A Dutch Mennonite Preacher’s Revolutionary Sermons from 1782: Background about _Elftal Kerkelycke Redevoeringen_ [11 Sermons]

Bow before the God of Freedom, or bend your neck under the Yoke.

— François Adriaan van der Kemp, 1782


Original from _Elftal Kerkelyke Redevoeringen_, page 243: …”bukt U voor den God der Vryheid, of kromt uwen nek onder het Juk.”

Van der Kemp is probably best known among scholars today as a friend to several of the American Founding Fathers and an immigrant to the young American Republic. His pre-American, Mennonite career in the Dutch Republic is much less well-known, especially in the English-speaking world. This post is about what might seem at first glance to be a surprising link between religion and politics. After all, what was van der Kemp doing giving a set of revolutionary sermons? Weren’t Mennonites pacifists? The answers are quite complex. This post will provide some historical background to the sermons. For a biography of François Adriaan (Francis Adrian) van der Kemp, see the biography included at https://dutchdissenters.net/wp/2019/03/francois-adriaan-van-der-kemp/.

Here is the bibliographical information for the sermons:

Author: Kemp, Fr. Adr. van der
Year: 1782
Publisher: Herdingh, Leendert (Leiden, 1774-1801)
Location: Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek (O 60-33)
Metadata: STCN (Persistent URL: http://resolver.kb.nl/resolve?urn=dpo:8570:mpeg21)

LYST DER REDEVOERINGEN (List of the sermons):

  1. Redevoering over ‘t Huuwlyk (Sermon … about marriage). Starting at page 1
  2. … de plichten der Vrouwen (… about the duties of women). … 21
  3. … de plichten der Mannen (… about the duties of men). … 47
  4. … de plichten der Ouders (… about the duties of parents). … 69
  5. … de plichten der Kinders (… about the duties of children). … 92
  6. … de voordeelen eener vroege Gods-vrucht (… about the advantages of an early fear of God). … 115
  7. … de plichten der Heeren en Dienstknechten (… about the duties of lords and servants). … 133
  8. … der Overheeden en Onderdaenen (… about the duties of rulers and subjects). … 155
  9. … het veranderen der Republik. Regeeringsvorm in eene Koninglyke by de Jooden (… about the change from a republican form of government to a royal one among the Jews). … 176
  10. … de plicht om de waerheid te spreeken (… about the duty to speak the truth). … 200
  11. … gehouden op den Bededag van den 27. Febr. 1782 (… held on the prayer day of the 27th Feb. 1782). … 223

In another post I include the text of François Adriaan van der Kemp’s 11th and final sermon in the collection. See “’In America the Sun of Salvation Has Risen’: F.A. van der Kemp on the American Revolution as a Model for the Dutch” (https://dutchdissenters.net/wp/2015/03/quotation-kemp-1782/). For a contrasting sermon, see…

Vryheid de dekmantel der Boosheid, aangetoond in eene Leerreden, op een Biddag, ingesteld by afkondiging, wegens den oproer in America, Door A. Gerard, D.D. Prof. in de H. Godgel. by het Koningl. Collegie te Aberdeen. Uit het Engelsch vertaald. Te Utrecht by J.v. Driel, 1780. In gr. octavo, 24 bladz.



Elftal Kerkelyke Redevoeringen was presented to Doopsgezind (in English more commonly known as Mennonite) audiences over several weeks around the beginning 1782 by the young preacher François Adriaan van der Kemp (1752-1829), and they were published soon thereafter by Leendert Herdingh. In 1782 van der Kemp was the pastor of the Doopsgezind congregation in Leiden, and Herdingh was a member of the congregation (perhaps also a deacon).

The political context is important for understanding the complex situation that led to the revolutionary sermons. Elftal Kerkelyke Redevoeringen appeared only months after a dramatic publicity campaign of September 1781 in the Dutch Republic. At the time the Dutch Patriot Movement was in its early stages, and both van der Kemp and Herdingh were significant figures in it at the local and national level of the Dutch Republic. Van der Kemp was a close associate of Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, a Dutch nobleman who inspired the Patriot revolt against the Orange family. In Sept. 1781 a small but effective network of Patriots coordinated the publication and national distribution of van der Capellen’s Aan het Volk van Nederland [To the People of the Netherlands], a pamphlet calling for active opposition to the Orange stadholderate. Originally, the leaders of this underground propaganda campaign remained anonymous, even though state authorities tried to identify them. In the later 19th century, researchers discovered that F.A. van der Kemp was the ringleader of the propaganda campaign. Herdingh was likely the original publisher of van der Capellen’s pamphlet, which once it spread was published by other small presses across the Republic (I am not sure if there is a scholarly consensus about his role; I still have to check sources). Van der Kemp and Herdingh remained active Patriots until the collapse of the Movement in 1787. Van der Kemp even became a militia leader in the frontline town of Wijk bij Duurstede, probably around 1786.

The revolt of the 1780s against the Orange stadholderate was one of the failed and therefore less well-known revolts of the late 18th century. Van der Kemp was a key player in the Patriot Movement, and it was in the early stages of the revolt that he authored the sermons. While the texts were intended originally for a very particular audience (Mennonites [aka Doopsgezinden, or baptism-minded people], who made up a very small percentage of the Dutch population), they addressed themes of national significance in a highly charged way. A visual hint of his importance during the Patriot Revolt is that he was the target of a 1786 political cartoon:


The image is from the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam. Its title is “Spotprent op de Leidse predikant F.A. van der Kemp, 1786: Der Hedendaagsche Cantzel Huzaaren” (Caricature of the Leiden Preacher F.A. van der Kemp, 1786: Today’s Pulpit Militiaman). It is available online in high-def format as part of the Museum’s Rijksstudio project. The object number is RP-P-OB-85.549.


Van der Kemp published at least three further collections of sermons:

  • Het Gedrag van Israël en Rehabeam, ten Spiegel van Volk en Vorst. Leerrede over 1 Kon. XII: 3b-20a, 1782
  • Vyftal Leerredenen op Bedestonden gehouden, 1783
  • Viertal Leerredenen, op Bedestonden gehouden, 1783


For more background about Mennonite politics before and during the 1780s in Europe, see