BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE ON ABRAHAM KUYPER
Dr. Abraham Kuyper was born in Maassluis, Netherlands, October the twenty-ninth, 1837. His parents were the Reverend Jan Hendrik and Henriette Huber Kuyper. At Maassluis and at Middelburg, where his father was called in 1849, he attended school. His teachers, we are told, took him at first to be a dull boy. They must have changed their opinion when at the early age of twelve he was able to enter the Gymnasium at Middelburg. In due time he was matriculated at the Leyden University, from which he graduated with highest honors. It was here also that he took his Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1863, when he was about twenty-six years of age.
A year later he began his ministry in Beesd; was then called to Utrecht, and from there, in 1870, to Amsterdam. In 1872 he became Editor-in-chief of De Standaard (The Standard), a daily paper, and the official organ of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, which in politics represents the Christian contingent of the Dutch nation. Shortly after, he assumed the editorship of De Heraut (The Herald), a distinctively Christian Sunday Paper, published on Fridays. For more than forty-five years he filled both these exacting positions with extraordinary vigor and power.
In 1874 he was elected a member of the Lower House of Parliament, which office he served until 1877. In 1880 he founded the Free University in Amsterdam, which takes the Bible as the unconditional basis on which to rear the whole structure of human knowledge in every department of life.
Then followed twenty years of strenuous labor, in the University and out of it, when some of his greatest treatises were written covering a period that may well be regarded as having exerted a most important influence on the ecclesiastical and political history of his country. It is by his almost super-human labors, no less than by his strength and nobility of character, that he left "foot-prints on the sands of time" with such indelible clearness, that in 1907, when his seventieth birthday was made the occasion of national celebration, it was said: "The history of the Netherlands, in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences of the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page, for during this period the biography of Dr. Kuyper is to a considerable extent the history of the Netherlands."
In 1898 he visited the United States of America, where he gave the "Stone Lectures" at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was then that Princeton University conferred the Doctorate of Laws upon him.
Upon his return to the Netherlands, he resumed his labors as Leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, until in 1901 he was summoned by Queen Wilhelmina to form a Cabinet. He served as Prime Minister until 1905. Then a year or more was spent in travel, a graphic account of which appeared in a two-volume work: "Om de Oude Wereld-Zee" (Around the Old World-Sea), the entire edition of which was sold before it was printed.
After that, Dr. Kuyper resided in the Hague as Minister of State, in the public eye the foremost figure in the land, and in some respects without a peer in the world. At seventy-five years of age he began in the columns of De Heraut the series of weekly articles: " Van de Voleinding " (Of the End of the World), three hundred and six in all which took six years to complete. De Maasbode, a Roman Catholic publication in the Netherlands, refers to this work as "most unique and without a rival in all the literature on the subject." References to the end of the world are traced throughout all the books of the Bible, and carefully exposited, while the Revelation of S. John is dealt with section by section. When he was eighty-two years old he was laying out plans for another great work on "The Messiah." But the end came on November eighth, 1920.
During all these years his work was many-sided to an astonishing degree. As has been said: "No department of human knowledge was foreign to him." And whether we take him as student, pastor or preacher; as linguist, theologian or University Professor; as party leader, organizer or statesman; as philosopher, scientist, publicist, critic or philanthropistthere is always "something incomprehensible in the mighty labors of this indefatigable wrestler; always something as incomprehensible as genius always is." Even they who differed with him, and they were many, honored him as "an opponent often heads and a hundred hands." They who shared his vision and his ideals prized and loved him " as a gift of God to our age."
What was the secret of this almost superhuman power?
In 1897, at the twenty-fifth anniversary of his editorship of De Standaard, Dr. Kuyper said: "One desire has been the ruling passion of my life. One high motive has acted like .a spur upon my mind and soul. And sooner than that I should seek escape from the sacred necessity that is laid upon me, let the breath of life fail me. It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God's holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God." Few men have had an ideal before them like this. Few men have been as obedient to the demands of such a purpose in life as he. He gave himself literally body, soul and spirit to this high calling. He lived with watch in hand. Every hour of day and night had its own appointed task. His writings number more than two hundred works, many of them of three and four volumes each, and cover an extraordinary range of subjects.
