Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

The Second Reformation in the Netherlands(2)

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
This is the second of two articles on ÒThe Second Reformation in the NetherlandsÓ. Last month we ended with short biographical sketches of two leading figures of that period, William Ames and Willem Teellinck. This time we deal with more important leaders of this movement. Next time, D.V. Rev. Schouls will resume his articles in this series, an overview of church history.
Some Leading Spokesmen of the Second Reformation (Continued)
Gijsbertus Voetius: Another great leader of the Second Reformation in the Netherlands is Gijsbertus Voetius (1589-1676). Voetius was born in Utrecht and studied theology at Leiden, where he met his life-long friend Teellinck. Ordained in 1611 he became involved in the Arminian controversy, siding, of course, with the Contra-Remonstrants. In 1636 he was appointed to the chair of theology at the University of Utrecht. Voetius was an ardent follower of Teellinck and Amesius (also known as Ames). This influence can be clearly detected in his inaugural speech at Utrecht. Addressing the theological students, he exhorts them as follows:

0 sons of the prophets, candidates to the sacred officeÉ It is
your duty to declare all-out war on youthful lusts, the
temptations of the world: frequenting taverns, drunken brawls,
gambling, theatre attendance--all of which are nothing but a
waste of time which should be spent on your studies.

It is your calling to show by example that the Gospel of which
you speak and think daily, truly possesses an inner power.
Scripture demands that we forsake the world and all its
pleasures. Woe unto you, woe unto me, woe unto all theologians,
if we are zealous for the truth and teach others principles of
godliness, while we ourselves do not even have a taste for it! ...

Woe unto us, if we preach loudly against all kinds of sins, while
we ourselves are full of hidden abominations! if we try hard to
get others concerned, while we ourselves remain unmoved! É Unless
we have surrendered our souls in order to win souls, unless we
edify in word and deed, we are hirelings; we are traitors to the
cause of Christ!

Here we clearly see Voetius' concern with practical divinity. Yet he was too much a Dutchman to lose his intellectual scholastic bent. While appreciating much of the English practical divinity, which emphasized godly living, he differed with the British as to the essence of theology. For Voetius theology was more than a doctrina be vivendi (doctrine of living well). He also regarded it as scientia rerum divinarum (science of the things of God), and here I believe we have one of the differences between English and Dutch Calvinism. The emphasis in The Netherlands has been on theology as a science, while in England the Puritans, at least, have always put more stress on the practical character of theology. This is a generalization, of course, to which there are many exceptions, yet it cannot be denied that there is this difference in emphasis.

Herman Witsius: Another leading Dutch Puritan is Herman Witsius (1636-1708). Witsius studied theology under Voetius, Hoornbeck and Maresius, and was ordained to the ministry in 1657. From the beginning of his ministry he was involved in the issues of his day. He zealously preached against all kinds of ecclesiastical and social abuses. One of his first pamphlets, The Controversy of The Lord with His Vineyard, reveals him as a true and able representative of the Second Reformation. A man of his calibre could not stay unnoticed very long. In 1675 he was appointed professor at Franeker. Two years later he published his Economy of the Covenants between God and Man. In 1680 he accepted a professorship at Utrecht where he taught for eighteen years with great distinction.

Witsius was a man of irenic spirit. His maxim was that of Richard Baxter: in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in both charity. It is not surprising therefore that it was Witsius who was asked to mediate between the warring factions of the Voetians and Cocceians. In 1685 the States-General (Dutch parliament) made him a delegate to represent the Dutch government at the coronation of James II. While in London he met the archbishop of Canterbury and several leading theologians. The result was that Witsius became extremely interested in English theology. He was instrumental in getting the works of Thomas Goodwin, William Cave and Thomas Gataker translated into Dutch. At the request of some English scholars he wrote a treatise on the Antinomian controversy, then raging in Great Britain.

The merits of Witsius as a theologian are considerable. He was a good exegete, stressing simplicity and exactness, avoiding extreme allegorizing and far-fetched typology. He was one of the first advocates of the historical interpretation of the Scriptures and warned against scholasticism. However, Witsius is mainly remembered as a covenant theologian.

His work on the Economy of the Covenants was for many years a standard work in The Netherlands, England, Scotland and New England. His influence therefore was considerable, especially on Scottish theology. Many of his works were translated into English and became popular, especially with the Marrow men. Fraser, for example, wrote: Òthe works of Witsius are immortal and will never cease to be admired.Ó Rabbi Duncan called Witsius Òperhaps the most tender, spiritually minded and richly evangelical as well as one of the most learned of the Dutch divines of the old school.Ó He named Witsius, as one of those who had special influence upon him, and his biographers declare Òthat the attraction proved so strong that for some time he could hardly theologize or preach out of that man's groove.Ó

Other Second Reformation Theologians
I wish I had time to mention more representatives of Dutch Puritanism. Let me just give you some names. Jodocus van Lodensteyn was a great preacher whose sermons are still read in certain Dutch circles. Wilhelmus ˆ Brakel is remembered for his popular manual of doctrine, Reasonable Service, which is readily available in English. Bernardus Smijtegeld, Theodorus van der Groe, and of course, Comrie, are men whose names are still mentioned in many homes today. These are some of Holland's greatest men of the Second Reformation, every one of them equal to the English and Scottish divines, and certainly of kindred spirit. It warms one's heart to learn how these English and Scottish and Dutch divines held one another in the highest esteem. One can speak of a mutual influence and enrichment; it might well be called cross-fertilization.

Neo Calvinist View of Second Reformation
As one might expect, opinions as to the merits and significance of the Second Reformation differ widely. There are those in The Netherlands who dismiss the whole movement as pietism and thus have very little good to say about it. Others are more appreciative of the Second Reformation and see it as a great period of church history.

