The Free University and the Christian-National Principle

In Which is Exposed the Difference between Soul-Saving and Nation-Reaching Christianity

P. J. Hoedemaker

From a speech given in the MAREKERK, Leyden, March 2nd 1886

There is a Christianity among us, even an orthodoxy, which can get along just fine in the church under a board that denies the confession of Christ; in a school in which one can do without the light radiating from God’s Word; in national life, where the source of all authority is sought not in the will of God but in the majority.


Because for it, the first question is not, “Is God glorified in this? Is Christ given His right? Is the Holy Spirit able to exercise His office?” but only: “Is there provision for the man, the Christian, the minister, the youth in need of an income or an office, the philanthropy that one wishes to exercise, the work of evangelism that one wishes to continue?”

The Reformed principle – which is what I am now talking about – has nothing to do with this orthodoxy.

So don’t we have these interests in mind? Yes and no. When two want the same thing it is not therefore the same thing that they want. Yes, but not in the sense mentioned above. Whatever this orthodoxy wants, we do too, but not as an end, only as a necessary consequence.

The goal for a Reformed Christian is and remains that Christ – His authority, His name, His right, His word – assumes the place that is owed to Him in every area of life, and therefore also, and therefore in the first place, in the sphere from which He can control popular life in all its phases and forms – the school, the college, science.

It is one and the same movement, as you can see, which has asserted itself here in the field of education, which has done so elsewhere in the area of the church.

The division which in this battle has pitted not only friends and enemies but brothers against one another, is certainly regrettable. But if you ask me, is it not a cause for rejoicing that the two-edged sword of the principle should penetrate so deeply, that the division of the ecclesiastical parties which hitherto held sway has now been exposed? Then I answer “yes, if this happens apart from us, and after we have done as much as possible to remove every stumbling block that could prevent the rapprochement!” Let the movement in the area of education continue in that of the church, and proceed from the area of the church to that of politics, to make a precise and sharply defined distinction between principles which are so much alike, yet have so little in common. The result is greater purity, and with purity, greater power!

Let me, however, tell you once more in what the difference actually consists, which becomes visible when the principle just described does its work.

Whoever is content with the salvation of souls through evangelism, whether within or apart from the church and ministry; whoever only wants to combat sin in its consequences through all manner of Christian labor, without further ado; whoever does not cooperate in the founding of a Free University; such a person runs little risk of a “temporary suspension,” and is pretty much left alone by the Handelsblad and Nieuwe Rotterdammer.

On the other hand, he who is permeated with the Reformed principle, seeks the conversion and the well-being not only of a few persons but of all the people. For him it is a certainty that all principles and laws by which thought and action are regulated must be under the discipline of the Word. For him, what is important is the conversion of the home, the school, society, and legislation. For this reason and this reason alone, this pursuit ends in a struggle with the powers that be, a struggle of life and death.

Here, then, you see two groups, both formed of orthodox (we leave the others aside for the moment). One group goes about the hospital of this world with refreshments and cold water compresses; the other seeks in addition, and in the first place, after the wound that caused the fever to arise. The one in its philanthropy sets up, as it were, a society for the rescue of castaways; the other, in its ecclesiastical, scientific, and political program, a means of improving ships and shipping. One goes about the orchard of the church and society cutting away dry branches, pruning wild shoots, removing caterpillars; the other, in accordance with our text, from which we think we must derive only the basic idea this time, expects no good fruit to grow from an evil root.

Yes, verily, the Free University is not entirely blameless as regards the present ecclesiastical movement. Having been born of that movement, it in turn sustains that movement; for it is the pure expression of the principle which must bring us into conflict with every power that sets itself against the Lord and His Anointed One in church and state, in art and science; it represents the principle which has no peace with that which does not blossom from the root of the authority, justice, holiness, and truth of God.

Do you desire good fruit from the tree of our national life?

Who does not desire them? As such, it is our obligation to show you,

  1. that the unsightly and unpalatable fruit, which we now perceive in each of its branches and twigs, betray the sap which has been drawn from the root of science falsely so-called.
  2. that with regard to science in accordance with God’s Word, something different and better awaits.