As a man he was singularly appreciative of a word or act of kindness on the part of others. The writer of this note here speaks from personal experience. Dr. Kuyper knew, something of the holy art of love. He prided himself on being a man of the people. It is remembered by many with admiration and gratitude, that however pressed by his multifarious labors, he never refused audience to any that came to him for counsel and help.
He never claimed originality. His life and labors can not be explained from himself alone. In connection with what a reviewer of this book suggests, when he calls these meditations: "Exquisite life-studies in the Word," we confine ourselves here to the more deeply spiritual undercurrent of his life, as the secret of his phenomenal power.
In his early years the religious life in his country was at a low ebb. "Church life was cold and formal. Religion was almost dead. There was no Bible in the schools. There was no life in the nation."
But intimations of better things to come were not wanting. As far back as 1830, Groen van Prinsterer, a member of Parliament, began to protest against the spirit of the times. "This brought about a revival of Gospel preachingthat by nature all men are sinners in need of the atoning Blood of Christ. Great offense was taken at this. It was not long before Evangelicals could not be tolerated. It was not irreligion that was wanted, but religion such as would please every one, Jews included."
Hence when the subject of this sketch was a university student, it was not strange that he felt no inclination toward the Gospel ministry. He had no sympathy, he said, with a Church which trampled her own honor under foot; nor with a religion which was represented by such a Church. He drifted along with the modern stream, and warmly took part in applauding Professor Rauwenhoff, who openly denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
A series of experiences, however, made deep impressions upon the young scholar.
The University of Groningen offered a prize for the best essay on John a Lasco, the great Polish Reformer. By the advice of his teachers, Kuyper resolved to become one of the competitors. Imagine the disappointment when an earnest search in all the great libraries of his country and in those of all Europe failed to produce the necessary material for the work. As a last resort, Dr. de Vries, one of the professors at Leyden, who had taken a deep interest in the promising young scholar, advised him to visit his (Dr. de Vries') father at Haarlem, as he was a fine student of history and had an extensive library. He went, but only to hear the venerable preacher tell him that he would look for these books, but that he had no remembrance of ever having seen one of a Lasco's works in his collection. A week later Kuyper returned, by appointment. Let him tell himself the experience of that hour:
"How can I make you share my feelings when, being admitted to the venerable preacher, I heard him say to me in the most matter of fact way, while pointing to a rich collection of duodecimos heaped on a side table: 'This is what I have found.' I could scarcely believe my eyes. Having searched in vain all the libraries in the Netherlands; having carefully examined the catalogues of the greatest libraries in all Europe; having read again and again in anthologies, and in records of rare books, that the titles of a Lasco's works are simply copied, without the works themselves ever being seen; that his works, if any are still in existence, are extremely rare; that most of them are as good as lost; that with a possible exception of two or three, no one has had them in hand for as much as two hundred yearsand then as by a miracle to be brought face to face with a richer collection of Lasciana than could be found in any library in Europe; to find this treasure, which was the "to be or not to be" of my prize essay, with a man to whom I had been referred by a faithful friend, but who did not even know that he had it in his possession and who but a week ago scarcely so much as remembered the name of a Lascoin all seriousness one must, in his own experience, have been surprised like this, to know what it means to see a Divine miracle confront him in his path."
It need scarcely be said that he won the prize. But the experience did more"it reminded him of God." It threw a doubt upon his rationalism. He could no longer deny that there was such a thing as "the finger of God."
Another experience came to him about this time in the reading of the well known novel, "The Heir of Radcliffe." He devoured the book. It gave him an impression of Church life in England such as was almost altogether lacking at the time in the Church in the Netherlands. It brought him in touch with the deep significance of the Sacrament, with the impressive character of liturgical worship, and with what he afterward used to speak of as "The Anointed Prayer Book." But over and above this, he felt in his own soul an irresistible acknowledgment of the reality of every spiritual experience through which the hero, Philip de Norville, passed. The utter self condemnation of the broken-hearted man, indeed, his complete self abhorrence, the brilliant young student applied to himself; it became to him a power of God unto salvation.
