Geerhardus Vos: Changes at Princeton, the Reconstruction Movement, Departed Friends, and Family Life

Danny E. Olinger

During his first twenty years teaching at Princeton Seminary, Geerhardus Vos supported the leadership in place. William Green, the senior faculty member who had recruited Vos to Princeton, ran the faculty meetings until his death in 1900. Two years later in 1902, the Board of Directors appointed Francis Patton as the first president of Princeton Seminary. Vos respected Patton’s stand for historic Presbyterianism, but in 1913 Patton announced his retirement.

Two leading candidates to replace Patton as president were Benjamin Warfield, the senior member of the faculty, and J. Ross Stevenson, pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore and a member of the board of directors. The board, whose chairman was Ethelbert Warfield, Benjamin’s younger brother, elected Stevenson by a single vote.[1] The determining factor in the Board’s choice of Stevenson was his desire that the seminary, known for its conservative theological stance, be brought into a closer relationship to the life of the broadening Presbyterian Church.[2]

Once installed as president, Stevenson immediately sought changes. The first item in enacting his agenda was to revise the seminary’s curriculum.[3] He persuaded the Board of Directors to erect a five-member faculty Committee on Curriculum. The majority, professors John Davis, Charles Erdman, Frederick Loetscher, and J. Ritchie Smith, recommended a reduction of the required number of hours and a greater flexibility in the use of elective courses in the program of instruction.[4] Warfield, in the minority, opposed both proposals. He argued that the greater use of electives undermined the theological-exegetical basis that undergirded the faculty’s teaching.[5] He also pointed out that the suggested reduction in required hours was the equivalent of removing a half-year of instruction.[6]

The majority put the proposed changes before the faculty for adoption at its meeting on December 12, 1914. The first resolution, the reduction of curriculum hours, was amended so that the faculty would not act until a concrete schedule was established. Vos, Warfield, William Greene, and Casper Hodge opposed the amendment. Stevenson, Davis, Loetscher, Erdman, Smith, J. Gresham Machen, William Armstrong, and Robert D. Wilson voted for the amendment, and it passed.

The second resolution, the greater use of electives, was amended so that a student’s faculty supervisor would have authority in approving the electives of that student. The amendment passed, although Vos, Warfield, Greene, Hodge, and Wilson voted against it.[7]

When the faculty reconvened on January 9, 1915, the majority put forth the revised curriculum. The recommendation ended in a tied vote. Vos, Warfield, Hodge, Greene, Armstrong, and Machen voted negatively. Stevenson, Davis, Loetscher, Smith, Erdman, and Wilson voted positively.

A week later, at the January 16, 1915, faculty meeting, Machen and Armstrong changed their votes and the recommendations passed.[8] Vos, Warfield, Hodge and Greene registered a protest to the action in the faculty minutes. They wrote:

We beg to leave dissent from the action of the Faculty on the ground that the resolutions proposed on the number of hours allotted to the several departments of instruction reduce the time allotted to the fundamental departments of instruction below the amount required for effective teaching and tend, therefore, to make the whole instruction of the Seminary fatally superficial.[9]

Warfield’s displeasure with the changes and with Stevenson’s presidency led him to cease attending faculty meetings when Stevenson was present. When Stevenson took a six-month leave of absence to serve the Armed Forces in World War I, Warfield attended every faculty meeting. When Stevenson returned, Warfield stopped attending.[10]

Vos did nothing so dramatic, but he had no confidence in Stevenson. He believed that Stevenson leaned liberal and was an unfortunate choice as president for the seminary. The seminary had a long history of “orthodox Presbyterianism” that Stevenson sought to amend.[11]

Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations

When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917, the American president, Woodrow Wilson, was Vos’s old acquaintance from Princeton. The two men had been on friendly terms ever since Woodrow and Ellen Wilson were the first social callers visiting the newlywed Geerhardus and Catherine after their September 7, 1894, marriage. While at Princeton, both families attended First Presbyterian Church from 1905 to 1912. Bernardus Vos was baptized at First Church on the Lord’s Day of October 25, 1905.[12] Five weeks later Woodrow and Ellen were received as members at First Church on the Lord’s day of November 29.[13] 

