Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Professor Dr. Klaas Schilder (19 December 1890 – 23 March 1952). During his life, he was a biblical, Reformed, Calvinist pastor, theologian, and churchman. As a controversial polemicist, he was (and is) as maligned and misunderstood by his despisers as he was (and is) appreciated by his beneficiaries. Especially today in North America, people could profit significantly from his cultural, ecclesiastical, and theological insights.
There is enough information available online to supply a rudimentary portrait of his life and work, a reliable entrée into his heart and mind.
So today we wish instead to introduce our readers to the sagacious side, the provocative persona, of Klaas Schilder.
For that, we draw from a little paperback collection of Schilderian aphorisms that was published in the early 1980s, entitled Aforismen (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1983). In 1952 and 1954, two volumes had appeared, entitled Tolle Lege (Take and Read), containing a number of Schilder’s pithy sayings on such topics as Prayer, Culture, Covenant, Preaching, Satan, and the like. In his preface to the first volume, Schilder wrote:
The author is aware that ‘aphorisms’ of the kind collected here, if they are not to cause injury, can be set only before ‘friends’; for only friends are so familiar with the surroundings and context of someone’s selected sentences that they will be able to sense the husterēma, that which is lacking.
To enhance our remembering, on this anniversary date, of one of the most significant Reformed theologians of the twentieth century, we offer in English translation some of our favorites among the publisher’s choices from KS’s own selection. (Numbers in parentheses indicate page numbers in the 1983 paperback. The enumeration of the aphorisms is mine.)
Each of these chosen on purpose, for your munching pleasure!
1. “The human person is not reducible to a blob of nature, but is an office-bearer, whose natural gifts are supposed to function according to an official mandate” (17).
2. “A Paradise lost and a Paradise regained, and the path lying between the two, are not a matter of ‘favor’ [Dutch: gunst] as much as they are a matter of mandate, order [Dutch: bevel], and commandment” (17).
3. “In the notion of office, people encounter God’s primeval claim on human beings” (17).
4. “Politics and church are two, aren’t they? Yes, of course, indeed they are. But life is one” (24).
5. “Nowhere can the church avoid political issues, because they touch upon the deepest principles. The question is simply whether the church is willing to prophesy in terms of these issues and dares to employ the power of the keys. Yes, dares—because she must” (24).
6. “The absence of vice is not the presence of virtue” (29).
7. “We must continually keep in view that a church is a gathering of believers, not a gathering of people who think alike on scientific issues” (32).
8. “When people took the ‘covenant of grace‘ as their starting point for the doctrine of the covenant, things went awry; only when people took hold of the issue at the beginning, with the ‘covenant of works,’ did the business get back on track” (36).
9. “Let us never forget that ever since the beginning, the sum total of humanity was placed in a covenant with God” (36).
10. “A covenant never lives by ‘give and take,’ it does not live by ‘yes and no.’ ‘Covenant’ means: everything or nothing. It is never a contract” (37).
11. “Anyone who construes the promise as the basis of the demand rises up once more to weary us with his pet little notion of a covenant made only with the elect that comes into existence through and after the renewal of the heart” (38).
12. “Religion in a human being cannot be equivalent simply to being raised up passively and receptively into a state of peace; for the covenant posits a person’s activity as condition for covenant concourse. A person’s entire existence participates in this activity, including one’s thinking and willing” (38).
13. “The method is wrong that applies a statistical measure of so much percent ‘law’ and so much percent gospel, so much percent threat in contrast to so much percent ‘comfort.’ For wherever the law is proclaimed purely, the final tally is: one hundred percent law, since there we have one hundred percent gospel” (40).
14. “Irony is the strength of the weak, sarcasm is the weakness of the strong” (92).
15. “Irony is always a certain victory. But sarcasm is the certain defeat, except it imitates the gesture of the victor” (92).
16. “Faith is indeed a gift of our covenant God, but it is simultaneously a condition that he establishes. A condition established for us in order to arouse in us a sense of responsibility, to stimulate and even to preach that awareness. Not an Arminian condition, but rather a Reformed condition” (94).
17. “Anyone craving isolation is sick. Anyone not daring to be isolated when compelled to be so, is more sick” (95).
18. “Christ loved the poor, but not poverty. Making rich—that is God’s work” (96).
19. “The gospel posits no condition of any kind, it asks nothing, it demands nothing, except this: that it be accepted in the obedience of faith” (96).