Friday, November 6, 2009

The Dutch Second Reformation (“Nadere Reformatie”)

by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

The Dutch Reformation proper may be divided into four periods: the Lutheran period (1517-26), the Sacramentarian phase (1526-31), the Anabaptist movement (1531-45), and the most influential—the Calvinist infiltration. From the outset of the Calvinist penetration into the Netherlands (southern Netherlands, c. 1545; northern, c. 1560), the movement showed greater strength than its persistent numerical inferiority might suggest. Nevertheless, the buds of Dutch Calvinism did not flower profusely until the seventeenth century, initiated by the Synod of Dort in particular (1618-19), and intensified by the Dutch Second Reformation (Nadere Reformatie), a primarily seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century movement, which may be dated from such early representatives as Jean Taffin (1528-1602) and Willem Teellinck (1579-1629), to its last brilliant lights, Alexander Comrie (1706-74) and Theodorus van der Groe (1705-84).

The Term “Nadere Reformatie”

The term Nadere Reformatie poses a problem. There is no standard English translation of “nadere,” no doubt partly due to its inexactness, and perhaps also because the movement has been unaccountably ignored in English-speaking scholarship. Literally, “Nadere Reformatie” means a “nearer,” “more intimate,” or “more precise Reformation.” The intended emphasis lies on working out the


initial Reformation more intimately in personal lives, in the church’s worship, and in society as a whole.
Translations of Nadere Reformatie inevitably express judgments of its significance. Consequently, it has been translated on occasion as “Further Reformation.” This is not altogether accurate, since “further” implies that the first Reformation did not proceed far enough. This was not the contention of the Nadere Reformatie. Rather, it sought to apply Reformation truths to daily life and “heart” experience. To avoid this false implication, Cornelis Graafland has suggested the terms “Continuing Reformation” or “Second Reformation.” But the term “continuing” has three disadvantages: It does not sufficiently distinguish the Nadere Reformatie from the Reformation proper; it is of recent usage in English; furthermore, it sounds awkward.
We prefer to use “Dutch Second Reformation” or “Second Reformation.” While this is a weak translation and “misses the Dutch term’s emphasis on continuity,” it has a long pedigree and appears to be gaining acceptance among scholars, albeit partially by default. Moreover, “Second Reformation” was a term used by some of the Dutch divines of that era. For example, Jacobus Koelman (1632-1695), who had much contact with Scotland’s Second Reformation, spoke of the Dutch movement as a “second reformation” and a “second purging.”
Others have dubbed the Nadere Reformatie descriptively as “Dutch Precisianism,” “Dutch Puritanism,” or “Dutch Pietism.” There are objections to each of these designations.
First, “Dutch Precisianism” is a pejorative rather than a constructive expression. It is the least acceptable representation of the Nadere Reformatie, since it attributes to the movement a legalistic (wettisch) tone which caricatures the whole. It is true that most Second Reformation divines promoted a strong negative ethic. Voetius, for example, forbade “such practices as visiting public houses, playing with dice, the wearing of luxurious clothes, dancing, drunkenness, revelry, smoking and the wearing of wigs.” Nevertheless, such “precisianism” was not an end in itself. Rather, it was cultivated “in the face of the alleged worldliness then prevailing” and “as a means of sustaining and developing individual faith and conduct against spiritual shallowness.”
Secondly, the Nadere Reformatie is in fact the Dutch counterpart to English Puritanism (and in some senses, to the Scottish Covenanters). The link between these movements is strong, historically and especially theologically. Keith Sprunger has documented that during the seventeenth century there was an English-Scottish community of Puritan persuasion numbering tens of thousands in the


Netherlands, at one point consisting of more than forty congregations and 350 ministers. The Dutch government allowed them to organize churches and form an English Classis within the Dutch Reformed church. Cornelis Pronk rightly notes:

The presence of so many English and Scottish Puritans was bound to have some influence upon the Dutch churches. Many Dutch Reformed ministers were impressed by the practical divinity of the English Puritans. They saw it as a healthy corrective to the dry intellectualistic sermonizing that was becoming the trend in their churches.

And Douglas MacMillan summarizes:

Both Puritans and Covenanters were to interact very intimately with religious life in the Netherlands. This linking ... helps identify the point at which British and Dutch Calvinism had their closest contact. Both these great spiritual movements were concerned with Second Reformation issues and that concern was to shape the course of the 17th century in England and Scotland. Events there were, in turn, to reach deeply into the Netherlands, influencing its theology, deepening its spirituality, and linking it closely into the traumatic experiences of the British Church. We have to learn to look at the Second Reformation, not as a small, localized, Scottish, or even British, phenomenon but as a movement of international significance.

