For the Sake of God

Lectures on Calvinism
Abraham Kuyper

Men are religious in order to conjure the spirits hovering behind the veil of Nature, to free themselves from the oppressive sway of the cosmos. It matters not whether the Lama priest confines the evil spirits in his jugs, whether the nature-gods of the Orient are invoked to afford shelter against the forces of nature, whether the loftier gods of Greece are worshipped in their ascendency above nature, or whether, finally, idealistic philosophy presents the spirit of man himself as the real object of adoration;—in all these different forms it is and remains a religion fostered for man’s sake, aiming at his safety, his liberty, his elevation, and partly also at his triumph over death. And even when a religion of this kind has developed itself into monotheism, the god whom it worships remains invariably a god who exists in order to help man, in order to secure good order and tranquility for the State, to furnish assistance and deliverance in time of need, or to strengthen the nobler and higher impulse of the human heart in its ceaseless struggle with the degrading influences of sin. The consequence of this is that all such religion thrives in time of famine and pestilence, it flourishes among the poor and oppressed, and it expands among the humble and the feeble; but it pines away in the days of prosperity, it fails to attract the well-to-do, it is abandoned by those who are more highly cultured.

As soon as the more civilized classes enjoy tranquility and comfort, and by the progress of science feel more and more delivered from the pressure of the cosmos, they throw away the crutches of religion, and with a sneer at everything holy go stumbling forward on their own poor legs. This is the fatal end of egoistic religion;—it becomes superfluous and disappears as soon as the egoistic interests are satisfied. This was the course of religion among all non-Christian nations, in earlier times, and the same phenomenon is repeating itself in our own century, among nominal Christians of the higher, more prosperous and more cultured classes of society. Now the position of Calvinism is diametrically opposed to all this. It does not deny that religion has also its human and subjective side; it does not dispute the fact that religion is promoted, encouraged and strengthened by our disposition to seek help in time of need and spiritual elevation in the face of sensual passions; but it maintains that it reverses the proper order of things to seek, in these accidental motives, the essence and the very purpose of religion. The Calvinist values all of these as fruits which are produced by religion, or as props which gave it support, but he refuses to honor them as the reason for its existence. Of course, religion, as such, produces also a blessing for man, but it does not exist for the sake of man. It is not God who exists for the sake of His creation;—the creation exists for the sake of God. For, as the Scripture says, He has created all things for Himself.

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