SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : INTRODUCTORY NOTE.

The Work Of The Holy Spirit by Abraham Kuyper



Of Princeton Theological Seminary.

It is fortunately no longer necessary to formally introduce Dr. Kuyper to the American religious public. Quite a number of his remarkable essays have appeared of late years in our periodicals. These have borne such titles as |Calvinism in Art,| |Calvinism the Source and Pledge of Our Constitutional Liberties,| |Calvinism and Confessional Revision,| |The Obliteration of Boundaries,| and |The Antithesis between Symbolism and Revelation|; and have appeared in the pages of such publications as Christian Thought, Bibliotheca Sacra, The Presbyterian and Reformed Review -- not, we may be sure, without delighting their readers with the breadth of their treatment and the high and penetrating quality of their thought. The columns of The Christian Intelligencer have from time to time during the last year been adorned with examples of Dr. Kuyper's practical expositions of Scriptural truth; and now and again a brief but illuminating discussion of a topic of present interest has appeared in the columns of The Independent. The appetite whetted by this taste of good things has been partially gratified by the publication in English of two extended treatises from his hand -- one discussing in a singularly profound way the principles of |The Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology| (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), and the other expounding with the utmost breadth and forcefulness the fundamental principles of |Calvinism| (The Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899). The latter volume consists of lectures delivered on |The L. P. Stone Foundation,| at Princeton Theological Seminary in the autumn of 1898, and Dr. Kuyper's visit to America on this occasion brought him into contact with many lovers of high ideas in America, and has left a sense of personal acquaintance with him on the minds of multitudes who had the good fortune to meet him or to hear his voice at that time. It is impossible for us to look longer upon Dr. Kuyper as a stranger, needing an introduction to our favorable notice, when he appears again before us; he seems rather now to be one of our own prophets, to whose message we have a certain right, and a new book from whose hands we welcome as we would a new gift from our near friend, charged in a sense with care for our welfare. The book that is at present offered to the American public does not indeed come fresh from his hands. It has already been within the reach of his Dutch audience for more than a decade (it was published in 1888). It is only recently, however, that Dr. Kuyper has come to belong to us also, and the publication of this book in English, we may hope, is only another step in the process which will gradually make all his message ours.

Certainly no one will turn over the pages of this volume -- much less will he, as our Jewish friends would say, |sink himself into the book| -- without perceiving that it is a very valuable gift which comes to us in it from our newly found teacher. It is, as will be at once observed, a comprehensive treatise on the Work of the Holy Ghost -- a theme higher than most which could occupy the attention of the Christian man, and yet one on which really comprehensive treatises, are comparatively rare. It is easy, to be sure, to exaggerate the significance of the latter fact. There never was a time, of course, when Christians did not confess their faith in the Holy Ghost; and there never was a time when they did not speak to one another of the work of the Blessed Spirit, the Executor of the Godhead not only in the creation and upholding of the worlds and in the inspiration of the prophets and apostles, but also in the regenerating and sanctifying of the soul. Nor has there ever been a time when, in the prosecution of its task of realizing mentally the treasures of truth put in its charge in the Scriptural revelation, the Church has not busied itself also with the investigation of the mysteries of the Person and work of the Spirit; and especially has there never been a time since that tremendous revival of religion which we call the Reformation when the whole work of the Spirit in the application of the redemption wrought out by Christ has not been a topic of the most thorough and loving study of Christian men. Indeed, it partly arises out of the very intensity of the study given to the saving activities of the Spirit that so few comprehensive Treatises on the work of the Spirit have been written. The subject has seemed so vast, the ramifications of it have appeared so far reaching, that few have had the courage to undertake it as a whole. Dogmaticians have, to be sure, been compelled to present the entire range of the matter in its appropriate place in their completed systems. But when monographs came to be written, they have tended to confine themselves to a single segment of the great circle; and thus we have had treatises rather on, say, Regeneration, or Justification, or Sanctification, or the Anointing of the Spirit; or the Intercession of the Spirit, or the Sealing of the Spirit, than on the work of the Spirit as a whole. It would be a great mistake to think of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as neglected, merely because it has been preferably presented under its several rubrics or parts, rather than in its entirety. How easily one may fall into such an error is fairly illustrated by certain criticisms that have been recently passed upon the Westminster Confession of Faith -- which is (as a Puritan document was sure to be) very much a treatise on the work of the Spirit -- as if it were deficient, in not having a chapter specifically devoted to |the Holy Spirit and His Work.| The sole reason why it does not give a chapter to this subject, however, is because it prefers to give nine chapters to it; and when an attempt was made to supply the fancied omission, it was found that pretty much all that could be done was to present in the proposed new chapter a meager summary of the contents of these nine chapters. It would have been more plausible, indeed, to say that the Westminster Confession comparatively neglected the work of Christ, or even the work of God the Father. Similarly the lack in our literature of a large number of comprehensive treatises on the work of the Holy Spirit is in part due to the richness of our literature in treatises on the separate portions of that work severally. The significance of Dr. Kuyper's book is, therefore, in part due only to the fact that he has had the courage to attack and the gifts successfully to accomplish a task which few have possessed the breadth either of outlook or of powers to undertake. And it is no small gain to be able to survey the whole field of the work of the Holy Spirit in its organic unity under the guidance of so fertile, so systematic, and so practical a mind. If we can not look upon it as breaking entirely new ground, or even say that it is the only work of its kind since Owen, we can at least say that it brings together the material belonging to this great topic with a systematizing genius that is very rare, and presents it with a penetrating appreciation of its meaning and a richness of apprehension of its relations that is exceedingly illuminating.

