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The Value of Classic Learning in Christ’s Fighting Church

Introduction  – Meet Mr. Buwalda!

The writer of “The Value of Classic Learning for Christ’s Fighting Church” is Doctorandus D. J. Buwalda, lecturer in New Testament and Patristic Greek at the Kampen Theological Seminary of the Gereformeerde Kerk (Art. 31). He is also instructor of classic languages at the Kampen Gereformeerde Gymnasium. The author took graduate work at the Free University of Amsterdam, and Tubingen University in Germany. Mr. Buwalda’s work is an effort to stimulate the biblical re-examination of our modern culture in the light of its classic roots. Scholar and humble Christian, Mr. Buwalda takes his place as contemporary pillar in the monument of Reformed fathers. Mr. Buwalda has agreed to answer questions or comments in regard to his article.

Carl J. Reitsma

 

The heavens are blackening. Even now we watch God’s lightning bolts come crashing down around us,—His wrath over “our” universally declining evil cul­ture. “Our” western culture, immersed in the Gospel was blessed while serving Him. But now look at it! Let’s be on guard not to look down from our pedestal of arrogant conceit and pronounce a proud anathema upon the Graeco-Roman thinking world. Are “we” better than they?

God has let them walk in their own way (Acts 14:16). Yet this same Paul

maintains that the lawless heathen in following their own considerations often do better than the Jews themselves (Rom. 2:14, 15). For us this means that we, who are saved from agony and death through Jesus Christ the Lord, and pos­sess this Gospel which was held aloft in the great Reformation and held under again and again during the Middle Ages in men’s unrighteousness, should very really place hand upon mouth as we compare the culture of heathen and . . . “Christian”.

Let’s honestly admit it. We of the civilized modern day world have to blush a bit don’t we when we read the almost 2,000 year old fragments and discover how a son expresses his true gratitude for the thorough bringing-up that his parents gave him; how a son instructs his younger brothers to love and obey his parents? The papyri which we inherited were of course not written for publica­tion as the classics were and so, here we have a genuine picture of life as it then really was: What does “our” con­temporary culture have to offer in re­spect to the parent-child relationship?

O, of course, I am not forgetting about Rom. 1:25. Paul didn’t either. That culture was corrupt. God’s judgment was executed in a terrible manner over it,—more terrible yet when we remember that they got just what they wanted. They were not able to excuse themselves as though God had not revealed Himself to them. But “we”? “We” daily treas­ure up wrath for ourselves (Rom. 2:5). But now, what is so abominable? Here in the Netherlands people are accepting as a true treasure what we know to be God’s wrath and they think that now finally they are on the right track. That which God gave to this generation through the blood and tears of the fore­fathers is caricatured by them as . . . the pseudo-religious eighty-year strug­gle for riches through worker oppres­sion, the loveless, fanatical inquisition at the Synod of Dordt, the narrow, national independence, the church-play in the 19th and 20th centuries. Never­theless, of our predecessors the church sings “their blood and tears and suffering were precious in His sight”. They confessed His name. However, in spite of the tyrannical French regime, the loss of Belgium and many colonies, and just lately in the German occupation, this generation rushes on in pursuit of the way of the Beast. A short time ago Hol­land gave up its responsibility over mil­lions of subjects willingly and for the greater part with pleasure. Sure it did so under U. S. A. pressure, but just the same, remember, it did so by conviction! He who reads the royal words of parting when India was declared “free”, will begin to understand what God says in His Word, “I have chastened them, but they have felt no pain!” “We” of today consider “Christian” what God always hated and terribly punished in the Pagan world,—the elevation of Sovereign Man over a subjected Creator. This view in classic times was represented by the Stoics and their principle of a would-be cosmic law. Today men make their own lord, their own law,—the sovereign man. And now what would not seem possible is happening. The Stoic is making an astounding impression upon innumerable Christians. How? Through: 1. its In­dividualism; 2. its Universalism; and 3. its Spiritualism.

