Neo-Calvinism, a form of Dutch Calvinism, is the movement initiated by the theologian and former Dutch prime minister Abraham Kuyper.
By: William Young
Calvin and Kuyper may be taken as the initiators of two movements, historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism. Whether Neo-Calvinism is to be viewed as opposed to historic Calvinism or as constituting a legitimate development may not be determined in the present article. What may be established by examination of the texts, however, is that there are significant differences at least of emphasis, tending to develop into differences of religious principle and practice.
The central contrast to be drawn concerns the role of experimental religion in the Reformed Faith. The scene of the Reformed Faith in the Netherlands exhibits a remarkable phenomenon: i.e. a sharp cleavage between Calvinists emphasizing, sometimes in an extreme fashion, experimental religion, even cultivating a kind of mysticism, and on the other hand the Kuyper-Calvinists, including the followers of Schilder as well as the leaders of the Gereformeerde Kerken, who tend to exhibit a marked aversion to experimental religion and to restrict their interests to the doctrinal and practical aspects of religion. The former, i.e. the Old Calvinist circles, in addition to the smaller communities named Oud-Gereformeerd, include the flourishing Gereformeerde Gemeenten, the Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerken, and a substantial orthodox element in the Hervormde Kerk represented by the Gereformeerde Bond. In these circles, the older Reformed writers are held in the highest esteem, not only Dutch writers such as R. Acronius, Th. and W. à Brakel, A. Comrie, J. Fruitier, Th. v. d. Groe, J. Koelman, J. van Lodenstein, W. Schortinghuis, B. Smytegelt, W. Teellinck, G. Udemans, G. Voetius, and H. Witsius, but also the Scottish Presbyterian and English Puritan writers such as I. Ambrose, Baxter, H. Binning, Boston, Brown of Wamphray, Bunyan, J. Durham, R. and E. Erskine, A. Gray, T. Hooker, C. Love, Owen, Perkins, Rutherford, T. Shepard and T. Watson.(1) Although Kuyper himself and his immediate followers knew and loved the oude Schrijvers, there appears to have arisen a generation of the heirs of Kuyper that is ignorant of the great tradition of experimental and practical divinity to which Dutch as well as British Calvinists have made noteworthy contributions, or if not ignorant of its existence, regards it with indifference or scorn. The deplorable attitude of contempt all too often expressed with respect to the Puritans by representatives of the Kuyper movement contrasts sharply with the frequent favorable references to the Puritans in Kuyper’s Stone Lectures,(2) as well as with the attitude prevalent in the Old Calvinist circles.
The following passage from Spier’s Inleiding, not appearing in the English translation, gives expression to the disparagement of experimental religion among members of the school of Dooyeweerd: “This is called ‘experimental’ (bevindelijk) preaching and aims more at preaching the Christian than preaching the Christ. This mysticism (mystiek) which is found as well in the so-called Old Calvinist as in the ethical camp, because both schools are subjectivistic, is in direct conflict with God’s Word and always expresses itself in the following symptoms: more respect for the word of ‘pious’ men than for Holy Scripture, despising the sacraments, underestimating the offices, ‘psychological’ preaching, . . . setting ‘psychological’ self-analysis marks, etc. on the foreground.”(3)
A similarly unfavorable appraisal of the vital religion of the Puritans is found in P. Y. de Jong’s otherwise valuable study, The Covenant Idea in New England Theology: “All this demonstrates that the Puritans never gave whole-hearted allegiance to the Calvinistic construction of the relation between nature and grace, creation and redemption. There was always a tendency towards Anabaptist dualism. The aversion to art and culture among many, the strong tendency toward a legalistic construction of ethics and the separation of religion from daily concerns may be mentioned as evidences. Furthermore, there was an unprecedented emphasis on the soteriological aspect of Christian doctrine so characteristic of all groups who do not grapple with the underlying issue of the connection of nature and grace.”(4)
This undeserved calumny, directed against the memory of the most consistent of Calvinists, rests on Ralph Bronkema’s thoroughly misleading book, The Essence of Puritanism,(5) the distortions of which, so far removed from Abraham Kuyper’s praise of the Puritans, have contributed much to poisoning the minds of the past and present generation of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Churches of North America with prejudice against the Puritans, and to encouraging an aversion to the deep experimental piety of the Puritans and their Dutch counterparts. De Jong goes so far as to say of the finest of the classical Dutch writers on covenant theology, Herman Witsius: “Because of his adoption of the Cocceian principles of interpretation, which were so vigorously attacked by Voetius and his disciples, and his emphasis on the place and methods of mysticism in Christianity, he can hardly be considered the defender of Reformed orthodoxy in the Dutch churches of that day.”(6) De Jong fails to mention that Voetius and his disciples, including Petrus van Mastricht (whose Theoretico-Practica Theologia was a favorite text of Jonathan Edwards), were champions of the practice of piety, and called Precisianists by the lax, but considered by A. Kuyper Jr. as representing a healthy mysticism.(7)
The disparagement of piety and vital religion, even in the name of insistence on doctrinal orthodoxy, could boomerang and eventually issue in the undermining of that doctrinal Calvinism which the earlier generations of the Kuyper movement esteemed so highly. The charge that the Puritans over-emphasized soteriology betrays a tendency to make light of the gospel of salvation, whether out of preoccupation with other aspects of theology or out of a so-called ‘organic’ view of nature and grace alleged to be foreign to Puritanism and incompatible with revivals of religion. That the Puritans separated religion from daily concerns is a base slander, but the Puritans never succumbed to the error, pointed out by Dr. Patton, as quoted by Dr. Machen, of making much of applied Christianity without being concerned about having a Christianity to apply. They had their hearts fixed on the one thing needful, the Christian’s great interest, as a Scottish worthy put it, and then faced the issues of life in all spheres in obedience to the commandments of God revealed in the written Word.
Among Neo-Calvinists in Holland, as in Anglo-Saxon religious circles where the acids of modernity have been eating away at the Calvinism bequeathed by the Covenanters and Puritans, decay of experimental religion has gone hand in hand with deterioration of practice in matters of worship and conduct. The tendency to aestheticize and liturgize the worship of a Reformed church betrays the loss of awareness of the regulative principle of worship, a principle clearly enunciated by Calvin, and taught in the Heidelberg Catechism(8) no less definitely than in the Westminster Standards. The introduction of a flood of uninspired hymns into the Gereformeerde Kerken and the Christian Reformed Church has proved to be a symptom, as was the case in Scottish and American Presbyterianism, of incipient doctrinal deformation. In addition to the implicit nullification of the regulative principle, the elements of Pelagian, free-will religion and unhealthy mysticism pervading the conventional hymnody increasingly undermine what has remained of the doctrine and experience of sovereign grace. Antinomian doctrine and practice, particularly evident with respect to the observance of the Lord’s Day, is another prominent feature of the Neo-Calvinism that joins with Jesuits and Secularists in raising against the Puritans the allegation of legalism.
The question arises whether the deviations of the Kuyper-Calvinists from the experimental piety and scriptural practice of the historic Reformed faith are to be traced back to Kuyper’s own principles. A distinction must be made between Kuyper’s own views and the consequences of a certain line of thought emphasized by him. It must also be remembered that Kuyper was a theologian of genius and of a genius more than theological, while his epigones have often been men of lesser stature. A similar observation may be made in the case of Dooyeweerd, except that Dooyeweerd would disclaim being a theologian. In a number of important respects Kuyper did not set an example followed by his successors, while at one crucial point he fell into an error, magnified by them with the result of increasing the gap between their Neo-Calvinism and the historic Calvinism from which Kuyper appears to have deviated at only one major point. The point of deviation is the doctrine of presumptive regeneration, with the related re-interpretation of the classic Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace.
As has already been mentioned, Kuyper’s praise of the Puritans, to the extent of frequently using the words puritanic and Puritan as synonyms for Calvinistic and Calvinist, contrasts sharply with the scorn vented by many who claim to be in Kuyper’s line. Furthermore, Kuyper does not write as an enemy of experimental religion or even of all mysticism. His devotional writings, To Be Near Unto God in particular, give eloquent expression to a deep appreciation of and a strong emphasis on the inner life of the godly man as an indispensable element of religion. He writes of “experimental knowledge of God, which comes to us personally from spiritual experience, from communion of saints and secret fellowship with God,”(9) and again, of “sacred, blessed mysticism”(10) and the painful experiences of desertions of which the old Reformed writers knew much. Kuyper was no stranger to the experience of conversion, as the moving narrative of his Confidentie bears witness,(11) and does not fail to emphasize that “the cool sympathy for God on the part of the unconverted differs from the warm attachment to God on the part of the redeemed, in that the unconverted always discount sin, while the redeemed always start out from the knowledge of misery, that by reason of the knowledge of sin they may arrive at the knowledge of God.”(12)
Notwithstanding Kuyper’s recognition of the importance of Christian experience, of conversion and communion with God, there is a strain in his teaching that pulls in a contrary direction. In one of its aspects, this strain may be considered naturalistic in character, and humanistic in another. Theologically, this strain, which has been one-sidedly accentuated by many of Kuyper’s followers, becomes evident in the reconstruction of the doctrine of the covenant of grace, and the elaboration of the hitherto subordinate theme of common grace into a locus of systematic theology,(13) pregnant with far-reaching consequences for Calvinist theory and practice.
