In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper observes how, before Calvinism, the Dutch art did not take into account the common people, but “they only were considered worthy of notice who were superior to the common man, viz., the high world of Church and of the priests, of knights and princes.” After Calvinism, however, “by the light of common grace it was seen that the non-churchly life was also possessed of high importance and of an all-sided art-motive.” The “common life of man came out of its hiding-place like a new world,” signaling the “emancipation of our ordinary earthly life.”
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper sets art and its tasks in the biblical context of redemption: “if you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster.” This way, art “points out…both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.”
That is, art, not just the artist, testifies to the God of all creation.
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper argues against the view that “the only object of life was to merit heaven and to enjoy as much of the world as the Church considered to be consistent with this main end.” This view fails to recognize that “Christianity, besides its yearning for eternal salvation, has to perform on earth, by divine commission, a grand task with regard to the cosmos.”
More specifically, “life on earth were ever destined to merit the blessedness of heaven.” Thus, “Calvinism called Christendom back to the order of creation: ‘Replenish the earth, subdue it and have dominion over everything that lives upon it.’” Christian life remains a pilgrimage, to be sure. But “the Calvinist became a pilgrim, who, while on his way to our eternal home, has yet to perform on earth an important task.” What is that task? “The cosmos, in all the wealth of the kingdom of nature, was spread out before, under, and above man,” and this “entire limitless field had to be worked” (emphasis mine) so that they all may “flourish,” be it “agriculture and industry, commerce and navigation” or whatever else.
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper critiques what “Romanists taught,” that “there existed two spheres of life, the earthly or the merely human here below, and the heavenly, higher than the human as such.” In this schema, “the clergy, severing the earthly tie in celibacy, rank higher than the laity, and again, the monk who turns away from earthly possessions also and sacrifices his own will, stands, ethically considered, on a higher level than the clergy.” On top of that is “the stylite, who, mounting his pillar, severs himself from everything earthly, or by the yet more silent penitent who causes himself to be immured in his subterranean cave.”
This, Kuyper says, finds its “embodiment in the separation between sacred and secular ground” under which “everything uncountenanced and uncared for by the church is looked upon as being a lower character.”
But a Calvinist differs: “In his judgment, not only the church, but also the world belongs to God and in both has to be investigated the masterpiece of the supreme Architect and Artificer.” Rather, “looking upon it as his task to know God in all his works, he is conscious of having been called to fathom with all the energy of his intellect, things terrestrial as well as things celestial.” This, Kuyper says, is what “common grace” does.
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper observes “our best Calvinistic Confessions speak of two means whereby we know God, viz., the Scriptures and Nature.” This means, “our attention may not be withdrawn from the life of nature and creation; the study of the body regained its place of honor beside the study of the soul; and the social organization of mankind on earth was again looked upon as being as well worthy an object of human science as the congregation of the perfect saints in heaven.”
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper comments on why Christians bifurcate the world into sacred and secular this way: “wherever two elements appear, as in this case the sinner and the saint, the temporal and the eternal, the terrestrial and the heavenly life, there is always danger of losing sight of their interconnection and of falsifying both by error or onesidedness.” This “dualistic conception…has…neglected to give due attention to the world of God’s creation” and “has, on account of its exclusive love of things eternal, been backward in the fulfilment of its temporal duties.”
On the contrary, the Bible makes plain that “the object of the work of redemption [of Christ] is not limited to the salvation of individual sinners, but extends itself to the redemption of the world, and to the organic reunion of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ as their original head.” The “final outcome of the future…is not the merely spiritual existence of saved souls but the restoration of the entire cosmos, when God will be all in all under the renewed heaven on the renewed earth.”
On a related note, Kuyper believes the dualistic conception neglecting creation “has led…to a mystic worshipping of Christ alone, to the exclusion of God the Father Almighty, Maker of heavens and earth” because, in that conception, “Christ was conceived exclusively as the Savior, and His cosmological significance was lost out of sight.” Furthermore, while “our salvation is of substantial weight,” “it cannot be compared with the much greater weight of the glory of our God, who has revealed His majesty in His wondrous creation.” While “the mediatorship of Christ is and ever will be the burden of the grand hymn of the tongues of men and the voices of angels…even this mediatorship has for its final end the glory of the Father; and however grand the splendor of Christ’s kingdom may be, He will at last surrender it to the God and the Father.” This is why, according to Kuyper:
Calvinism puts an end once and for all to contempt for the world, neglect of temporal and under-valuation of cosmical things. Cosmical life has regained its worth not at the expense of things eternal, but by virtue of its capacity as God’s handiwork and as a revelation of God’s attributes.
In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper says the ultimate purpose of the church is “the re-creation both of our human race and of the Cosmos as a whole.” (It cannot simply be “human or egoistic, to prepare the believer for Heaven” because “the Church exists…for the sake of God.”)
How does this play out in the life of a Christian? “When our respiration is disturbed, we try irresistibly and immediately to remove the disturbance, and to make it normal again, i.e. to restore it, by bringing it again into accordance with the ordinances which God has given for man’s respiration.” In the same way, “in every disturbance of the normal life the believer has to strive as speedily as possible to restore his spiritual respiration, according to the moral commands of his God, because only after this restoration can the inward life again thrive freely in his soul, and renewed energetic action become possible.”
Kuyper says this is in opposition to the “Anabaptists” who “announc[ed] themselves as ‘saints’ [and] severed from the world.” This type of “avoidance of the world has never been the Calvinistic mark” for “it is not true that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good one, which are fitted into each other.” Instead, the world is “one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace.”
As a result, a Calvinist “feels…his calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honorable, lovely, and of good report among men.”