You need not look long and hard to see those evil fruits which we just mentioned. They immediately catch the eye.

Consider spiritual, moral, ecclesiastical, social life to be so many branches on this one tree, and what do you see? Unfulfilled fruits of true godliness, often bitter at best, or so marred as not to tempt, but rather to be pruned away; blossoms that cannot bear fruit, or fruits that look good but have been gnawed upon by the worm of error, pride, or avarice.

Look further!

Socialism grows on that tree, and indifferentism; political and ecclesiastical tyranny under the guise of freedom, corrupting our people in the name of progress and the common good.

You seek men of knowledge who, like humble disciples, bow down to the Christ of God? Men of stature who can represent you in church and state? Look hard! Perhaps here or there such a one is still hiding under some leaf, or there where the twigs cross over!

You seek ripe fruits from recognized science? Perhaps you will find them, at least in Leyden, where the University itself is a fruit of the faith and firmness of principle of our fathers!

Look to the right! Look to the left! Among our youths, among the doctors, the lawyers, the scholars, the men of the stock market, the men of the people! Tell me, is the tree not full … of good fruit?

If not, could this be due to the root of some falsely named science which does not draw its sap from the soil of God’s Word?

This is what we claimed.

I will tell you now by what right.

Every wrong of any kind, in thought or action, no matter in what area of life or what magnitude, can be traced back to some theological or philosophical error which derives its sap from some principle which is contrary to God’s Word, and finds its expression in some system of science from which it is inseparable.

The inhabitants of Leyden know that among the many university professors this city is famous for, one bore the name of J. H. Scholten. His lecture hall was well-filled. Preachers even took advantage of his academic hospitality. He must also have written books containing a wealth of learning. All that was not for the people. It lay out of their sight. But when determinism, theology in one of its most dangerous forms, was taken up in the views of ministers and teachers, it did not remain within the catechism class and the church building. It poisoned and destroyed religious and moral life, including the congregation’s.

 If we are not mistaken, another professor lives here. A learned man. Learned in such a way that people, even abroad, think of him when the subject of Dutch theology comes up. Prof. Kuenen gives a lecture, and the echo of his word rings out to us from Utrecht, Amsterdam, Groningen, Aberdeen, and where not already? He teaches and demonstrates – so they say – that what we call, in imitation of the Savior, “the law of Moses,” dates from the time of and after Ezra; that the sacrifices were not originally atoning in nature; that the tabernacle was thought up to justify the existence of the temple.

Shall I continue? . . . Seek his pupils not only among the Moderns; I could give you the names of men who preach oh! so beautifully, and do not want to be modern at all, but draw their wisdom from the murky source of this knowledge, and leave off of this only because we are not concerned with names and persons but with principles here.

But these are professors of theology!

Good. I will name for you a man who is not a theologian but whose influence no one values too highly, Prof. Opzoomer.

Belay that – I will mention another name, because Opzoomer still theologizes too much – Descartes, who acted in terms of the wish to keep himself out of all ecclesiastical and theological disputes. Less than thirty years after he arrived on the scene, almost all the professorial seats here in this country were occupied by Cartesians, and the interpretation of Scripture, of natural science, and the practice of life had changed in an almost imperceptible but equally irresistible way for the worse, under the influence of his principle.

Let science teach that Maurice is a villain and Oldenbarneveld is a saint, and I assure you that a new edition of your textbook on the history of the Fatherland will be needed.

Let medical science establish that inoculation with cholera substance is a contraceptive against this dreaded disease, and soon it will wish to use the strong arm of the government to compel you to imbibe the contaminant, just as the Church of Rome turned the power of the state against heretics. The sooner the epidemic comes, the more it is feared, the sooner will this too be seen.

But we could go on like this. The view of Holy Scripture, man, nature, life, the state and economics, which is presented in your academies, in other words science, rules your life and that of your children, and decides your future and that of your family, unless other powers oppose it.