Despite Geerhardus and Woodrow’s friendship and the two families’ familiarity at Princeton, Vos did not support Wilson’s politics. Bernardus Vos stated, “My father was never an advocate of President Wilson’s political or international policies.”[14]

Stevenson was also friends with Wilson, but unlike Vos, he supported Wilson’s policies. In 1909 Stevenson, as a member of the board of directors, wrote Wilson, then President of Princeton University, for his advice after the “student rebellion” at the seminary.[15] Stevenson asked Wilson if the trouble had occurred because the seminary was more concerned with preserving the past than serving the future? Wilson replied, “There can be no doubt that the seminary does in some large degree deserve the reputation which it has for resisting in an unreasonable degree the liberalizing tendencies of the time.” He then added, “It is, nevertheless, a noble institution which needs nothing so much as new blood and to which it is quite conceivable that new blood may bring a broader life.”[16]

Once Stevenson became president of the seminary, he followed Wilson’s advice. He sought to inject newness into the seminary through the revision of the curriculum. But, Stevenson didn’t stop there in following Wilson. In January 1918 Wilson articulated his vision of a “league of nations to insure peace and justice” in his Fourteen Points. Wilson stated that “Christian principles” were the “solid foundation” of the coming League of Nations, which would enable social gospel believers to “Christianize the world.”[17]

That same year, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church recorded its “profound conviction that the time had come for the Organic Church Union of the Evangelical Churches of America.”[18] The assembly appointed Stevenson and Erdman from the Princeton faculty to the Committee on Church Co-operation that had the the task of constructing the Plan of Union.

On May 15, 1919, at the following assembly, the Presbyterian Church endorsed the League of Nations proposal. Many theological liberals saw the propositions of the League of Nations as the practical fruit of the Social Gospel movement.[19]

Eschatology of the Psalter

Historian Markku Ruotsila believes Vos came to the same conclusion, though he did not rejoice in it. Ruotsila argues that Vos had in mind the Presbyterian Church’s endorsement of the League of Nations, and probably the proposed Plan of Union, when he penned his January 1920 article, “The Eschatology of the Psalter.”[20] Ruotsila acknowledges that the words “League of Nations” did not appear in the article. Nonetheless, Ruotsila argues that Vos addressed “the core ideas, paradigms, and set of goals that churchly and political internationalists had set for that organization, and he offered a cogent Calvinist counter theology.”[21] When Vos spoke of the dangers of “reconstruction” and “world-reconstruction,” he was taking to task those in the church who interpreted the church’s mission in terms of social and political reform and saw the League of Nations as a help to achieve those goals.[22]

In the first four-fifths of the article, Vos surveyed the eschatology of the Psalter. He stated that in the orthodox understanding of Scripture, redemption, and eschatology are of the same age in biblical history. “A redemptive religion without eschatological interest would be a contradiction in terms.”[23] But, “in so far as the covenant of works posited for mankind an absolute goal and unchangeable future, the eschatological may be even said to have preceded the soteric religion.”[24]

The Psalter shares this eschatological goal and assigns the central, dominating position to Jehovah in all that pertains to the coming change. “The Psalter is wide awake to the significance of history as leading up to the eschatological act of God. It knows that it deals with a God who spake and speaks and shall speak, who wrought and works and shall work, who came and is coming and is about to come.”[25] Faith sings its supreme song when face-to-face with the supreme act of God, whether in anticipation or reality.

In the last one-fifth of the article, Vos contended that understanding the Psalter’s eschatology had practical significance in understanding “the landscape in the religious and social world” and that it could be “of some help to us in taking our bearings in the midst of the loud and universal demand for what is called ‘reconstruction.’”[26] Vos proposed that the Psalms offered a test case for whether or not the modern movement for world-reconstruction was biblically based.