The divines of these groups held each other in high esteem. They influenced and enriched each other through personal contact and especially a vast array of translated writings, particularly from English into Dutch. More Reformed theological books were printed in seventeenth-century Netherlands than in all other countries combined. These movements embraced similar ideals and bore similar roles: to foster biblical and God-glorifying experiential piety and ethical precision in the life of individuals, churches, and the entire nation. Only England, however, had an opportunity to work out these ideals in full, during the Cromwellian years.
Thus, despite similar outlooks, these parallel movements did have and would develop historically and theologically distinctive identities. To call the Nadere Reformatie “Dutch Puritanism” denies the endemic nature of the Dutch movement. Hendrikus Berkhof provides too simplistic an analysis when he states that the Second Reformation resulted merely from “the practical piety of the English Calvinists blowing over to the Netherlands.” Though English Puritanism was of primary influence on the Nadere Reformatie, as Willem Jan op ‘t Hof has ably and perhaps exaggeratingly emphasized (particularly in stressing the need for a personal, domestic, and congregational lifestyle of experimental and practical godliness), it was not an exclusive influence, for the Dutch movement was coupled with other non-English factors. In fact, in some


respects the Dutch movement was more Puritan-Reformed than English Puritanism itself:

In England from an orthodox Reformed perspective, for all but a short period under Cromwell, there were always grossly unbiblical things to fight: the presence of bishops, superstitious rites in the Book of Common Prayer, vestments, etc. In the Netherlands none of these were present, and the task was all the more subtle. Defenders of the status quo were not so clearly unreformed as in England. In this context the true spirit of Puritanism came to the fore.

Despite similar emphases, English Puritanism and the Nadere Reformatie differed from each other in significant ways. Generally speaking, Dutch Second Reformation divines were less interested in reforming the government and organization of the church (as long as the church was not controlled by the state) than were their English brethren. Theological emphases also varied at times; this work has shown that variations existed between these groups on the doctrine of assurance. The Dutch were more inclined to emphasize theology as a science, whereas the English emphasized the practical aspects of theology. These variations are not respected sufficiently when the Dutch movement is collapsed too fully into the English by the use of “Dutch Puritanism.” As Jonathan Neil Gerstner concludes:

To notice a similar role between two movements does not imply that one is dependent on the other. Even if English thought had given the initial impetus to the Continuing Reformation, it does not follow that its success was not due to similar ideas present in the Netherlands.

“Dutch Pietism” might appear at first to be an acceptable alternative to represent the Nadere Reformatie. Its usage has been the most widespread, underscoring that the Nadere Reformatie was pietistic in many respects. Problems with this term, however, also exist. (1) Calling the Dutch movement Pietism suggests too strongly an intimate German connection. Moreover, the Nadere Reformatie predates Spener’s initial appeal for reform by nearly half a century and became a more extensive movement than German Pietism. (2) Pietism in German Lutheranism came to be regarded as being largely concerned with the believer’s inner life rather than with transforming society, whereas most Nadere Reformatie divines were dedicated also to the latter. (3) Pietism is usually regarded as a protest against rational Protestant scholastic theology and doctrinal precision, whereas many Nadere Reformatie divines were formulators of Reformed orthodoxy and meticulous doctrinal analysts:
Gisbertus Voetius is generally acknowledged as both the greatest Dutch Reformed scholastic theologian and one of the greatest representatives of the Continuing Reformation. Pietism as it would later develop


would more and more show marked antipathy for all but the most simple doctrinal concepts. ... Pietism was ready to embrace and work with all other believers who strove after a godly life, regardless of their confession. Zinzendorf tried to bring all churches together ignoring theological differences. The Continuing Reformation, on the contrary, was on the polemical forefront against theological errors, seeing the divisions within Protestantism as far from irrelevant. William Ames, one of the direct links between English Puritanism and the Dutch Continuing Reformation called Lutherans heretics. When Pietism appeared on the continent, leaders of Dutch Continuing Reformation like Wilhelmus à Brakel attacked the movement.
Confusing misconceptions arise when the term “Pietism” is used to describe the Second Reformation, for these terms represent distinct movements which vary in a number of important senses. German Pietism, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation had much in common. Each was rooted deeply in the sixteenth-century Reformation and longed for more thorough reform; yet each movement retained a distinct historical, theological, and spiritual character.