For the most part Kuyper followed the Reformed fathers in matters of doctrine, commonly opting for high Calvinism where the fathers were not unanimous, as on the questions of supralapsarianism and the ordo salutis.(14) Only on the question of the authority of the magistrate with respect to the first table of the law did Kuyper avowedly reject the historic Reformed view, charging the fathers and the Confession with unfaithfulness to the genuine Reformed conception.(15) Yet in propounding the thesis that the children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated and dealt with as such, Kuyper adapted a view possessing the tenuous support of a highly controversial disputation by Voetius, a tempting view in connection with the controversy over paedobaptism, but one alien to the line of Calvinism known to the English-speaking world and, in Dutch Calvinism, foreign to Comrie no less than to à Brakel. Whatever varying opinions had been expressed by Reformed divines as to the condition of infants of Christian parents, a system of doctrine and practice based on presumptivism is the invention of Kuyper-Calvinists, who alone have made bold to incorporate it, as well as disputable theses on common grace, among the binding doctrinal articles of the church.
Some Theses of Hyper-Covenantism
What differentiates Neo-Calvinism in Kuyper’s line from historic Calvinism? The presumptivist system stands out most prominently, but it is simply the visible appearance of a life-and-world view that often parades itself as the Christian life-and-world view, but which may with propriety be named Hyper-Covenantism, a synonym for Kuyper-Calvinism or Neo-Calvinism. As the name suggests, Hyper-Covenantism is an exaggeration of the historic Calvinist doctrine of God’s covenant with man, a classical formulation of which is to be found in the Westminster Confession, chapter VII, with detailed expositions to be found in the writings of John Ball, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Boston and Herman Witsius, among many others.(16) The aberrations of Cocceius may be regarded as a precursor of Hyper-Covenantism. What is Hyper-Covenantism? Just as Augustine has recently been charged with responsibility for inventing Pelagianism, which was only latent in Pelagius’ own teaching,(17) the risk may be run of inventing a new aberration from orthodoxy in formulating explicitly a set of theses, sometimes openly avowed by Neo-Calvinists and sometimes presupposed more or less unconsciously, but pervading Neo-Calvinist doctrine and practice. Kuyper himself is most certainly not to be charged with propounding or approving every one of the following Hyper-Covenantist theses, although the fundamental and central theses were contributed by him and the others have been developed, whether validly or invalidly, from Kuyper’s outlook. Seven theses may be formulated and expounded.
Thesis I: Covenant is a metaphysical category, under which all relations between man and God, man and man, and man and nature, may be subsumed.
This thesis may not previously have been formulated in these terms and is not being ascribed as such to any member of the Hyper-Covenant school. Yet on reflection one can discern this thesis to be the metaphysical presupposition of Hyper-Covenantism, metaphysical both in the sense of defining a category of being taken universally, and consequently in the sense of transcending the limits of created or temporal being. It is not to be condemned simply because it is metaphysical, but it ought to be subjected to scrutiny in the light of Scripture and with due regard to the historic Reformed confession as to God’s covenant with man.
In Kuyper and his followers, this conception has often been presented in terms of an analogy from biotic life. The free and sometimes loose use of the words organic and organism betrays this source of the Hyper-Covenant axiom. On the sphere-sovereignty principle of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, this appeal to a biotic analogy in support of a metaphysical axiom ought to be suspect ab initio. Historically, Kuyper’s employment of the organic idiom reflects a pervasive fashion of nineteenth-century ideology. Speaking of the conception of the sovereignty of the state developed from German pantheism, Kuyper concedes to the enemy: “It was correctly seen that a people is no aggregate, but an organic whole. This organism must of necessity have its organic members.”(18) Kuyper was well aware of the danger of the apotheosis of the state, denying the sovereignty of God. What he did not realize was that his acceptance of the organic analogy, not only at this point but as a pervasive feature of his outlook,(19) led to a re-interpretation of covenant theology, the metaphysical presupposition of which would entail a fundamental rejection of the sovereignty of God and issue in pantheism. If the organic analogy were pushed as by Schelling and Hegel to include the relation between God and the world, we could only conclude with Schleiermacher: “Ohne Gott kein Welt; ohne Welt kein Gott.” (“Without God no world; without the world no God.”)(20) Some Kuyper-Calvinists have contended that the covenant conception is needed as a balance to the emphasis on the sovereignty of God. This distressing perspective, unjustly suggesting that the sovereignty of God could be magnified excessively, has a striking kinship to the misguided antithesis of sovereignty vs. covenant proposed by secular scholars such as Perry Miller.(21)
It may be remarked that a tendency of a most deplorable nature has recently reared its head among some disciples of Dooyeweerd, and in this instance appears to have the approval of the master. This is the issue as to the attributes of God. A radical Neo-Dooyeweerdian at a conference sponsored by the American Scientific Affiliation a few years ago spoke scornfully of “The Anatomy of God Theology,” and explained this as the type of discussion Berkhof presents as to the incommunicable and communicable attributes. Now Dooyeweerd objects to Van Til’s dealing with the attributes within the traditional framework of a metaphysical theory of being. Dooyeweerd claims anti-metaphysically, à la Kant, “that the genuine conceptual contents of these transcendental limiting ideas do not transcend the modal dimension of our temporal horizon of experience,” and applies this “to the theological limiting concepts relating to the so-called attributes of God.”(22) Such expressions tending toward agnosticism would not escape the pen of a Reformed philosopher if the sovereignty and majesty of God had not been “balanced” by some such counter-weight as Hyper-Covenantism, which, as will appear, tends to lure the heart away from God to the world and man.
It may be objected that the Hyper-Covenant axiom is metaphysical, while Dooyeweerd is protesting against metaphysics. In reply, it may be pointed out, as Dooyeweerd himself has often observed, that the history of philosophy is full of dialectical antinomies, of which this may well be another instance. Moreover, Dooyeweerd like all anti-metaphysicians is involved in the antinomy of transcending the boundary he sets in the very act of setting it. Van Til, if he were so inclined, could in a Christian-theistic sense reply to Dooyeweerd, as Hegel did to Kant in a similar matter. Kant claimed to set limits to reason, to make way for faith. His faith, to be sure, was not Christian faith, but morality independent of the God of the Bible. But it is his limiting reason to arranging the data of sensation that has left its stamp on Hyper-Covenantism. This appears particularly prominent in the system of Dooyeweerd, notwithstanding his criticism of various aspects of Kant’s system. The restriction of reason was rightly rejected by Hegel, who pointed out that to set a limit to thought, one must stand outside the limit. Now Van Til was fond of borrowing terms from modern secular philosophy, including Kant’s ‘limiting concept’ and the Kantian ‘as if’, and giving these locutions a Christian connotation. As he was greatly influenced by the Neo-Hegelianism of Bradley, Bosanquet and Bowman, why should he not borrow the Hegelian argument and apply it against Dooyeweerd? Possibly the elements of Hyper-Covenantism in his own thought would then call for alteration, and a resulting recognition of the role of logic in theology would lead to a position akin to that of Gordon Clark, not to speak of the classical outlook of Reformed theology.(23)
Thesis II: The covenant relation between God and man was an essential element of man’s original state entailed by the creation of men in God’s image.
This thesis is a theorem necessarily following from thesis I. It is, however, contrary to the historical account in Genesis, where the covenant of works is represented as, in G. Vos’ terms, ‘pre-redemptive special revelation’,(24) or, one may say, as a positive divine institution, presupposing a natural law according to which man is under obligation to obey all the commandments of God. The Westminster Confession provides a scriptural philosophy of the covenant relation, in which justice is done both to the sovereignty of God and to the antecedent obligation of the moral law, prior to the covenant of works. “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”(25)
Note that in religion, i.e. man’s relation to God, there is something more fundamental than the covenant relation, namely the moral law. Hyper-Covenantism, by overlooking the intrinsic binding force of the moral law, has in itself the seeds of a relativizing of moral standards, seeds that have produced a crop of poisonous weeds in the latest generation of Neo-Calvinists. Hyper-Covenantism in this matter has a strange kinship with antinomianism, which is rooted in a confusion of the law as rule of life with the law as covenant of works. It should not be too surprising that, despite the emphasis on law by Kuyper, Geesink and Dooyeweerd, the avant-garde of the movement should exhibit pronounced antinomian tendencies.(26)
Thesis III: The covenant is not to be viewed primarily as soteriological, but as cultural, Gen. 1:28 being construed as containing a ‘culture mandate’ for the human race.
Like the preceding thesis, the present one lacks solid exegetical grounding, is a consequence of the original axiom, and is fraught with pernicious consequences. Talk of a culture mandate should be banned from the ‘language of Canaan’ and recognized as a shibboleth of Hyper-Covenantism. The word culture is far from clear and well-defined in its meaning, and in Neo-Calvinist circles lends itself to encouraging the introduction of a humanistic attitude toward life, involving the idolatry of the works of man’s hand in the fine and useful arts, accompanying, under pretence of covenant zeal, gross neglect of the great salvation. The biblical and classical Reformed covenant doctrine, on the contrary, is soteriological from start to finish. Even the covenant of works was a way for the attainment of eternal life, while the covenant of grace is nothing more nor less than the arrangement devised and executed by the Triune Jehovah for the salvation of the elect in Christ to the praise of His glory.
Gen. 1:28 is to be read simply as a grant to our first parents of dominion over the creatures, not as defining the chief end of man, which is to be found only in God and not in the world of nature nor in man’s relations with his fellows. Hyper-Covenantism by its proclamation of the ‘culture mandate’, sometimes accompanied by an inflated theory of ‘common grace’, threatens to substitute “another gospel,” scarcely distinguishable from the Modernist social gospel, for the gospel of free and sovereign grace.(27) The true and heavenly glory of the covenant is obscured when its soteriological character is enshrouded in a naturalistic veil of Cultuur.