Here, then, an opportunity is afforded for testing, and, if necessary, correcting the ends and methods with which the modern movement for world-reconstruction occupies itself. This is all the more timely, since the Church herself is invited to lend a helping hand in the making over of things, and to let herself be registered as one of several coequal and cooperative forces making ready for this gigantic enterprise.[27]

In seeking to answer the question, Vos argued that the Psalter taught that the church already had an outlook and a program geared towards the future. The principle that governed this outlook and program was the belief that the end of existence for all things is in God. What the Presbyterian Church was in danger of doing was working “for the amelioration of the world without putting at the top of its program the bestowal upon this world of the baptism of religion as the primal requisite.”[28] For the church to indulge in the advocacy of social and economic programs without regard to her religious root-consciousness endangered her true authority.

Conversely, Vos maintained that it was when the church kept her true religious mission in view that she was of the most help to the world.

The by-product of the genuinely-religious activity will be more abundant and more valuable, than any scheme to substitute it for the main product could possibly make it. For the Church, to keep this in mind is not to be indifferent to the lesser and secondary needs and distresses of mankind; it is in reality to obey the conviction that in no other way her deep solicitude for the sinful world, and the resources she carries within herself for its healing, can be successfully brought to bear upon it.[29]

When measured by the biblical standard of a genuinely religious and God-centered consciousness, “the modern reconstruction-movement is sadly deficient.”[30] Vos concluded that it was more “humanistic than religious,” and sought “to derive its motives and ideals from man rather than from God.”[31]  

If the Presbyterian Church continued down this humanitarian path, the result would mean not merely the death of God-ward religion, but also the sterility of religion. “Christianity can make the world better in the sign of religion; that standard abandoned she will not only fail of success, but face actual defeat.”[32]

The Psalms taught that the agent of change is God and not man. The bringing in of the kingdom of heaven was his supernatural violent, cataclysmic work. What “reconstruction” did was to secularize the eschaton. This approach shared Israel’s error of making eternal that which was meant to be temporary. The result would be the misdirection of the church’s mission and the destruction of her spirituality. 

Vos feared that the Presbyterian Church, in her pragmatic desire to accomplish concrete and speedy results through humanitarian efforts, was abandoning her privileged position as the prophetic voice of God. In summary fashion, he stated:

The gauge of health in the Christian is the degree of his gravitation to the future, eternal world. The Christian train of thought in this respect is the reversal of that of the Old Testament: the eternal is not so much a prolongation of the temporal, but the temporal rather an anticipation of the eternal. And what is true of life is true of the ministering and self-propagating function. The Church of Christ in all its complex service to the world can never forget that its primary concern is to call men and to prepare them for the life eternal.[33]

If Christianity was the transformation of the world into a human brotherhood through social structures, then the purpose of the church would no longer be connected to the atoning death of Christ on the cross. The Presbyterian Church with its strategic concession to the demand of the age was in danger of “an actual compromise that would secularize and terrestrialize Christianity at its very essence.”[34] 

Plan of Union

The League of Nations Covenant was defeated by the United States Senate on March 19, 1920, but the Plan of Union proposal went forward at the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, meeting a little over two months later in Philadelphia. At the assembly, Stevenson presented the majority report recommending adoption of the Plan of Union that would unite the Presbyterian Church with over twenty other Protestant churches.[35] Stevenson’s advocacy sounded much like Wilson’s political contention that America had entered a new social age, a new era of human relationship, a new stage for the drama of life. The assembly adopted the plan and sent it down to the presbyteries for approval.

Despite Stevenson’s promotion of the Plan of Union, most of the seminary faculty believed that the distinctiveness of historic Christianity had been laid aside to make broad cooperation possible. Warfield, Greene, Hodge, and Allis published articles that condemned the proposed plan, but the most outspoken critic was Machen. Publishing three articles in the Presbyterian that would become the basis for his book Christianity and Liberalism, Machen believed many in the post-war Presbyterian Church had a misplaced confidence in human goodness and the ability to perfect the world.[36] 

At the 1922 General Assembly it was announced that the plan was defeated. Of the 250 presbyteries of the PCUSA, 150 voted against it.