The Essence of the Dutch Second Reformation

Several additional factors also served to promote the emergence of the Dutch Second Reformation. After the Reformation in the Netherlands, strenuous efforts were made to replace the Roman Catholic Church with the Reformed Church as an inclusive people’s church (volkskerk). During the Reformation, one-tenth of the population held membership in the Reformed church. By the end of the seventeenth century more than sixty percent of the Dutch population were members of the Reformed Church which possessed a “preferred status” (bevoorrechte) with the government. The church’s success in acquiring external growth, however, had dire consequences for spiritual life. Abraham Kuyper claimed that this additional fifty percent of the population which flooded into the church ruined its Reformed distinctiveness: “From that moment on it was impossible to maintain church discipline.” It became easy to confuse being anti-Catholic with being Reformed. Nominal church membership and loose living became fashionably acceptable. Spiritual and ethical sterility grew rampantly, particularly when combined with newfound prosperity. The United East-India Company, formed in 1602, and other Dutch industry ushered in a period of unparalleled affluence. The majority were inclined to live for this life rather than for the world to come. Moreover, the state increasingly interfered in church matters and church discipline. The state controlled the universities where Reformed ministers were


being trained under the increasing influence of Rationalism, particularly the philosophy of Descartes and Spinoza.
These spiritual, social, and intellectual conditions existed in sharp tension with historic Dutch Calvinism which was intrinsically oriented toward sound doctrine and piety. The Calvinism of the Canons of Dort stood in marked contrast to the spirit of the age. Moreover, the stipulations the Synod of Dort had laid down with regard to the supervision of pastors, professors, and theological writings were not being followed. All of these circumstances, combined with the influence of English Puritanism, German Pietism, the Genevan reform, and native Dutch influences (e.g., medieval mysticism, the Devotio Moderna, and Anabaptism —each of which emphasized sanctification), gave rise to the Dutch Second Reformation and its protest against the laxity of the age. Reflecting the concern of the Second Reformation, P. de Witte wrote, “Oh times, oh morals! What do parents do but bring up their children to become the prey of all kinds of seductive spirits, such as the papists, Anabaptists, Arminians, and libertines? Yes, even to become the booty of the devil, to be the heirs of eternal damnation and the firewood of hell.”
The Dutch Second Reformation was a movement that arose out of the ashes of the burning expectation which had moved the early Reformers. Also the early Second Reformation divines envisioned a theocratic society and an ideal church in which the bulk of the population would be involved in personal and communal renewal. Reference was frequently made to the unbreakableness of a “three-fold cord,” consisting of God, the Netherlands, and the House of Orange. But the vision that the Netherlands would yet become “the New Israel of the West” in society and church life proved to be an unattainable ideal. The post-Reformers lived to view the failure of that dream. They faced the painful reality that the majority of parishioners had not become more spiritual as a result of the Reformation. To their followers, many of whom found conventicles (gezelschappen) more spiritually edifying than formal worship, the church was no longer the communion of saints, but at best a very mixed multitude and at worst a “Babylon” or an “Egypt.” Jodocus van Lodenstein’s assessment of the Reformed church in his day is typical of that of later Second Reformation divines: “Babylon of Babylons, a thousand times worse than that of the Papacy because of the light that she had but did not rightly use.” The church seems “more deformed than reformed,” he lamented. “There is no practicing of the truth, but a parroting of the words of the catechism is all that one finds among Reformed people.”


Another prominent Second Reformation divine, Bernardus Smytegelt complained:

There are few converted preachers. Many of them are lazy idlers, vain fops.... Among external professors you will find much chaff and hardly a grain of wheat. There are heaps of external professors, and are they not indifferent and ungodly? What are they like in the families? Dear man! Do you not know how scarce pious parents are? How rare it is to find a godly mother or grandmother! How unusual to find a pious servant or maid! How unusual to find godliness among children as with Timothy! ... How few are acquainted with the Bible! How few use the Bible regularly in the home! How few pray with each other, teach each other, and seek to lead each other toward heaven!