Looking back upon this experience he writes: "What my soul went through in that moment, I have only later fully understood; but yet in that hour, nay, from that very moment, I learned to despise what formerly I admired, and to seek what formerly I spurned. But enough. You know the lasting character of the impression of such an experience; what the soul encounters in such a conflict belongs to that eternal something, which presents itself to the soul years afterward, strongly and sharply defined,as though it happened but yesterday."
But, under God, it was the simple country folk of his first parish that were instrumental in leading him into that fullness of spiritual life toward which his former experiences had pointed. As he ministered to them, they admired his talents; and soon learned to love him for what he was; but they set themselves earnestly to united and individual prayer for his entire conversion to Christ. "And," as Kuyper writes afterward, "their faithful loyalty became a blessing to my heart, the rise of the morning star of my life. I had been apprehended, but I had not yet found the Word of reconciliation. In their simple language they brought me this in the absolute form in which alone my soul can rest. I discovered that the Holy Scripture does not only cause us to find justification by faith, but also discloses the foundation of all human life, the holy ordinances which must govern all human existence in Society and State."
Thus began his Christian life. At the Cross he made the great surrender of himself to his Savior and to His service. "To bear witness for Christ" became the passion of his life. That Christ is King in every department of human life and activity was the key-note which he kept ringing in all his writings, addresses and labors, whether as theologian or as statesman, as a leader in politics, as president of the Christian Labor Union, as promoter of Christian education, it was all done from the burning conviction stated on page 275 of this book that: Christ rules not merely by the tradition of what He once was, spake, did and endured; but by a living power which even now, seated as He is at the right hand of God, He exercises over lands and nations, generations, families and individuals."
Thus the finding of some lost books, the reading of a novel, the teaching of uncultured folk, were experiences which explain in part Dr. Kuyper's great work.
The more one acquaints himself with the vast scope of the varied labors of this man, the more deeply one becomes impressed with the striking significance of the devotional, mystical output of his pen. Profound theological learning, great statesmanship, extraordinary intellectual acumen along any line is not thought as a rule to be compatible with childlike simplicity of faith, mystical insight and sweetness of soul. But in the words of a reviewer: "This Book of Meditations disproves the idea, that a profound theologian can not be a warm-hearted Christian." "Dr. Kuyper must have lived the life of Christ," says another, "else he could never have written up to the title of this Book." On page 230 the author himself tells the story: " By means of these Meditations we are bent upon opening the eyes of as many as possible to the need of making communion with, knowledge of, and love for God, more than ever before, our daily concern;" and on page 354: "The fellowship of being near unto God must become reality, in the full and vigorous prosecution of our life. It must permeate and give color to our feeling, our perceptions, our sensations, our thinking, our imagining, our willing, our acting, our speaking. It must not stand as a foreign factor in our life, but it must be the passion that breathes throughout our whole existence."
In pursuit of this ideal, Dr. Kuyper took time to add to his gigantic labors the writing of a devotional meditation every week. He wrote more than two thousand of them. They are entirely unique in character. They are well said to form a literature by themselves, and are in line with the best works of Dutch mystics, such as Johannes Ruysbroek, Cornelius Jansinius, and Thomas a Kempis.
This book offers one hundred and ten Meditations on this single thought from Psalm 73: "As for me, it is good To Be Near Unto God." The Rev. Edward Everett of Boston writes: "To me this represents a most precious idea in religion, the inexhaustible freshness of a single phrase of Divine utterance. With but a portion of a psalm embedded in one's heart, there is no lack of food for mind and soul. The secret of perennial bliss lies in the art of meditative repetition. The title, 'To Be Near Unto God,' is like an embryo of which the book is a harmonious development. There is nothing in the one that is absent from the other."
It is not strange that it has already been forecast that " a few decades hence this book will be recognized as one of the greatest devotional classics in the world."
With almost unabated vigor, Dr. Kuyper kept up his labors until shortly before the end. Standing by his deathbed, his friend and colleague asked him: "Shall I tell the people that God has been your Refuge and Strength to the end?" Though weak, the reply came at once in a distinct whisper: "Yes, altogether."
With grateful acknowledgment of a debt which can not be paid, these Meditations in their English dress are hereby affectionately dedicated to the memory of their sainted Author by the translator, Epiphany Rectory, Walpole, Massachusetts. November 1, 1924.