It is to be observed that we have not said without qualification that the comparative rarity of such comprehensive treatises on the work of the Holy Spirit as Dr. Kuyper's is due simply to the greatness and difficulty of the task. We have been careful to say that it is only in part due to this cause. It is only in the circles to which this English translation is presented, to say the truth, that this remark is applicable at all. It is the happiness of the Reformed Christians of English speech that they are the heirs of what must in all fairness be spoken of as an immense literature upon this great topic; it may even be said, with some justice, that the peculiarity of their theological labor turns just on the diligence and depth of their study of this locus. It is, it will be remembered, to John Owen's great |Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit| that Dr. Kuyper points as hitherto the normative treatise on the subject. But John Owen's book did not stand alone in his day and generation, but was rather merely symptomatic of the engrossment of the theological thought of the circle of which he was so great an ornament in the investigation of this subject. Thomas Goodwin's treatise on |The Work of the Holy Ghost in Our Salvation| is well worthy of a place by its side, and it is only the truth to say that Puritan thought was almost entirely occupied with loving study of the work of the Holy Spirit, and found its highest expression in dogmatico-practical expositions of the several aspects of it -- of which such treatises as those of Charnock and Swinnerton on Regeneration are only the best-known examples among a multitude which have fallen out of memory in the lapse of years. For a century and a half afterward, indeed, this topic continued to form the hinge of the theologizing of the English Nonconformists. Nor has it lost its central position even yet in the minds of those who have the best right to be looked upon as the successors of the Puritans. There has been in some quarters some decay, to be sure, in sureness of grasp and theological precision in the presentation of the subject; but it is possible that a larger number of practical treatises on some element or other of the doctrine of the Spirit continue to appear from the English press annually than on any other branch of divinity. Among these, such books as Dr. A. J. Gordon's |The Ministry of the Spirit,| Dr. J. E. Cumming's |Through the Eternal Spirit,| Principal H. C. G. Moule's |Veni Creator,| Dr. Redford's |Vox Dei,| Dr. Robson's |The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete,| Dr. Vaughan's |The Gifts of the Holy Spirit| -- to name only a few of the most recent books -- attain a high level of theological clarity and spiritual power; while, if we may be permitted to go back only a few years, we may find in Dr. James Buchanan's |The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit,| and in Dr. George Smeaton's |The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,| two treatises covering the whole ground -- the one in a more practical, the other in a more didactic spirit -- in a manner worthy of the best traditions of our Puritan fathers. There has always been a copious stream of literature on the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore, among the English-speaking churches, and Dr. Kuyper's book comes to us not as something of a novelty, but as a specially finely conceived and executed presentation of a topic on which we are all thinking.

