In 1898, Benjamin B. Warfield wrote, “Dr. [Abraham] Kuyper is probably today the most considerable figure in both political and ecclesiastical Holland.” He spoke well, for Kuyper was a scholar, theologian, preacher, reformer, educator, journalist, writer, orator, politician, and statesman. But even more, he was a devout Christian, a passionate family man, a prodigious worker, a patriot, and the leading exponent of Calvinism’s world and life view.
Childhood and Education
Kuyper was born Oct. 29, 1837, in the small fishing village of Maasluis. He was the eldest son of Jan Frederick Kuyper, a minister in the Hervormde Kerk, the Dutch state church, and Henriette Huber, a teacher of Swiss descent.
In 1841, the family moved to Middleburg, provincial capital of Zeeland, where young “Bram” was homeschooled. In 1849, his father took a call to Leiden, where for six years Bram attended the Leiden Gymnasium in preparation for university. In 1855, he entered the University of Leiden, graduating summa cum laude in 1858.
Kuyper prepared for the ministry at Leiden (1858–1861), where the theological faculty was uniformly liberal. He never succumbed fully to modernism, but he flirted with liberal theology, which helps explain why he became such an ardent foe of modernistic thinking after his conversion to orthodox Calvinism.
Kuyper earned a doctorate in theology on Sept. 20, 1862, after completing a dissertation comparing the ecclesiology of the Polish reformer John à Lasco with that of John Calvin.
Conversion and Early Ministry
Kuyper said his conversion to Reformed orthodoxy was influenced by three factors. The first was the extraordinary way in which he located a treasury of à Lasco’s writings in the home of a Leiden professor’s father after a fruitless search of the holdings of major university libraries. The second was Charlotte Yonge’s novel, The Heir of Redcliffe. This book, the story of a proud man who is humbled, convicted Kuyper. Third was the congregation of Kuyper’s first pastoral charge at Beesd (1863–67).
The summer after his graduation, Kuyper married Johanna Schaay and moved to Beesd. The church included several committed Calvinists, such as Pietronella Baltus, a young peasant woman who confronted Kuyper about his modernistic thinking, lack of Reformed experiential preaching, and lack of saving faith in Christ. God used those persistent parishioners to lead their pastor back to Calvin and the Reformed fathers, to the Scriptures, and to faith in Jesus Christ.
Preacher and Pastorates
Not surprisingly, Kuyper’s preaching changed dramatically. It now satisfied the hunger of the spiritually minded kleine luyden (“little people,” or common folk) such as Pietronella Baltus.
In 1867, Kuyper accepted a call to Utrecht, a church with 11 ministers and thirty-five thousand members. In 1870, he moved to the Reformed Church at Amsterdam, the most prestigious church in the country, consisting of one hundred and forty thousand members, 136 office-bearers, 28 ministers, and 14 sanctuaries. Here Kuyper reached the height of his ministry as a preacher, though his sermons also evoked opposition from the modernists.