Consequently, in opposition to sin and complacency, an urgent, zealous call went out for fresh personal, church, and societal reform: The scriptural appeal for sanctification must be zealously pursued; Reformation doctrine must be lived.
S. van der Linde, a leading Dutch scholar on the Second Reformation, rightly affirms that the movement must not be equated with “non-dogmatical” (ondogmatisch) Christendom; rather, its goal was to join doctrine (leer) to the whole of daily life (leven):

The Second Reformation ... is not at all a-dogmatic or anti-dogmatic. It only desires that dogma be experienced as spirit and life. ...
The protest of the Second Reformation is not primarily against dogmatism as engendering a quenching of the Spirit, but much more against a certain vitalism as well as secularism whereby one observes the Spirit as being grieved.

Elsewhere van der Linde expands these concerns and notes:

The Second Reformation sides entirely with the Reformation and levels criticism not so much against the reformata (the church which is reformed), but rather against the reformanda (the church which needs to be reformed).

Moreover, though the Second Reformation is preeminently concerned with spiritual life (geestelijk leven) and experience (bevindelijk), so that a heavy accent falls on the practice of piety (praxis pietatis; praktijk dergodzaligheid) and even on precision (preciesheid), there is notwithstanding an array of emphases:

In Voetius we have the church-organizer, in Ames a very original theologian, in Teellinck and Brakel, divines of practical religion, and in Lodensteyn and Saldenus, the men of “mysticism,” cross-bearing, and meditation upon the life to come.

Despite diversity, however, van der Linde concludes that there is an underlying element of “precision” in the Second Reformation which


is inseparable from a fervent desire to counteract prevailing impiety with a piety which “consciously consecrates all of life to God.”
Several attempts have been made to define the core of the Dutch Second Reformation as a logical development from and application of the Reformation proper. Herman Witsius emphasized that the motto, “the Reformed church needs to be ever reforming” (ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda) applies only to the church’s life and not to doctrine since Reformation doctrine was established as foundational truth. Every Second Reformation divine was convinced he was following his Reformed forebears and upholding Reformed orthodoxy, although some pointed out defects in the Reformation era, usually centering around the fact that the Reformation divines were also sons of their time. For example, Teellinck gently chides the Reformers for being more concerned with the reformation of doctrine than of life, with justification than sanctification.
Consequently, Heinrich Heppe defines the Second Reformation as “a striving for the completion of the church reformation of the sixteenth century (as being a mere reform of doctrine) by way of a revival of piety or by a reformation of life.” Johannes Hofmeyr concludes:

Although this movement also had other spiritual fathers, it can be contended that the central thrust of the Second Reformation (which involves a personal spiritual piety, an articulated ecclesiology and a theocratic outlook on society) is broadly derived from Calvin. It should therefore be regarded not as a correction but as a development of the Reformation.

J. van Genderen enlarges these concepts:

By this term, Nadere Reformatie, we mean a movement in the 17th century which was a reaction against dead orthodoxy and [the] secularization of Christianity in the Church of the Reformation and which insisted on the practise of faith. This may also be called a special form of Pietism, because the central idea is the “praxis pietatis.” The origin of the pietistic trend lies in England and the father of Puritan Pietism [who] was William Perkins. Via Willem Teellinck and Guilielmus Amesius a direct influence on a kindred movement in Holland ensued. To this movement belong the Teellincks, Voetius, Van Lodenstein, Saldenus, the two Brakels, and especially also Witsius. This movement is not meant as a correction of the Reformation but as the consequence of it. The background of the conspicuous preciseness is the desire to serve God fully according to His will.

Cornelis Graafland, another leading Dutch scholar on the Second Reformation, refers to it as a movement “which turned against the generally poor conditions prevailing in the Reformed church ... to achieve a radical and complete sanctification of all facets of life.”


Graafland describes the movement as a “deepening and broadening of the sixteenth-century Reformation.”
Another attempt to express the heart of the Second Reformation is that of P. B. van der Watt, which is paraphrased by Hofmeyr as follows:

[The Second Reformation] revolted against the unspiritual state of the nation, ministers, and congregations. They plead also for a personal commitment to Christ. The experienced and tested religion is to them of central importance. Although nothing is done to undermine the church, the office, the sacrament, and the covenant, they regard rebirth as the priority. They also assume a reasonably strong Puritan point of view. They plead for the observance of the Sabbath and the carrying out of the demands of the Lord. The church must be pure and should be cleansed of all that is unholy. Finally, they had a high regard for the Scriptures and for the Heidelberg Catechism.