Let me begin with the first evaluation. The neo-Calvinists in The Netherlands on the whole are quite antagonistic toward the Second Reformation. They see it as an otherworldly, anti-cultural and scholastic movement, which has done the church more harm than good.

This depreciation of the Second Reformation can be traced to Abraham Kuyper and his emphasis on cultural involvement. When Kuyper was converted from modernism to the Reformed faith, it was through the instrumentality of a simple woman, Pietje Baltus, who spoke to her new minister about the necessity of true conversion. This testimony led to Kuyper's conversion and he never forgot the debt he owed to this God-fearing woman. He soon became acquainted with many other of the godly people--a small remnant of experimental Christians in the degenerate state Church--and discovered that these, for the most part unlearned people, loved the writings of the Second Reformation, as well as the Scottish and English divines. He came to love these people and also their favourite writers.

Yet, although Kuyper appreciated the experimental flavour of the religion of this small remnant, he thought they were too pietistic. They tended to live sheltered lives, away from society. They were not interested in politics and the issues of the day. Kuyper then resolved to take these kleine luyden (simple folks) by the hand and teach them to apply their Christianity to all spheres of life. The result was a tremendous revival of Calvinism in the Netherlands.

But, although much good was accomplished under the leadership of this genius, eventually the preoccupation of the neo-Calvinists with cultural involvement led to the neglect of vital religion. The question, ÒHow do I find a gracious God?Ó--the question of Luther--was not asked much any more. This was also due to Kuyper's teaching of presupposed regeneration, which so easily led to the idea that being in the covenant guaranteed oneÕs salvation. As long as one did one's share of the work in the Òkingdom,Ó there was little to worry about. The church became like an army and the Word of God a military command. As someone said: Òneo-Calvinism became a soldier religion like Islam.Ó Not that Kuyper intended all this! He himself knew the experimental truth and his devotional writings bear witness to his personal walk with God. Yet his followers went much further than he ever did, externalizing the Gospel.

It need not surprise us then to find that among neo-Calvinists there is very little interest in Puritan works. As William Young has written:

Although Kuyper himself and his immediate followers knew and
loved the old writers, 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
(Westminster Theological Journal, Fall 1973, p. 48).

It is especially the Dooyeweerdian school, which is opposed to what they call the scholasticism of the seventeenth-century divines. The charge one often hears levelled against the Puritans is that they over-emphasized soteriology and had no concern for culture. But this charge is not based on actual fact. To be sure, some of the later Second Reformation leaders tended to be excessively introspective and showed little or no concern for society. But the earlier Second Reformation leaders, such as Teellinck, Voetius and Brakel were men of broad interests. As William Young states in the same article:

That the Puritans separated religion from daily concerns is a
base slander, but the Puritans never succumbed to the error É 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 É and then
faced the issues of life in all spheres in obedience to the
commandments of God revealed in the written Word (p. 51).

Recent Developments
Today the Dooyeweerdians have lost much of their impact in the Netherlands, but they are still quite influential in Canada and the United States. The movement is characterized by an aversion to experiential religion, which is dismissed as mere soul saving. Thankfully, this aversion has diminished in recent years, mainly due to the growing popularity of Puritan theology in Reformed, Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist circles.

What many Reformed scholars do not see, however, at least not sufficiently, is that the best way to counteract Dooyeweerdianism is sound Biblical, confessional and experiential preaching. This requires that some key elements of KuyperÕs theology, especially in the area of soteriology (doctrine of salvation) be repudiated, but so far there does not seem to be much interest in doing this. Would that the Dutch had listened to Herman Bavinck, who wrote in 1904, in an introduction to Erskine's works:

Here we have an important element, which is largely lacking
amongst us. We miss this spiritual soul-knowledge. It seems we no
longer know what sin and grace, guilt and forgiveness,
regeneration and conversion are. We know them in theory; but we
no longer know them in the awful reality of life.

Nor was Bavinck the only one who warned against the danger of
externalism. J. C. Aalders, himself a Kuyperian, said in 1916 at
a ministers' conference:

Our Reformed people, having gradually come in contact with the
world of culture, are in great danger of being influenced by
humanism. To the degree that mysticism and anabaptism has been
overcome, God's people have come to recognize their earthly
calling. But now there is the danger of contamination by the
spirit of the age. The doctrine of common grace, confessed and
put into practice by our people, opens with the world at the same
time the danger of conformity to the world. We have not escaped a
certain imbalance in our spiritual food. Not enough attention is
given to the needs of the individual heart and soul. Outward
obedience is not sufficient to salvation.

The Heritage of the Second Reformation
While the neo-Calvinists ignored such warnings, there were many Calvinists of the old school in the Netherlands who continued to cherish the writings of the Puritans. To this day there are many congregations in Holland, which hear the experimental truth preached every Lord's Day. Their number is estimated at approximately three to four hundred thousand.

It is a pity that so little is known about this wing of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands. About the only writings available in English are works of neo-Calvinists. I'm not disparaging these works; they are scholarly, and, as far as doctrine goes, Reformed. But they tend to be ÒintellectualisticÓ and cold; one does not turn to them for spiritual food as one does to the Puritans, whose works demonstrate more that happy combination of learning and piety.

It is high time that some other writers become known in the English-speaking world. There are many soundly Reformed Dutchmen who stand in the tradition of the Puritans, whose writings are both scholarly and experimental. The recent translation of BrakelÕs Redelijke Godsdienst (Our Reasonable Faith) is a major step in that direction and it is to be hoped that many similar works will become available in English. There are still many untapped resources from our Dutch heritage to be discovered by a new generation, whatever their ethnic origin or church affiliation. These writings reflect the ethos of the English poet, Joseph Hart:

'True religion's more than notion,
Something must be known and felt
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