Thesis IV: The covenant relation warrants the presumption that children of believers are regenerated from earliest infancy, and are to be treated as possessing saving grace unless and until they should reject the covenant.
This is the Kuyperian thesis of presumptive regeneration (veronderstelde wedergeboorte), a thesis which may well be regarded as the heart of Hyper-Covenantism, although it does not appear to be a direct logical consequence of the axiom. Its tempting attractiveness consists largely in its providing a systematic basis for the defense of infant baptism and for the comfort of believing parents. It fits snugly into the Hyper-Covenant scheme and also proves congenial to High Calvinists who view the elect as justified from eternity. An exhaustive examination of this doctrine in the light of the supreme and only infallible standard of Holy Scripture is not possible in the limits of the present discussion. At present, it will be contended that in spite of Kuyper’s claim that this is the historic Reformed doctrine taught by Calvin, by the Reformed standards and by the best Reformed theologians, the doctrine of presumptive regeneration is alien to historic Calvinism, certainly to the Calvinism of Presbyterian and Puritan divines and also to outstanding Dutch writers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The appeal made by Kuyper to Calvin, the Dutch Reformed standards, and to Maccovius, Voetius, Gomarus and others, is far from conclusive. The old writers cited by Kuyper for the most part argue against the Anabaptists that elect infants may be and sometimes are regenerated in infancy, Voetius championing the stronger position that all elect children of believers are regenerated in infancy,(28) a position rejected by Herman Bavinck.(29) But none of the texts cited by Kuyper, with the possible exception of an ambiguous remark of Cloppenburg, asserts the doctrine of presumptive regeneration.
As to the historic position of Princeton Presbyterianism, the following statement by Archibald Alexander is decisive: “The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood.”(30) The view of Voetius and Kuyper involves the anomaly of a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling, particularly appalling in the case of the apostle Paul, of whom, on the basis of Gal. 1:15, the younger Kuyper is reported to have preached as an example of a regenerated blasphemer.(31)
In his detailed exposition in E Voto, Kuyper devotes a chapter to documentation and argumentation for his claim that he is introducing no novelty, but simply returning to the doctrine of Calvin and the Reformed fathers which a later generation allowed to fall into oblivion.(32) Does he make out his case?
Kuyper quotes from Institutes IV.xvi.17-20 to find support in Calvin, who does teach: “That some infants are saved; and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.” What Kuyper fails to quote is Calvin’s rejoinder to the Anabaptist evasion that the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb “was only a single case, which does not justify the conclusion that the Lord generally acts in this manner with infants.” Calvin’s rejoinder is: “For we use no such argument.”(33) But Kuyper does use such an argument, in contending that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated because in fact that is the general manner of the Lord’s dealing with them. Calvin does speak of a seed of future repentance and faith implanted by the Spirit,(34) but does not state the false proposition that this is the case with all baptized infants, nor the highly disputable thesis of Voetius that this is the case with all elect children of believers. Certainly there is no hint of the presumptive doctrine of Kuyper in any of these texts of Calvin.
A fundamental fallacy vitiates Kuyper’s positive argument in support of presumptive regeneration. This fallacy gives rise to a blind spot in the interpretation first of Calvin and then of the Reformed theologians and confessions that he appeals to in support of his claim that he is promulgating no new doctrine. The fallacy is the following. From the authentically Reformed position that “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth” (to cite the pure and precise formulation of the Westminster Confession, chapter X, section iii), Kuyper draws the illicit conclusion that not only elect infants dying in infancy are to be regarded as regenerate, but that all children of believers are to be regarded and treated as regenerate, as “being not merely in appearance, but in reality included in the covenant of God’s grace.”(35)
At least two special, formal fallacies are to be detected in Kuyper’s plausible and persuasive argument. There is a quantification fallacy, in arguing from the case of some infants to that of all infants of believers, from infants dying in infancy to infants not dying in infancy. There is also a fallacy of modal logic, in arguing from the possibility of infant regeneration, if not to the actuality then at least to the probability or rather the presumption of regeneration in the case of each child of a believer. The inner inconsistency of this view becomes glaring in view of Kuyper’s recognition that of those, presumably those in the covenant as well as others, who grow to adulthood, “only the smaller half dies in faith in the Lord.”(36) Kuyper even goes on to speak of “het kleinste deel” of surviving adults inheriting salvation. The presumption consequently ought to be that surviving children of believers have not been regenerated in infancy and are not even to be presumed to be elect, though not yet regenerated; much less to be regenerated, though not yet converted.
In addition to the formal fallacies and inner inconsistency of Kuyper’s argument, there is a deadly material fallacy that ever threatens Reformed thought and practice in innumerable subtle forms, the fallacy of making the secret counsel of God the rule of life. What God may sovereignly work in the heart of an infant or even an embryo is the inalienable and impenetrable prerogative of the Most High. To presume to pry into secret counsels and secret operations of the Unsearchable One is presumption indeed, and to make of such presumption the rule of the believer’s practice in dealing with his children is downright antinomianism no less than in other matters, even if it conceals itself under the mask of excessive zeal for covenant doctrine.(37) God’s revealed will that the law and gospel are to be presented to sinners, calling for faith and repentance, is the rule to be observed in the instruction of children. This rule supposes that those who are addressed are to be regarded as sinners, not as those justified from eternity and regenerated from the womb. Hyper-Covenantism entails its own peculiar variety of Hyper-Calvinism, taking Hyper-Calvinism in the strict and proper sense of the denial or obscuring of the address of the gospel to sinners as such, to sinners in God’s sight whatever they may or may not be in their own.
In view of the above exposure of the fallacies in Kuyper’s argument and the errors in his conclusion, there should be no difficulty in discerning the similar mistakes in his exegesis of Calvin and of the old Reformed theologians. These men clearly teach the doctrine of regeneration of elect infants dying in infancy, but they simply do not teach the Kuyperian doctrine of presumptive regeneration. While Voetius and Cloppenburg may support certain elements of Kuyper’s view, most of his citations, including those from Maccovius, Gomarus, P. van Mastricht, J. Marck and Alting, not to mention à Brakel whom Kuyper cites hesitatingly, prove no more than the texts from Calvin, none of which go beyond the sound doctrine formulated in the Westminster Confession.
Kuyper claims that the best Dutch Calvinist theologians rejected the view of Beza that in the baptism of infants the faith of the parents took the place of the faith of the children, and claims that the Dutch Calvinists followed Calvin in grounding infant baptism upon the supposition that God the Lord worked also in these young children the grace of regeneration.(38) We have already shown that Kuyper has read his own view into the text of Calvin’s Institutes. We shall now see that he repeats this error in appealing to the great dogmaticians of classic Reformed theology.
He cites Maccovius, Theologia Quaestionum, locus 42, quaestio 20: “Anne infantes habent fidem?” Kuyper, in the citation erroneously printed as locus 432, quaestio 20, translates in slightly misleading fashion, “Hebben zulke kinderkens geloof?”(39) Maccovius simply asks whether infants in general have faith. Kuyper makes the subject “such infants,” referring back to “the new-born child,”(40) of which Maccovius makes no mention. Maccovius answers: “Habent non actualem, sed habitualem; quemadmodum enim regeniti sunt, ita et fidem habitualem habent.”(41) (“They have not actual, but habitual faith; for just as they are regenerated, so they also have habitual faith.”) Kuyper’s translation is not quite accurate. Maccovius’ contrast of actualem and habitualem is rendered by daadwerkelijk and ingeplante,(42) whereas in the standard Dutch translation of Maccovius’ Distinctiones Theologicae,(43) the contrast is rendered by daadelijk and hebbelijk geloof. Naurdien ‘since’ may also be too strong a translation of quemadmodem ‘as’, and Kuyper leaves the sentence incomplete, with the clause “want naardien ze wedergeboren zijn.”(44)
More serious than these minor details of translation is that Kuyper ignores Maccovius’ express teaching in other questions of the same locus. In quaestio 12, Maccovius states that the grace of baptism sometimes precedes and sometimes follows the act of baptism, but insists that it is the same ratio.(45) In quaestio 13, Maccovius asks whether Christ commands infants to be baptized, to which he replies: “Yes. 1. Since baptism takes the place of circumcision. 2. Since he will have all those baptized to whom the promise is made, Acts 2:38-39. 3. Since he will have all those baptized who have the Holy Spirit, Acts 10:47. But some infants have the Holy Spirit. Unless we would condemn all infants, for he who has not the Spirit of Christ is none of his, Rom. 8:9.”(46) Note that not a presumption, but the promise and the fact that the promise is actually fulfilled in some infants, constitute the basis for infant baptism according to Maccovius, whose doctrine is precisely that of Calvin, not that of Kuyper.(47)
Kuyper’s next citation, one from Gomarus, does not require much comment, since Gomarus goes no further than Maccovius in asserting that infants of believers stand under the operation of the Holy Spirit, and therefore are to be baptized.(48) Gomarus argues first from the promise of the covenant of salvation, and adds that infants of believers belong to Christ and to the church, concluding with the analogy of baptism and circumcision.(49) All this gives no hint of presumptive regeneration.