Low Attendance

Vos did not hide his disapproval of the changes that were taking place at Princeton under Stevenson’s leadership. But, at the same time, the students during the Stevenson years did not hide their lack of enthusiasm for enrolling in the courses that Vos taught. Vos taught the required two-hour courses in Old Testament Theology and New Testament Theology, and a one-hour course in Missions in alternate years. Attendance, however, in his elective course offerings, Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Teaching of the Eighth-Century Prophets, Petrine Teaching in Acts, and Teaching of Paul in Survey, plummeted.

One reason for student disinterest seems to be that it was deemed unpatriotic by many from the World War I years forward to take classes with a “German” professor. Even being Dutch did not spare Vos from such criticism. Abraham Kuyper, arguably the most famous person in the Netherlands at the time, accepted the congratulations of the German government for his eightieth birthday on October 29, 1917. As a result, many viewed the Dutch settlements in America as disloyal.[37] What applied corporately to many Dutch-Americans, applied individually to Vos teaching at Princeton.[38]

Others believed the low attendance was due to Vos’s lecture style. Some found his lecturing slow and deliberate.[39] Others found his lecturing style rapid and non-distinct, clouded as it was with his German accent. One student, J. B. Carpenter, wrote in his journal, “Dr. Vos, being a foreigner, spoke with a decided accent, (German?); he also spoke rapidly and—to me—none too distinctly. I think therefore that I made such a poor success at taking down 2 or 3 of his lectures.”[40]

Another student, Charles Wiggins, said, “Vos was a klutz, an eccentric, a constant source of student amusement. His words were buried beneath his Dutch accent and you could not understand him.”[41]

Princeton historian James Moorhead summarizes the overall perception of Vos as a teacher. He writes, “Although some students found him extraordinarily stimulating—the very model of a complete scholar—others saw his instruction as ponderous and, when not required, avoided his classes.”[42]

Cornelius Van Til and John DeWaard

An unexpected benefit of the low attendance was that motivated students could draw closer to Vos than to the typical seminary professor and develop a personal relationship. Such was the case with Cornelius Van Til. Louis Berkhof, professor at the Theological School in Grand Rapids, had stirred Van Til’s interest in coming to Princeton to study under Vos.[43] In May 1921 Vos had been in renewed contact with Berkhof about the arrangements for his serving as a future speaker at the Princeton Stone Lectures.[44]

Van Til in turn encouraged John DeWaard, his close friend and classmate in preparatory school and college, to join him at Princeton. DeWaard wrote his bride-to-be, Hattie Smitter, “Tuesday evening Van Til was here. He is absolutely going to Princeton and I am as surely going with him.”[45]

Once the two friends were on the Princeton campus, the first man that Van Til remembered meeting was Vos.[46] He impressed Van Til as a “remarkably erudite man.”[47] Van Til also believed that Vos was a kind professor with a sense of humor in the classroom. [48] From an interview with Van Til about Vos, Ransom Webster wrote:

Commenting on Vos, Dr. Cornelius Van Til, a student of his for three years and a colleague for one, has said that he was the most “many-sided man” he has ever known. Vos enjoyed brief walks, was extremely well-read, loved poetry and painting. He himself wrote a number of poems. He was quiet and reserved, able to hold his temper, even during some very disturbing faculty meetings at Princeton having to do with the intrusion of liberalism. Vos, Van Til recollects, possessed a “wonderful sense of humor.” On one occasion the pet dog of a certain student followed him into the classroom, at which Vos commented, “Please close the door; we must draw the line somewhere.” Van Til speaks also of Vos’s kindheartedness. When a student was unable to recite satisfactorily, Vos would frame his questions in such a way as virtually to provide the answers.[49]

DeWaard also treasured his years studying under Vos.

