Due to debates on theonomy v. two kingdoms, I declared that I believe whatever Abraham Kuyper believed. As it has been 5 years since I read about him, I figured that I had better read what he actually said about a Calvinist's relation to politics. The following are quotations from his Stone Lecture on Calvinism and Politics, and anything in bold is my commentary.
And the mistake of the Alexanders, and of the Augusti, and of the Napoleons
was not that they were charmed with the thought of the One-world empire, but it was this – that they endeavored to realize
this idea notwithstanding that the force of sin had dissolved our unity.
God has instituted the magistrates by reason of sin.
Calvinism has therefore, by its deep conception of sin, laid bare the true
root of state-life, and has taught us two things: First – that we have gratefully to receive,
from the hand of God, the institution of the State with its magistrates, as a
means of preservation, now indeed indispensable. And on the other hand also that, by virtue of
our natural impulse, we must ever watch against the danger, which lurks, for
our personal liberty, in the power of the State.
In politics also it taught us, that the human element – here the people –
may not be considered as the principle thing, so that God is only dragged in to
help this people in the hour of its need; but on the contrary that God, in his
Majesty, must flame before the eyes of many nation, and that all nations
together are to be reckoned before Him as a drop of a bucket and as the small
dust of the balances.
“And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own
magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favour, by electing to the
positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.” – Calvin
But with equal decision, Calvin asserts that God has the sovereign power, in
the way of his dispensing Providence, to take from a people this most desirable
condition, or never to bestow it at all, when a nation is unfit for it, or, by
its sin, has utterly forfeited the blessing.
All this, however, is no theocracy. A
theocracy was only found in Israel, because in Israel, God intervened
1. God only – and never any creature – is possessed of sovereign rights…2.
Sin has, in the realm of politics, broken down the direct government of God… 3.
In whatever authority this may reveal itself, man never possesses power over
Directly opposed to this Calvinistic confession, there are two other
theories. That of the popular-sovereignty, as it has been
anti-theistically proclaimed and Paris in 1789; and that of state-sovereignty, as it has of late
been developed by the historico-pantheistic school of Germany. Both these theories are at heart identical,
but for the sake of clearness, they demand a separate treatment.
The French Revolution is in principle distinct from all these national revolutions, which were
undertaken with the praying lips and with trust in the help of God. The French Revolution ignores God. It opposes God. It refuses to recognize a deeper ground of
political life than that which is found in nature, that is, in this instance,
in man himself…The sovereign God is dethroned and man with his free will is
placed on the vacant seat.
Now it was not to be the sovereignty of the people, but the Sovereignty of the State, a product of
German philosophical pantheism…It was correctly seen that a people is no
aggregate, but an organic whole…Slowly these organs arrived at their historic
development. By these organs, the will
of the State operates, and everything must bow before its will.
The Law is right, not because its contents are in harmony with the eternal
principles of right, but because it is
law…it becomes the ever-changing will of the State.
We come now to sovereignty in the
sphere of Society. In a Calvinistic
sense, we understand hereby that the family, the business, science, art, and so
forth are all social spheres, which do not owe their existence to the State,
and which do not derive the law of their life from the superiority of the
state, but obey a high authority within their own bosom; an authority which
rules, by the grace of God, just as the sovereignty of the state does.
It may be sharply and decidedly expressed that these different developments
of social life have nothing above
themselves but God, and that the State cannot intrude here, and has nothing
to command in their domain. As you feel
at once, this is a deeply interesting question of civil liberties.
Free love may try to dissolve, and the concubinate to desecrate, the holiest
tie, as it pleases; but for the vast majority of our race marriage remains the
foundation of human society and the family retains its position, as the
primordial sphere in society.
This unity does no longer exist. The
government of God can no longer assert itself.
The patriarchal hierarchy has been destroyed. A world empire neither cannot be established
nor ought it to be.
According to the apostolic testimony the
magistrate bears the sword, and this sword has a threefold meaning. It is the sword of justice, to mete out corporeal punishment to the criminal. It is the sword of war to defend the honour and the rights and interests of the State
against its enemies, and it is the sword of order,
to thwart at home all forceful rebellion.
He agrees that after the flood, God
instituted government with a sword so that those who put people to death should
be put to death.
1. Social sphere, 2. corporative
sphere, 3. the domestic sphere of the family, 4. communal autonomy.
In all these four spheres, the state government cannot impose its laws, but
must reverence the innate law of life.
He moves to the difficulty in the
role of Church in the state. The
difficulty lies in the unanimous and uniform advice of Calvin and his
epigonies, who demanded intervention of the government in the matter of
The duty of the government to extirpate every form of false religion and
idolatry was not found in Calvin, but in
Emperor Constantine, in reaction to what his pagan predecessors had done to the
Christians. He points to the Servetus
affair as a terrible result of this tradition.
The first system worked because there
was only one Church that had to defend against heresies and sects. Then the Reformation happened, and the Church
kept dividing. Then Christians started
persecuting Christians in the name of Jesus, and many innocent people were
killed, thus showing that a theonomic society can never work if we are still
divided into denominations.
The Truth, true as it must ever
remain in our personal consciences, may never be imposed by force on other
Duty towards God, the magistrate is
still God’s appointed servant.
The sphere of the state is not profane.
But both Church and State must each in their own sphere, obey God and
serve his honour.
Duty toward the Church; if the Church
was still united, this would be an easy answer.
Or is it the duty of the government to suspend its own judgment and
to consider the multiform complex of all these denominations, as the totality
of the manifestation of Christ on earth?
Kuyper sees that as the answer,
not from neutrality, which isn’t
possible but because the government lacks the data of judgment.
The government bears the sword that wounds; not the sword of the Spirit,
which decides in spiritual questions.
Only the system of a free Church in a free State may be honored from a
Calvinistic standpoint. They exist side by side and mutually limit
Duty toward the individual person;
man also has his own individual sphere in society, which I’m pretty sure I
don’t agree with completely. No man is
an island, but a family unit.
Conscience is never subject to man but always and forever to God
Almighty. The Inquisition, its practices violated and assaulted human life in
Liberty in the French Revolution and
Calvinism are two different things. The
French give us liberty to agree with the unbelieving majority. The Calvinists grant a liberty of conscience,
which enables every man to serve God, according to his own conviction and the
dictates of his heart.
In conclusion: Kuyper believes in the separation of church and state as they are separate spheres. He does not believe in the separation of God and state. However, God gave the government the sword to defend the sanctity of life, to kill anyone who has killed a human life. He gave the Church the sword of the spirit. Unfortunately, the Church is not currently unified. Therefore, the Church cannot properly punish heretics, sectarians, and sinners. Because of this disunity, there a church can never rule a state without disaster or corruption. Therefore, we must wait on Christ to return and reunite us for there to be an ideal Christian state.