Kuyper derives more plausible support from the eminent Reformed scholastic theologian, Gisbertus Voetius, in his “Disputation on the State of the Elect before Conversion,” in which he contends that in elect and covenanted infants there takes place an initial regeneration, through which there is implanted a principle and seed of actual conversion and renewal which follows in its season.(50) Kuyper also quotes in his characteristically loose style a passage on the implanted seed, neither an act nor a habit proper, but partly a relation and partly a quality or spiritual faculty in mind and will. The Holy Spirit in his time arouses actual dispositions and habits from this material potentiality.(51)
Voetius does not shrink from drawing the paradoxical consequences of his thesis. The apostle Paul was regenerate from infancy and the seed of grace was latent in him even when he persecuted the Church of Christ.(52) Augustine was also regenerated, and even incompletely converted, prior to his years of bondage to heresy and immorality.(53) The making of a prolonged time gap between regeneration and conversion is a major objection to the Voetian and Kuyperian theory that all elect infants of believing parents are regenerated from the womb.(54) Furthermore, Voetius draws the consequence, in striking contrast to the paradoxical cases, that normally the conversion of those regenerated in infancy is not catastrophic, but gradual and easy. Hence a child of God need not be expected to be able to relate the time and manner of his first conversion.(55)
From all this and much more in this disputation, it may appear that Voetius supports the presumptivist view. Kuyper has undoubtedly learned much from Voetius, and it may be has deduced further consequences from Voetius’ view. Should this be the case, it must be pointed out that Voetius himself did not draw the consequence of presumptive regeneration, and maintains some positions inconsistent with it.
Nothing in the passages cited asserts the thesis of presumptive regeneration. What is asserted is the actual regeneration of elect, covenanted infants. This thesis does not entail the presumptive thesis, when combined with another thesis expressly asserted by Voetius, i.e. that a great part, often the greater part, of those externally in the covenant, perish in their sin.(56) If this is taken seriously, then the presumption will be that an individual externally in the covenant is devoid of the internal saving grace of the covenant unless and until the marks of a sound conversion are evident in his life. This applies to covenanted children, who may exhibit such marks, as well as to adults.(57) In spite of or barely consistently with his theory of the state of covenanted ones, Voetius in practice is one with Archibald Alexander and the great line of Puritan and experimental divines in insisting on the praxis pietatis and requiring evidences of a saving work of grace in the soul. The influence of British Puritanism on Voetius in this matter is well known. As W. Geesink pointed out in his rectoral address on “Ethics in Reformed Theology,” Voetius opened his academic career at Utrecht with a lecture “De pietate cum scientia conjungenda,” stressing the harmony of science and godliness, and later visited England where he acquired first-hand knowledge of Puritanism.(58) Voetius’ translation of Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety, his own treatise on spiritual desertions, and his defense of a strict observance of the Christian Sabbath, all testify to the unity of his religion and that of the Puritans.
The next quotation, from Cloppenburg’s Exercitationes Theologicae, is similar to those already cited, except for the significant occurrence in Kuyper’s version of the words: “Wij gaan dus uit van the onderstelling, dat de kleine kinderkens der geloovigen door verborgen onmiddelijke werking van der Heiligen Geest Christus worden ingelijfd.” (“We thus proceed from the supposition that the small children of believers are engrafted into Christ by a secret, immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.”)(59) In the context of Kuyper’s discussion, a reader may be tempted to take this as an explicit assertion of presumptive regeneration. Kuyper would then have at least the view of one of the older Reformed divines as a precedent for his view.
Notwithstanding the superficial impression given by Kuyper’s rendering, there are good reasons for denying that Cloppenburg intended to teach presumptive regeneration in this passage. We have already noted that Kuyper’s Dutch renderings of Latin texts are loose, and betray the influence of his own view, which he reads into the old writers.(60) But even if the translation is not inaccurate, it is ambiguous at the crucial point. It might mean 1. “We presume that (all) infants of believers are regenerate,” or 2. “We assume as a premise of our argument that (some) children of believers are regenerate.” It is most natural to take even Kuyper’s rendering in the second sense, since that is, as we have seen, the uniform view of Calvin and the Reformed writers that followed him.(61) It is worth noticing that while Cloppenburg was one of the pioneers of covenant theology in the Netherlands, he was far from adopting the outlook of Hyper-Covenantism. Thesis II of Hyper-Covenantism is diametrically opposed to Cloppenburg’s teaching on the covenant of works, as reported by Peter Y. De Jong on the basis of the study of G. Vos.(62) “The obedience which man owed to God was not first of all a covenant obligation but a natural duty.”(63) This is precisely the doctrine of the Westminster Confession and of the classical federal theology.
Kuyper proceeds to appeal to Petrus van Mastricht, citing the four-volume Dutch translation of the great Theoretico-Practica Theologia.(64) The quotation contains nothing beyond the arguments for infant baptism from infants partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, regeneration, and forgiveness of sin, from their being members of the mystical body of Christ, and from their having received the Holy Spirit.(65) Kuyper strangely fails to refer to Mastricht’s discussion of regeneration, in which he endorses the view we have found propounded by Voetius as to the regeneration of all elect infants of believers.(66) None of this goes beyond the testimony of Voetius, Mastricht’s mentor, nor adds support to the presumptivist position. Mastricht, like Voetius, was deeply concerned with practical piety, as the title and the actual execution of his masterly work abundantly show.
It would be superfluous to examine texts from the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, Johannes Marck’s Compendium Theologiae Christianae Didactico-Elencticum (1686), de Moor’sCommentarius Perpetuus in Joh. Marckii Compendium (1761-71), Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Loci Communes (1576), or Cornelis van Poudroyen’s Catechisatie Over De Leere Des Christelicken Catechismi (1659), wrongly ascribed by Kuyper to Voetius,(67) who simply revised it. These writers add nothing to what has already been set forth at length. Kuyper refers also to Maresius without quoting him.(68) But the succinct and incisive argument for infant baptism in Maresius’ Systema(69) provides an admirable summary of the Reformed view without the slightest suggestion of presumptivism.
A few words as to à Brakel and Comrie may be in order. Kuyperians sometimes suggest that à Brakel was a popular practical preacher while Comrie was a great dogmatician.(70) In fact à Brakel’s claim to fame is his system of theology, The Christian’s Reasonable Service,(71) while Comrie never produced a complete system, but was an outstanding experimental preacher (cf. his ABC of Faith and Attributes of Faith),(72) as well as a doctor of philosophy and profound theologian on topics into which controversy led him. If the subjective element is prominent in à Brakel, it is rooted in the objective truth of the Word of God, while the objective element, i.e. the doctrinal, high Calvinism of Comrie, may not be detached from Comrie’s lively concern with the subjective actuality of the application of redemption. Kuyper’s appeal to à Brakel is hesitant (“Zelfs Brakel getuigt . . .”),(73) and critical so far as à Brakel speaks of infant conversion and not simply regeneration. It is crystal clear that for à Brakel there can be no time gap between regeneration and conversion, and that any presumption of the regeneration of unconverted persons is excluded.
Kuyper does not appeal to Comrie, but amazingly to Comrie’s great opponent, J. van den Honert,(74) who can hardly be reckoned as a champion of simon-pure orthodoxy. Honig, however, attempts to account for Comrie’s failure to realize “the deeper conception of the Reformed doctrine,” which he admits was almost universally unknown in Comrie’s day, but for which he appeals to the earlier theologians cited by Kuyper.(75) How strange that van den Honert alone should be following the “old paths”! Honig makes gratuitous excuses for an excellent passage from Comrie’s Catechismus, in which the promise of God, not the faith of parents or children, is made the basis for baptism.(76) Comrie rather had the same clear insight as Cloppenburg and Twisse, that what is sealed by baptism is nothing subjective, not the gratia gratis data, but the gratia conferenda ex gratia gratis dante (not “the grace freely given,” but “the grace to be conferred out of grace freely giving”).(77)
Kuyper’s teaching, divergent as it was from the historic Calvinist conception, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence in the movement of which he was the leader. The Declaration of Utrecht (1905) has commonly been viewed as giving confessional or quasi-confessional status to the doctrine of presumptive regeneration in the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands, although there has been controversy as to the force of the 1905 declaration and the 1946 statement that replaced it.(78) Some, to be sure, who emphatically reject presumptive regeneration no less emphatically propound the thesis of presumptive election, which is scarcely distinguishable from the former with respect to its practical consequences, although it may have some theoretical advantages.
The thesis of presumptive regeneration as the basis of infant baptism has been challenged by G. C. Berkouwer among others. He writes: “We do not hesitate to declare that if this interpretation of the Reformed baptismal doctrine is correct it is fundamentally nothing but the old baptismal doctrine of the Anabaptists which makes the integrity of baptism dependent ultimately on subjectivity.”(79) Berkouwer here is in the authentic Reformed line we have found in Cloppenburg and Maresius, as well as in Twisse and Comrie. Likewise he speaks of the moment of regeneration as completely left up to God, thus parting company with Voetius, Mastricht, and Kuyper, and he remarks that the notion of the community does not imply an automatic guarantee of regeneration.(80)
Despite these excellent statements of Berkouwer, there can be no doubt that the doctrine of presumptive regeneration or its counterpart has been widely held in those churches of the Netherlands and also of North America where Kuyper’s influence, and later that of Schilder and Hoeksema as to presumptive election, came to prevail. Among the practical consequences of this tendency, the most deadening has been not simply the actual decay of experimental religion, but an opposition in principle to the experience of the power of vital religion. This leads to the next thesis of Hyper-Covenantism.
Thesis V: Doctrinal knowledge and ethical conduct according to the Word of God are sufficient for the Christian life, without any specific religious experience of conviction of sin and conversion, or any need for self-examination as to the possession of distinguishing marks of saving grace.