His courses were commentaries on the Bible, his lectures were exegeses of the Word. I loved him when I studied there; I love him more now, not because he has given me a number of valuable interpretations of the Word, but rather because he has given me through his lectures a desire to study the Word itself.[50]

DeWaard continued, “We did not leave class with four or five outlines for sermons we could use in the pulpit later, but we did leave class with the desire to show the people what joy and pleasure there is in the study of the Word.”[51]

While Vos met Van Til and DeWaard’s expectations, the student body at the seminary did not impress them. DeWaard said, “Dr. Vos was not a popular teacher. He was not appreciated by the students. They did not come in crowds to his class rooms.”[52] That so few students took Vos’s courses agitated Van Til. According to Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Van Til told him more than once with exasperation, “There would be five of us in class listening to Vos on Hebrews, and down the hall there would be fifty students with Erdman in a class about next Sunday’s sermon, ‘Peter the Rock, the Stumbling Block.’”[53] The lack of interest in Vos served as a barometer for Van Til of the lack of theological interest exhibited by the students at Princeton in the 1920s.[54]  

Part of Van Til’s and DeWaard’s frustration that their fellow students were not interested in Vos’s teaching might have been attributed to the fact that the percentage of Presbyterians comprising the seminary’s student body was shrinking. When Vos graduated as a student in 1885, Presbyterians comprised nearly three–fourths of the student body. By 1915 only one–third of students enrolling were Presbyterians. When Van Til entered Princeton in 1922, as many students were Episcopalians as were Presbyterians.[55]

The make-up of the student body at Princeton was not the only thing changing. Vos had also reached the point where many of his closest friends were departing this earthly life.

Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, and Herman Bavinck

Throughout Vos’s adult life, three of his main confidants on religious matters had been Herman Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper, and Benjamin Warfield. All three died within a space of nine months. On November 8, 1920, Abraham Kuyper died in Hague, the Netherlands. On February 16, 1921, Benjamin Warfield died in Princeton. On July 21, 1921, Herman Bavinck died in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Vos last saw Kuyper in person in 1898 and Bavinck in 1908, but Warfield he saw daily at Princeton during the school calendar for twenty-seven years.[56] Together the two friends had set the tone for the seminary’s rigorous academic reputation. Andrew Blackwood, who would join the Princeton Seminary faculty in 1930, was an undergraduate at Harvard University before studying under Vos and Warfield. He testified that the two were “intellectually the equals” of anyone who he had studied with at Harvard.[57]

The impact upon Warfield in losing out to Stevenson as president of the seminary in 1914 paled in comparison to the impact of the death of his beloved wife, Annie, on November 18, 1915. The love that he had for Annie and the dignity with which he carried himself impressed young Marianne Vos. She recounted, “Dr. Warfield, we stood a little bit in awe of him . . . I was taken there occasionally for tea by my mother. Mrs. Warfield was an invalid. Dr. Warfield said that he would rather be married to her sick than twenty other women well.”[58]

Annie Warfield would remember the Vos children’s birthdays and would make sure each received a birthday present. But, Benjamin Warfield also was known to the Vos children. When Marianne was around seven years old, she contracted scarlet fever. The fever left her weak and unable to keep down food. Warfield recommended quail, which was tender and easy to digest, as a food that she could eat without upsetting her stomach. He went hunting himself and returned with quail for her to eat. She ate it without difficulty and her strength returned.[59]

On December 24, 1920, Warfield collapsed of a heart attack. On February 16, 1921, he suffered another heart attack and died that evening. James T. Dennison Jr. and Fred Zaspel both state that Warfield collapsed in the Vos’s front yard. They differ on the date. Zaspel believes that Warfield collapsed in Vos’s yard of a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Dennison believes that it was on February 16. Dennison writes:

Jerry and Bernardus Vos reported to friends and relatives that Warfield collapsed from a heart attack in the Vos’s front yard at 52 Mercer Street on his way home from class on February 16, 1921. Warfield died that evening at his home. See New York Times, February 18, 1921, p. 11, for a brief obituary notice.[60]

Zaspel writes, “On December 24, 1920, Warfield was walking along the sidewalk to the Vos home, just a few hundred yards across campus from his own home, when suddenly he grasped his chest and collapsed.”[61] Both Dennison and Zaspel agree, however, with Machen’s words to his mother. Machen wrote that when they carried Warfield out at his funeral, Old Princeton went with him.