Finally, a definition of the Second Reformation was formulated in 1983 by the group of scholars responsible for Documentatieblad Nadere Reformatie:

This movement within the “Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk,” while opposing generally prevailing abuses and misconceptions and pursuing the broadening and progressive advancement of the sixteenth-century Reformation, urges and strives with prophetic zeal for both the inner experience of Reformed doctrine and personal sanctification, as well as the radical and total sanctification of all spheres of life.

Despite these somewhat oversimplified generalizations of the versatile Dutch Second Reformation, its complexity is not to be underestimated. Graafland points out that the Second Reformation had no organizational structure beyond a strong feeling of spiritual kinship existing among its divines. At times this led to small organized circles such as the so-called “Utrecht Circle” under the leadership of Voetius or to programs for action such as those promoted by Willem Teellinck and Jacobus Koelman. For the most part, however, each Second Reformation divine brought the message of the necessity of reform to his own parishioners. The contours of this call to reform naturally took on distinctive shapes in each locality and generation.
Due to this lack of organization and an increasing emphasis on internal, experiential life, the Second Reformation’s initial call to action in every sphere of life diminished rapidly. For example, in its earlier, so-called classical period, the Second Reformation strongly opposed a state-dominated church and worked strenuously for the church’s independence. Due to opposition from both the government and citizens, however, the classical Second Reformation could not retain this position. Anabaptist tendencies towards isolation increased


with time. Various sub-movements, such as the Labadists, tended to withdraw from civil and church affairs, and became separatists, but continued to bear substantial influence on the larger movement. Though few Second Reformation pietists condoned separatism, numerous conventicles (gezelschappen) were formed for the nourishing of spiritual life. Gradually the Second Reformation became increasingly reminiscent of the Devotio Modern in its emphasis on thorough separation from the unredeemed world. This is exemplified in a comparison of Willem Teellinck and Wilhelmus Schortinghuis (1700-1750; renowned for his Het Innige Christendom [Inner Christianity]) as typical early and late representatives of the movement:

For Teellinck the experience of the heart remained central, but then as a center which penetrated a wide area, including not only the family and the congregation, but also the entire church and nation, politics inclusive. For Schortinghuis subjective experience is the fort to which the believer withdraws himself from the world and even from the congregation around him.

These differences must not be exaggerated, however, for Teellinck also displayed elements of internal withdrawal, as did other early Second Reformation proponents such as Koelman and Lodenstein, whereas van der Groe, often considered the last representative of the movement, strongly emphasized church and social life as a whole, including the political context. Van der Linde concludes:

Most of those who can be considered representative of the Second Reformation, being promoters of a theocratic structure as far as the relationship between church and state are concerned, are open for that which is not so purely spiritual, such as the political state.

Generally speaking, the complex Dutch Second Reformation focused on a variety of major themes. In summarizing the movement, Graafland addresses the following contours: election, regeneration, sanctification, the family and the congregation, the church, creation and natural theology, eschatology, and theocracy. Through promoting a pious lifestyle and a theocratic concept of all social relationships based on family worship, the parish, and the church as a whole, the Second Reformation aimed to establish and enforce moral and spiritual discipline in all spheres of life. Second Reformation sermons addressed all of these mostly active themes, but simultaneously stressed the fall of Adam, the natural man’s inability to aspire to good, the absolute sovereignty of divine predestination and grace, dependence upon God, the necessity of adequate conviction of sin, the experience of conversion, and the simplicity of true worship. C. Vogelaar’s summaries of the content of the preaching of Bernardus


Smytegelt (1665-1739) and Johannes Beukelman (1704-1757), are typical particularly of the later period of the Second Reformation:

In [Smytegelt’s] sermons much emphasis was laid on the practice of godliness, on the holy duties of Christians, on the life of God’s people and on the frames of their hearts, as well as their experiences of light and darkness, the leading and operation of the Holy Spirit, and giving instructions and directions to the godly.
In his sermons [Beukelman] applied the message to his hearers: revealing clearly the false, sandy foundations of the nominal Christians, proclaiming plainly our misery and total depravity, recommending especially the way of reconciliation with God in Christ, bringing the sincere invitations and callings of the gospel, encouraging the concerned souls of true seekers of God, showing unto the godly ones the causes for their little progress in faith and sanctification, and also giving the right means to make their calling and election sure—and to live in true sanctification in the fear of God’s Name and to His honor.