Hyper-Covenantism is marked by the neglect of, and even hostility to, experimental religion. For an understanding of what this entails, we must distinguish between what is objective and what is subjective in religion. The opening sentences of the preface to Archibald Alexander’s classic, Thoughts on Religious Experience, state this distinction clearly and concisely: “There are two kinds of religious knowledge which, though intimately connected as cause and effect, may nevertheless be distinguished. These are the knowledge of the truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and the impression which that truth makes on the human mind when rightly apprehended.”(81) While the terms ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ may be used ambiguously, and will be censured by followers of Dooyeweerd, who will insist on a special technical sense of ‘subject’, ‘object’, and their derivatives, the fact remains that in the religious language of Dutch Calvinism, voorwerpelijk and onderwerperlijk have come to refer respectively to the doctrine revealed in Scripture and to the experience of its saving power. There is nothing peculiarly Dutch, nor any subtle influence of philosophical distinctions, to be detected here. British Calvinists sometimes warn against holding the “doctrines of grace” without the “grace of the doctrines,” a warning identical in content with that of the inspired apostle in II Tim. 3:5. The historic Calvinist distinction and correlation of the Word and the Spirit, so eloquently enunciated by Calvin in Institutes I.ix, comes to expression in an emphasis on a subjective experience of grace rooted in the truth revealed in Scripture. In opposing Anabaptist fanaticism, Calvin did not err by reacting to an opposite extreme of denying or disparaging experimental religion.
We have seen that Kuyper also refrained from adopting such an extreme repudiation of experimental religion. His followers, however, in their opposition to Anabaptism have not always been successful in maintaining as balanced a view as that of their master. The presumptivist view has encouraged talk about the covenant which, if it does not quite rule out in theory experimental religion, in practice discourages it by laying exclusive emphasis on doctrine and morals.
If so-called covenant children are to be regarded as regenerate, then there is no need to tell them, “Ye must be born again.” Indeed, it would appear that there would be no need for these words to be addressed to Nicodemus. A sharp theoretical cleavage may be drawn between regeneration and conversion, but in practice the child will be regarded as already converted or as being gradually and imperceptibly converted. The practice of the Christian school and catechetical training will be determined by this view, and will terminate in the expectation that the young adult will automatically make confession of faith and go to the Lord’s table. A system for breeding Pharisees, whose cry is “We are Abraham’s children,” could hardly be better calculated.
This Neo-Calvinism, remarkably akin to Horace Bushnell’s liberal and evolutionary doctrine of Christian nurture, stands in sharp contrast to the historic Calvinism of Puritans and Presbyterians. Archibald Alexander states plainly: “Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul at any period of its existence in this world; yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood.”(82) We may not ascribe this view to a supposed unwholesome influence of the revivalism of Whitefield and the Tennants. William Guthrie in seventeenth-century Scotland had dealt very discriminatingly with experimental religion. While admitting that some are effectually called from the womb, some called in mature life in a sovereign gospel way, and some graciously called as death approaches, he insists that men are ordinarily prepared for Christ by the work of the law.(83)
There is a disputed question as to whether conviction of sin is to be regarded as a preparatory work prior to regeneration or as a fruit of regeneration. Whatever resolution that question may receive, one thing is certain: without conviction of sin, sufficient to drive the sinner out of self-confidence to a realization that he can only be saved by Christ, there is no genuine conversion. Exceptional cases may not join with Robert Murray M’Cheyne in the words: “When free grace awoke me with light from on high, Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die.” But they too must join in with the sequel: “No refuge, no safety, in self could I see – ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu’ my Saviour must be.”
The expression ‘experimental religion’ has a connotation deeper than that of religious experience. Experience as such is no safe guide in religion. There is saving experience, but there is also experience produced by common grace, as well as spurious experience arising from natural causes or Satanic influence. Experience must be tested, implying the need for self-examination in view of the deceitfulness of the human heart and the subtlety of Satan. II Cor. 13:5 is explicit as to the duty of self-examination concerning the state of one’s soul, and the Psalmist’s prayer at the close of Psalm 139 will be the prayer of every sincere believer.
As an aid to self-examination, Scripture provides marks of grace. A false assurance resting on presumption will display an aversion to marks of grace and self-examination, but exercised souls, especially tried and tempted children of God, will welcome experimental preaching that sets forth the distinguishing marks of a work of saving grace in the soul. Such preaching is also required to unmask the gospel hypocrite. Classical Puritan treatises abound in this matter.(84) The attitude expressed in the quotations from J. M. Spier and P. Y. de Jong at the commencement of this essay can only be regarded as a grave departure in emphasis, if not in actual doctrine and practice, from the clear rule of Scripture which the Puritans so sedulously observed.
Thesis VI: The life of religion is seated in external institutions rather than in the communion of the soul with God.(85)
The thesis is a consequence of thesis III and is strongly reinforced by thesis V. Culture is now understood in the widest possible sense, to include economic and political activity as well as the arts, and, thus understood, is made to become the preoccupation of the Reformed Christian. Calvinism ceases to be concerned above all with the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of the elect, but becomes a label to cover aesthetic dilettantism and political activism. Few Neo-Calvinists would care to propound this thesis explicitly, but the suggestion has been made that a moratorium be called on evangelism and missions in favor of concentration on Christian labor unions, Christian political parties, and other such external institutions.
Such an outrageous proposal, smacking of the modernist social gospel and radical secular theology, need not be seriously considered even for the sake of refutation. It is mentioned only because it brings into the open the virulent character of the Hyper-Covenant principle, and the genuine antithesis between Neo-Calvinism and the historic Calvinist emphasis on the covenant of grace.
The seductive power of this preoccupation with externals gains impetus from the claim that there is a radical antithesis between Christian and non-Christian that must come to expression in every detail of every department of human life. Many hearts have been stirred by Kuyper’s famous dictum that not the breadth of a thumb exists in all our life but Christ claims “It is mine!”(86) The philosophy of Dooyeweerd owes much of its attractiveness to this contention in relation to the sphere of philosophical and scientific thought.
There is a Scripture antithesis between Christ and Belial, the believer and the infidel (II Cor. 6:15), and this antithesis will no doubt pervade every sphere of the believer’s life. But Scripture nowhere makes of antithesis a metaphysical category dominating epistemology and ethics alike. The insistence on Christian logic, Christian mathematics, Christian labor unions, Christian political parties and the like as a matter of principle based on an appeal to the antithesis betrays such a metaphysical impetus masquerading in the name of religion. The metaphysics can readily be traced to the vulgarization of Hegelian dialectic in the conventional though misleading schema of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Dooyeweerd makes much of the antithesis-synthesis schema in his thought.(87) He insists on a religious antithesis which may not be bridged by any synthesis, while he makes his transcendental critique of theoretical thought depend on an alleged antithetic relation which requires a subsequent theoretical synthesis.
Dooyeweerd has recommended the method of antinomy as a royal method of immanent criticism. At considerable length he has analyzed the philosophies of the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotelian Scholasticism, and modern humanistic thought, finding internal contradictions stemming from what in his terminology are the dialectical ground-motives of form-matter, nature-grace, and nature-freedom in ancient, medieval and modern philosophy respectively. This method is contrasted with a transcendent criticism in which one’s own standpoint is set in opposition to that of opponents, and employed as a criterion for negative criticism and repudiation of their views. While immanent criticism, at least as detecting internal contradictions within a system, may be taken more seriously by opponents, two questions may be raised: 1. Does such argument not after all arise from the assumption that one’s own view is correct, and that the contrary either necessarily involves internal contradictions, or at least may be expected to? 2. Is Dooyeweerd’s own system, when examined in terms of this procedure, itself exempt from criticism? If, as Dooyeweerd seems to claim, there are necessary antinomies in non-Christian and partially Christian systems, the notion of antithesis involved would have in common with Hegel the position that error or partial truth is inherently self-contradictory. But on a Dooyeweerdian view, Hegel’s basic principle that ‘the truth is the whole’ is an expression of the nature-freedom motive of modern humanistic philosophy. It would seem from this that the doctrine of the transcendental critique as to dialectical ground-motives is itself a kind of synthesis of Christian faith and modern philosophy. The above suggestion does not profess to be a direct refutation of the doctrines or methods of the transcendental critique. Such a claim might itself be open to the charge of self-refutation, for it too savors of the procedure of sweeping conclusions drawn from vaguely formulated premises. But it might at least serve to raise a question, if not to present an indirect proof of the incoherent character of the notion of the antithesis when made the cornerstone of a Reformed philosophy.
Dooyeweerd has disclaimed external penetration of theoretical thought by a scriptural religious motive.(88) The outcome of his labors, especially evident in the hands of his disciples, is rather an external (one is tempted to say “mechanical”) cry of antithesis in theory and practice, with a readiness to fall in with current fads and fashions and to play havoc with the faith once delivered to the saints, relegating not only the inner life of the soul but even the proclamation of the gospel to the background. This tendency can be, and no doubt commonly has been, a matter of emphasis in the earlier history of the Kuyper movement. The contemporary influence of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, however, threatens to make it a matter of principle to mute the gospel trumpet in favor of a parade of intellectually-unsound theoretical performances and imprudently-timed practical undertakings.
Thesis VII: No clear-cut distinction between nature and grace is to be admitted.
This thesis brings us back to the original metaphysical axiom. Covenant as a category over-arches any differences between nature and grace, creation and redemption, reason and revelation. This is obviously out of line with classical Reformed covenant theology, in which the covenant of works is sometimes called the covenant of nature(89) by way of contrast to the covenant of grace. An analysis of the distinction between nature and grace is a crucial theological task not to be undertaken here. For the present it must suffice to remark that vague references to a nature-grace motive cannot serve as an effective instrument of philosophical criticism or as a basis for further development of Reformed theology.