Unless other powers oppose it, we said.

Herewith we come to the second point, to which we referred your attention – the fruit of a science prepared to take God and His Word into account.

There have been miracles in the Netherlands for which we cannot thank God enough. Our people had sunk so deeply that a scholar at the end of the last century dared say: “the Reformed Church has survived itself.” And yet it did not stop there. A religious revival was seen here that caused the people to inquire about the preaching of the truth, seek after the old paths, and wriggle out of the embrace of liberalism.

If I were to sketch for you that wonderful change, I would have to draw for you in its origin and progress the Revéil, the spiritual awakening.

But enough of that. In the area of the church, education, legislation, this new life which God poured out has made itself felt, you know in what way and by what means; all of this contrary to current science.

There would never have been a “Free University on the Reformed foundation,” but only the gradual development of Christian principles in the field of higher education, if the new legislation for higher education did not render the healthy development of science simply impossible.

The first question in all knowledge is this: What do you know about God? What do you confess about the Christ? What is your position regarding God’s Word?

Well, to this question our Law of Higher Education gave the answer, when it broke the bond with the church and confession, replaced systematic theology with the philosophy of religion, and in place of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testaments, taught “the literature of the Jewish people.”

That answer was: science must be free from the discipline of the church, as well as from the discipline of God’s Word!

That the government of the Dutch Reformed Church, i.e., the Synod, allowed the mutilated parts to be replaced is of little importance. Not one of you would have an arm or leg taken off, thinking that this loss could be made good by fitting and adapting a similar part which originally belonged to another body.

No, that settled the matter for us. If the Christian principle were to have an effect in the circle of sciences, it had to be in an independent institution, in the Free University.

On this root of a science which could not thrive in the soil of the Word of God, but grew wild in the field of corrupt Reason, no good fruit could be borne that would prosper for the blessing of our people. It was not just the teachers – persons can be replaced – but the principle. With and through this principle – for us this was indubitable – the good that opposed it in the teaching of a few, would also be paralyzed and defiled.

A Christian college on the Reformed foundation fit in with the opposite principle, so that the new life could work its way through. And it had to work its way through, for otherwise the penalty would be that all that God had given in the initial return of the people to the truth would be lost.

Because look! If a tree begins to show dry branches in its crown of leaves, when it ceases to form new branches and instead shows dead points here and there, you say, not of those branches and twigs, but of the whole tree, that it is slowly dying.

In a word, the place which science occupies in national life did not permit its abandonment to the power of the principle of unbelief.

That could not be; that should not be!

This is about the Christian, Protestant, Reformed principle, in which the Word of God is the soil in which the root of true science flourishes.

Is it the case that this Word is just a book for the pious, only a manual showing us the way of salvation? This Word is the standard of our faith, the guide of our understanding, the touchstone of our experience; it teaches us what we need to know for a right understanding of nature, who it is who is the center of world history, what is the significance of life, what is the basis on which government is justified.

We do not say of this Word that which Khalef Omar claimed of the Quran, that it makes all other books superfluous, but only this: that without this Word the sciences lack their unity, meaning, and truth.

Chemistry teaches us that the air we breathe consists in certain gases which must be present in a certain proportion if man and beast are to breathe it in without endangering their lives. Well then! The correct relationship and mixture of elements is indicated and elaborated in science by the Word of God, which to us is the Word of truth.

In that case, you may ask, will only believing ministers, godly lawyers, pious doctors, etc., be trained by the Free University? Just as little as exclusively unbelieving scholars will issue from the national universities.

Sin can influence the best, and God can neutralize the worst influences.

But we believe, do we not? that in a household it must go according to God’s Word, although in this we find no guarantee against the disobedience and godlessness of apostate children.

We avoid a contaminated place even though we know that God can get us through it, and though we believe that He will preserve us if He calls us there by His providence.

By way of means, yes, you can expect teachers from the Free University who will honor the Word of God, will be able to explain it and not first – as unfortunately is too often the case nowadays in the practice of ministry – have to unlearn what they have learned at the Academy, and vice versa: teachers who themselves understand the church’s confession, love it and know how to treat and defend it in a scientific way.

