Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Second Reformation in the Netherlands

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
The last of this series appeared in the January 2001 issue of The Messenger and was an overview of ÒThe Reformation in the Netherlands.Ó At the request of Rev. C.A. Schouls, the author of this series, the next two articles, which deal with the period called ÒThe Second Reformation in the NetherlandsÓ are by Rev. C. Pronk. They were first published under the title ÒDutch PuritansÓ in the Banner of Truth Trust magazine of July-August, 1976 and is the substance of a paper delivered by him at the Leicester Ministers Conference in 1975.
The Church during Mid Seventeenth Century
With the possible exception of Scotland, no country in Europe has been more influenced by the Protestant Reformation than The Netherlands. By the middle of the seventeenth century one half of the Dutch people belonged to the Reformed Church. This great success was partly due to the fact that the Reformed Church had long enjoyed the support of the state, for this had enabled the Reformed to pursue their policy of evangelism without opposition.

But this close co-operation between church and state also had bad consequences. Inevitably the state began to interfere in church matters. Also, the fact that the Reformed Church was the established religion made membership in it both desirable and respectable. Consequently, there soon arose the problem of nominal membership.

Another thing, which turned out to be very detrimental to the life of the church, was state control of the universities. These institutions, where Reformed ministers were trained, became more and more influenced by Rationalism. The philosophy of Descartes and Spinoza, for example, made a tremendous impact on many Dutch intellectuals.

The leaders of the ÒSecond ReformationÓ aimed at a more thoroughgoing reformation of the Dutch Reformed Church. Not only were they concerned about the purity of the church, they also wanted to reform society. The original or first Reformation, many felt, had not gone far enough. Though it had brought the true doctrines of grace back to the pulpits, it had not permeated society very much. While serious-minded Calvinists were grateful to for what had been accomplished thus far, they knew it was not all gold that glittered, not even after their victory over the Arminian party at Dort.

There was sound preaching, but not much evidence of vital godliness. Nominal church membership went hand in hand with loose living. A spirit of optimism, partly the result of unprecedented economic prosperity, appeared to have many Christians in its grip. While soundly Reformed in doctrine, these nouveau riche burghers also wanted to enjoy life in the here and now. They clamoured for Christian freedom, which in many cases meant really nothing but license to sin.

The Second Reformation not to be Equated With Activism
It was especially against this spirit of libertinism that the leaders of the Second Reformation protested. A fairly common opinion in The Netherlands is that they were concerned about dead orthodoxy and that therefore they emphasized life and action. But this is only a half-truth. They were not so much concerned about the absence of life and activity, as about the presence of the wrong kind of life.

The men of the Second Reformation were deathly afraid of a kind of vitality in the church which came to expression in the pursuit of worldly pleasures and a deep-seated resentment against cross bearing. Many thought they could be Reformed and enjoy life in the world too and they appealed to their Christian freedom to defend their conduct.

How very relevant all this is! What these Dutch Puritans were up against is the same as what we see taking place in evangelical circles. How many there are who boast of their freedom in Christ and their assurance of salvation, while their lives show that they know nothing of the mortification of sin and the crucifixion of the flesh.

The ÒSecond ReformationÓ movement therefore emphasized true conversion and its implications for the whole of life. What they were after was the sanctification of all of life. They envisioned a society regulated by the Word of God; a society in which church and state had their proper place and in which everything would be permeated by truly Christian principles.

Influence of English Puritanism
The Second Reformation has its roots in both native and foreign soil. Among the native influences I could mention Medieval mysticism, the so-called Modern Devotion movement [Thomas ˆ Kempis], the Brethren of the Common Life [Geert Grote], and Anabaptist ideas. What these movements had in common was the emphasis on sanctification. But there were also influences from without which have molded the Second Reformation people. The most important of these is English Puritanism.

During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century there was much contact between Puritans and Dutch divines, and one can say that this contact resulted in mutual influence. Keith L. Sprunger says in his very interesting book, The Learned Doctor William Ames, that during the seventeenth century there was an English-Scottish community in The Netherlands numbering in the tens of thousands. Most of these were Puritans for whom England had become too hot. Says Sprunger:

In Elizabethan times Puritan dissent sheltered itself at
Middelburg; in the early seventeenth century the irrepressible
souls shifted to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden and Delft; and
throughout the century, at least to the coming toleration,
Holland was an essential link in the Puritan network (p. 209).

The Dutch government, following an enlightened policy of religious toleration, welcomed the Puritans and allowed them to organize churches of their own, though under Dutch supervision. Eventually they formed an English classis within the Dutch Reformed Church with pastors' salaries paid by the government.