Both the terms nature and grace are ambiguous. Nature may mean either the product of God’s creative activity, or man as sinful, while grace may be simply undeserved favor, or grace in the sense of saving grace. The contrast of nature-grace may be taken then in various ways: 1. as created nature and additional divine favor to what has been first created good, 2. as fallen nature and redeeming grace, and 3. as a combination of both senses 1 and 2.
In the first sense, the elect angels may be said to have been given the gift of perseverance in their original integrity. The covenant of works may even be said to be a gift of grace, and had our first parents not sinned, it would have been by grace that they preserved their original nature. The second sense of the nature-grace contrast is that which is prominent in the teaching of Augustine and the Reformers. Often Kuyper-Calvinists profess to maintain this sense exclusively, and refrain from talking about nature and grace. We find this practice at best a subtraction from the riches of the whole counsel of God. The third sense may be found in the confusion of Romanism between the other two, in which reason and revelation become two separate spheres and the effects of the fall on the mind and free will are minimized. Van Til may be justified in discerning in Abraham Kuyper’s antithesis of common grace and special grace the medieval scholastic contrast of nature and grace in this objectionable sense. It does not follow, however, that the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century and their genuine successors have fallen into this error.
Intimately associated with the criticism of the nature-grace distinction is the unqualified criticism of scholasticism. Seldom, if ever, is an attempt made to explicate the sense of scholasticism beyond vague allegations of the synthesis motive in the nature-grace schema. This procedure is regarded as warranting the large-scale repudiation of the labors of not only the medieval scholastic theologians, but also the Reformed scholastics of the seventeenth century and their successors, including the Hodges, B. B. Warfield, Bavinck, Berkhof, and John Murray. The attack on scholasticism thus expands from an attack on certain special errors in medieval thought to a wholesale repudiation of Reformed systematic theology. The attack on scholasticism as “un-Reformed” can issue in a rejection of such cardinal Reformed doctrines as the infallibility of Scripture and the absolute sovereignty of grace in discriminating between the elect and the reprobate.
Dooyeweerd’s disparagement of the Westminster Confession as teaching a scholastic doctrine of the rational soul(90) is symptomatic of an attitude that haughtily prefers modern innovations and incompletely developed theories to the solid results of the labor of the Reformers. The readiness of the synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken to support a gravamen against the Canons of Dort on the doctrine of reprobation(91) is a sign that Ichabod is inscribed over the portals of a body that once gloried in its doctrinal Calvinism.(92)
The story of the Neo-Calvinism of the Kuyper movement is at the same time saddening and instructive. The achievement of a spirit of Kuyper’s magnitude is impressive, yet a great man is capable of great mistakes, far-reaching in their consequences. Analysis may disclose that the departure of Kuyper from historic Calvinism was slight, rather than a matter of large-scale synthesis with modern thought. Yet even an error of detail in the matter of regeneration can be pregnant with unintended consequences. What is true of Kuyper is also true of Dooyeweerd. The achievement is impressive, and much may prove of lasting value. But unsound elements of the system in the hands of less gifted disciples can become a threat to the very cause that is championed. The aversion to experimental religion on the part of Kuyper’s followers has made for a sharp cleavage between them and the representatives of the older Calvinism. The tendency toward doctrinal innovation in the present generation threatens a deformation that strikes at the very roots of the Reformed faith and of historic Christianity itself.
Authentic Calvinism is a balanced system and its adherents are not shaken by every wind of doctrine. The balance of the doctrinal, experimental, and practical is preserved. In the words of “Rabbi” John Duncan: “But if you preach doctrine and experience and practice, by the blessing of God, you will have head, and heart, and hands, and feet – a perfect man in Christ Jesus.”(93)
(1) This list is a selection from Bibliotheek van oude Schrijvers (Rotterdam: Lindenbergs Boekhandel en Antiquariaat, 1968).
(2) Abraham Kuyper, Het Calvinisme (Amsterdam: Höveker and Wormser, 1898).
(3) J. M. Spier, Een Inleiding tot de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, fourth ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1950), pp. 109-10. The caricature of experimental religion in the passage quoted is a sample of the ignorance and arrogance too often displayed by Neo-Calvinists in their criticism of the older Calvinism.
(4) Peter Y. De Jong, The Covenant Idea in New England Theology, 1620-1847 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1945), pp. 151-52.
(5) Ralph Bronkema, The Essence of Puritanism (Goes, the Netherlands: Oosterbaan and Le Cointre, 1929).
(6) De Jong, Covenant Idea, p. 30.
(7) Abraham Kuyper Jr., Johannes Maccovius (Leyden: D. Donner, 1899), p. 240: “In het bloeitijdperk der Gereformeerde Theologie kan voor de gezonde Mystiek gewezen worden op Teelinck – op Udeman – ja zelfs op Voetius en zooveel anderen, bij Lodensteyn en Koelman al minder zuiver wordende.” The “gezonde Mystiek” of the Reformed faith is described, p. 239, as “door de Gereformeerde Theologen gegrepen in hun leer van Gods ‘persoonlijke bemoeienis’, van de onmiddellijke wedergeboorte, van de inplanting in het Mystieke Lichaam, van de mystieke werking der Sacramenten, van het mystieke Testimonium Spiritus Sancti, van de mystieke inwoning des H. Geestes.” In defense of Jakobus Koelman, mention may be made of his Neerlands Plicht en Voorbeeld of 1689 (Goudriaan, the Netherlands: W. A. de Groot, 1966), in which a plea is made for further reformation in the Dutch churches in such matters as observance of holy days other than the Christian Sabbath, the singing of other than Scripture psalms and songs (such as the ten commandments, the Apostle’s creed and the Lord’s Prayer), the playing of the organ before, during and after singing, indiscriminate baptism of children, and desecration of the Sabbath, sometimes defended by lax doctrine. “Minder zuiver” is scarcely the expression to be employed in speaking of Koelman’s standpoint!
(8) Heidelberg Catechism, question 96: “What doth God require in the second commandment? That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word.” In question 98, the rejection of images in the church “as books to the laity,” on the ground that “we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word,” is plainly contrary to the use of pictures of Christ as teaching aids. For the opposed Lutheran view see August Pfeiffer (superintendent at Lübeck in 1698), Anti-Calvinism (Columbus, Ohio: Printing House of the Joint Synod of Ohio, 1881), pp. 398-99: “The Reformed censure us for ornamenting our churches with good pictures and beautiful statuary. . . . We are nowhere forbidden to use pictures as salutary memorials.” The plea “we are nowhere forbidden” has proved to be the standard excuse for deformation of the worship of Reformed churches, while the regulative principle remains the guarantee of true Christian liberty in opposition to the imposition of doctrines and commandments of men.
(9) Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God (New York: Macmillan Company, 1925), p. 224.
(10) Ibid., p. 44.
(11) A. Kuyper, Confidentie (Amsterdam: Hoeveker en Loon, 1873). Note the intense feeling with which Kuyper writes, p. 40, of the influence of Charlotte Yonge’s romance The Heir of Redcliffe (“This masterpiece has been for me the instrument of the breaking of my self-sufficient, resisting heart”), and, p. 45, of the “pious Reformed people” of his first pastorate: “Well now, dear brother, I have not set myself against them, and I still thank my God that I made this choice. Their tenacious perseverance has been the blessing of my heart, the rise of the morning star for my life. I was indeed grasped, but had not yet found the word of reconciliation. That they have brought to me, brought with their fragmentary language in this absolute form in which my soul alone can find rest: in adoring and glorifying a God who works all things, both willing and doing according to his good pleasure!”
(12) Ibid., p. 226.
(13) A. Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie, 3 vols. (Amsterdam: Hoeveker and Wormser, 1902-04). The practical part (vol. 3) develops consequences for politics, church and state, family, education, society, science and art, while the doctrinal part (vol. 2) contains a defense of vaccination and insurance in opposition to the views prevailing among the Old Reformed people in the Netherlands.
(14) On Kuyper’s supralapsarianism, cf. De Gemeene Gratie 2:95ff., in which a cosmic reinterpretation of the High Calvinist view is propounded. On the ordo salutis, see Kuyper’sHet Werk van den Heiligen Geest (Amsterdam: J. A. Wormser, l888), Tweede Deel, 32: “Gerechtvaardigd van eeuwigheid,” and 33: “Gewisheid onzer rechtvaardigmaking.”
(15) Cf. Kuyper’s lecture on Calvinism and politics in Het Calvinisme.
(16) See Appendix B of Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (New York: Macmillan, 1939), pp. 502-05, for a rather full list of English Puritan, Dutch and New England writers on covenant theology.
(17) Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), p. 345: “Indeed Pelagianism as we know it, that consistent body of ideas of momentous consequences, had come into existence; but in the mind of Augustine, not of Pelagius.”
(18) Kuyper, Het Calvinisme, pp. 80-81: “Zeer terecht zag men het in: een volk is geen aggregaat, maar een organisch geheel. Dat organisme nu had zijn organische geledingen.” The second sentence appears to be essential to the analogy, although the further development is rejected by Kuyper: “Door deze organen werkt de Staatswil, en voor dien Staatswil had alles te bukken. Deze Staatswil was oppermachtig, was souverein. . . . Zoo vervalt elk transcendent recht in God.”
