KUYPER ON THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD - Dr. J. Faber
On November 8 of this year (1970) it was half a century ago that Abraham Kuyper died. Thus I thought it would be suitable to pay some attention to what this first dogmatician of the Free University wrote about the incarnation of the Word. In this connection we do not primarily consider what he positively and thetically has written about the great mystery of our religion. Should one wish to do so, he might for instance refer to the collection In den Kerstnacht (On Christmas Night) which appeared in the series "Dagen van goede boodschap" (Days of Good News). At present we are mainly concerned with that which he has brought forward antithetically in his polemics with different spiritual currents in the Christian camp.
Also when he wrote about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, Kuyper was mindful of the conflict of the nineteenth century. He discerned clearly the danger which threatened the church of Christ, not only in the form of modernism but also in Mediation theology, the socalled Vermittlungstheologie in Germany and the Ethical theology in the Netherlands. As far back as 1871 he spoke about modernism as a mirage in Christian territory?  He posited the irreconcilable antithesis between modernism and the Christian faith. Kuyper had once run the course of modernism himself. Years later, when he was already eighty years old, he recalled how he as student in Leiden had during a public lecture warmly and loudly applauded a professor's refutation of any faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His soul still trembled "because of the indignity I then laid upon my Savior." Kuyper then ended his oration of 1917 with a reference to the incarnation of the Word, and made mention of an unfathomable depth existing between the church of Christ and modernism.
But also in German Mediation theology and in the Dutch Ethical school of thought Kuyper perceived the great danger of nineteenth-century thought for the congregation of Christ. One could define that danger by using one of Kuyper's expressions, for example, "the fading of the boundaries." It was the danger of pantheism, the obliteration of the boundaries between God and creature. Kuyper perceived the influence of pantheism in the Weltanschauung of the theologian Schleiermacher, whose gigantic stature cast its shadows across the entire nineteenth century. Initially, one could find the ideas of Schleiermacher in the Netherlands with the theological faculty of Groningen, and then also with the Ethical school and the followers of Ritschl. These days it is correctly said that in this twentieth century the influence of Schleiermacher is still noticeable and even gaining impetus again (despite Karl Barth and even because of him). How did Kuyper, with reference to the incarnation of the Word, define his position over against this pantheistic school of thought? The answer is found in what he wrote about the motive of the incarnation.
The Motive of the Incarnation of the Word
What do we mean with the expression "the motive of the incarnation"? What is meant is this: why did the incarnation of the Word take place? Can the origin and motivation be found exclusively in the fallen state of man through sin and guilt? Or could the Son of God also have become man without the fall? Perhaps one of our readers might be a little puzzled at this point. Reading the glorious gospel of Christmas and reflecting upon it he was always under the impression that the Savior had come for a world "lost in sin." This is indeed the case; even the most obstinate theologian could not deny that Holy Scripture clearly instructs and forcefully proclaims this message: Christ came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
It is a remarkable fact, however, that in the Middle Ages-and even before that time-an entire school of theology held that even if the fall had not taken place, the Son of God would still have become man. This medieval school of Duns Scotus was concerned about a certain sequence in the eternal foreknowledge of God. God would, first of all, have foreordained Christ to be glorified and would only subsequently have foreseen Adam's fall. Should the last event never have occurred, then there would indeed have been no salvation. But the incarnation per se does not presume the occurrence of sin and would have come about even without the agency of sin.
This medieval speculation took a different direction in the nineteenth century. The background of this new development was Hegelian philosophy. Hegel philosophized about the unification of the divine and the gradual human, and he held that this unification would take place in a gradual process of development (nineteenth-century evolution theory). In this unification process the incarnation of the divine held a central position. This idea, borrowed from a heretical pantheistic philosophy, began to make its inroads into Christian theology in Germany as well as in the Netherlands. History, it was said, was all about the idea of the completion of the world; this completion would find its fulfillment in the unification of mankind with God. The question was entertained whether the most glorious thing in the world could only be obtained via the agony of sin, Supposing sin did not exist, would there be room for the glory of the Firstborn? Could one then still do justice to what Paul expounds, for instance in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1, about the cosmic significance of the Christ?
In the Netherlands the idea of the incarnation even without the fall was advocated by Mediation theologians like Van Oosterzee and Valeton, and by the Ethical theologian J.H. Gunning. Van Oosterzee contended that Christ is not only the Lamb of atonement but also the supreme revelation of the invisible Godhead. Originally man had been destined to be like God. Even without sin he would have developed into a state of higher perfection. Would the sending forth of God's Son in human flesh not have been one of the avenues thereto? Van Oosterzee writes in his Christologie (Christology): "An incident so amazing as the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the Lord, can hardly be only the result of a phenomenon not absolutely necessary, viz., of sin."
