Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) on a personal relationship with God

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Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) wrote a book called To Be Near Unto God which offers 110 meditations on this single thought from Psalm 73: “Maar mij aangaande, het is mij goed nabij God te wezen” (“But it is good for me to draw near to God”). In so doing, he demonstrated that to be a profound theologian and a warm-hearted Christian are not mutually exclusive, as is sometimes erroneously thought. In fact, the two are not to be separated. Often in our day people say “Christianity is not a religion but a personal relationship”. I differ from that, because if drawn to its logical conclusion it leads to a separation of doctrine from devotion. Christianity is a religion, the true religion, and out of this religion being true we can genuinely have a personal relationship with the true living God. These two – doctrine/religion and devotion/relationship always must go together. There is no antithesis. They are two sides of the same coin. That being said, while Kuyper’s book is generally a good devotional book, at points it drifts a little into something akin to mysticism. Nevertheless, here Kuyper writes on a personal relationship with God:

“When in holy ecstasy the Psalmist sings: ‘I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplication,’ he pours out his whole soul in this song, but no one can analyze that love.

To have love for God is something altogether different and something far weaker than to be able to say: ‘I love God.’

You have love for your native land, you have love for the beauty and grandeur of nature, you have love for the creations of art, from the sense of compassion you have love for suffering humanity, you are conscious of love for what is noble, true and of good report, and thus in all honesty almost every man can say that he also has love for God, and that his love for God even exceeds all other loves, since all good that inspires love is from God, and God Himself is the highest good. And yet while this love for God can be a lofty sentiment, can be deeply serious, and can even be able to ignite a spark of enthusiasm, the soul may have no fellowship with the Eternal, and have no knowledge of the secret walk with God; the great God may not have become his God, and the soul may never have exclaimed in passionate delight: ‘I love God!’

Love for God, taken in general, is still largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of Life, for the Source of all good, for the Watcher of Israel Who never slumbers, for the One Who, whatever changes, eternally abides. But when there echoes in the soul the words “I love God!” then the idea, the sense and the reality of the Eternal Being becomes personified. Then God becomes a Shepherd Who leads us, a Father Who spiritually begat us, a Covenant-God with Whom we are in league, a Friend Who offers us His friendship, a Lord in Whose service we stand, the God of our confidence, Who is no longer merely God but our God.

Thus for many years you may have had a general love for God and yet have never come to know God.

This knowledge of God only comes when the love for Him begins to take on a personal character; when on the pathway of life for the first time you have met Him; when the Lord has become a Personal Presence by the side of your own self; when God and you have entered into a conscious, vital, personal, particular relationship – He your Father, you His child.

Not merely one of His children, no, but His child in an individual way, in a personal relation different from that of the other children of God, the most intimate fellowship conceivable in heaven and on earth – He your Father, your Shepherd, your bosom Friend and your God!”

– Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), To Be Near Unto God, p. 21-22

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Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) on Calvinism and science

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Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) gave the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary in 1898-1899 on the topic of Calvinism. He argued that Calvinism had made important contributions to the development of science and cited as an example the founding of the University of Leyden:

“In my fourth lecture allow me to draw your attention to the nexus between Calvinism and Science. Not, of course, in order to exhaust in one lecture such a weighty subject. Four points of it only I submit to your thoughtful consideration; first, that Calvinism fostered and could not but foster love for science; secondly, that it restored to science its domain; thirdly, that it delivered science from unnatural bonds; and fourthly, in what manner it sought and found a solution for the unavoidable scientific conflict.

First of all then: There is found hidden in Calvinism an impulse, an inclination, an incentive, to scientific investigation. It is a fact that science has been fostered by it, and its principle demands the scientific spirit. One glorious page from the history of Calvinism may suffice to prove the fact, before we enter more fully upon the discussion of the incentive to scientific investigation found in Calvinism as such. The page from the history of Calvinism, or let us rather say of mankind, matchless in its beauty, to which I refer, is the siege of Leyden, more than three hundred years ago. This siege of Leyden was in fact a struggle between Alva and Prince William [of Orange/the Silent] about the future course of the history of the world; and the result was that in the end Alva had to withdraw, and that William the Silent was enabled to unfurl the banner of liberty over Europe. Leyden, defended almost exclusively by its own citizens, entered the lists against the best troops of what was looked upon at that time as the finest army of the world. Three months after the commencement of the siege, the supply of food became exhausted. A fearful famine began to rage. The apparently doomed citizens managed to live on dogs and rats. This black famine was soon followed by the black death or the plague, which carried off a third part of the inhabitants. The Spaniards offered peace and pardon to the dying people; but Leyden, remembering the bad faith of the enemy in the treatment of Naarden and Haarlem, answered boldly and with pride: If it is necessary, we are ready to consume our left arms, and to defend with our right arms our wives, our liberty and our religion against thee, O tyrant. Thus they persevered. They patiently waited for the coming of the Prince of Orange to raise the siege,… but… the prince had to wait for God. The dikes of the province of Holland had been cut through; the country surrounding Leyden was flooded; a fleet lay ready to hasten to Leyden’s aid; but the wind drove the water back, preventing the fleet from passing the shallow pools. God tried his people sorely. At last however, on the first of October, the wind turned towards the West, and, forcing the waters upward, enabled the fleet to reach the beleaguered city. Then the Spaniards fled in haste to escape the rising tide. On the 3rd of October the fleet entered the port of Leyden, and the siege being raised, Holland and Europe were saved The population, all but starved to death, could scarcely drag themselves along, yet all to a man limped as well as they could to the house of prayer. There all fell on their knees and gave thanks to God. But when they tried to utter their gratitude in psalms of praise, they were almost voiceless, for there was no strength left in them, and the tones of their song died away in grateful sobbing and weeping.

