The Opening Exercises of our Seminary was an exciting time for the two professors, the six students and the two Theological School Committeemen. Exciting it was, for it marked the first day of a busy year, but also solemn, in that it was the introduction to a school year of ardent studies—all of which would lead to that day when those young men would be declared eligible for call to be some congregation’s minister!
Before starting time all hands were gathered about a new projector that had been set up for inspection. This device enables the instructor to present a prepared sketch and notes upon an overhead screen visible to the whole class. It will save much classroom time, and is considered to be of inestimable value to professors and students alike.
Prof. Hoeksema led in opening devotions, reading from Psalm 119, and choosing the 105th verse for his meditation, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The speaker developed his talk from the total darkness in which man finds himself to the glorious light in which redeemed man can bask—the light of God’s Word. He noted that the Psalmist spoke of a personal feeling, not of a cold dogmatical fact. The professor called attention to the meaning of “The Word of God” in its objective and its subjective sense: that it speaks of God—God speaking concerning Himself; that it speaks of the God of Salvation, hence: the Covenant God; That the Word was given by revelation and recorded by inspiration; that it (the sixty-six books) is one whole Word of God.
The exegete further distinguished that Word to be a Word of promise (the Word for our salvation), and the Word of precept, (the will of God for our walk). That the Word is a light upon our path was explained to mean a light to reveal the stumbling blocks which we must avoid, and as a lamp which shows (or explains) the way so that the child of God who walks in that light can clearly perceive that “all things work together for good to those who love Him.”
The professor applied the text to his students in a very practical way: the Bible is a lamp for those who know it; it must become a part of their mind, and they must spiritually appropriate its essence. So in a short sermon (and we gave only a small part of it) the veteran preacher propounded that text for the spiritual benefit of his hearers, and at the same time gave the students a splendid example of proper exegesis which will be the most important tool of the profession. Both of the professors then gave out their assignments; displaying the school calendar marking the dates of term papers and semester exams.
Rev. Schipper and Rev. Lubbers were the School Committee representatives, and Rev. Schipper was asked to make some observations. He, too, spoke of the Word of God as a light upon the path of the warriors of God’s battles, showing from past history the strength of those who stood in the battle firmly rooted in the lighted pathway of the Word of God, advising the students to be valiant in following those examples, making this their central effort and aim. When that Opening Day session drew to a close it might well have been said (as the old saw has it), “a job well begun is a job well done.”
But there is only one Opening Day in the school calendar and all the succeeding days march on in their relentless way. We paid a visit to our school on Friday morning, Sept. 19, to observe one of those ordinary, in-the-harness kind of work days. That morning we elected to visit the class of Prof. Hanko for a very cogent reason: his were of that sort that might be intelligible to a layman. Prof. Hoeksema’s schedule called for classes in Latin and Hebrew reading—hardly the kind we would enjoy, nor which we could relay to you!
The first class of the day, Exegesis, was called to order and Prof. Hanko led in opening devotions. Rod Miersma, Jim Slopsema and Ron Van Overloop comprised the student body for this class. The professor called upon Mr. Miersma to read Eph. 6:4 in the original (Greek), to translate it into English and give the interpretation thereof. Then Mr. Slopsema was asked to recite his work of this assignment, and thereupon the professor offered his comments on the text and on the interpretations given by the neophytes in exegesis.
The instructor’s observations ran along these lines: The long sentence (verses 1 to 7) and particularly verse 4, pointed to the subject as God and His Attributes, and in which our deep depravity is the background upon which the glorious light of His Mercy and Love are imposed. The “mercy” and “love” were said to be nearly synonymous, but that “mercy” is an anthropomorphic term describing a feeling of intense pity for His people who are enmeshed in sin and cannot save themselves, nor can even will to do so. But this “mercy” is not human, but Divine, in that it is also a power to save. The richness of that mercy is revealed in its power to lift us from the depth of our helplessness and give us a salvation far in excess of Adam’s rectitude—in fact, give us a heaven “which eye hath not seen nor hath risen in the heart of man.” When discussing the concept, “love,” in the text, references quite naturally drifted to the love of Abraham for his only son, Isaac, and, inevitably, to the three-fold question of our risen Lord directed to Peter at the beach-breakfast of bread and fish. When professor and students were investigating the shades of Greek grammar involved in the test, words like cognitive accusative, double accusative, relative pronoun, participle and finite verb rolled off their tongues as though they, at least, knew of which they were speaking.