It is to Abraham Kuyper's great credit that he radically and incisively rejected this speculative idea of an incarnation that might have taken place also without the occurrence of sin. He did this especially in his book De Vleeschwording des Woords (The Incarnation of the Word.) Kuyper mentions there "the strange and questionable thesis" of an antiScriptural and pantheistic heresy. The question of the incarnation"? also without sin" is, according to him, meaningless, useless, and idle speculation. Holy Scripture does not recognize "another Incarnation of the Word but the one for sinners. The boundary between the territory of God and the territory of human creature cannot and may not be trespassed. The chasm has been bridged in the Mediator, but the boundary line has not been obliterated. The mystery of Christ is not that the divine and the human natures have their confluence in Him. It is, however, the unity of His person that constitutes the bridge which brings the divine and the human natures in relationship with each other. In the utterances of the ethical theologians about Christ as the Godman, Kuyper discerned the danger of the basic, satanic sin to deify the creature itself again in the Person of Christ and to construct Christ's high position on the basis of the high position of our nature.
Also the speculation of an incarnation of God irrespective of the fall is an attack on the very Christ and does not do justice to the fact that He is the Mediator of reconciliation, our righteousness before God. The collection In den Kerstnacht (On Christmas Night) features a meditation on John 1:14, which is worth our consideration even today. Kuyper writes there:
The Word has become flesh! It has become flesh never to be separated from that flesh again! Not even presently on the Throne. . . . The Word having become flesh creates therewith the real possibility that this Child takes your place and that this Child of flesh and blood saves, reconciles, and glorifies you, made of flesh.
That is the crux of the matter. Therefore, banish from the congregation those pantheistic mirages based on unbridled speculation which suggest that in the fusion of the divine and human natures lies the reconciliation of both.
swaddling cloths, wrapped around the feet of the Child, are in this context
worth a thousandfold more than a host of the boldest and most splendid human
ideas. Those ideas are useless to us. They are mirages in the desert
where one perishes, dying of thirst. No, it is not those ideas that are of concern
here, but only the facts and nothing but the facts.
Also in his well-known commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism Kuyper vents his indignation upon
fable about a Son of God who would still have become man even though sin had
never occurred. These are pantheistic fabrications that can dangerously undermine
faith! And let us reject all those notions of a gradual transition of the divine
nature into the human, as though the Godman had accomplished that transition
from the one into the other! These are frightful offshoots of human arrogance
which do not reject theChrist only, but God Himself.
Thus Abraham Kuyper lucidly and vigorously upheld the Scriptural, Reformed confession about the motive of the incarnation of the Word over against the pantheistic fundamental heresy of the nineteenth century. He accomplished this in the spirit of the classic confession of the church, the Nicene Creed: "I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the onlybegotten Son of God. . . . very God of very God. . . . Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man. . . .
We would have liked to conclude the foregoing exposition at this point, and gone on to mention with appreciation, for instance, Kuyper's polemics against the neo-Kohlbruggians and their spokesman, E. Bohl. There Kuyper assailed the heresy that the Lord Jesus Christ had assumed a carnal body to such an extent that even He Himself had become a partaker of original sin.
We ought, however, to continue with the subject of the incarnation of the Word as such, and not pursue the manner in which the incarnation took place. In doing this, we must say, unfortunately, that Kuyper did bring to bear also less desirable elements in his otherwise most justifiable fight. We have in mind his view about incarnation and humiliation. Kuyper's zeal to combat the pantheistically oriented theological systems of his age, compelled him to see the incarnation in itself as humiliation.
Any reader of E Voto will notice that Kuyper uses the expression "state'' in two different ways. From our days of Catechism instruction we remember the distinction between "state of humiliation" and "state of exaltation." As you well know, the word "state" has here the connotation of "judicial position." First, the Lord Jesus Christ was in the state of humiliation (i.e., during his suffering), but now He has been highly exalted by God (cf. Phil. 2:9). Kuyper, however, employs still another usage of "state." He also mentions the state of God and the state of man. He writes: "When . . . Emmanuel appeared on earth the question was: in what state did he arrive? Did He come as God or in the state of man? The latter, of course." According to Kuyper, the Emmanuel did not arrive in His state of God but in His state of man; He "arrived as man . . . not with princely honor but in the state of one who is without honor and culpable." The triune God, according to Kuyper, decreed that the Son
Who possessed the state of God, was to transmute into the state of a man, and functioning as man, He would dwell among them in the state of the one Who is culpable, without honor, plunged into sin and damnation.
is thus found in both aspects. There is not only humiliation because
He, as a human, dwelled among those who despised Him, but also humiliation brought
about by the very fact of His acting in the "human state."