But the case is not the same in all parts of Christendom. If we lift our eyes from our own special condition and view the Church at large, it is a very different spectacle that greets them. As we sweep them down the history of the Church, we discover that the topic of the work of the Holy Spirit was one which only at a late date really emerged as the explicit study of Christian men. As we sweep them over the whole extent of the modern Church, we discover that it is a topic which appeals even yet with little force to very large sections of the Church. The poverty of Continental theology in this locus is, indeed, after all is said and done, depressing. Note one or two little French books, by E. Guers and G. Tophel, and a couple of formal studies of the New Testament doctrine of the Spirit by the Dutch writers Stemler and Thoden Van Velzen, called out by The Hague Society -- and we have before us almost the whole list of the older books of our century which pretend in any way to cover the ground. Nor has very much been done more recently to remedy the deficiency. The amazing theological activity of latter day Germany has, to be sure, not been able to pass so fruitful a theme entirely by, and her scholars have given us a few scientific studies of sections of the Biblical material. The two most significant of these appeared, indeed, in the same year with Dr. Kuyper's book -- Gloel's |Der heilige Geist in des Heilsverkündigung des Paulus,| and Gunkel's |Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes nach d. populär. Anschauung der apostolischen Zeit and der Lehre d. A. Paulus| (2d ed.; 1899); these have been followed in the same spirit by Weienel in a work called |Die Wirkungen des Geistes und der Geister im nachapostolischen Zeitalter| (1899); while a little earlier the Dutch theologian Beversluis issued a more comprehensive study, |De Heilige Geest en zijne werkingen volgens de Schriften des Nieuwen Verbonds| (1896). Their investigation of the Biblical material, however, is not only very formal, but it is also dominated by such imperfect theological presuppositions that it can carry the student scarcely a step forward. Very recently something better in this respect has appeared in such books as Th. Meinhold's |Der heilige Geist und sein Wirken am einzelnen Menschen, mit besonderer Beziehung auf Luther| (1890, 12mo, pp.228); W. Kölling's |Pneumatologie, oder die Lehre von der Person des heiligen Geistes| (1894, 8vo, pp.368); Karl von Lechler's |Die biblische Lehre vom heiligen Geiste| (1899, 8vo, pp.307); and K. F. Nösgen's |Geschichte von der Lehre vom heiligen Geiste| (1899, 8vo, pp.376) -- which it is to be hoped are the beginnings of a varied body of scholarly works from the Lutheran side, out of which may, after a while, grow some such comprehensive and many-sided treatment of the whole subject as that which Dr. Kuyper has given our Dutch brethren, and now us in this English translation. But none of them provides the desired treatise itself, and it is significant that no one even professes to do so. Even where, as in the case of the books of Meinhold and von Lechler, the treatment is really topical, the author is careful to disclaim the purpose to provide a well compacted, systematic view of the subject, by putting on his title page a hint of a historical or exegetical point of view.

In fact, only in a single instance in the whole history of German theological literature -- or, we may say, prior to Dr. Kuyper in the entire history of continental theological literature -- has any one had the courage or found the impulse to face the task Dr. Kuyper has so admirably executed. We are referring, of course, to the great work on |Die Lehre vom heiligen Geiste,| which was projected by that theological giant, K. A. Kahnis, but the first part of which only was published -- in a thin volume of three hundred and fifty-six pages, in 1847. It was doubtless symptomatic of the state of feeling in Germany on the subject that Kahnis never found time or encouragement in a long life of theological pursuits to complete his book. And, indeed, it was greeted in theological circles at the time with something like amused amazement that any one could devote so much time and labor to this theme, or expect others to find time and energy to read such a treatise. We are told that a well known theologian remarked caustically of it that if things were to be carried out on that scale, no one could expect to live long enough to read the literature of his subject; and the similar remark made by C. Hase in the preface to the fifth edition of his |Dogmatic,| tho it names no names, is said to have had Kahnis's book in view. The significance of Kahnis's unique and unsuccessful attempt to provide for German Protestantism some worthy treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is so great that it will repay us to fix the facts concerning it well in our minds. And to this end we extract the following account of it from the introduction of the work of von Lechler which we have just mentioned (p.22 sqq.)

