When one would ask me which two Dutchmen from the 19th century impressed me most, my answer would be, without any hesitation: Kohlbrugge and Groen van Prinsterer. Kohlbrugge a preacher of the Gospel, and comforter of the mournful; and Groen van Prinsterer especially a confessor of the Gospel in society. As to their characters, they differed very much from each other. They did not think in the same way in every respect. But their actions were stamped by what Groen van Prinsterer called ‘the Reformed persuasion’, that is the persuasion that the triune God is the God of complete salvation and that Bible as God’s infallible and inerrant Word is the only rule of faith and practice.
Kohlbrugge was rather a difficult man in social intercourse. He was a bit peculiar in his doings, and very much attached to his own views. On the other side Groen van Prinsterer was named by some of his contemporaries ‘the noble Groen van Prinsterer’. He had a somewhat reserved but also very amiable character.
According to my opinion Kohlbrugge was superior to Groen van Prinsterer in his radical understanding of the notions of law and Gospel. But Groen van Prinsterer surpasses Kohlbrugge in his understanding and his resistance of the spirit of his time. In this Groen van Prinsterer is both deeper and more sober. But as a matter of fact, this comparison is not quite justified, and perhaps out of place.
Groen van Prinsterer and Kohlbrugge both received from God their own specific tasks: Kohlbrugge as a theologian and preacher of the Gospel; and Groen van Prinsterer as a jurist and a confessor of Christ, both in the church and in the state. Both men, with their own personal and special gifts and insights have been useful in God’s kingdom.
As a theological student the first book by Groen van Prinsterer I read was his Unbelief and Revolution. Without any doubt this is his main work. It has its origins in a number of lectures which he held for a small circle of interested friends in the winter of 1845-1846. His style of writing is not easy. But it struck me immediately in Groen van Prinsterer how very much to the point his expressions are. Everywhere in his writings we find very original and clear thoughts, by which he typifies the Gospel as against the spirit of his time.
The motto of the French Revolution was: freedom, equality and brotherhood. But the French Revolution preached, as Groen van Printerer saw it, a kind of freedom that was not Christian freedom, an equality that was no Christian equality, and a fraternity that was not Christian brotherhood. Christian freedom is not freedom from the authority of God and His Word, but just a freedom to serve the Lord. Real freedom can only flourish within the bounds of the Lord’s commandments.
Christian equality is an equality before God both in condemnation and in pardon by God’s free grace through the blood of Jesus Christ and not an equality that destroys all distinctions in society. The real brotherhood is not based on vague principles that will never really unite men in lasting way, but the Christian brotherhood is based on the blood of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit and so surpasses distinctions that are based one race, place in culture, intellect, wealth and so on. It makes men of different states in society com-passionate towards each other.
Groen van Prinsterer was deeply convinced of the destructive character of the principles of the French Revolution for church and society. The French Revolution sought to annihilate the notion of God and His Word as the source of all authority. Against the principles of the French Revolution testified of God’s revelation as the only solution not only for the church both also for society at large. The true church is the church that proclaims the Gospel of redemption by penal substitution.
According to Groen van Prinster European society will disintegrate into a chaos when it is not longer governed by the principles of God’s revelation for society. He foresaw the peoples of the European countries would become order less masses. In our time we can see the fulfilment of this prophetic insights of Groen van Prinsterer; insights based on a knowledge of God’s Word and its meaning for church and society. For Groen van Prinsterer the only hope for Europe was the return to the living God who can only be known in a saving way through His Word. His device was: ‘Against the Revolution the Gospel.’