This is the eighth in a series on famous quotes from church history. We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.
By the late 1700s, the Reformed church in the Netherlands had largely become anemic. Unbelief and liberal theology ran rampant. There were few gospel preachers and only scattered handfuls of true believers. Instead, what dominated was the type of religion emphasizing Jesus as the good example for a moral life. Doctrine was sidelined, along with the creeds and Reformed confessions.
This was the story in the tiny village church of Ulrum coming into the 1800s. Ulrum is located in the north-west of the Dutch province of Groningen (one of the two most northern Dutch provinces). In 1826, Ulrum received a new pastor in the person of Petrus Hofstede de Groot. De Groot was the typical minister of his day. In one place he summarized his belief: “Christianity is no doctrine, it is power, spirit, and life, for the enlightenment, warming, sanctification, and perfection of man.” His message was moral improvement. While some delighted in the pablum he offered in his weekly preaching, others in Ulrum saw the sad reality. Several Ulrum members refused to make a public profession of faith with de Groot as their minister. Thankfully, de Groot’s ministry was short: he left to teach at the University of Groningen in 1829, only three years after arriving in Ulrum.
De Groot handpicked his successor. Hendrik de Cock was his good friend and a like-minded preacher. He arrived in Ulrum in October 1829. At first his preaching was much the same as de Groot. However, he did make some changes. For example, prior to his arrival, Ulrum consistory meetings were never convened or closed with prayer. De Cock introduced prayer at the beginning of the first meeting of the year and prayer at the end of the last meeting of the year. It was a small step. Nevertheless, despite being a minister and quite religious, de Cock was really no different than de Groot at this time: both were missing the gospel, and both were lacking in true faith.
One of the members who had refused to make profession of his faith with de Groot was a working-class brother by the name of Klaas Pieters Kuypenga. In due time, de Cock urged Kuypenga to come by the Ulrum manse for an hour a week to receive further instruction. Kuypenga agreed. But what happened was remarkable. Kuypenga became one of God’s instruments to bring de Cock to true faith in Jesus Christ. During one of their sessions, Kuypenga remarked to his pastor: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation, I would be eternally lost.” This language stunned de Cock and it put the proverbial stone in his shoe — he couldn’t stop thinking about what this meant. In due time, God would providentially bring other factors into play so that de Cock would become a Christian and start preaching like one. De Cock would go on to challenge the liberalism of the Dutch Reformed Church and be instrumental in a reformation known as the Secession (in Dutch: Afscheiding) of 1834.
One would think it rather obvious that Kuypenga spoke biblical truth to his pastor. Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…” Adding anything from our works to Christ’s work would place us under a curse. Or one could think of Isaiah 64:6 which insists that even our so-called righteous deeds are like unmentionables in the sight of God. Furthermore, Romans 3:28 reminds us that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” We have nothing to contribute to our salvation except for the sin which made it necessary. The moment you seek to add something to the perfect work of Christ, you are holding to a different gospel, a false gospel which will damn you. Klaas Pieters Kuypenga had been trained by the Holy Spirit to speak his truth.
It wouldn’t be the last time God would use a regular church member as a powerful instrument to bring reformation. He did something similar with Abraham Kuyper and a lady named Pietje Balthus. Both Hendrik de Cock and Abrhaham Kuyper were exceptionally learned men, scholarly pastors — and yet God used these “little people” to turn their worlds upside down for the gospel. These episodes in church history illustrate that 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 continues to hold true:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.