|We have to indicate, in conclusion, another circumstance in the history of our doctrine, which is in its way just as significant for the attitude of present day science toward this topic as was the silence of the first Ecumenical Council concerning it for the end of the first theological age. It is the extraordinary poverty of monographs on the Holy Spirit. Altho there do exist some, and in some instances important, studies dealing with the subject, yet their number is out of all proportion to the greatness and the extent of the problems. We doubtless should not err in assuming that vital interest in a scientific question will express itself not merely in comprehensive handbooks and encyclopedic compendiums, the latter of which are especially forced to see to the completeness of the list of subjects treated, but of necessity also in those separate investigations in which especially the fresh vigor of youth is accustomed to make proof of its fitness for higher studies. What lacunoe we should have to regret in other branches of theological science if a rich development of monographic literature did not range itself by the side of the compendiums, breaking out here and there new paths, laying deeper foundations, supplying valuable material for the constructive or decorative completion of the scientific structure! All this, in the present instance, however, has scarcely made a beginning. The sole separate treatise which has been projected on a really profound and broad basis of investigation -- the |Lehre vom heiligen Geiste| of K. A. Kahnis (then at Breslau), 1847 -- came to a standstill with its first part. This celebrated theologian, who had certainly in his possession in surprising measure the qualities and acquisitions that fitted him to come forward as a preparer of the way in this uncertain and little worthily studied subject, had set before himself the purpose of investigating this, as he himself called it, extraordinarily neglected' topic, at once on its Biblical, ecclesiastical, historical, and dogmatic sides. The history of his book is exceedingly instructive and suggestive with respect to the topic itself. He found the subject, as he approached it more closely, in a very special degree a difficult one, chiefly on account of the rnanifoldness of the conception. At first his results became ever more and more negative. A controversy with the friends of light' of the time helped him forward. Testium nubes magis juvant, quam luciferorum virorum importuna lumina. But God, he says, led him to greater clearness: the doctrine of the Church approved itself to him. Nevertheless it was not his purpose to establish the Scriptural doctrine in all its points, but only to exhibit the place which the Holy Spirit occupies in the development of the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments. There was a feeling that came to him that we were standing upon the eve of a new outpouring of the Spirit. But the wished-for dawn, he says, still held back. His wide survey, beyond his special subject, of the whole domain of science in the corporate life of the Church is characteristic no less of the subject than of the man. It was not given to him, however, to see the longed-for flood poured over the parched fields. His exegetical foundation' (chaps. i.-iii.) moves in the old tracks. Since he shared essentially the subjective point of view of Schleiermacher and committed the final decision in the determining conceptions to philosophy, in spite of many remarkable flashes of insight into the Scriptures he remained fixed in the intellectualistic and ethical mode of conceiving the Holy Ghost, though this was accompanied by many attempts to transcend Schleiermacher, but without the attaining of any unitary conception and without any effort to bring to a Scriptural solution the burning question of the personality or impersonality of the Spirit. The fourth chapter institutes a comparison between the Spirit of Christianity and that of heathenism. The second book deals first with the relation of the Church to the Holy Spirit in general, and then enters upon a history of the doctrine which is carried, however, only through the earliest fathers, and breaks off with a survey of the scanty harvest which the first age supplied to the succeeding epochs, in which the richest development of the doctrine took place. Here the book closes. . . .|

Thus the only worthy attempt German theology has made to produce a comprehensive treatise on the work of the Holy Ghost remains a neglected torso till today.