Thus, the preaching of the Second Reformation emphasized experiential theology, which M. Eugene Osterhaven has defined as “that broad stream of Reformed teaching which, accepting the creeds of the church, emphasized the new birth, the conversion, and the sanctification of the believer so that he might acquire an experiential or personal knowledge of Christ’s saving grace.” External religion, orthodox doctrine, sound theological propositions are all insufficient for salvation; feeling, experience, spiritual warfare, and genuine prayer are essential for faith and practice. The “head” knowledge of doctrine, albeit necessary, must be accompanied by the “heart” knowledge of scriptural experience:

There were some, of course, who carried the emphasis on feeling, on intense religious experience of an emotional nature, to dangerous lengths, but most Reformed pietists stopped far short of making that the norm. The norm is Scripture alone but, they held, as the Frisian Catechism put it, that “true faith demands an experiential knowledge, emerging from a conviction and an experiencing of God’s Spirit, and conforming to the word of truth.”

For Second Reformation adherents, “formal Christianity, by which they meant a Christianity exhausting itself in externals, was only slightly better than none at all. For that reason they, like the mystics before them, emphasized the primacy of the inward response to God.” Hence struggles of faith held a central place.
With regard to assurance of faith, the Second Reformation as a whole not only emphasized the promises of God and the witness of the Spirit, but also increasingly accentuated the syllogisms, making a transition from the syllogismus practicus in the classical period to the syllogismus mysticus in the later period. Graafland


and van der Linde are sharply critical of this transition, but the latter fails to note that also the mystical syllogism is inseparable from the enlightening of the Spirit:

Rather than seeking assurance in the Spirit, i.e., in the promise of the gospel and thus not in ourselves, the “marks of grace” have come upon the scene. It is difficult to view them with anything but pity since they yield so much melancholy and uncertainty. It is thus obvious that one believes to honor the Spirit the most by seeking assurance of faith and salvation primarily in the so-called mystical syllogism, i.e., that one endeavors to draw the conclusion that he is indeed a true Christian due to being acquainted with mystical, inner stirrings and emotions of which a worldly person has no knowledge.... Our Heidelberg Catechism does as yet have the courage to state that we can be assured of our sonship by our good works as being fruits of faith. In the course of Reformed tradition this practical syllogism has increasingly fallen into abeyance. This did not only occur in conjunction with a turning away from all that is external in order only to deem “internal” matters as being spiritual and valid (incorrectly in our opinion), but also due to a fear for hypocrisy when considering how our “pious flesh” is capable of adorning itself. ...
We are without expectation as far as the syllogismus mysticus is concerned. If this is not conjoined to the external practice of faith, there will be nothing to hold on to for the man who is genuinely in need.... His only certainty is definitely not a syllogism, for it is not logic which reigns in the grace of God, but only the witness of the Holy Spirit in and through the gospel.

Assessment in Secondary Sources

The complexity of the Dutch Second Reformation is compounded by its assessment in secondary sources. The nineteenth-century theologians at Groningen were the first to make an effort to view the Second Reformation as a movement from a historical perspective. W. van ‘t Spijker shows, however, that these divines, such as P. Hofstede de Groot, differed little from the view of Ypeij and Dermout in their Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk (History of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands). Neither Ypeij and Dermout nor the Groningen professors researched the movement from its primary sources, but tended to model the movement after their own ideals. In particular, the Groningen theologians viewed Thomas à Kempis, Wessel Gansfort, Willem Teellinck, Jodocus van Lodenstein, and others as their ideal.
Later in the nineteenth century (1879), Heinrich Heppe published Geschichte des Pietismus and der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche, namentlich der Niederlande (The History of Pietism and Mysticism in the Reformed Church, particularly in the Netherlands). The following decade