The presence of so many English and Scottish Puritans was bound to have some influence upon the Dutch churches. Many Dutch Reformed ministers were impressed by the practical divinity of the English Puritans. They saw it as a healthy corrective to the dry intellectual sermonizing that was becoming the trend in their churches.

Some Leading Spokesmen of the Second Reformation
William Ames: One man who had a great influence on Dutch Puritanism was William Ames [1576?1633]. Ames studied at Christ's College, Cambridge, under William Perkins, from whom he imbibed most of his Puritan ideas. In 1610 he left for Holland, where he became involved in the Arminian controversy. Appointed by the States-General as advisor to Bogerman, the presiding officer of the Synod of Dort [1618?19], he was able to exercise considerable influence. In 1622 he became professor of theology at Franeker, where he stayed for ten years and earned a reputation as a great theologian.

Ames, or Amesius, as the Dutch called him, was a disciple of Ramus [Pierre de la RamŽel, a French Protestant philosopher. Ramus was the archenemy of Aristotelian Scholasticism. He is known for his development of the science of technometria, the science of defining the arts according to their nature and use. Every art, according to Ramus, has its own nature and use. Thus theology is the art of living well.

Ames made Franeker a Ramist centre. He became the chief opponent of scholasticism in theology, personified in Maccovius, his colleague at Franeker. Ames called theology the doctrine of living to God. He attacked the sharp distinction between theory and practice and stressed the practical uses of theology [eupraxia]. Ames also emphasized the importance of Scripture as the theologian's main textbook, and warned against metaphysical speculation. He never forgot the warning of Paul Baynes, one of his teachers in England, whose maxim was: 'Beware of a strong head and a cold heart.'

ÒAmes,Ó says Sprunger, Òcalled theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduces it to life and practice, so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concernsÓ [p. 28]. ÒAmes' goal was less controversy, more piety. He found the Dutch a bit too intellectual and not nearly enough experimental, and therefore promoted Puritan piety 'in an effort to make Dutchmen into PuritansÓ [p. 260].

Willem Teellinck: The man, who first absorbed this English practical spirit, even before Ames came to Holland, was Willem Teellinck. He is generally considered to be the father of the Second Reformation in the Netherlands.

Teellinck was born in 1579 at Zierikzee, a city in Zeeland. Though first intending to enter the ministry, Teellinck ended up studying law at Poitiers. However, in 1603, after graduation, he went to England for a nine months' stay. There he met some Puritan friends whose close walk with God made a deep impression on young Willem. His desire for the ministry revived and after much soul searching and helpful counsel from his Puritan friends, he decided to enter seminary. For two years he studied theology at Leiden under Arminius and Gomarus. In 1606 he graduated and became pastor of the Reformed Church at Heemstede. From there he went to Middelburg in 1613, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Teellinck married an English woman and had the joy of seeing three of his sons enter the ministry, one of them becoming pastor of the English congregation at Middelburg. One of his daughters married an English preacher.

Teellinck is known for his practical preaching, with emphasis on sanctification. He was not very eloquent, yet he became a popular preacher and beloved pastor. He also wrote extensively, mainly on practical subjects. Although his Calvinism was that of the Synod of Dort, Teellinck was critical of those who fought for the truth, if their fives gave little or no evidence of godliness. He stressed the experience of the truth in the heart. He was also a strong advocate of reform, both of the church and society. He laboured much in favour of a strict Sabbath observance and preached against many social evils. He was also one of the first to point the church to her missionary duty and himself set an example by his great passion for souls.

To give you a sample of his writing, let me quote from his Soliloquy, in which we meet a child of God reflecting on his struggles as he comes to light. Seeing more and more how wicked he is, he almost despairs of mercy. Attacked by doubts as to his election, he asks himself: What if I am not elect? Is there any sense in praying? But when he takes this burden to the Lord, he is shown that election, far from being intended to produce fear, is meant to give comfort to a distressed soul, because now his salvation is entirely in God's hand, and not in man who is only vanity. Then, trying to seek communion with Jesus and longing to be filled with His love, he cries out:

Let the ocean of Thy love flood my soul. Let the glow of Thy love
devour all sinful loves in me. 0 Lord, when will it be, when will
the hour come when Thou wilt visit Thy unworthy servant, and
reveal Thyself to me, and draw me, so I may run after Thee?

This is what my soul is longing for; this is the substance of my
hope. And that hope alone already encourages my heart as a
foretaste of that joyful wedding day when Thou, my Beloved
Bridegroom, wilt condescend to visit Thy unworthy servant and
embrace me in Thy arms of love!

That is true mysticism, of which we find so much in both English and Dutch Puritan divines. Teellinck died in 1629.

Next time D.V., we will deal with Voetius who was involved heavily in the controversy leading to the Canons of Dort.

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