At this point we are asking ourselves several questions. Is it indeed possible to distinguish between the state of God and the state of man? The word "state" signifies one's judicial position, that is, the position accorded to one by his sovereign. But is it then possible to speak thus about a "state of God"? Is there any judicial position accorded to God or conferred upon Him? If so, by whom? If not, does the word "state" not shift its meaning in this context and is it not confusing to use this word in connection with God?
Evidently, what Kuyper means by "state of God" should be understood as "that state which God invests himself with as God, and which in Holy scripture most frequently is called 'his honor'. . . ." It is our conviction, however, that this inexpressible glory and splendor cannot be rendered with the word "state." The more so since Kuyper pursues the matter still further and declares: "Compared with the state of divine majesty the human is always a diminution, small, insignificant. It is his state to be dependent, limited, and servile in obedience." The question then arises: if being human as such is "always a diminution," must it not follow that either the Lord Jesus Christ is presently, in his state of exaltation, no longer true man, or that He is now in heaven still in a state of humiliation and will eternally remain so? Kuyper himself strongly subscribed to the confession that the Word has become flesh never again to be separated from it. He did not want to speak of Christ's putting off His human nature, and rightly so. But given the incarnation in itself as a humiliation for the Son of God, would it not follow that Kuyper has this state of humiliation continue?
not just some random, isolated idea of Kuyper. This becomes clear when we move
from his popular book E Voto to his lectures in dogmatics. In his chapter about
Christ he elaborates on this dual distinction of the dual state.
 According to Kuyper we must make a distinction between the state Christ (being God) received as man, and the state He (being man) received as servant among all, or as Lord over all. The incarnation as such implied a limitation, a diminution, and thus a humiliation, irrespective of the fall into sin and its consequences.
From these references we may infer the larger context in which Kuyper placed the question. He is of the opinion that the creation in itself is a limitation, a diminution for God: "When God brought forth the world this action was a delimitation of the Lord. To the extent that this bringing forth adds something new, it is incremental; being finite, however, it is a restriction and diminution of the majesty of the Lord." Along these lines Kuyper proceeds to such length that he postulates creation in itself to involve a form of humiliation of the triune God. God the Father would then undergo a diminution of glory because of creation; God the Holy Spirit undergoes this, too, because of His indwelling; and thus the incarnation of the Son does not become an incongruity "but a reproduction of that which already existed in the Trinity. . . . Assume for a moment that sin had not occurred; this threefold restriction would have nevertheless taken place followed by a threefold exaltation."
Reading this argumentation of Kuyper, one cannot help being startled. Kuyper fought against the speculative idea of an incarnation without the fall, and justifiably so; but how does his own speculation differ in principle from those against whom he fought? Would it be Scripturally sound to say that the triune God, by virtue of the very creation, would already have undergone a restriction of glory? Does this in essence not amount to eradicating the boundaries between Creator and creature, and is this, therefore, in principle, not the sin of pantheism? And what would have been the significance of a threefold exaltation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without the fall? Would creation then have ceased being merely creation?
Kuyper called the idea that the incarnation in itself was not a humiliation for the Son of God, "the hobbyhorse of the Ethical movement." He perceives therein pantheistic elements. This is quite remarkable. To be sure, when the incarnation is depicted as an "unfolding-of-life" for the Son of God, one is drifting into pantheistic territory. Yet, the thesis that becoming man in itself does not amount to a humiliation for the Son of God, does not of necessity have to be expanded into this pantheistic direction. It is remarkable that Kuyper puts the one speculative idea over against the other, taking the same unreality as his point of departure; that is, on the one side, the speculative idea of the incarnation even without the fall, and the subsequent unfolding-of-life for the Son of God and the unification of mankind with God; and on the other side, Kuyper's "let us suppose that sin has not occurred. . . ." Kuyper's speculation is intended to argue that the incarnation in itself constituted a humiliation for the Son of God. In effect, one notices here a distinct instance of over-reacting, which accomplishes the opposite of what was originally intended. It is unfortunate that Abraham Kuyper, "the indomitable," did not simply adhere to the instruction of Holy Scripture that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15).
Criticism of S. Greijdanus and K. Schilder
In 1903-during the heyday of the Kuyperian era-Saekle Greijdanus took his doctor's degree at the Free University, right under the watchful eye of Kuyper himself, as it were. With Herman Bavinck. as his promoter he defended a dissertation entitled Menschwording en vernedering (Incarnation and Humiliation). It was a historical-critical study about Greek church fathers of the first five centuries.
