Friday, September 4, 2009

Simple and Absolute

After studying for the ministry, Abraham Kuyper accepted his first pastorate in 1863 at a town called Beesd. The Dutch Reformed Church in that era was far removed from high-water mark of Dordt orthodoxy. There was a young woman in Beesd at that time named Pietronella Baltus, known as Pietje (May 12, 1830 - March 26, 1914). She was a devout woman but had become so disillusioned with the state of the church in her day that rarely attended services at the established church and would not partake of the Lord's supper administered by a state-sanctioned minister. When Kuyper tried to visit her in 1864, as part of his pastoral outreach to parishioners, she would only shake his hand as a fellow human being, not as a representative of the ministry of Christ. She assumed that he was part of the liberal watered-down gospel ministry, which in fact was the case at the time. It took repeated efforts by Kuyper to engage her in conversation about her critique and concerns, but when they spoke, her "absolute" conviction of faith so impressed him, that it changed his life completely. When she died in 1914, he wrote a moving tribute to her in his paper De Standaard (as found in James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, pp. 58-59):

Pietje Baltus

Our paper too must include a brief word of recollection upon the death of Pietje Baltus.

As the reader knows, Dr. Kuyper became acquainted with this humble soul when he was a preacher in the village of Beesd, an event not without consequence for the subsequent course of his life.

The thing that marked this woman, who was still young at the time, was her decisiveness. In Beesd no modern preacher had yet occupied its pulpit and the principal of the public school in this Betuwe village was a dear old believer, Mr. Kievits. But though "orthodoxy" more or less continued to set the tone in Beesd, Pietje Baltus wanted no part of this kind of church life. It was a poor halfway thing to her, a lot of tomfoolery that simply led to further decline. The church of God could not live on it, let alone flourish. So she attended no church and did not even want to receive such a half-baked preacher into her home. She insisted on a full confession of the faith for which our martyers had died. In all those compromises and accomodations and concessions she had seen the face of death.

So when Dr. Kuyper became the preacher, she wanted no part of him. Presumably he was just another one of those half-grown, half-committed, half-baked, half-winged church wreckers. And this was understandable. When he arrived at Beesd, though he was what was then called "conservative," he leaned strongly toward the "ethical" wing of the church and therefore tended to be anti-Reformed.

Still a meeting did take place and that encounter brought about a change in Dr. K.'s conviction. He suddenly grasped the power of the absolute in this woman and broke with all halfheartedness. Then he got acquainted with the spiritual legacy of the fathers. Dordt, which had first repelled him, from that time on became attractive to him. Also from Calvin he absorbed rays of light.

That simple woman had bent the line of his life from a halfway position to a whole one, and it has consistently remained Dr. K.'s grateful confession that only when he made her acquaintance did he get to where he now felt he had to be.

On the occasion of her death the Telegraaf commented on the remarkable influence this Pietje Baltus had on our church history the past half century. That comment is correct. And so by her graveside we may be permitted to pray that the "simple in the land," in line with the noble example given by this devout woman, may persevere in the absoluteness of their faith!

One child of God, however insignificant by the world's standards, can be like the morning star, again bringing radiance into the night of the church's life.

De Standaard, 30 March 1914


  1. How very fascinating and encouraging.

  2. I especially like Dr. K's last line. God uses the small, weak, insignificant things/people of this world in mighty ways.