Behold what I call a glorious page in the history of liberty, written in blood, and if you now ask me, what has this to do with science, see here the answer: In recognition of such patriotic courage, the States of Holland did not present Leyden with a handful of knightly orders, or gold, or honour, but with a School of the Sciences, — the University of Leyden, renowned through the whole world. The German is surpassed by none in pride of his scientific glory, and yet no less a man than Niebuhr has testified, ‘that the Senate chamber of Leyden’s University is the most memorable hall of science.’ The ablest scholars were induced to fill the amply endowed chairs. Scaliger was conveyed from France in a man-of-war. Salmasius came to Leyden under convoy of a whole squadron. Why should I give you the long list of names of the princes of science, of the giants in learning, who have filled Leyden with the lustre of their renown, or tell you how this love for science, going forth from Leyden, permeated the whole nation? You know the Lipsii, the Hemsterhuizen, the Boerhaves. You know that in Holland were invented the telescope, the microscope and the thermometer; and thus empirical science, worthy of its name, was made possible. It is an undeniable fact, that the Calvinistic Netherlands had love for science and fostered it. But the most evident, the most convincing proof is doubtless found in the establishment of Leyden’s University. To receive as the highest reward a University of the Sciences in a moment, when, in a fearful struggle, the course of the history of the world was turned by your heroism is only conceivable among a people in whose very life-principle love for science is involved.”

– Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), Calvinism, p. 143-146 

Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) on confession of sin being essential to confession of faith

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A bit over 100 years ago, Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) wrote a book for those wishing to make public profession of faith in a Reformed church. The book is called The Implications of Public Confession. Actually, this short booklet was translated by Henry Zylstra into English and originally wasn’t a work on its own, but was taken from part III of the Dutch Voor Distel een Murt (1891), which comprised 44 devotions on the sacraments, baptism, public confession and the Lord’s supper. The twelve on public confession make up this booklet. In this short book, Kuyper discusses the relationship of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He also talks about children praying, believing, repenting, and confessing the doctrines of grace. Kuyper mentions what confession is and what a confessing church sounds like in unison. Here’s one paragraph from the book that I appreciate:

“Your confession of your Savior and Lord before the congregation must include a confession of your personal wretchedness. A confession which desires Jesus but which is not characterized by a profound conviction of personal sin and guilt is false. Paul would call that a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Indeed, it would be a weak and flimsy confession. That is self-evident. Why a Redeemer if there be no need for redemption? How yearn for a Savior except there be a consciousness  of the bonds of death? And again, why should you seek the Physician if you do not sense that your soul is sick?”

“Yes, there should be a consciousness, a poignant, painful consciousness of personal sin and guilt. That does not mean that you must have the full and profound consciousness of your depravity in the moment you say ‘yes’ before the congregation. Those who profess the necessity of that, drift toward emotionalism and depart from the meaning of the Word of God. But it is unequivocally true that he who confesses his Savior must confess his wretchedness also. He must, to a degree and in a way appropriate to his age and experience, fully sense that he is lost, and that therefore he, together with all God’s children, is taking refuge under the Savior’s wings.”

Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), The Implications of Public Confession, p. 28

When we confess with Thomas the Apostle that Jesus Christ is “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) , we at the same time also say with the publican, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) on the pastor and the church

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From Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), Our Worship (Onze Eredienst), p. 6-7

“In a genuine church…the gathering of believers” originates in “a historical past that goes back all the way to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.  He was born in the church, he served in it, and therefore had to honor the traditions that developed within the church over the centuries.”

Kuyper is reacting to the “free-reining spirit” common today (yes, even back in c. 1900) where a minister starts his own church, gets some followers and goes from there.  Kuyper said that such a conglomeration is “nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker”.  Kuyper’s response is classic: the minister is a very tiny part of a much greater thing.  He does not have the liberty to do what he wants with the church.  He’s an important servant in some sense, but he must remember that the church existed before him and will be there long after his tongue no longer speaks.  He’s a tool in the hands of Christ, used for a time to build something much more significant than himself: the body of Christ. “The church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church”.

The minister serves Christ and his church – not the other way around.