(19) In the Stone Lectures, passages such as the following may be mentioned (p. 70): “De mensch wordt uit den mensch geboren, en hangt krachtens die geboorte organisch met heel het geslacht saam.” Here organisch may have a literal sense, but the notion of the race as a single organism is a form of the analogy in question. Cf. p. 71: “De organische eenheid van ons geslacht . . . en in dat ééne wereldrijk heel de menschheid organisch saamleefde.” See also Kuyper’s Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1898), p. 113: “The whole is always something different from the combination of its parts. First because of the organic relation which holds the parts together. . . .” Again, p. 64: “Consequently you cannot attain unto a conception of ‘science’ in the higher sense, until you take humanity as an organic whole. Science does not operate atomistically. . . . No, science works organically. . . .” Kuyper goes on to speak of organic relations in the object (p. 66), and to say that an organic relation between subject and object is necessary (pp. 67-68): “There must be an organic relation between that object and our nature, between that object and our consciousness, and between that object and our world of thought.” This idiom of organic relations, which may be a way of talking of internal relations, is not illuminating in epistemology.
(20) The dictum occurs in Schleiermacher’s Dialektik. The implications of the organic analogy were developed in Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature (1797), and dominated Hegel’s philosophical thought from his Frankfurt period until the end of his life.
(21) See his treatment of covenant theology in Jonathan Edwards (New York: William Miller Sloan Associates, 1949), pp. 71-99. Cf. p. 77: “Actually . . . the covenant of grace came to mean in Puritan circles in both the Englands, not what God was pleased to grant, but what He was obliged to concede.” Cf. also p. 30: “By this adroit and highly legalistic formulation, seventeenth-century New England found a way for human enterprise in the midst of a system of determinism.”
(22) Herman Dooyeweerd, “Cornelius Van Til and the Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought,” in Jerusalem and Athens, ed. E. R. Geehan (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971), p. 87.
(23) Dooyeweerd’s contrast of limiting ideas and “genuine conceptual contents” is clearly akin to as well as derived from Kant’s opposition of idea and concept. While Van Til adopts the Kantian notion of limiting concept, it is not clear that he means the same as Dooyeweerd. A Hegelian dialectical conception of logic has colored his notion of paradox, a notion alien to Dooyeweerd.
(24) Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), pp. 31-32 and 37ff.
(25) Westminster Confession, chap. VII, sec. i.
(26) Cf. A. H. de Graaff and C G. Seerveld, Understanding the Scriptures (A.A.C.S.: Toronto, 1969), in which de Graaff makes the following statement (p. 29): “The Bible does not teach us how to be good and how to avoid being bad,” and with respect to the Ten Commandments (p. 35): “None of them can be literally followed or applied today, for we live in a different period of history in a different culture.”
(27) Cf. John M. Frame and Leonard J. Coppes, The Amsterdam Philosophy (Phillipsburg, N. J.: Harmony Press, 1972), in which Coppes, while retaining the term ‘cultural mandate’, makes substantially the same point, that Christianity is first and foremost soteriological, not cultural. Frame’s section on evangelism is incisive (p. 48): “Normal cultural pursuits . . . must take second place to the preaching of the gospel.”
(28) Gysbertus Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Fasciculus, ed. Abraham Kuyper (Amsterdam: J. A. Wormser, 1887). Disputatio 9 (“De Statu Electorum ante Conversionem”), prob. 2: “An electi externe foederati seu in foedere nati, omnes et singuli in infantia seu ab utero matris sint interne foederati, sancti, et regeniti?”, to which, while recognizing difficulties, Voetius replies in the affirmative (pp. 253-55).
(29) Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Kampen: Kok, 1928), vol. 4, in the discussion of infant baptism.
(30) Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 13-14.
(31) The source of this item is a homiletics lecture by the late Professor R. B. Kuiper.
(32) Abraham Kuyper, E Voto Dordraceno (Amsterdam: Hoeveker and Wormser, l905), 3:54-60, Zondag 27, hoofdstuk 8.
(33) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by John Allen (Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Education, 1936), 2:620 (IV.xvi.17); Institutio Religionis Christianae, ed. G. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss (Brunswick: C. A. Schwetschke and Son, 1869), 2:989: “Dominum ita solere passim cum infantibus agere. Neque enim nos eum in modum ratiocinamur.”
(34) Calvin, Institutio, 2:990 (IV.xvi.20): “Baptizari in futuram poenitentiam et fidem: quae etsi nondum in illis formatae sunt, arcana tamen spiritus operatione utriusque semen in illis latet.”
(35) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:12: “En ten vierde, dat bij de onzekerheid, of de kinderen die ons geboren wierden, vroeg of laat zullen sterven, de mogelijkheid van zulk een genadewerk Gods in de ziel van ons kind, bij al onze kinderen moet worden aangenomen. En ten vijfde, dat uit dien hoofde alle kinderen der geloovigen te beschouwen zijn, als niet slechts in schijn, maar wezenlijk in het Verbond van Gods genade begrepen.”
(36) Ibid., 3:9: “Want van degenen die in klaar, helder berwustzijn opwassen, zien we zeer wel, dat slechts de kleinere helft afsterft in het geloof aan den Heere.”
(37) Thus the decrees of election and reprobation may not be the source either of assurance or despair as to one’s being in a state of grace. Rather, the revealed will of God in law and gospel must be the standard for self-examination. Likewise, presumptive regeneration presupposing election may not, in dealing with believers’ children, nullify the duty of holding a response to the requirements of repentance, faith, and new obedience as the sure sign of the great change from fallen nature to renewing grace.
(38) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:57: “Met name ten onzent hebben de beste Gereformeerde godgeleerden de zaak steeds zóó bezien als Calvijn die bezag, en steeds den Kinderdoop gegrond op de onderstelling, dat God de Heere ook in deze jonge kinderen de genade der wedergeboorte werkte.”
(40) Ibid.: “Van dit in het pasgeboren kind gewerkt geloof zegt Professor Maccovius. . . .”
(41) Joannes Maccovius, Redivivus, Seu Manuscripta (Amsterdam: Ludovicus and Daniel Elzevir, 1659), p. 425.
(42) In the preceding paragraph, Kuyper had expressed an objection to the use of “hebbelijk geloof” for infants, and claims that the best Reformed theologians rejected it. Yet Maccovius speaks of fides habitualis in the passage Kuyper goes on to cite. Likewise in his Prota Pseude, seu Prima Falsa Adversariorum, puta, . . . Anabaptistorum, chap. 9 (“De Baptismo”), to the objection “non debere infantes baptizari, quia fidem non habent,” Maccovius first observes parenthetically (p. 624): “(Nostri aliqui respondent, habere eos fidem habitualem, non actualem: quod quidem verum est, sed nihil ad rem. . .).” While Maccovius finds the distinction irrelevant to the Anabaptist argument, he still holds that infants do have habitual faith.
(43) De Godgeleerde onderscheidingen en wijsgeerige regelen van Johannes Maccovius, translated by Dirk van der Meer in 1658, reprint (Leeuwaarden: H. Bokna, n.d.). In chap. 13, on justification, Maccovius contends that actual, not habitual, faith justifies (p. 130): “Het dadelijk geloof rechtwaardigt maar niet het hebbelijk.” If this were applied to the case of infants, it would follow that infants cannot be justified, although Maccovius would hold that active justification is prior to faith. (Cf. Theologia Polemica, cap. 15, quaestio 2: “An justificatio activa antecedat fidem.”)
(44) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:57, translates: “Antwoord: Ja zij, wel niet het daadwerkelijk, maar toch het ingeplante geloof; want naardien ze wedergeboren zijn.”
(45) Maccovius, Redivivus, p. 424. To the question whether the grace of baptism is always conferred at the time of baptism, Maccovius replies in the negative: “Nequaquam; nam aliquando praecedit gratia, Act. 10:4. Aliquando etiam sequitur ista gratia; nam quae ratio est, eius quod praecedat, eadem et ejusdem quod sequatur.”
(47) In his Theologica Polemica, cap. 23, quaestio 3, obj. 10, Maccovius states that infants receive sacraments in order that being carnal, they may become spiritual (p. 252): “Quia ideo infantes recipiunt sacramenta, ut ex carnalibus fiant spirituales.” And in Prota Pseude, chap. 9, p. 624, Maccovius marks as an erroneous assumption of the Anabaptists that all children of those in the covenant are in the covenant (“omnes infantes foederatorum esse foederatos”), against which error Maccovius cites Rom. 9:8 and Matt. 22:14, to which he adds the case of Absalom.
(48) Franciscus Gomarus, “Disputationes Theologiae,” disputatio 32 (“De Baptismo”), thesis 39, in Opera Theologica Omnia (Amsterdam: Iansonius, 1664), p. 105: “Ad quos Spiritus Sanctus pertinet: illis aqua Baptismi, denegari non potest (Act. 10:47): ad infantes Spiritus Sanctus pertinet (Act. 2:39). Ergo iis aqua Baptismi denegari non potest.” Kuyper’s rendering (E Voto, 3:57) alters Gomarus’ text by using the expressions “onder de bewerking van den Heiligen Geest” and “de kleine kinderkens der geloovigen,” but even these changes do not make the passage teach presumptive regeneration.
(50) Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Fasciculus, p. 254: “Opinio hujus authoris mihi hactenus placet, quod statuit in infantibus electis et foederatis locum habere Spiritus Sancti regenerationem initialem, per quam principium, et semen actualis conversionis seu renovationis. . . .” Voetius is referring to the opinion of the Westminster divine, Cornelius Burges, on baptismal regeneration. This indicates an awareness of the kinship of his doctrine with baptismal regeneration, although Voetius proceeds to point out that on his view regeneration does not follow but precedes baptism, p. 255: “Nota est enim sententia eorum [i.e. of Reformed theologians] de efficacia baptismi non in producenda regeneratione, sed in jam producta obsignanda . . . .”