After Warfield’s death, the logical conclusion of some would have been that Vos would have stepped into Warfield’s place in a leadership role for confessional Calvinists at Princeton. Vos’s retiring nature, however, was not well-suited to the spotlight. He deferred, and Machen assumed the leadership role.[62]

Family Life

The same month that Warfield died, Johannes Vos turned eighteen years old and enrolled at Princeton University. While their older brother was off to classes, fifteen-year-old Bernardus, fourteen-year-old Marianne, and ten-year-old Geerhardus Jr. made themselves at home on the Princeton campus. Marianne recalled, “The campus was on a little bit of a hill and we roller-skated up and down the hill. Dr. Loetscher would come out of his classroom in Stuart Hall and ask us to be a little more quiet because the students couldn’t hear what he was saying.”[63]

The Vos children also got to know the faculty from their interaction on Mercer Street. Oswald Allis lived next door. The Loetscher children were often playmates. The professor who played games with them, including tag, was Casper Wistar Hodge, whose daughter Lucy was the same age as Marianne.[64]

Machen was also of special interest to the Vos children. They took great amusement in seeing him lost in thought, walking down the street. They would sneak up on him and say “hello,” and he would always look up in great surprise.[65]

In the 1922–1923 school year, Vos was given a sabbatical. Vos had planned to take the family to Europe,[66] but Catherine was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Instead, the family headed west to La Jolla, California.    

Once in California, Vos purchased the family’s first car. At the end of the sabbatical, the Voses decided to go camping throughout California and the Pacific Northwest before making their way back to Princeton. Catherine was an experienced camper. Geerhardus had never camped before. Bernardus, Geerhardus Jr., and Marianne slept on the ground under an umbrella tent. Geerhardus and Catherine slept in an army cot. When the family arrived in Seattle, Vos had had enough of the outdoor life. He boarded a train for Princeton, leaving it up to Catherine and the children to finish the adventure and drive the car back to Princeton.[67]


[1] See, William K. Seldon, Princeton Theological Seminary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 86, and Edwin H. Rian, Presbyterian Conflict (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1992), 40.

[2] Lefferts Loetscher, The Broadening Church (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1954), 138. The popularity of Stevenson’s election as president in the Presbyterian Church was seen in his being elected the next year as moderator at the 1915 General Assembly held in Philadelphia.

[3] William Weston, Presbyterian Pluralism (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1997), 33.

[4] “Report of the Faculty Committee on Curriculum,” Princeton Theological Seminary, in the Minutes of the Board of Directors, December 5, 1914.

[5] Ronald Cutter argues that the move to greater use of electives was a re-fighting of the battle at Princeton over the place of the “practical.” He writes, “This point carried on the conflict between the practical emphasis and the theological-exegetical one. It was the continued contention of Warfield, and Machen after him, that the students should take the courses which the Princeton tradition had understood to meet the needs of theological education rather than take what they might wish.” Ronald T. Clutter, The Reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary 1900–1929, ThD Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1982), 97.

[6] Ibid., 98.

[7] Ibid., 99.

[8] Ned B. Stonehouse maintained that Armstrong and Machen changed their votes after being assured the seminary’s New Testament Greek requirement would not be changed. See, Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2004), 184.

[9] Minutes of the Faculty of Princeton Seminary, January 16, 1915; Cutter, Reorganization, 100.

[10] Cutter, Reorganization, 103. Although Machen with Armstrong cast the vote that broke the tie to change the curriculum, he was sympathetic to Warfield. Ned B. Stonehouse wrote, “Still, when Warfield ceased attendance at the faculty meetings in disgust at the course developments were taking, Machen could not but be sympathetic with and sorry for him” (184).

