent out his disciples. It is the isolation which the Apostles practiced and preached. It is the isolation which all true, faithful Christians have found to be a prime necessity and their source of strength.

The School and the Bible

In one of those vehement debates with Thorbecke, the liberal leader, Groen had drawn a clear picture of the disastrous godlessness of the public school. Thorbecke spat fire when he retorted. “The public school is not religion·less unless you take religion in that narrow sense which holds that the statements contained in some kind of book and in certain formulas are the only true religion.”

To this vehement attack, Groen replied with equal passion, “Yes, so narrow minded are we that we still believe in certain formulas, if we find in them the simple faith in the Christ of the Gospel. In our Catechism, the first question is not ‘How many religions are there?’ but, ‘What is your only comfort in life and in death?’ We still believe in the Holy Scriptures and for us, exclusivists that we are, there is only one religion; the religion, not of some kind of book, but that of the Book of Books, of the Holy Word of God Himself.”

Effective Witness

To read the hundreds of letters that were written by Groen’s wife is a revelation, an inspiration, an education in itself. This noble Christian lady had exerted a marvelous influence on the naturally shy, retiring character of her husband. Evidently she remained largely behind the scenes but with her bolder, more aggressive nature she inspired him, encouraged him, stood by him, urged him on, helped him, fought for him, prayed for him.

By virtue of her social standing, she moved in the highest court circles both at The Hague and at Brussels. She was intimately acquainted with and respected by the nobility.

It happened in 1831 that King William I made preparations to visit his armies fighting in Belgium. Promptly she sat down and in a letter dated August 28, 1831, (No. 468 of the collection) she wrote,

“We hear that your Majesty is again planning to start your trip to the front on Sunday. Would it not be desirable to depart on the following day in order not to deprive many of the opportunity to celebrate that day in a Christian manner….”

To think that her husband at this time held the high position of Secretary of the King’s Cabinet!


One would like to write more but let me close with a few quotations from grave·side speeches when, on May 23, 1876, the body of this hero of faith had been borne on the shoulders of teachers to its resting place. Jhr. Mr. P.J. Elout van Soeterwoude ended his address with these words:

“So our dear deceased one has in· deed lived and labored, so he has fought manfully, above many, for many, against unbelief and revolution, against superstition and all tyranny, for freedom of religion, free· dam of education, for maintaining the full truth in Christ, as in all things the only life·giving element.”

Mr. D.J. Baron Mackay Van Ophemert uttered these winged words, “He who wants to be a fighter in the arena of politics or religion must first go to school with Groen to learn his methods.”

Baron O. Van Wassenaar Van Catwijck: “When in the Church rational· ism reared its head, Groen spoke of the truth according to the Scriptures. And when in Government the principle of the all.powerful state threatened to assault freedom, he fought for the freedom that our fathers had won. The free school owes him an immense debt of gratitude. For that school he lived and worked, first, most, and almost exclusively in our national Parliament.”

The Rev. P. Van Son: “May we depart from his grave with the sacred vow that in God’s strength we will labor and fight for this education…So we shall honor his memory better than with a monument of stone…”

The president of the Teacher’s Federation, A Meyer, speaking for 600 Christian teachers (first-fruits of Groen’s work) said, “Christian education is unthinkable without the unobstructed use of God’s Word… If our prayer is answered, then these 600 teachers will always be living examples who will manifest, first and foremost, to the little ones entrusted to their care, the purpose of our leader in his fight for the Christian education of our people.”

Yes, we may still learn much from Groen. Inspired by his example we must find as he did, Strength in Isolation.