(51) Ibid., p. 255: “Non est actio; nec habitus proprie sic dictus qui inclinet et facilitet potentiam: sed partim relatio, partim qualitas seu facultas spiritualis in mente et voluntate, ex qua tanquam ex semine quodam potentia materiali (ita loquar) actuales dispositiones, et habitus per impressionem et infusionem Spir. S. suo tempore suscitantur. . . .”
(52) Ibid., p. 262: “Fuisse regenitum in infantia: quo forte referri possit Galat. 1:15.”
(53) Ibid. “De regeneratione primo prima non est dubitandum. Nec etiam de actuali conversione incompleta. . . .”
(54) Voetius is by no means unaware of the difficulty cleaving to his view. Ibid., p. 253: “. . . sed duriusculum forte videatur si extendamus etiam ad illos, qui sine actuali fide et resipiscentia . . . persistant usque ad 30. aut 70. aetatis annum, immo usque sub finem vitae.”
(55) Ibid., p. 257, probl. 15 and 16.
(56) Ibid., p. 252: “Facto enim, seu experientia a posteriori docemur, magnam saepe majorem partem externe foederatorum hac aut illa aetate, hoc aut illo loco viventium, in peccatis suis perire.” We have noted that Kuyper also appears to share this view in a strong form. Cf. footnote 32 above.
(57) Voetius in fact appeals to the fact that early piety is to be seen in some very young children. Ibid., p. 257: “Docet etiam quotidiana experientia, in vita et morte quorundam infantium eximias fidei et pietatis scintillas, pro ratione aetatis, emicare.”
(58) W. Geesink, Gereformeerde Ethiek (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1931), 2:477-78: “Hoe hij in 1634, als academisch docent opgetreden, het zijn roeping achtte de harmonie tusschen wetenschap en godzaligheid onder zijn studenten te bevorderen, kunnen wij zien uit de redevoering waarmee hij in Utrecht zijn ambt aanvaardde en waarvan de titel luidt: ‘De pietate cum scientia conjungenda.’ En het besef dezer roeping is zeer zeker nog bij hem versterkt, toen hij in 1636, met zijn zoon Paulus een reis naar Engeland ondernam en daar het Puritanisme ook door eigen aanschouwing leerde kennen.”
(59) Johannes Cloppenburgius, “Exercitationes super locos communes theologicos,” locus 13 (“De Sacramentis N. Testamenti”), disputatio 7 (“De Subjecto Baptismi Recipiente”), inTheologica Opera Omnia (Amsterdam: Gerardus Borstius, 1684), 1:1097: “Ut supervacuum sit se fatigare in problemate illo, an fides, vel semen fidei saltem, sit in infantibus fidelium, ut res Baptismi significata. Sufficit enim, ut sit in baptismo res significata, Infantium a Deo insitio in Christum, et communio Sp. S. ipsos custodientis, ad efficiendam in ipsis, ubi adoleverint, Fidem salvificam. Nos quidem, salvo aliorum judicio, tuemur Problematis illius negativam, ac supponimus, Infantes fidelium arcana immediata operatione Sp. S. inseri Christo, donec vel in hac vita, vel in mortis articulo, infantilis aetas finem accipiat, ut vel hic in carne, vel exuti carne, per fidem vel per visionem agnoscant, quae ipsis gratificatus est Deus, ut et nobis.”
(60) In the preceding paragraph of Cloppenburg’s text there occurs the expression “Supposito illo axiomate Petri Apostoli,” from which we may gather that “supponimus” in our text refers to a logical act of proceeding from an axiomatic premise, not to a psychological attitude of regarding certain persons in a certain manner. To render “supponimus” by “We gaan dus uit van de onderstelling” is to mislead the reader into supposing that Cloppenburg is teaching “veronderstelde wedergeboorte.” Kuyper also omits the immediately preceding words, in which Cloppenburg states that whatever the opinion of others may be, he opts for the negative in reply to the question whether faith or even a seed of faith is in infants as the thing signified by baptism. In the following paragraph he points out that even adult baptism does not signify the believer’s faith but the work of God.
(61) It is also to be remembered that in Scholastic logic, suppositio is a technical term for the signification of discourse.
(62) G. Vos, De Verbondsleer in de Gereformeerde Theologie (Grand Rapids: “Democrat” Drukpers, 1891). English translation: “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 234-67.
(63) De Jong, Covenant Idea, p. 28.
(64) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:58.
(65) Petrus van Mastricht, “De Sacramentis Regenerationis,” Theoretico-Practica Theologia(Trajecti ad Rhenum: Gerardus Muntendas, 1698), p. 825: “Eo quod: 1. sint sub promissione foederis gratiae, quibus Baptismus addicitur Act. 2:38-39. Quod 2. beneficiorum foederis gratiae, regenerationis et remissionis peccatorum Jer. 31:33-34 sint participes. Quod 3. sint membra corporis Christi mystici . . . adeoque sigillo insitionis I Cor. 12:13. Rom. 6:3-4 potiri debeant. . . . Quod 6. sint participes Spiritus S. I Cor. 7:14 ut patet in Jeremia Jer. 1:5 in Baptista Luc. 1:15 tales autem baptizandos esse, Petrus manifeste doceat Act. 10:47. . . . et per easdem Scripturas, infantes Spiritum S. accipiunt Luc. 1:15, Jer. 1:5.” Kuyper, it may be observed, passes over the fundamental consideration of the promise of the covenant, as well as the argument from circumcision, and most pertinently the subsequent elucidation of I Cor. 7:14: “ac proinde Deo sancti sint foederaliter.” Had Kuyper concentrated attention on the notion of federal holiness, he could have dispensed with the fiction of presumptive regeneration.
(66) Mastricht, “De Redimendorum Regeneratione,” Theoretico-Practica Theologia, p. 668: “Communis Reformatorum sententia habet, quod Baptismus infantum (electorum saltem) praesupponat regenerationem factam; quod obsignari non possit Baptismo, id quod non est. Et haec quidem sententia, mihi quidem, veritate maxime videtur consentanea.” Mastricht is well aware that other Reformed divines held divergent views, mentioning Beza, Amesius, Zanchius, and the elder Spanheim.
(67) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:58.
(68) Ibid., 3:59.
(69) In locus 53 (“De Sacramentis”), Collegium Theologicum sive Systema Breve Universae Theologiae (Groningen: Franciscus Bronchorstius, 1659), p. 290, Maresius makes reference to federal holiness. In locus 54, p. 291, Maresius denies any Scripture warrant for speaking of actual, habitual or seminal faith in infants: “Quamvis talem fidem nec Scriptura tribuat usquiam infantibus, nec ex analogia Scripturae illis attribuere queamus.” Maresius rather holds that infants are baptized in the faith of the parents, a view which Kuyper denied to any of the good Dutch Calvinists.
(70) Thus A. G. Honig, in his dissertation on Comrie (Alexander Comrie, Utrecht: H. Honig, 1892), with Kuyper as his promoter, writes of à Brakel and Smytegelt (p. 291): “. . . deze mannen wel voor de praktijk der Godzaligheid tal van onschatbare wenken gaven, maar te weinig theologisch ontwikkeld waren . . .”, while of Comrie he gives a more balanced appraisal throughout the book and in the conclusion (p. 292).
(71) Wilhelmus à Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst (1700). English translation: The Christian’s Reasonable Service, translated by Bartel Elshout (Ligonier, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992-), 4 vols.
(72) Alexander Comrie, Het ABC des Geloofs (1739); Verhandeling van eenige eigenschappen des zaligmakenden geloofs (1744).
(73) Kuyper, E Voto, 3:59.
(74) Ibid., 3:60.
(75) Honig, Alexander Comrie, pp. 196-97.
(76) Alexander Comrie, Stellige en Praktikale Verklaring van den Heidelbergschen Catechismus (1753).
(77) Alexander Comrie, Examen van Tolerantie (1753), cited in Honig, Alexander Comrie, p. 198.
(78) On this subject, see G. C. Berkouwer, The Sacraments (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 180.
(79) Ibid., p. 181.
(80) Ibid., pp. 182-83.
(81) Alexander, Religious Experience, p. xvii.
(82) Ibid., pp. 13-14.
(83) William Guthrie, The Christian’s Great Interest (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969), pp. 37-53. The book was first published in 1658.
(84) Outstanding are Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refinings (1652), Thomas Shepard, The Ten Virgins (1660), and Jonathan Edwards, The Religions Affections (1746).
(85) For further critical discussion of the stress on external institutions, cf. Frame, Amsterdam Philosophy, pp. 44-49.
(86) This motto “geen duimbreed” appears in Kuyper’s monumental lecture Souvereiniteit in eigen Kring (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1930), p. 32. The lecture was delivered at the opening of the Free University of Amsterdam.
(87) Herman Dooyeweerd, Reformatie en Scholastiek in de Wijsbegeerte (Franeker: T. Wever, 1949), 1:41-64.
(88) Herman Dooyeweerd, De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1935-36), 1:33.
(89) John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London: G. Miller for Edward Brewster, 1645), p. 12.
(90) Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1960), p. 159.
(91) G. C. Berkouwer, “The Authority of Scripture (A Responsible Confession),” in Jerusalem and Athens, p. 198. Professor Berkouwer, who supports the synod’s action, states: “To me it has become increasingly clear that the scriptural proof of reprobation from eternity does not hold. . . .” In his reply (“Response by C. Van Til,” p. 203), Dr. Van Til makes an appropriate appeal to John Murray on Romans 9, as against Berkouwer’s appeal to the deviant exegesis of Ridderbos.
(92) Since the first appearance of this article, the prediction of the apostasy of the Gereformeerde Kerken has been sadly verified.
(93) William Knight, Colloquia Peripatetica, sixth ed., enl. (Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1907), p. 167.