Although Greijdanus does not mention the name of Kuyper anywhere, it is evident that he had investigated Kuyper's opinions. Right at the very beginning of his dissertation Greijdanus states that the object of his study is to make a contribution toward gaining a proper insight into the humiliation or exinanition (Phil. 2:7) of the Son of God. Greijdanus searches for an answer to the question whether in the personal union itself (the union of the divine and the human natures) a humiliation in the strict sense of the word, an exinanition, has been discerned or must be discerned. The reader feels the increasing suspense here. A young, budding theologian is critically analyzing one of Kuyper's ideas and is comparing it with the manuscripts of the Greek church fathers and the dogmas of the early church.
Subsequently, Greijdanus pursues the question what it was that made the incarnation an exinanition. Is it such already in the personal union of the Son of God with our human nature per se? Or is the exinanition merely the condition and state in which the Son of God took our nature upon Himself? The latter was the opinion of, among others, professo Helenius de Cock, of Kampen; the former was Kuyper's idea.
Greijdanus candidly contests the views of his nestor, Kuyper. With consummate logic he analyzes the consequences of Kuyper's ideas. One could hold that the state of humiliation will last eternally, or one could posit that it once ceases to be because the Son of God will put off His assumed humanity again. The latter view, however, is not supported by I Corinthians 15:28; rather, it is contradicted. The thesis that the incarnation as such did already constitute a humiliation for the Son of God, implies that a certain relationship between God and creature can and should bring about an exinanition of the Creator. In this event, God's essence is as a consequence
not divine to such an extent that, in all its conjoining with the creatures of His hands, it upholds, unassailably and invulnerably, the perfection of its glory; and the creature, too, is then not to such a full extent a mere creature but that it by means of a certain conjoining with the Eternal One is capable of veiling and obscuring His majesty.
Greijdanus concludes that this contention denies God's high position, which is unassailable for a creature. "The distinction in essence between God and creature is thus not upheld in its absolute character."
It is remarkable that Greijdanus, commenting on Kuyper's opinion, does not hesitate to signal the danger of an obliteration of the boundaries between God and creature. This amounts to the same thing we argued above: Kuyper, whose objective it was to fight against pantheism, did not-in his own speculations about incarnation and humiliation--entirely escape the danger of obscuring the boundaries.
It goes without saying that Greijdanus opposes the idea that human nature is too insignificant a creature to radiate the supreme divine splendor into creation itself. He refers to Psalm 104:31 and Revelation 1:11-18, as well as Psalm 45:3, to argue "that the human nature of the Lord may serve to become the most precious organ or instrument to radiate the divine glory for creatures in a creational manner."
When Greijdanus summarizes his critique of Kuyper's opinions--also this time without mentioning his name-he writes:
Ostensibly defending God's supreme majesty as well as the creature's creatureliness, this idea [i.e., that incarnation per se would mean humiliation and exinanition for the Son of God] falls short of recognizing the absolute character and divinity of the eternal being; it denies, in fact, the created and finite mode of existence of the creature, and does not make allowance for the fact that creation is a cosmos of the Lord in which He, as in a magnificent organic entity, reveals His majesty in a finite manner and in a fashion accommodated to the creatures' mode of existence.
Since we are at present mainly concerned with the dogmatic issue, we shall pass over the manner in which Greijdanus construed his sentiments as far back as 1903-and also thereafter-by means of a specific exegesis of Philippians 2. One admires the courage of the young Greijdanus as well as the discretion with which he, in an unambiguous and, at the same time, unassuming way took a stand against an incorrect view of the widely admired Abraham Kuyper.
Being, as it were, a disciple of his older colleague S. Greijdanus, K. Schilder gladly and willingly made use of his endeavors. Like Kuyper, Schilder repudiated the speculation that the Son of God might have become man even without the fall. Schilder's rejection of Kuyper's locution of the Son of God as Mediator of creation was specifically intended to oppose the influence of "the heresy which purports that Christ, the Mediator, would have been necessary irrespective of sin. . . This is Schilder's reason for not acknowledging the existence of a federal or covenantal union of the two natures. Said Schilder:
He who speaks about a "federal union" of the two natures, burdens himself and others with a much greater yoke, before he realizes it: the ever-recurring heresy that the constitution of a Mediator would be "perfectly reasonable" and would have occurred even if there had been no sin. This would be the case since the divine and the human natures are so federally, and mutually, attracted that they, well, as it were, are infatuated with each other.