[11] This testimony is according to Vos’s daughter Marianne. Interview, Marianne Vos Radius by Charles G. Dennison, February 27, 1992, at the Raybrook Assisted Living Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Archives of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[12] James T. Dennison Jr., “The Life of Geerhardus Vos,” in The Letters of Geerhardus Vos, ed. James T. Dennison Jr. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 43.

[13] The Wilsons transferred from Second Presbyterian Church in Princeton where Woodrow had been ordained and installed as a ruling elder in 1897. In 1905 he urged the merger of Second Church with First Church, but the attempt failed. See, Robert R. Cawley, “Bridging the Centuries,” in The First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, ed. Arthur S. Link (Princeton: First Presbyterian Church, 1967), 86, and John M. Mulder, Woodrow Wilson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 113.

[14] Letter, Bernardus Vos to Roger Nicole, August 3, 1967. Archives of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[15] The students rebelled over the perceived hardness of the Greek New Testament courses of Patton and Armstrong and the Hebrew Old Testament courses of Davis. In their place, the students wanted the seminary to provide more English Bible courses. For a helpful summary, see Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 120–24.

[16] Seldon, Princeton, 89.

[17] Markku Ruotsila, The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism: Conservative Evangelicals and the League of Nations (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008), Kindle edition, location 210. Ruotsila adds, “Whether he believed it himself or was using it as a tool of persuasion, Wilson enunciated the very case that liberal theologians had been making ever since they had first discovered the global implications of the Social Gospel and of the immanentist theology. His was an argument for perpetual peace and social alleviation born out of an organized humanity activity from a set of universally shared ethical values” (Kindle location 681). Wilson biographer Arthur Link wrote, “[Wilson] created the League of Nations in part because he thought it would be the instrumentality of America’s redemptive work in the world.” Arthur S. Link, “Woodrow Wilson: Presbyterian in Government,” in Calvinism and the Political Order, ed. George L. Hunt (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), 173.

[18] Moorhead, Princeton, 348.

[19] Ruotsila, Origins, Kindle edition, location 345.

[20] Ruotsila argues convincingly that Vos and Machen represented the confessional Calvinist opposition in the Presbyterian Church to the League of Nations ideal. Regarding Vos, Ruotsila states, “Few Princetonian Calvinists were as capable of arguing a strictly theological, strictly God-centered case against the League of Nations, and few did this in as uncompromising and coherent terms as Vos.” Ruotsila, Origins, Kindle location 1009, and Markku Ruotsila, “Conservative American Protestantism in the League of Nations Controversy,” in Church History 72, no. 3 (September 2003): 603–8.

[21] Ruotsila, Origins, Kindle Location 970.

[22] Ibid., 975.

[23] Geerhardus Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter,” in Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 325.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 335.

[26] Ibid., 357.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 358.

[29] Ibid., 358–9.

[30] Ibid., 359.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid. At the beginning of the article, Vos observed that because pagan eschatologies “have their origin within the present world-process, they cannot lead to anything beyond it” (334). This consistent line of argumentation from Vos is why Ruotsila concludes that for Vos (and Machen) “the crux of the matter was that only the Church and only the Gospel had the potentiality, indeed the ever unfolding promise, of improving the world.” Ruotsila, Origins, Kindle 608.

[33] Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter,” 363.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Stonehouse, Machen, 261.

[36] Although Vos did not officially comment upon Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, Vos shared Machen’s view regarding the destructiveness of theological liberalism. As an example, Vos declared in print in 1906, the first year that Machen served on the Princeton faculty, his belief that historic Christianity and liberalism were two different religions that could not be reconciled. Vos said, “We, for our part, believe, and we say it deliberately, that it were a thousand times better for the church to be torn and shaken for many years to come by the conflict with criticism than to buy a shameful peace at the stupendous doctrinal sacrifice which such a position involves.” Geerhardus Vos, “Christian Faith and Truthfulness of Bible History,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980), 468.

[37] James Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 87. Jan De Bruijn states that despite Kuyper’s public statements, he personally held strong pro-German and anti-British sympathies during the War. Kaiser Wilhelm sent a portrait of Martin Luther to Kuyper on February 13, 1917, to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his theses at Wittenberg. See, Jan De Bruijn, Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 376.