If we will gather up the facts to which we have thus somewhat desultorily called attention into a propositional statement, we shall find ourselves compelled to recognize that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was only slowly brought to the explicit consciousness of the Church and has even yet taken a firm hold on the mind and consciousness of only a small section of the Church. To be more specific, we shall need to note that the early Church busied itself with the investigation within the limits of this locus of only the doctrine of the person of the Holy Ghost -- His deity and personality -- and of His one function of inspirer of the prophets and apostles, while the whole doctrine of the work of the Spirit at large is a gift to the Church from the Reformation; and we shall need to note further that since its formulation by the Reformers this doctrine has taken deep root and borne its full fruits only in the Reformed churches, and among them in exact proportion to the loyalty of their adherence to and the richness of their development of, the fundamental principles of the Reformed theology. Stated in its sharpest form, this is as much as to say that the developed doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit is an exclusively Reformation doctrine, and more particularly a Reformed doctrine, and more particularly still a Puritan doctrine. Wherever the fundamental principles of the Reformation have gone, it has gone, but it has come to its full rights only among the Reformed churches, and among them only where what we have been accustomed to call |the Second Reformation| has deepened the spiritual life of the churches and cast back the Christian with special poignancy of feeling upon the grace of God alone as his sole dependence for salvation and all the goods of this life and the life to come. Indeed, it is possible to be more precise still. The doctrine of the work of the Holy spirit is a gift from John Calvin to the Church of Christ. He did not, of course, invent it. The whole of it lay spread out on the pages of Scripture with a clearness and fulness of utterance which one would think would secure that even he who ran should read it; and doubtless he who ran did read it, and it has fed the soul of the true believer in all ages. Accordingly, hints of its apprehension are found widely scattered in all Christian literature, and in particular the germs of the doctrine are spread broadcast over the pages of Augustine. Luther did not fail to lay hold upon them; Zwingli shows time and again that he had them richly in his mind; they constituted, in very fact, one of the foundations of the Reformation movement, or rather they provided its vital breath. But it was Calvin who first gave them anything like systematic or adequate expression, and it is through him and from him that they have come to be the assured possession of the Church of Christ. There is no phenomenon in doctrinal history more astonishing than the commonly entertained views as to the contribution made by John Calvin to the development of Christian doctrine. He is thought of currently as the father of doctrines, such as that of predestination and reprobation, of which he was the mere heir, taking them as wholes over from the hands of his great master Augustine. Meanwhile his real personal contributions to Christian doctrine are utterly forgotten. These are of the richest kind and can not be enumerated here. But it is germane to our present topic to note that at their head stand three gifts of the first value to the Church's thought and life, which we should by no means allow to pass from our grateful memory. It is to John Calvin that we owe that broad conception of the work of Christ which is expressed in the doctrine of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King; he was the first who presented the work of Christ under this schema, and from him it was that it has passed into a Christian commonplace. It is to John Calvin that we owe the whole conception of a science of |Christian Ethics|; he was the first to outline its idea and develop its principles and contents, and it remained a peculium of his followers for a century. And it is to John Calvin that we owe the first formulation of the doctrine of the work of the Holy Ghost; he himself gave it a very rich statement, developing it especially in the broad departments of |Common Grace| |Regeneration,| and |the Witness of the Spirit|; and it is, as we have seen, among his spiritual descendants only that it has to this day received any adequate attention in the churches. We must guard ourselves, of course, from exaggeration in such a matter; the bare facts, when put forth without pausing to allow for the unimportant shadings, sound of themselves sufficiently like an exaggeration. But it is simply true that these great topics received their first formulation at the hands of John Calvin; and it is from him that the Church has derived them and to him that it owes its thanks for them.

And if we pause to ask why the formulation of the doctrine of the work of the Spirit waited for the Reformation and for Calvin, and why the further working out of the details of this doctrine and its enrichment by the profound study of Christian minds and meditation of Christian hearts has come down from Calvin only to the Puritans, and from the Puritans to their spiritual descendants like the Free Church teachers of the Disruption era and the Dutch contestants for the treasures of the Reformed religion of our own day, the reasons are not far to seek. There is, in the first place, a regular order in the acquisition of doctrinal truth, inherent in the nature of the case, which therefore the Church was bound to follow in its gradual realization of the deposit of truth given it in the Scriptures; and by virtue of this the Church could not successfully attack the task of assimilating and formulating the doctrine of the work of the Spirit until the foundations had been laid firmly in a clear grasp on yet more fundamental doctrines. And there are, in the next place, certain forms of doctrinal construction which leave no or only a meager place for the work of the personal Holy Spirit in the heart; and in the presence of these constructions this doctrine, even where in part apprehended and acknowledged, languishes and falls out of the interest of men. The operation of the former cause postponed the development of the doctrine of the work of the Spirit until the way was prepared for it; and this preparation was complete only at the Reformation. The operation of the second cause has retarded where it has not stifled the proper assimilation of the doctrine in many parts of the Church until today.