Schilder, like Kuyper, strongly upheld the connection between Bethlehem and Golgotha, between incarnation and propitiation. He warned against eliminating the forensic necessity-that is, the necessity with regard to fulfilling the justice of God-from the specific union of the two natures into one Person. In the fulness of time this union came about for the purpose of an expiatory ministration between two estranged covenant parties. At the same time, however, Schilder, much in the line of Helenius de Cock and S. Greijdanus, affirmed over against Kuyper that the incarnation in itself did not of necessity constitute a humiliation for the Son of God:
Neither the circumstance of being human, nor that of being a creature evidenced His humiliation; His humiliation did, however, emerge from His being a scourged man, a downtrodden creature, finding Himself indicted as a condemned man.
Being human does not in itself necessarily constitute humiliation, because now He is still human as wen as a servant. Further, His great submissiveness will in the end be fully manifested in His parousia (appearance in glory). Yet, He is on this very day most exalted: He is the Servant-in-exaltation. Assuming a human nature does, therefore, not in itself constitute humiliation. Humiliation consisted primarily in the manner in which He assumed human nature: mortal, destined to die from the outset ....
The Mystery of our Religion
We hope that the readers have been able to follow us on our dogmatic excursion. It is beneficial to reflect upon this immensely important event in the history of salvation: the incarnation of the Word. No one can ever exhaust this subject matter.
The more incisively we attempt to discern the issue in the light of Scripture, the more readily will we be able to identify wrong teachings and resist them. We give thanks to the God of the ages for His child Abraham Kuyper, who in his allotted time fought the good fight for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. In doing this he showed himself to be a child of his own time, subject to erroneous ideas and opinions. We also give thanks to God for the continuation of Kuyper's work by others, for example, Greijdanus and Schilder. They were the critical heirs who held on to what was good and who tried to cleanse out whatever was wrong. While acknowledging our own weaknesses and shortcomings, we wish to continue that work.
Above all, the more we reflect on the contents of God's revelation in the Word incarnate, the more we become aware of our own insignifigant
insignifigance and God's greatness. Great is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (I Tim. 3:16). Yes, indeed, great is the mystery of our religion!
1] <RETURN>This article was first published in Dutch under the title "Kuyper over de Vleeswording des Woords," The Canadian Reformed Magazine 19 (Dec. 19, 1970), 5-9, and has been translated by R. Koat.
2] <RETURN>A. Kuyper, In den Kerstnacht (Amsterdam: Wormser, 1887).
3] <RETURN> A. Kuyper, Het modernisme: een fata morgana op Christelijk gebied (Amsterdam: De Hoogh, 1871).
4 ] <RETURN>A. Kuyper, Nog in den band van voorheen (1917). Quoted in J.C. Rullmann, Kuyperbibliographie (Kampen: Kok, 1940), 3:447.
5 ] <RETURN>J.J. Van Oosterzee, Christologie (1861), 3:86. Quoted in G.C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, trans. Cornelius Lambregtse (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 25.
6] <RETURN> A. Kuyper, De Vleeschwording des Woords (Amsterdam: Wormser, 1887). The book is a reprint of a series of articles published in De Heraut of 1881.
7] <RETURN> Ibid., 10.
8] <RETURN> Kuyper, In den Kerstnacht, 127-128.
9] <RETURN> A. Kuyper, E Voto Dordraceno (Amsterdam: Wormser. 1892), 1:367-368.
10] <RETURN> Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter, 2nd ed. (Winiipeg: Premier, 1984), 437.
11] <RETURN> Kuyper, E Voto, 367.
12] <RETURN> bid., 368.
13] <RETURN> Ibid.
14] <RETURN> Ibid.
15] <RETURN> A. Kuyper, Locus de Christo, 2nd ed. (Kampen: Kok, n.d.), 59-78.
16] <RETURN> Ibid., 70.
17] <RETURN> Ibid., 71-72.
18] <RETURN> S. Greijdanus, Menschwording en vernedering, Diss. (Wageningen: Vada, 1903).
19] <RETURN> Ibid., xix.
20] <RETURN> Ibid.
21] <RETURN> Ibid., xxiv.
22] <RETURN> Ibid.
23] <RETURN> K. Schilder, Heidelbergsche Catechismus (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1949), 2:93.
24] <RETURN> Ibid., 223.
25] <RETURN> K. Schilder, "De vleeswording des Woords," in 't Hoogfeest naar de Schriften (Goes:
Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, n.d.), 25
<Back to the Index> of Dr. J. Faber's "Essays in Reformed Doctrine"