But that also applies to your men of letters, your legal scholars, and soon as well, we hope, your physicians.

The principle works its way through.

And in the principle of Christian science lies the germ of a domestic, ecclesiastical, and social life, in which we find the application of our text: “Make the tree good and its fruit good.”

What we say here, gentlemen, is consented to by friend and foe, each in a different way.

When the Higher Education Act gave a new structure to the state universities, the liberal principle demanded that the theory of the absolute separation of church and state should also be applied in the field of science.

Outside the Word, and consequently outside the church, which summarizes that Word in its confession as in a brief, literally nothing is known of God and of divine things except what comes from a natural knowledge of God, which in our fallen state leads to one form of paganism or another.

But now the Reformed church is not the only one which wishes to act as a guide to science… and the government could not choose, would not choose.

What led liberalism to transgress its principle, what moved it to favor Protestant science …?

The fear of a science that would rest on the root of faith, that in one sense would be like the tree of life, to wit, that its leaves would be for the healing of the people.

It made no secret of this. I can have you read it in many a report of the sessions of the Lower House, in more than one article in the Gids.

Liberalism has acted no differently in the Dutch Reformed Church.

The night school could be shunted off, but what should be done with day school, which seeks the light of science?

Therefore liberalism in that church with its accomplices cannot tolerate fair competition; does not allow free study, cannot have ministers in our church who are not previously exposed to all winds of doctrine, and who have not learned to sail to all points of the theological compass at the same time – very much in the interest of progress!

Therefore there will be no examinations for the students of the Free University, even though more than 250 vacant congregations are calling for pastors; even though the people show that they have a heart for this foundation; even though one knows ahead of time that one cannot dam the stream; even if the church soon falls apart!

Fortunately, on the side of friends there are those who are convinced of the importance of Christian science, the importance of a Free University.

What does this crowd that does not know the law [John 7:49] know about it?

It knows that Christ is the truth; that it can be said of all knowledge that operates outside of the Word, “professing to be wise, they became fools” [Romans 1:22]; that it can be said of all knowledge that is not based on the root of faith, that “every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be cut off” [Matthew 15:13].

The spirit of the old Leydeners lives on among that crowd, who before anything else demanded a school of wisdom as the memorial of their struggle, their courage, their victory.

Among that crowd are the direct descendants of the fathers, who, as a motto for Utrecht University, chose “Shine on us, thou son of righteousness!”

Among it are the descendants and kindred spirits of those who, in the virgin forests of the new world, through which they still had to blaze a path with their axes, established first of all a church, and next to that church a college of higher education.

A permanent shortage in the treasury of the Free University? No, for then our Christian people would first have to stop believing in its principle, its calling, and its future, and go astray in the paths of Methodism, where unbelief, socialism, apostasy are combated with tracts, youth associations, and abstinence societies while the ills of church and society are left unaffected in their deepest ground, in the root.

If I only looked at the work force available to the Free University, I would lack the boldness to even compare them with and against the state universities.

That it was necessary, and could not have come at a better time, is evident from the fact that it is not financial difficulties but the lack of suitable personnel that compels us to leave more than one professorial position unoccupied.

When we first met in a circle of friends to discuss the question of whether we could passively acquiesce in the new arrangement of higher education, Dr. van Ronkel put forward an argument in favor of an own foundation, which is worth recalling.

“There were three or four men among us,” he said, “who could serve the church of the Lord in the field of university-level science.” He rightly saw in this a hint of Providence that the establishment of our own school could, but also had to, come about.

Three, four men… is it not a melancholy statement? Does it not remain melancholy, even if the number were to be doubled and quadrupled? In an entire nation, so poor, so weak, so insignificant!

Yes. And still, this school stands over against those universities to fulfill a great task, although decades must pass before it is half finished.