To be more specific, the development of the doctrinal system of Christianity in the apprehension of the Church has actually run through -- as it theoretically should have run through -- a regular and logical course. First, attention was absorbed in the contemplation of the objective elements of the Christian deposit and only afterward were the subjective elements taken into fuller consideration. First of all it was the Christian doctrine of God that forced itself on the attention of men, and it was not until the doctrine of the Trinity had been thoroughly assimilated that attention was vigorously attracted to the Christian doctrine of the God-man; and again, it was not until the doctrine of the Person of Christ was thoroughly assimilated that attention was poignantly attracted to the Christian doctrine of sin -- man's need and helplessness; and only after that had been wrought fully out again could attention turn to the objective provision to meet man's needs in the work of Christ; and again, only after that to the subjective provision to meet his needs in the work of the Spirit. This is the logical order of development, and it is the actual order in which the Church has slowly and amid the throes of all sorts of conflicts -- with the world and with its own slowness to believe all that the prophets have written -- worked its way into the whole truth revealed to it in the Word. The order is, it will be observed, Theology, Christology, Anthropology (Hamartialogy), Impetration of Redemption, Application of Redemption; and in the nature of the case, the topics that fall under the rubric of the application of redemption could not be solidly investigated until the basis had been laid for them in the assimilation of the preceding topics. We have connected the great names of Athanasius and his worthy successors who fought out the Christological disputes, of Augustine and of Anselm, with the precedent stages of this development. It was the leaders of the Reformation who were called on to add the capstone to the structure by working out the facts as to the application of redemption to the soul of man through the Holy Spirit. Some elements of the doctrine of the Spirit are indeed implicated in earlier discussions. For example, the deity and personality of the Spirit -- the whole doctrine of His person -- was a part of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this accordingly became a topic for early debate, and patristic literature is rich in discussions of it. The authority of Scripture was fundamental to the whole doctrinal discussion, and the doctrine of the inspiration of the prophets and apostles by the Spirit was therefore asserted from the beginning with great emphasis. In the determination of man's need in the Pelagian controversy much was necessarily determined about |Grace,| -- its necessity, its prevenience, its efficacy, its indefectibility, -- and in this much was anticipated of what was afterward to be more orderly developed in the doctrine of the interior work of the Spirit; and accordingly there is much in Augustine which readumbrates the determination of later times. But even in Augustine there is a vagueness and tentativeness in the treatment of these topics which advises us that while the facts relative to man and his needs and the methods of God's working upon him to salvation are firmly grasped, these same facts relative to the personal activities of the Spirit as yet await their full assimilation. Another step had yet to be taken; the Church needed to wait yet for Anselm to set on foot the final determination of the doctrine of a vicarious atonement; and only when time had been given for its assimilation, at length men's minds were able to take the final step. Then Luther rose to proclaim justification by faith, and Calvin to set forth with his marvelous balance the whole doctrine of the work of the Spirit in applying salvation to the soul. In this matter, too, the fulness of the times needed to be waited for; and when the fulness of the times came, the men were ready for their task and the Church was ready for their work. And in this collocation we find a portion of the secret of the immense upheaval of the Reformation.