[38] James T. Dennison Jr. rhetorically asks, “Was Vos marginalized because of his thick Dutch accent and his intricate Germanic style? Was Vos isolated even at Princeton after 1918 because of his sympathies for the German Kaiser during World War I?” James T. Dennison Jr., “Life between Two Worlds,” Kerux 14, no. 2 (September 1999): 19.

[39] David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, Vol. 2: The Majestic Testimony, 1869–1929 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 208.

[40] Marion Ann Taylor, The Old Testament in Princeton School, 1812–1929 (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), 358.

[41] Charles G. Dennison, “Geerhardus Vos and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” in History for a Pilgrim People, eds. Danny E. Olinger and David K. Thompson (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), 69.

[42] James H. Moorhead, Princeton Seminary in American Religion and Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 295.

[43] John Muether writes that Louis Berkhof “especially whetted Van Til’s appetite for Vos, frequently remarking that Vos was the greatest influence in the shaping of his theology.” John R. Muether, Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 51. Regarding Berkhof, Henry Zwaanstra wrote, “H. Henry Meeter, professor of Bible at Calvin College and for many years a close personal friend of Berkhof, reported that Berkhof frequently said that he owed more to Vos than anyone else for his insights into Reformed theology.” Henry Zwaanstra, “Louis Berkhof,” in Reformed Theology in America, ed. David F. Wells (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 156.

[44] Letter, Geerhardus Vos to Louis Berkhof, May 21, 1921, in “More Vos Letters,” Kerux 25, no. 1 (May 2011): 29.  

[45] Mary Jo Miller, “Hattie DeWaard: Doing What’s Right,” in Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, eds. Patricia E. Clawson and Diane L. Olinger (Willow Grove, PA: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2016), 22.

[46] Muether, Van Til, 50.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ransom Webster, “Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949): A Biographical Sketch,” in Westminster Theological Journal 40, no. 2 (Spring 1978): 306.

[49] Ibid., 306–7.

[50] John J. DeWaard, “Higher Ground,” Presbyterian Guardian 3, no. 5 (December 12, 1936): 97.

[51] Ibid.

[52] John J. DeWaard, “Love of the Truth,” 2 Thessalonians 2:10, preached at Memorial Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York, August 21, 1949. Archives of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[53] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., comments to author, November 28, 2017.

[54] C. Dennison, “Geerhardus Vos,” 73.

[55] Calhoun, Princeton, 485.

[56] Warfield biographer Fred Zaspel states that Vos was one of Warfield’s closest friends. Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 35.

[57] Ibid., 205.

[58] Radius Interview, February 27, 1992.

[59] Interview, Marianne Vos Radius by William O. Harris, December 11, 1997, at the Raybrook Assisted Living Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Geerhardus Vos, Box 3, Special Collection at Princeton Theological Seminary.

[60] James T. Dennison Jr, “The Life of Geerhardus Vos,” in Letters of Geerhardus Vos, ed. James T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 49.

[61] Fred Zaspel, Theology of B.B. Warfield (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 35. Zaspel draws from the account of Warfield’s death reported in the Princeton Theological Review 19, no. 2 (1921): 330, in which it was reported, “Dr. Warfield was taken suddenly ill on Christmas Eve. His conditions were serious for a time; but it improved very greatly and on the 16th of February he felt able to resume his teaching in part and met one of his classes in the afternoon. He apparently suffered no immediate ill effects from the exertion but died that evening at about 10 o’clock of an acute attack of angina pectoris.”

[62] David Calhoun writes, “Gentle and naturally retiring, Vos avoided active participation in public life and controversy.” Calhoun, Princeton, 258.

[63] Interview, Radius, 1992.

[64] Interview, Radius, 1997.

[65] Letter, Bernardus Vos to Roger Nicole, 1967.

[66] Interview, Radius by Dennison.

[67] Ibid.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, December 2017.

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