Abraham Kuyper.

Encyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... online

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Whatever still remains in the sinner of this seed of religion
and the knowledge of God connected with this, is, therefore,
adopted by special revelation, as the indispensable instrn-
raent by which it operates. Without this, it neither reaches
nor touches man, remains an a,bstraction, and misses its form
of existence. How can there be a sense of sin without the
sense of God, or susceptibility for grace without the con-
sciousness of guilt ? The Holy Bible is, therefore, neither
a law-book nor a catechism, but the documentation of a
part of human life, and in that human life of a divine pro-
cess. Of the Apocalyptic vision only, it can be said that
it misses this quality in part ; but because of this very
antithesis with the Apocalypse, one perceives at once the
real human character of all the other parts of the revelation-
life. Nowhere in the Scriptures do you find, therefore, an
attempt to divide into certain compartments what is severally
supplied by natural and special knowledge ; but, throughout,
you find the special revelation grafted upon the natural.
Natural knowledge is not only assumed by the special, but
only in this does it fully assert itself. Knowledge is the
pinnacle which is not placed on the ground alongside of
the steeple, but is supported by the body of the steeple and is
lifted up on high. You may not say, therefore : This is my
natural revelation, in addition to which comes the special.
For as a result, you obtain but 07ie "knowledge of God," the
content of which has flowed to you from hotJi sources, whose
waters have mingled themselves.

And if for this reason an exhibition of the special knowl-
edge without the natural is inconceivable, the representation
is equally absurd that the tiatural knowledge of God, without
enrichment by the special, could ever effect a satisfying
result. The outcome has shown that this natural knowl-
edge, as soon as it threw off the bridle of paradise tradition,
led the masses to idolatry and brutalization, and the finer
minds to false philosophies and equally false morals. Paul
indicates one of these two phases by the remark, that there
was first a condition in Avhich the natural knowledge of God
allowed " that which may be known of God " (Rom. i. 19} to


be manifest, but that this was followed by the period in which
God gave the sinner up (Tra/aeSco/ce) . Not to speak now of
that first period, it is clear that at least after that the natural
knowledge of God could lead to no result ; not even in }jhi-
losophy, of which the same apostle testifies that the " wisdom
of the world is made foolish " (1 Cor. i. 20). Hence it is only
by the special knowledge that the natural knoAvledge be-
comes serviceable. By the light of the Scripture the sinner
becomes able to give himself an account of the " seed of re-
ligion" in his heart and of the " divine things " visible in the
cosmos ; but, where this light hides itself even upon the
Areopagus I advance no farther than to the Unknown God.
If therefore this entire juxtaposition, as though a sjjecial
knowledge of God stood side by side with a natural knowledge
of God, falls away, the way is cleared thereby to view more
accurately the relation between the two principia of this
knowledge thus distinguished. Both principia are one in
God, and the beam of this light is onl}^ broken when the
soundness of our human heart is broken by sin. The
knowledge-bringing impulse goes out from God to us ; the
active element, the first mover (primum movens), as the ulti-
mate cause (principium remotissimum), lies in the Divine
Being. This impulse of self-communication to man attains
its end completely in creation by the whole instrumentation
for the natural knowledge. And where, after sin, this Divine
impulse encounters an evil cataract, which prevents the
entrance of light, this impulse seeks and finds another and
more sure way by special revelation. Hence it is the same
God, and in that God the same impulse, by which both prin-
cipia appear in actioii. That in the origin of all things, or,
more particularly, in God's eternal counsel, both these stood
in this unity before God, cannot detain us here, since this
belongs to the domain of dogmatics ; but here it must be
indicated that the natural principium lays the foundation
of all knowledge, and that the special principium either fails
of its purpose or must adapt itself entirely to the provisions
that are original in the creation. Even the miracles, whose
character cannot be considered closely here, link no new ele-


ment into the sum of things, but, so far as their origin is con-
cerned, they are entirely identical with the wondrous power
which became manifest in the creation itself. The same is
true of the several means, which God has employed, to intro-
duce the special revelation into our human consciousness.
In the interests of this also you see no new or otlier capaci-
ties appear in man ; but merely the application in a peculiar
manner of what was given in the creation. Before the fall
God speaks with Adam, God causes a deep sleep to come
upon Adam, and, by an encroaching act of God, Eve enters
upon existence. God has entrance to our heart by nature,
and not first by grace ; He is able to rule the human spirit
by His Spirit ; and able to communicate to man what He
will. The communication of the test-commandment is an
immediate communication of a conscious thought, which
could not rise from Adam's own consciousness. Actually,
therefore, in special revelation no single means is used which
was not already present by nature in or about man. No
new structure is provided for human consciousness. All
that has taken place is, that God the Lord has restored a few
broken strings of the instrument, tuned these restored strings
in a different way, and by this immediate modification He has
evoked such a tone from the instrument as, being without
significance to sinless man, had become indispensable to the
sinner. Hence there would have been no question of a second
principium, if there were not this act of God, by Avhich
He has accommodated Himself to the sinner. It is with
this, as it is with you, Avhen for the sake of making yourself
understood by a member of the family who has become deaf,
you no longer choose his ear as a vehicle for your thoughts,^
but make him read with his eyes the words from your lips..
Thus, when we became deaf to God, He has employed a dif- \
ferent means by which to make Himself knowable to us ; and 1
in so far as with a deaf person the hearing of sound and the
reading of Hps might be called a different "principium of
knowledge," there is here also the mention of such different
principles, but only in so far. There has gone out an act from
God to reveal Himself to the sinner, however deaf this one


had become ; for this God has availed Himself of the means
that were present in the creation, but which were now applied
in a different way ; and it is by this abnormal act of God,
brought about by the modified application of present means,
that special revelation was established ; and in this, i.e.
in this ahnormal act of God, brought about by means applied
in a different way, lies the special principium for the knowl-
edge of God as All-Merciful to sinners. When croup pre-
vents the breathing in of air, the heroic operation in the
throat is sometimes undertaken, in order in this way to
obtain a new opening for the supply of fresh air ; but
they are still the same lungs for which the air is intended,
and it is the same atmosphere from which the air is drawn ;
only another entrance has been unlocked temporarily^ and in
so far a different principium of respiration has been estab-
lished. In this sense it can be said, that the normal en-
trance, which in creation God had unlocked for Himself to
our heart, had become inaccessible by sin, and that for this
reason, by an act of heroic grace, God has temporarily opened
for Himself another entrance to our heart, to reveal Himself
as the same God to the same creature, only now with the aid
of a different principium of revelation.

In God, who is and always will be Himself the principium
of all being (essentia) and all knowing (cognitio), nothing-
else is conceivable than the unity of principium. But when
from His eternal being our hecomi^ig is born, there is majesty
in this eternal being to maintain His divine identity over
against every abnormal process in our becoming; and this
takes place by the appearance of the special principium,
which actually is nothing else but the maintenance of God's
holiness over against our sin, of God's truth over against
our falsehood, and of God's counsel over against the demo-
niacal design of Satan.

§ 71. Is the Natural Principiiini able to sinnmon the Special
Principium before its Tribunal?

Having freed ourselves, in the preceding section, of all
dualism, which is so often inserted between the two principia



of Divine knowledge, we now face the no less important
question, whether the yiatural principium, either formally or
materially, is to sit in judgment upon the special principium.
This is the frequent claim. The y wh o_,QppQse- us, and do ^^/il(/1/^
not recognize another principium alongside of the natural ^/t'l^
data, continually demand, that we demonstrate the reality
and the Reliability of the special principium at the bar of -^^
human reason. And to a certain extent this demand is fair,
at least over against Methodism, and, in fact, over against
every dualistic tendency, which, in the sense we disapprove,
places special revelation as a new unit alongside of the
natural principium, as though the latter were under sen-
tence of death, and the special principium could furnish the
guarantee of eternal permanency. Over against every rep-
resentation of this character our conviction remains dominant
that our life, as originally given in the Creation, is the sub-
stratum of our real existence ; that as such it is and remains
for us the real ; and that, therefore, whatever special revela-
tion may supply, must be taken up into this and, for us
personally, can only thus obtain its reality. From this,
however, it does not follow that the natural principium
should be qualified to judge the special revelation. If
special revelation assumes that in consequence of sin the
normal activity of the natural principium is disturbed, this
implies of itself that the natural principium has lost its
competency to judge. He who considers it possessed of
this competency declares therebj^ eo ipso that it is still
normal, and thus removes all sufficient reason for a special
revelation. You must either deny it the right of judgment,
or, if you grant it this right, the object disappears upon j
which judgment shall be passed. The psychiater, who treats
the maniac, cannot render his method of treatment dependent
upon the judgment of his patient. Equally little can you
attribute this right of judgment over the special principium
to the natural principium, if you consider the character of a
principium. As soon as you grant that special revelation
falls under the judgment of your natural principium, it is
hereby denied eo ipso th;it it has proceeded from a prin-


cipium of its own. No other judgment except death un-
qualified ("la mort sans phrase") is here possible for the
special principium, simply because a judgment, derived from
the natural principium deeming itself normal, cannot posit
a second principium. A principium in its own sphere is
exclusive. In order to subject the principium of theology
to the judgment of another principium, you must first con-
fess that it is no real principium. For a thing is either no
principium, or it must be autonomous and sufficient unto

This is of the more force, in this instance, insomuch as
the natural principium, taking its stand in judgment over
against us, presents itself as unimpaired, and pretends to be
normal. If it recognized the reality of another principium,
it would at the same time imply the confession, that it itself
has become disabled, and is consequently in need of the cor-
rective or of the supplement of another principium. Hence
this question also has a moral side. If self-knowledge, quick-
ened by the inshining of a higher light, leads to the recog-
nition that the natural principium has become imperfect,
then it is most natural (1) to grant the necessity of a
corrective principium, and at the same time (2) to recog-
nize that our darkened natural principium is incompetent
to pass judgment. If, on the other hand, I stand in the
high-spirited conviction that the natural principium is in
good order, that nothing is wanting in it, and that conse-
quently it has the right of supremacy, then it follows that
every corrective must seem insulting, upon all of which alike
I must pass the sentence of death, and that I cannot rest
until each corrective lies executed under the dissecting knife
of criticism. The outcome, indeed, has shown that this
standpoint has never been taken and maintained with any
degree of consistency, without the whole of special revelation
being always and inexorably declared to be the product of
delusion or of self-deception. Grace has been granted only
to those component parts of this revelation which allowed
themselves to be brought over to the natural principium.
Every effort to defend the good right of your position is


therefore entirely vain, over against a man of thought, who
hokls the natural principiura to be unimpaired, and who has
not himself come under the overwhelming power of the special
principium. Being as he is, he can do nothing else than dis-
pute your special revelation every right of existence; to move
him to a different judgment you should not reason with him,
but chaligenirm in his consciousness ; and since this is the
fruit of regeneration, it does not lie with you, but with God.

From this, again, it does not follow that you may now
accept everything that comes into your mind, and that thus
you may be unreasonable ivith Tjourself. Reformed Theology
has always antagonized this caprice, and in imitation of the
Cur Deus liomo ? of Anselm it has, with reference also to
special revelation, first of all instituted an investigation into
the necessitas Sacrae Scripturae. He who, thanks to the in-
shining of higher light, has perceived the darkening of the
natural principium, and has given himself captive to the
special principium, cannot on this account abandon his rea-
son, but is bound to try to understand these two facts in
their mutual relation and in relation to the reality in which
he finds himself. This is both demanded and rendered
possible by what we found in the last section concerning the
relation of the special principium to our creaturely capaci-
ties ; even in the sense, that one is able to see for himself
the reasonableness of his conviction and confession ; is able
to prove this to those who start out from similar premises ;
and can place them before the opponent in such a light that,
with the assumption of our premises, he can accept our con-

The argument may even then be continued concerning
those premises themselves, more particularly with reference
to the question, whether our reason is in a condition of
soundness or of darkening ; but suppose that the unsound-
ness or abnormality of our reason be granted on both sides,
this would by no means compel the opponent to accept the
special principium which we defend. From the coincidence
of the facts, that one of your children is lost and that I have
found a lost child, it does not in the least follow, that the


child I have found is yoxxv child. Even though it were
frankly granted that something is lacking in our reason,
that our reason by itself is insufficient, — yes, that it calls
for a complement, — the conclusion can never be logically
drawn from this that the Sacra Scrip tura, or, better still, the
special principium lying back of this, either is or offers this
complement. Even though you compel the opponent to
recognize, that your special principium fits into the imper-
fection of your natural principium as a piece of china into a
broken dish, this would not prove the reality of this natural
principium. For it could still be answered, that the defect
would surely be supplemented, if indeed a revelation, such
as you pretend, were at our disposal ; but that this is the
very thing in which you are mistaken ; that your special
principium, with its supposed fruit in the Sacra Scriptura,
is nothing but the shadow cast upon the wall by the existing
defect ; is the product of your own imagination ; the minus
balance of your account changed into plus. In a word, there
would always be defence ready against the proof that this
special principium is real, and this proof is not possible of
any principium. Could this be furnished, it would eo ipso
cease to be a principium.

But this will not be reached. For though you succeed
in showing that your reason founders upon antinomies,
that it finds itself shut up within limits which cannot be
made to agree with the impulse after knowledge that works
in it, and that it leaves the higher aspirations of our nature
unsatisfied, this has no compelling force with him who has
an interest in not accepting your special principium. For he
can make good his escape by the way of agnosticism, which
accepts the incomplete character of our knowledge as an
iron necessity ; or make the side-leap to the pantheistic
process, which calculates that from the incomplete the com-
plete of itself will gradually come forth. Moreover, though
he evade you in this manner, you ma}- not question the
honesty of your opponent. From your own point of view
you acknowledge that he who stands outside of spiritual
illumination does not perceive, and cannot perceive, the real


condition of his own being, nor of his reason. In a religious-
ethical sense you may indeed say, that the impulse of his
opposition is enmity against God ; but this does not make
him dishonest as a man of science, within the domain of
logic. He takes his premises, as they actually present them-
selves to him, and so far acknowledges with you, that in the
natural principium there is something that does not satisfy
us ; but he disputes that, for the present at least, it needs to
satisfy us, and more still, that the satisfaction, of which you
boast, is anything more than appearance.

Hence the dispute can advance no farther than the acknowl- 1
edgment of antinomies in our consciousness and the insuf-'
ficiency of our reason to satisfy entirely our thirst after
knowledge. But where the recognition of this leads you
to the conclusion of the iiecessity of the Sacred Scripture,
the rationalist either stops with the recognition of this
disharmony, or glides over into other theories, which allow
him to limit liimself to the natural principium. And
rather than call in the aid of another principium with you,
he will cast himself into the arms of materialism, which
releases him at once from the search after an infinite world,
which then does not exist. All the trouble, therefore, tliat
men have given themselves to make advance, by logical
argument, from the acknowledgment of the insufficiency of
our reason as a starting-point, has been a vain expenditure
of strength. The so-called Doctrine of Principles (Princi-
pienlehre) may have served to strengthen in his conviction
one who has confessed the special principium ; and to shield
prevailing tradition from passing too rapidly into oblivion ;
it has never provided force of proof against the opponent.
He who is not born of water and the Spirit, cannot see the
kingdom of God, and the human mind is sufficiently invent-
ive so to modify its tactics, Avhenever you imagine that you
have gained your point, that your proof is bound to lose its
force. It is a little different, of course, when you touch the
strings of the emotions, or appeal to the " seed of religion " ;
but then you enter upon another domain, and cease to draw
conclusions from logical premises.


The same is true in part of the apologetic attempt to re-
fute objections raised against the content of our Christian con-
fession, and more particularly against the Holy Scripture as
the principium of theology. Polemics will never be able to
attain satisfactory results with reference to these points,
simply because the spheres of conceptions and convictions,
from which the argument proceeds on the two sides, are too
' widely apart : the result of which is that scarcely a single
concrete point can be broached, which does not involve the
whole subject of anthropology and the entire " Erkenntniss-
theorie." In order, therefore, to make any gain, the general
data that present themselves with such a concrete point should
first be settled, one by one, before the real point in question
can be handled. This makes every debate of that sort
constrained. Scarcely has a single step been ventured in
the way of such a controversy before it is felt on both
sides that the acknowledgment of a different opinion on
this one point would unsettle one's entire life- and world-
view. If the naturalist grants the break of the chain of
^r - natural causes in one point, by acknowledging that a psychic

( or physical miracle has taken place, his entire system is over-

thrown ; and, in like manner, if the Christian theologian
acknowledges in one cardinal point the assertions of his-
- 1 torical criticism with reference to the Holy Scripture, he

' H ^' thereby loses his grasp upon the whole principium by which
'' " his theology lives. By this we do not assert that, with
reference to the Holy Scripture, there are not many re-
marks that have been made on logical incongruities, either
in the economy of the Scripture itself, or between it and
cosmic and historic reality outside of it, which, unless our
confession is to lose its reasonable character, claim an answer
from our side ; but though these remarks might compel us
to make confession in our turn of a partial agnosticism, or
to subject the dogma of inspiration to revision, to us the
special principium will never lose thereby its characteristic
supremacy ; just as on the other hand the most triumphant
solution of the objections raised against it never could, and
never can move him, who does not confess this principium, to


accept it. The acceptance of this principium in the end
cannot rest upon anything save the witness of the Holy
Spirit^ even as the acceptance of the natural principium has
never rested upon anything save the witness of our spirit,
i.e. of our self-consciousness. If this testimonium of our
self-consciousness fails us, then we become sceptics or insane ;
and, in like manner, if the Avitness of the Holy Spirit is not
present in us, or is at least inactive in us, we cannot reckon
with a special principium.

The effort, therefore, put forth by theology in the days
of the Reformation to derive from the Scripture itself proofs
for its divine character, is devoid of all force with the
opponent. Not because of the objection, that you reason
in a circle, by seeking from the Scripture itself what the
Scripture is. Our earlier theologians answered this cor-
rectly by saying, that this argument was not meant authori-
tative, but ratiocinative ; that the glitter of the sappliire
could only be proven by the sapphire ; and that in like
manner the divine majesty of the Holy Scripture could only
shine out from that Scripture. But however accurate this
statement was, what avail is it, if you show the most beauti-
ful sapphire to one blind, or to one of " that worst kind of
blind people who refuse to see " ? One needs, therefore,
but examine the series of these proofs for a moment, and it
is at once perceived how utterly devoid of force they are
over against him who merely accepts the natural principium.
The miracles and the fulfilment of prophecy, indeed, have
been pointed to, as if these had some power of proof for him
who denies the very possibility of miracle and emasculates
all concretely fulfilled prophecy as being "projihecy after

Online LibraryAbraham KuyperEncyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... → online text (page 36 of 64)