  1. The Stoic is individualistic in re­spect to time and space. One must dis­regard his history, his people and race, his city, and everything that might stand in the way of the maintenance of one’s individual position and self respect. One must disconnect all ties. Away with marriage, family and all that could dis­turb peace of mind. 2. But, devote yourself rather to mankind. Seek only to ac­complish mankind’s ideals. Work for the world-state. 3. You really are not of this earth. Your spirit is divine. There, in the sphere of the divine is where you belong. Elevate yourself above your bodily existence, your expectations, your desires, and consider all things in the perspective of the “eternal-light”. Death is not your enemy, but friend who re­leases you from the bonds of the body. Practice impassiveness to bear of death and fate. In your fight against fate you will surge above the gods. They have a life of rest and sweet repose while you in your daily constant struggle elevate yourself above the earthly!

As an example of this I want to trans­late a small fragment of a letter (Epist. 41) that the Stoic Seneca wrote at the end of his life to his friend. Seneca was the teacher of the infamous Roman Em­peror, Nero.

“You are doing an extraordinary and beneficial work if; as you write, you per­sist in striving for a harmonic spirit. To pray for it is foolish, because you can get it from yourself. You don’t have to lift your hands to heaven or beg the temple assistant to permit you to come a little closer to the ear of the image, as though you then could hear better divinity is near to you, it is with you, it is within you. That’s the way I mean it Lucilius: a holy spirit resides within us who keeps his eye on both the good and bad that we do and guards this. After he is treated by us he treats us. No man is good without divinity. Can one surge above fate without being help­ed by it? He gives advice, noble and supreme . . . you come under the in­fluence of godly majesty in a woods that on a clear day completely shuts off the sunlight; or when you see a man who is unafraid in the midst of dangers, un­affected by desires, happy in set-backs, peaceful amid the roar of the storm, looking down from a higher level upon his fellowman, considering gods on an even level with himself. Would you not be filled with admiration for such a person? Would you not say: such a person is too great and superior for us to suppose that he should feel at home in this inferior body? A heavenly power has descended in him. A superior spirit which knows how to control itself, which lets everything pass as below his worthi­ness and laughs at what we fear and which is driven ahead by a heavenly power. Therefore he is for the most part there from where he descended. As the rays of the sun touch the earth, but have their existence where they originate, so also there is a great and holy spirit who is sent here in order that we should learn to know the divine from close up. He converses with us, certain­ly, but he is bound to: his origin from within . . .”

If you read this fragment closely you will find many of the elements in it that I previously mentioned. And if we let them work themselves in upon us we will have to admit that these tenets are in complete harmony with our times and depraved hearts. Do we not have all these ideas here in a nut-shell?,—con­tempt for creaturely life, the superior personality independent through its own divine might, absolute, sovereignty, re­siding in heaven with its associates, the gods. You fail to find here ties that bind “this great one” to fatherland, his­tory, family, or relative; to laws to which he would have to conform. Life to him is a divine game. You search in vain here for the humble fallen man who has completely spoiled his position before the Lord and although condemned to the flames, yet through His mercy in Jesus Christ is saved from ruin and now guilt­ conscious seeks life in obedience to His Word. And yet, one is shocked at the number of folks who consider this philo­sopher and his thinking-world quite close to the Christian Life, and who also live out of these same principles. “Is there not a “holy spirit” spoken about here,—a spirit that watches over “wrong and good”,—of a personality who lives his real life in heaven, of an “unio mystica”?

A thorough study of this whole culture is extremely necessary. The whole world is being driven back to this culture and even calls for it. Our culture is so badly infected with all these idea-webs that we can hardly recognize them as such anymore. The Church of Jesus Christ must feed and refresh us with the Word of God. Read the letters and speeches of Paul, for they especially strengthen us in this terrible conflict against our own flesh and blood.