Albrecht Ritschl’s three-volume history of Pietism was published (Geschichte des Pietismus, 1880-86). These works helped to establish the seminal issues involved in the Second Reformation and are still being discussed by scholars of the movement. Heppe concludes that the roots of Pietism are found in Puritanism, for he posits that the “second reformation” moved from English Puritanism to the Dutch Second Reformation to German Pietism. Ritschl placed Pietism in a broader framework of movements of reform present in the Western church since the Middle Ages, pointing particularly to Franciscan observances, the mystical theology of Bernard de Clairveaux, and the Anabaptists with regard to the Dutch Second Reformation.
Van ‘t Spijker views the 1911 work of W. Goeters (Die Vorbereitung des Pietismus in der reformierten Kirche der Niederlande bis zur labadistischen Krisis 1670; The Groundwork for Pietism in the Netherlands until the Labadistic Crisis in 1670) as a significant step forward in research on the Dutch Second Reformation in that he emphasized the need to study the divines of the movement on an individual basis. Goeters detected various streams of thought in the Second Reformation and avoided simplistic assessments as to their origins. Moreover, in addition to theological and practical issues, he pointed to social and historical roots which paved the way for the movement. He also highlighted some important themes of the Second Reformation, such as the striving for an ideal church. In fact, he defined “the essence of this movement to be a striving of the visible church to approximate her essence (which is found in the invisible church) as much as possible.”
Much negative reaction against the Second Reformation can be traced to Abraham Kuyper and his emphasis on the church’s cultural mandate. Early in his ministry Kuyper was profoundly influenced by a simple, God-fearing woman of Second Reformation persuasion, Pietje Baltus, who emphasized the necessity of experimental conversion. Subsequently, however, he became troubled that the Christians among whom he labored had become too pietistic and sheltered due in part to a constant diet of reading the “old writers” (oude schrzjvers), as experimentally oriented laymen were fond of calling Second Reformation authors. At times Kuyper disparagingly called the pietistic elements in the Dutch church, “Methodists,” though he retained a strong element of piety in his devotional writings as well as respect for the Second Reformation divines. Kuyper’s attempts to teach laymen to apply Christianity to all spheres of life led to a revival of Calvinism in the Netherlands. His followers, however, frequently called neo-Calvinists, went far beyond


Kuyper by rejecting nearly all semblances of piety and by “externalizing the gospel” in a flurry of kingdom-activity. Still today “the neo-Calvinists in The Netherlands on the whole are quite antagonistic toward the Second Reformation. They see it as an other-worldly, anti-cultural and scholastic movement which has done the church more harm than good.”
Also reacting negatively to the Second Reformation are Otto Ritschl who views the Second Reformation as a falsification of the Reformation; Theodorus L. Haitjema who regards it as degeneration (ontaarding); and Aart A. van Schelven who esteems it to be overly baptistic, spiritualistic, and influenced by Semi-Pelagianism. E. D. Kraan considers the Second Reformation to be too steeped in subjectivism, while Rudolf Boon states that it “inclines to Anabaptism.” Teunis Brienen sets Reformation gospel preaching over against Second Reformation preaching which speaks to various “soul conditions” among the hearers.
Positively, Hans Emil Weber, Arie Vergunst, James Tanis, J. H. R. Verboom, Jonathan Gerstner, Willem Jan op ‘t Hof and others view it largely as a profitable outgrowth of Calvinism. Also Stoeffler’s assessment is largely positive and a most helpful, needed corrective:

[The Second Reformation] was by and large a thoroughly responsible, evangelical movement. On the personal level it emphasized love for God and man and a type of daily conduct based on what it regarded as the New Testament ethic. Its larger aim was the reformation of the visible Church according to the pattern of apostolic Christianity. Intellectually it was highly respectable in so far as practically all of its leaders had enjoyed the opportunity of excellent theological training. For that reason it had the support of the best minds of the day. Voetius, Essenius, Hoornbeeck, and later such Coccejans as Witsius endorsed it enthusiastically. ... [It] constituted a significant and influential party with the Reformed churches. ...
The coming of Pietism [i.e., the Second Reformation], like the rise of any reform movement which tends to challenge the established order of things, caused some strains and difficulties. At the end, ... however, the Reformed churches were the better for having made the necessary adjustments.

Still others provide mixed assessment, noting the evolving changes within the movement itself. This is particularly true of several Reformed scholars in the Netherlands (such as J. G. Woelderink, Arnold A. van Ruler, S. van der Linde, Cornelis Graafland, Willem Balke, K. Exalto, W. van ‘t Spijker, J. van Genderen, and others ) who have done considerable pioneer work on the Second Reformation. Generally speaking, these Dutch scholars have varying degrees of appreciation for the Dutch Second Reformation (particularly its


classical period) though they feel that it was not as theologically rich as the Reformation proper. S. van der Linde and Cornelis Graafland affirm the early Dutch Second Reformation as embracing some positive characteristics, but see decay setting in largely through excessive introspection such that the movement failed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries “to combine breadth with depth.” Similarly, Hofmeyr asserts that “the classical phase of the Second Reformation shows definite links with Calvin, while the distance between Calvin and the stricter pietism of the later phase of the Second Reformation is much greater.” In a different vein, Prozesky concludes that “the movement as a whole underwent gradual change with its early precisianism losing ground to devotional and on occasion mystical pursuits, besides also evolving or adapting its own typical institutions, such as conventicles, edificatory sermons and Pietistic literature.” Osterhaven discerns two streams in the Second Reformation:

The one stream emphasized mysticism, inwardness, felicity, prayer, spiritual elation, and joy in the Lord. Overworked words among these folk were gelukzaligheid and godzaligheid. ... Involving the whole person, his intellect, feeling, and will, it is the ultimate blessing that God can give one in this life and the greatest proof that God is a gracious father to his children. The other stream was activistic and laid stress on doing the will of the Lord. Here the law as an expression of God’s will was much to the fore and the practice of piety was conceived largely in thinking, saying, and doing what is right before the Lord. This latter emphasis ...came to be know as Preciesen in Dutch, or, as they were sometimes called by their opponents, Fijnen, sanctimonians, we might say.
Whatever the emphasis, all pietists believed heartily in experiential theology and were known as de ernstige, the earnest, zealous Christians of their place and time. ...
In its better representatives, like Wilhelmus à Brakel, the experiential theology sought a healthy balance between mysticism and precisionism.

Van Ruler calls the movement as a whole a “legitimate experiment.”
The wide divergence of these opinions calls for further studies in the Dutch Second Reformation as a movement in its own generations. In future studies the Second Reformation should be evaluated in its distinct spiritual, theological, and political milieu. Too often the Second Reformation is judged by the Reformation proper, the latter being regarded as normative. Calvin is presented by A. Ritschl and others as an ideal and all differences from him (even in areas where his thinking is largely embryonic, such as covenant theology) are prone to be considered in a negative light. The unfair conclusion is then reached that the Second Reformation is not a “further reformation” (nadere reformatie), but


a “further deformation” (verdere deformatie). It is our conviction that a more careful, objective study of the Second Reformation will yield the conclusion that these Dutch divines as a whole did not misread Calvin and the Reformers, but simply adapted the teaching of the early Reformers in a practical way to their own day.
Additional work also needs to be done on the influence of Phillipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Friedrich Adolph Lampe, Gerhard Tersteegen, and other German Pietists on the Dutch Second Reformation. Monographs need to be written on several important Second Reformation divines who are either the subjects of outdated studies or who, as yet, have not been thoroughly studied. Caricatures against the movement and the influence of Reformed scholastic orthodoxy need to be unveiled for what they are. Particularly needed are both primary and secondary sources published in English on the Dutch Second Reformation.
English and American Puritanism have received considerably more attention from Dutch writers than the Dutch Second Reformation has received from English writers. The Dutch Second Reformation divines deserve to be treated with the same scholarly care devoted to their Puritan counterparts. Such treatment will recognize that the long-term influence of the Second Reformation has been seriously underestimated. An amplification of Stoeffler’s reassessment is needed:

While the [Second Reformation] dream of reforming the Reformed never succeeded it could hardly be doubted that the perfectionistic ideals of this reform party brought about significant changes in the life of the Church. It was responsible for an emphasis upon effective, religiously significant preaching such as is seldom found in territorial churches, together with a similar emphasis upon pastoral work which is equally unusual under such surroundings. Many of the classes and synods began to stress catechization to a degree unknown since the early days of the Genevan reformation. Church discipline, which had been exercised almost solely with regard to faith and order, was oriented to include the daily conduct of church members. A devotional literature was created such as continental Protestantism had never known because its need had not been recognized. Family worship was encouraged and free prayer found a place along with printed prayers. In fact prayer was encouraged as perhaps never before within the Reformed churches. Even conventicles ... were authorized by various ecclesiastical bodies. For the first time since the days of Geneva the Reformed churches knew of genuine religious awakenings such as the one at Friesland in 1672, where a group of pastors entered together upon an evangelistic venture with noticeable results. Last but not least the matter of training an effective ministry, interested in piety as well as doctrine and polity, was given serious attention. The result was the later development of theological seminaries.


Further, the influence of Second Reformation devotional writings and sermons in the eighteenth and nineteenth (and even twentieth) centuries remained great among the conservative, experimental Reformed in the Netherlands, South Africa, and North America. Today their writings are being reprinted as rapidly as the Puritans are in the English-speaking world. It is our hope and prayer that the translation of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s classic, De Redelijke Godsdienst, may serve to arouse interest in the history and theology of the Dutch Second Reformation.

Source: Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, vol. 1, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992), lxxxv-cxi.


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