It must provide us with a scientific theology of the Reformed church, a doctrine of law and state for our Dutch nation, a natural science according to Christian principles, literature and pedagogy and the arts in which the Word of God is taken into account, and in and through and with all of this, a society and a people under the discipline of that Word.

When the case of the Willem Barends was pleaded in the newspapers, the Handelsblad among others published beautiful essays on the usefulness of these journeys to the far North.

Our people were weakened, effeminate, characterless, said the gifted writer.

One had to put out to sea again to find a heart! he said.

And I thought of the word of Gotoma: “He who takes the place just vacated by the king, and echoes his words, is not therefore a king.”

Will you give a heart to the people? then give it its faith, then give it back the principle by which it was formed and made great!

However seemingly unattainable that goal, we should not set it any lower.

Our confession, which is also the basis of our foundation, forbids this. But involved with this statement is the connection between our university and the church which we love.

A Reformed people will not give up their church to put up a hut outside, to be sheltered from wind and weather.

All the church and all the people! is its slogan. – The outcome it leaves it to God.

All the church!

No, the Free University has nothing to do either directly or indirectly with the Amsterdam conflict.[1] But the work for and through it coincides with the present ecclesiastical movement, and yes, that gives courage; it reminds us of the murmur that David heard in the tops of the mulberry trees near Perazim, when God Himself was going ahead of him, and said, “Go up! I have given the Philistines into your hand. ”

All the people?

And right at the start, we give away the national institutions, the school, and the university!

Yes, because here we do not have, as we do in the church, inalienable rights which we are able to assert.

This determines the difference in method by which we seek the Reformation, here of the school, there of the church; but the goal is and remains one and the same.

What is it about? Not to have under one name two nations, one of which will have grown up on the root of faith, and the other on a completely different root. But to bring the one people back into the historical line.

There is a withdrawal like that of William the Silent, which is criticized and denounced too soon by the Egmonds and the Hoornes.

“Without a country,” things are still possible.

But “Without a head”!

By keeping our state universities, we would lose both country and head.

So when we depart from the school, the “college of our people,” it is with singing.

And what would we sing, other than the “nous maintiendrons”![2] That is the true song for the Reformed people of the Netherlands! That is the theme of our war chant, the verses to which every child of the Reformed house knows. Hear! there it sounds again:

“They will not have it

“the old Netherlands

“It remains, despite its misery

“The property of God and the fathers!”[3]

Already now we can rejoice in everything that is good and is esteemed in our national life, thus also in the national school – provided it is not used to put us at peace with the half-hearted, the untrue, i.e., with appearance; provided it does not serve to put us back under the yoke of false science.

We leave the outcome to God.

We can only pray, work, and hope.

But we know this and we hold onto it. No pruning knife, no digging, no vaccination can benefit when the root is no good.

We know this and we hold on to it. God’s Word is the only soil, and the Reformed confession is the only root from which a science grows which can benefit us and our house, our church, and our people – and let this be our continual prayer – will flourish. And if not – and if it is true that which some claim, that it is vain to have high hopes for our people and our church, then our calling remains the same; then our goal has not changed thereby. The hidden things belong to the Lord our God.

And furthermore, what we ask and what we expect is no different than that

God’s Kingdom come,

That His strength be accomplished in our weakness,

and His Glory be seen over us and our children!”

Excerpted from Kerk en School: Het verband tusschen het Kerkelijk Conflict en de Vrije Universiteit gezocht en gevonden [Church and School: The Relation between the Church Conflict and the Free University Investigated and Found] (Rotterdam: J. H. Dunk, 1886).

[1] This is the church conflict which eventually led to the church split of 1886. In this, Hoedemaker and Abraham Kuyper, fellow founders of the Free University, would part ways, Hoedemaker staying faithful to “All the Church and All the People,” Kuyper adhering to the principle, “A Free Church in a Free State.”

[2] “We shall maintain,” from the motto of the House of Orange, “Je Maintiendrai,” “I shall maintain.”

[3] From a poem by Isaac da Costa, “Aan Nederland in de Lente van 1844” [To the Netherlands in the Summer of 1844].