Quotable Church History: “Not a square inch…”
This is the ninth 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.
The man behind today’s quote once also wrote this about Jesus Christ: “He is not God to me, for my religious sense teaches me to know but one God. To me he is a man and nothing but a man.” Abraham Kuyper wrote those words to his fiancée Johanna Schaay in about 1860. He was a doctoral student in theology, but clearly not yet a Christian in the biblical sense of the word. That would come later — after his ordination to the ministry. God would use a number of different means, including a spinster church member named Pietje Baltus, to bring Kuyper to true saving faith in Jesus Christ. You can read more about all that here.
Eventually God used Kuyper in a powerful way to bring about a reformation in the Hervormde Kerk (the Dutch state church). Kuyper was the leading figure in the Doleantie of 1886. However, prior to that, he was also the driving force behind the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam. He had a vision for a university free from the bonds of church and state. It would be a Christian institution, certainly, but not beholden to the powers which had caused so much decline in the Dutch state universities of the era. The Free University of Amsterdam opened its doors on October 20, 1880. It had five professors and eight students.
Kuyper delivered the opening address. Entitled “Sphere Sovereignty,” it encapsulated his vision for the university. It laid out how the Free University was going to be different — holding to a Christian worldview ethos in which every aspect (sphere) falls under the sovereignty of God. It was a masterpiece of Kuyperian rhetoric. The famous quote comes towards the end of this address: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” These are undoubtedly Kuyper’s most famous words — they’ve been quoted by Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, and numerous other luminaries.
Quoted as often as it is, is it true? Colossians 1:17-18 speaks about Christ in the same way:
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Christ is to be preeminent in everything because, as the Holy Spirit points out earlier in Colossians 1, Christ is the One through whom all things were created. Everything belongs to him and he is sovereign over it all. Jesus is Lord over all and Kuyper’s words powerfully expressed that biblical truth. There’s a good reason why he’s called “Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).
Kuyper is sometimes regarded a villain in church history because of the role his views would play in later church controversies in the Netherlands. However, on the point of Christ’s sovereignty over all human endeavours, we all ought to stand with “Father Abraham.” It’s amazing to think that this man went from denying Christ’s divinity in 1860 to preaching Christ’s divine sovereign prerogatives in 1880. In those 20 years, God not only transformed his heart and mind, but also the hearts and minds of countless other Reformed church members. Since then, Kuyper’s words and the thoughts behind them have gone on to inspire many other Christians to take Christ’s claims seriously. For that we should praise God’s sovereign grace, but also take those claims seriously ourselves in every area of life.