Unfortunately, however, the Church was not ready in all its parts alike for the new step in doctrinal development. This was, of course, in the nature of the case: for the development of doctrine takes place naturally in a matrix of old and hardened partial conceptions, and can make its way only by means of a conflict of opinion. All Arians did not disappear immediately after the Council of Nice; on the contrary, for an age they seemed destined to rule the Church. The decree of Chalcedon did not at once quiet all Christological debate, or do away with all Christological error. There were remainders of Pelagianism that outlived Augustine; and indeed that after the Synod of Orange began to make headway against the truth. Anselm's construction of the atonement only slowly worked its way into the hearts of men. And so, when Calvin had for the first time formulated the fuller and more precise doctrine of the work of the Spirit, there were antagonistic forces in the world which crowded upon it and curtailed its influence and clogged its advance in the apprehension of men. In general, these may be said to be two: the sacerdotal tendency on the one hand and the libertarian tendency on the other. The sacerdotal tendency was entrenched in the old Church, from which the Reformers were extruded indeed by the very force of the new leaven of their individualism of spiritual life. That Church was therefore impervious to the newly formulated doctrine of the work of the Spirit. To it the Church was the depository of grace, the sacraments were its indispensable vehicle, and the administration of it lay in the hands of human agents. Wherever this sacramentarianism went, in however small a measure, it tended so far to distract men's attention from the Spirit of God and to focus it on the media of His working; and wherever it has entrenched itself, there the study of the work of the Spirit has accordingly more or less languished. It is easy indeed to say that the Spirit stands behind the sacraments and is operative in the sacraments; as a matter of fact, the sacraments tend, in all such cases, to absorb the attention, and the theoretical explanations of their efficacy as vested in the Spirit's energy tend to pass out of the vivid interest of men. The libertarian tendency, on the other hand, was the nerve of the old semi-Pelagianism which in Thomism and Tridentinism became in a modified form the formal doctrine of the Church of Rome; and in various forms it soon began to seep also into and to trouble the churches of the Reformation -- first the Lutheran and after that also the Reformed. To it, the will of man was in greater or less measure the decisive factor in the subjective reception of salvation; and in proportion as it was more or less developed or more or less fully applied, interest in the doctrine of the subjective work of the Spirit languished, and in these circles too men's minds were to that degree distracted from the study of the doctrine of the work of the Spirit and tended to focus themselves on the autocracy of the human will and its native or renewed ability to obey God and seek and find communion with Him. No doubt here too it is easy to point to the function which is still allowed the Spirit, in most at least of the theological constructions on this basis. But the practical effect has been that just in proportion as the autocracy of the human will in salvation has been emphasized, the interest in the internal work of the Spirit has declined. When we take into consideration the widespread influence that has been attained even in the Protestant world by these two antagonistic tendencies, we shall cease to wonder at the widespread neglect that has befallen the doctrine of the work of the Spirit. And we shall have prosecuted our inquiry but a little way before we become aware how entirely these facts account for the phenomena before us: how completely it is true that interest in the doctrine of the work of the Spirit has failed just in those regions and just in those epochs in which either sacramentarian or libertarian opinions have ruled; and how true it is that engagement with this doctrine has been intense only along the banks of that narrow stream of religious life and thought the keynote of which has been the soli Deo gloria in all its fulness of meaning. With this key in hand the mysteries of the history of this doctrine in the Church are at once solved for us.

One of the chief claims to our attention which Dr. Kuyper's book makes, therefore, is rooted in the fact that it is a product of a great religious movement in the Dutch churches. This is not the place to give a history of that movement. We have all watched it with the intensest interest, from the rise of the Free Churches to the union with them of the new element from the Doleantie. We have lacked no proof that it was a movement of exceptional spiritual depth; but had there lacked any such proof, it would be supplied by the appearance of this book out of its heart. Wherever men are busying themselves with holy and happy meditations on the Holy Ghost and His work, it is safe to say the foundations of a true spiritual life are laid, and the structure of a rich spiritual life is rising. The mere fact that a book of this character offers itself as one of the products of this movement attracts us to it; and the nature of the work itself -- its solidity of thought and its depth of spiritual apprehension -- brightens our hopes for the future of the churches in which it has had its birth. Only a spiritually minded Church provides a soil in which a literature of the Spirit can grow. There are some who will miss in the book what they are accustomed to call |scientific| character; it has no lack certainly of scientific exactitude of conception, and if it seems to any to lack |scientific| form, it assuredly has a quality which is better than anything that even a |scientific| form could give it -- it is a religious book. It is the product of a religious heart, and it leads the reader to a religious contemplation of the great facts of the Spirit's working. May it bring to all, into whose hands it finds its way in this fresh vehicle of a new language, an abiding and happy sense of rest on and in God the Holy Ghost, the Author and Lord of all life, to whom in our heart of hearts we may pray:

|Veni, Creator Spiritus,

Spiritus recreator,

Tu deus, tu datus coelitus,

Tu donum, tu donator.|

Princeton Theological Seminary,

April 23, 1900.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy