John Clover Monsma.

What Calvinism has done for America online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryJohn Clover MonsmaWhat Calvinism has done for America → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 3433 06826246 2



K \

What Calvinism Has
Done for America







• •:.■': AND

1921 L

Copyright 1919. by


Our fathers' God, to Thee,

Author of Liberty,

To Thee we sing!

Long may our land be bright

With freedom's holy light!

Protect us by Thy might,

Great God, our King!


IN the following pages the author has tried to give a
brief account of what he believes to be the origin
of American fundamentals. In doing so he was
fully conscious of the fact, that he was rowing against
the current, that the majority of writers on this subject
present an altogether different view, — a view to which
the American public has become so accustomed, that any
attempts to create a diverse opinion might easily be
looked upon as foredoomed to failure.

And yet — the author is a sworn believer in the in-
vincibility of Truth. ' ' Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise
again ; The unending years of God are hers ! ' ' It was
his love of what he regarded as the truth which made
the author write the following pages.

At the same time, this book is meant to answer in
some slight measure the clarion call that was issued
twenty years ago by Holland 's grand old man, Dr. Abra-
ham Kuyper, when he lectured for a Princeton, N. J.,
audience. Said the Dutch statesman, " . . .1 contend
for an historical study of the principles of Calvinism.
No love without knowledge; and Calvinism has lost its
place in the hearts of the people. It is being advocated
only from a theological point of view, and even then
very one-sidedly, and merely as a side-issue. , . Since
Calvinism arose, not from an abstract system, but from
life itself, it never was in the century of its prime pre-
sented as a systematic whole. The tree blossomed and
yielded its fruit, but without anyone having made a
botanic study of its nature and growth. Calvinism, in
its rise, rather acted than argued. But now this study
may no longer be delayed. Both the biography and biolo-
gy of Calvinism must now be thoroughly investigated and


thought out, or with our lack of self-knowledge, we shall
be side-tracked into a world of ideas that is more at dis-
cord than in consonance with the life of our Christian
democracy, and cut loose from the root on which we once
blossomed so vigorously."

Ours is a country of liberty and democracy. Perhaps
no other truth is being held so constantly before the
spiritual eye of the nation, at this time. Our fathers
have bequeathed unto us "a goodly heritage," and we
mean to defend the same with our lives and possessions.
It would seem that this is the opportune time to examine
our "heritage," to look into its origin and nature.

The author proposes to write a second volume, which
will contain a description of the middle and southern colo-
nies and a general historical survey up to the present time.

In preparing these pages considerable use was made
of original documents. The author believes that George
E, Ellis was right when he said, ''It is in the original
documentary sources of our early history, written by
those who made that history, not in even the best digests
and compounds of it, that we are brought into the most
communicative relations with the founders and early
legislators of our Commonwealth." The reader will
find quotations to be plentiful. The author, realizing
that his stand is somewhat singular and exceptional,
introduced reliable witnesses wherever a fit occasion
presented itself. "In multitude of counsellors . there is
safety. ' '

In conclusion the kindness and helpfulness of many
state oflScials must be acknowledged. The librarians of
the old Puritan states deserve special mention. Their
kindness, in furnishing the necessary literature, was re-
freshing indeed. The author hereby publicly expresses
his moat cordial thanks to them, and may they fare well!
Chicago, J. C. M.




Introduction 1

I Calvinism in Old England 13

II John Calvin and English Keformatory

Movements 29

III The Men of the Mayflower .... 67

IV The Puritan Migration 101

V The Nation-Builders at Work .... 129

1. Church-life

2. Polities

3. Social Life

4. Education

Bibliography 185


I STOOD in a huge mountaincleft, down in southern
On my side a stream whirled by, noisily, tur-
bulently, as though it were angry at the many bowlders
that had dared to block its path.

From the rocks, high and low, sprung an hundred

It was wild and beautiful,

* * *

The week before I had carried out a novel plan: I
had traced this stream to its source. Dangerous slate
nor craggy hollows had deterred me. I fought and
conquered. Among the things I had learned was that
this youthful torrent had many tributaries — streams and
streamlets that had, somewhere in the vicinity, sprung
from the rocks — and I had noticed that these tribu-
taries added considerably to the volume of the torrent.

But the main source I had not found in the rocks.

It lay in other regions.

It lay, high and far, in the snows, on the summit,
where heaven touches earth.

* * *

And unto that mountain torrent I likened my coun-

Its life has been fed, sustained, strengthened — oft-
times, indeed, polluted — by many tributaries. Some men,
in their study of national origins, have investigated
these tributaries, often with astonishing minuteness, —
but they do not seem to have gone beyond them.

And yet — the main source lies in other regions.

It lies, high and far, in the snows, — where heaven
touches earth, — where God communes with man.


It lies in religion.

And the form of that religion was Calvinism.

♦ * *

Calvinism was not fathered by John Calvin. The
system of ideas indicated by this word was in existence
long before the illustrious man, whose name it bears.

Nor is ''Calvinism" a mere synonym of Predestina-
tion, or any other specific doctrine of the Bible. It is
more than a doctrine. It is more than a theological
concept. It is a life-and-world-view.

This point was not always brought out with sufficient
clearness by our American writers. Admirable accounts
have been written of Calvinism, but the impression lin-
gers that it belongs in the sphere of ' ' dry theology, ' '
together with Arminianism, Pelagianism, Anabaptism,
and the like, and that it has no theoretical and practical
value outside of the walls of a few denominational semi-
naries. As a writer of note tells us, ''Calvinism" has
generally been regarded a sectarian, confessional, and
ecclesiastical term.

That being the case, it should not excite wonderment
that such an eminent writer as Doyle tells his readers,
"The dialectical controversies of Calvinism are couched
in a language to which we have lost the key ; their phrases
do not /or us correspond to anything that really exists
in human thought, ' '* The writer, of course, had in mind
the purely theological disputes of the colonial age.
"Calvinism," to Mr. Doyle, was a "sectarian, con-
fessional, and ecclesiastical term." And he represents
a wide phalanx of authors.

Thanks, however, to the untiring efforts of men
like Dr. Abraham Kuyper, former Premier of the Nether-
lands, and his spiritual forerunner, Guillaume Groen

*Doyle, English Colonies, Vol. Ill, p. 79,


van Prinsterer, statesman and royal secretary, — thanks,
also, to the studies of fellow-countrymen like Professors
Benjamin B. Warfield and Francis R. Beattie, of Prince-
ton and Louisville, respectively, — ^we can now make a
fairer and more truly historical appreciation of the
things that our Calvinistic forefathers professed to
stand for than a few decades ago. We have come out
of the Narrows and find ourselves upon the broad and
mighty Deep. Calvinism, in its broader aspect, has a
strictly scientific meaning. It is a well-defined system
of ideas, — of ideas concerning God and man, concerning
the moral, social, and political life of the world. It is
an organic structure, complete in itself. It is a gigantic
tree, risen from one seminal principle, projecting its
limbs in all directions, and lifting its verdant crown
to the azure of heaven.

That the foundation-builders of American life had
a detailed knowledge of Calvinism in this strictly scien-
tific sense and were fully conscious of all that it implies,
we would never essay to prove. But that they believed
in it and were constantly controlled by it, are facts
that need only the light of historical investigation to
show forth their absolute stability. Because the ma-
jority of historians have never made a serious study
of Calvinism they have never been able to tell us truth-
fully and completely what Calvinism has done for Ameri-
ca. The one excludes the other.

The root-principle of Calvinism is the absolute sov-
ereignty of God. All other Calvinistic doctrines and
ideas can be deduced from it. The Isaiahnic, ''AH
nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted
to Him less than nothing and vanity," and the Paulinie,
"Who art thou that repliest against God?", — they are
the passwords that will unlock the gates of Calvinism's


temple, that will cause them to swing open wide, so
that the mystic grandeur of its interior may be seen
and the splendor of its innumerable treasures.

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied
to the Bible, demands an absolute subservience to all
of its prescripts, not only in the sphere of the church,
but in all walks of life. God is the absolute Sovereign
of all of life; therefore His Word should be the con-
trolling factor in every sphere of life's activity.

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied
to the sphere of religion, demands the view that man
exists for the sake of God, that the entire process of
redemption has for its aim the vindication of the honor
and justice of the Creator, and also, that it is only free
grace which brings a man, dead in sin and misery, into
a neAv relationship with the Father. It tolerates no
human interposition between God and man and conse-
quently no sacerdotalism, in whatever form it may ap-
pear. "Coram Deo," face to face with God, is a truly
Calvinistic motto.

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied
to the sphere of morals, requires of all men conformity
to the moral law of Holy Writ. Since, however, true
morality, a morality that is principally perfect, can only
exist, as Scripture informs us, when the Holy Spirit
works in man's soul, man is required to pray constantly
for the Spirit's operation.

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied
to social life, demands that all social relations and insti-
tutions, which God Himself, according to His Word,
has established, shall be respected and adhered to, and
demands, moreover, an implicit obedience of subordi-
nates to those that are placed above them, since all
earthly authority, or "sovereignty," has been derived
from the sovereignty of God, and since a regard for



the former implies, necessarily, respect for the latter.
At the same time this principle leads to the doctrine
of the equality of men as men, since an inherent superi-
ority of one man over another would be in contradiction
with the absoluteness of the sovereignty of God. All
sovereignty is vested in God, and in God only. There
is no sovereignty in man whatsoever. What sovereign-
ty man has is derivative in character; has been gracious-
ly granted unto him.

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied to
politics, must of necessity militate for the Biblical view
that ''there is no power but of God; the powers that be
are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth
the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." Govern-
ments are instituted by God through the instrumentality
of the people. No kaiser or president has any power
inherent in himself; whatever power he possesses, what-
ever sovereignty he exercises, is power and sovereignty
derived from the great Source above. No might, but
right, and right springing from the eternal Fountain
of justice. For the Calvinist it is extremely easy to
respect the laws and ordinances of the government.
If the governmen't were nothing but a group of men,
bound to carry out the wishes of a popular majority,
his freedom-loving soul would rebel. For in the last
analysis that would mean a rule of man over man. But
now, to his mind, and according to his fixed belief, —
back of that government stands God, and before Him
he kneels in deepest reverence. Here also lies the funda-
mental reason for that profound and almost fanatic
love of freedom, also of political freedom, which has al-
ways been a characteristic of the genuine Calvinist. The
government is God's servant. That means that AS MEN
all government officials stand on an equal footing with
their subordinates; have no claim to superiority in any


sense whatsoever. At the very moment any such gov-
ernment official, be he kaiser or king or president, should
begin to act in an arbitrary way and thereby intimate
his purpose to ignore the derivative character of his
official powers, every Calvinist would recalcitrate. The
honor of his heavenly Sovereign would be at stake, —
and his own rights and freedom. For exactly the same
reason the Calvinist gives preference to a republican
form of government over any other type. In no other
form of government does the sovereignty of God, the
derivative character of governmental powers, and the
equality of men as men, find a clearer and more eloquent

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied to
the judiciary, leads to the recognition of God as the
supreme Lawgiver. In God is what the Romans were
wont to call the ''fas," the "jus divinum, " the divine
source of right, and all human right, all "jus humanum, "
is again derivative in character. The divine principles
of right find their objective expression in Holy Writ
and are subjectively and consentaneously revealed
by the "still, small voice,'' the inner consciousness of
those that truly have connection with the "Fons Juris."
Every civil law must conform to the principles thus made

This principle of divine sovereignty, when applied to
the sphere of education, demands that every man, woman,
and child shall strive, or be caused to strive, after the
highest possible development of the intellectual powers.
The very evident reason for this is that the servant
who is best informed as to the wishes of his master
can best serve him. The more man knows concerning
God and His works, the better he will understand the
divine will, and the better able he will be to live a life
that glorifies his Maker. An excursion into theological


metaphysics could be made at this point, but the nature

of the present study and the purpose of this introduction

forbid any digressions of that kind.
* * *

Calvinism — we shall henceforth use this name in its
cosmological, scientific sense — can boast of a long his-
tory, a history that covers not merely centuries, but
millenniums of human deeds and endeavor. Among those
that believed in it and were its advocates some of the
world's greatest men can be found. Anachronistic
though it may sound, the statement is fully warranted
that even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were staunch
" Calvinists, " so far as the fundamental principle is
concerned. At that ancient time no systematic de-
velopment of this fundamental principle had, of
course, taken place yet. For that matter one might
go back to Noah and Enoch and maintain that even
they honored and defended the principle which John
Calvin, some four thousand years later, expounded in a
systematic way. Proceeding from the patriarchal tents
the " Calvinistic " movement took its course through
the national channel of Israel; found its divine repre-
sentative in the Eabbi of Nazareth; was advocated and
popularized by that great student from Gamaliel 's school,
the Apostle Paul; was upheld by Ignatius, Justin Mar-
tyr, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Ambrose, and Augustine; from
Augustine proceeded to Gottschalk and Peter Waldo;
found an imperfect expression in the works of some of
the Scholastics; was heralded with more clearness and
distinctness by Thomas Bradwardine; caused the mighty
endeavors of John Wyclif in England and of John Huss
in Bohemia; and was finally embodied in the towering
figure of John Calvin, the Genevese Reformer, whose
mastermind cast it and shaped it and prepared it for its
tremendous task in modern times.


In France the Huguenots arose, in HoUand the Beg-
gars, in Scotland the Covenanters, in England the Puri-
tans, and in New-England both Pilgrimfathers and
Puritans. They were all Calvinists. For them it re-
mained to fight the world's battle of freedom,— free-
dom in church and state. For them it remained to save
Protestantism in all countries of western Europe. ''In
Switzerland," says Fruin, ''in France, in Holland, in
England, wherever Protestantism had to maintain itself
with the sword, it was Calvinism that won the battle."*
And when, in the seventeenth century, the French mon-
arch, Louis XrV, once more threatened the freedom of
the nations, it was the spirit of Calvinism, residing in
the youthful breast of King William of England, that
turned the tide and caused western Europe and America
to breathe freely anew. The eighteenth century found
CahHinism in the grip of a mighty struggle. Pietism,
Rationalism, the Encyclopaedists in France, — they proved
to be enemies that were at once stubborn and fanatic.
In Europe the influence of Calvinism waned; it was
either crushed altogether or forced to assimie a defensive
attitude. In America, however, the situation presented
a brighter aspect. Although its enemies in the new world
were of much the same type as those in the old, yet
Calvinism here possessed enough vitality to be able to
rally its forces and wage a determined offensive.

The nineteenth century witnessed a further diminu-
tion in the ranks of the Calvinists, both in man-power
and in vitality. In France the spirit of revolutionism
and atheism prevailed; in Germany a pantheistic phi-
losophy and a communistic sociology fought for recogni-
tion; in England utilitarianism was fast gaining ground;
America furnished a melting-pot, not only for the dif-

*R. Fruin, Tien Jaren, etc., First Ed., p. 151.



ferent nationalities, but also for the different tendencies
and — isms that European soil had produced. Besides,
in American social and political life stark Materialism
loomed up ever larger and with its coarse and grunting
voice drowned out many of the finer sounds, — sounds
in which the soul was wont to make itself heard; and
in American church life Methodism was — and still is —
swinging the laurel. We know, this is a rough drawing.
But it ought to show at least the trend of human thought.
The spiritual and intellectual air of modern times had
gradually become too stifling to permit of any real
Calvinistic growth.

And yet, Professor Francis R. Beattie tells us in his
Calvinism and Modern Thought, ' ' Calvinism is not
dead. ' '

And it would seem that he is right. Calvinism is not
dead in Scotland, among the descendants of the old
Covenanters. Calvinism is not dead in England, al-
though the signs of life are few. Calvinism is not dead
in Hungary, where only recently a movement was started
by members of the Hungarian Reformed church in the
interest of the Calvinistic principles. Calvinism is not
dead in Holland, where its promoters form one of the
strongest political parties, a party whose champion,
Dr. Abraham Kuyper, occupied the first ministerial seat
in the government for four years, and one of whose
most eminent leaders, Theodore Heemskerk, occupied
the same place for many years after Dr. Kuyper 's in-
cimibency, — aU in the present century. Calvinism is not
dead in our own America; its adherents are found in the
Carolina's, in Pennsylvania, in New York, in the New
England states, in many states north and west, and es-
pecially in western Michigan, where thousands of Dutch
Calvinists have during the last few decades found an
abode. It is, of course, an altogether different question,



whether our own Calvinists are still characterized by
that rocky strength, that splendid virility, that in-
domitable courage, that child-like faith, by which such
heroic deeds were accomplished in the past, by which
the Dutch Beggars tantalized proud Philipp of Spain
and the Ironsides of Cromwell made every soul on the
continent look up with reverential fear.

Is Calvinism dead? We take leave to marshal two
witnesses to the front, witnesses whose trustworthiness
few will doubt: Professor Benjamin B. Warfield of
Princeton and James Anthony Froude, the well-known
English historian. Says the former:

"Here in America the impulse received from the
great teachers who illuminated the middle of the nine-
tenth century — Charles Hodge, Robert J. Breckinridge,
James H. ThornweU, Henry Boynton Smith, William
G. T. Shedd, Robert L. Dabney, Archibald Alexander
Hodge — I enumerate them in chronological order — we
are thankful to say is not yet exhausted. ... I fully
believe that Calvinism, as it has supplied the sinews of
evangelical Christianity in the past, so is its strength
in the present, and is its hope for the future."*

And Dr. Froude, looking at the same object from a
different angle, 'says:

"Calvinism was the spirit which rises in revolt
against untruth; the spirit which, as I have shown you,
has appeared, and reappeared, and in due time will ap-
pear again, unless God be a delusion, and man be as the
beasts that perish, "f

"Warfield, Calvinism Today, p. 30, 31.
tFroude, Calvinism, p. 46.




IN the last quarter of the thirteenth century two Eng-
lishmen were born that were destined to exert a pro-
found influence upon the life and thought of their
native country. The one was Guilielmus Occamus, gene-
rally known as William of Occam, and the other Thomas
Bradwardine. Both of these men had seen the light, —
the light of the dawn, — the dawn of Calvinism's day, —
and both had believed in it. No, their vision was not
equally clear. Occam saw less than did his contemporary.
His seeing and his believing were in a large measure
the result of his thinking. With him theology followed
philosophy. Bradwardine, on the other hand, was first
of all the man of faith, of a deep, clear faith. Yet,
both men had their vision. They beheld the same ob-
ject. And neither the Doctor Invincibilis nor the Doc-
tor Profundust was backward in announcing to the
world what they saw.

Occam's fight against the realistic school, his deny-
ing the reality of ' * universalia, ' ' caused him to differenti-
ate between reason and faith, between science and relig-
ion, between empirical philosophy and theology, which is
the product of revelation. That such a course, from the
Roman point of view, was extremely dangerous and meant
nothing but the direst consequences, everyone will readily
see. It was a stabbing at the heart of papal and eccle-
siastical supremacy. In the Bible, Occam further taught,
the highest, the absolute authority is vested. General

*As to the anachronistic use of this word, see the Intro-

tHonorary titles of Occam and Bradwardine, respectively.



councils might err. The hierarchical system was not
essential to the welfare of the church.

It will be evident from these points that Occam was
by no means a meek follower of the '^ Vicar of St.
Peter," the ecclesiastico -political ruler at Rome. And
neither was Bradwardine. His furious assaults upon
Roman Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, his subtle
and yet vigorous defense of the absolute sovereignty of
God, they augured a future that would be decidedly
different from the past.

When Occam and Bradwardine passed from the scene
of life, John Wyclif was a youth just in the twenties.
It was through his almost superhuman efforts that the
ideas of Occam and his companion were propagated and
perpetuated and made to become a leaven, a leaven that
would be slow, it is true, in its working, but that in due
time would reveal a transformative power, so great, bo
strong, so tremendous, as perhaps none of the pre-Re-

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryJohn Clover MonsmaWhat Calvinism has done for America → online text (page 1 of 14)