The second class bell (imaginary, like the equator) rand at 9 o’clock and Marvin Kamps and Mark Hoeksema answered the roll call (imaginary, like the bell). This was a class in Psychology. It took but a few minutes for this reporter to realize that this subject was carried out in a language almost as foreign as in the classes of Latin and Hebrew in the next room. Terms like “id” and “ego,” “ego catharsis” in comparison to “object catharsis” and “anti-catharsis” were bandied about quite effortlessly; and the glib talk of a process whereby a surplus energy of the id is siphoned off unto the ego only engulfed us in denser fog of confusion. We came to the happy solution that if one is to derive any profit from a recitation in a class of Psychology one had better study the text book before coming to class. One thing became very evident: the reason for a course in Modern Psychology is extremely necessary for a would-be minister if he is to counsel young people who are bombarded from every side with half-truths and outright lies of Satan, our arch-enemy. It is this modern psychology which is so prevalent in the educational and in the judiciary systems of today: man is not sinful—but sick! We learned that Freudianism is so deceptive in that it uses terms which are near to the truth, but is not the Truth of Scripture. In all his instruction the professor profusely referred to Scripture passages as basis for true psychology. By this infallible method he refuted the teaching of The New Morality (a natural result of Freudianism) which claims that there are no absolutes, no “true” or “false”; only “good” and “bad” according to the mores of the society of which we are a part.
A short recess, providing a coffee break, lasted from 10 to 10:15 and then the class of Modern Church History was called to order, with Wayne Bekkering, Marv Kamps, Rod Miersma, Jim Slopsema, and Ron VanOverloop ready to recite and take notes. The day’s lesson dealt with Luther’s conception of the Authority of Scripture and the authority the Pope wielded. Form boyhood on Luther had learned the Roman Catholic claim of “Apostolic Succession” and the resulting claim that the popes were “vehicles of revelation” like the Apostle; of the pronouncements of the Fathers which were considered “The Authority of Tradition”; of the Pope’s authority surpassing that of the Scriptures; of the Church’s denial of the Office or Believer; and the laity were unable and were denied the right to interpret Scripture. These all Luther slowly discarded when he came to the realization that the Scriptures were perspicuous, not obscure, and that they were written clearly and understandably, for the laity to grasp. The professor also found a direct providential act of God recorded in history whereby the Pope was prevented from taking Luther’s life, and therefore giving freedom for Luther’s teaching to flourish.
The next class, Logic, flowed at 11:15 with Wayne Bekkering and Mark Hoeksema sitting at the professor’s feet. This class discussion was also a bit (!) over this reporter’s head as it dealt with considering the concept of the word, “man.” Mention was made of connotation—which was said to describe the elements or features of a thing or idea; and, denotation—which refers to the individuality of the object under scrutiny; and, that when one broadens the connotation of a word one narrows the denotation. In class discussion of the question, “how do we form concepts?” the instructor pointed to the contemplation of the great gifts we have from our Creator when He made us in His Image: the powers of abstraction, conception and sensation. The last named power was more fully discussed, and as an example: to know what an apple is one must not only “see” (its shape and color) but also “feel” (its hardness), “hear its crispness (when biting it), “smell” its aroma and “taste” its flavor. And, as in all his classes, the professor gave thanks to God for his gifts—in this instance, the gift of our five senses whereby we may learn God’s creation and be enabled to “subdue” it for our use and to His glory. After a closing prayer of thanksgiving to God Who so graciously gave us this Scripture-orientated instruction, the school was dismissed for the day. Don’t you wish you could have been there?
Our only criticism was not of the Staff, nor of the student body, but of the ventilation of the school-room. The only ingress of fresh air is the lone window near the ceiling. Though all our students are legally free from the Armed Forces Draft they surely are subject to the north-wind-draft which drops down their necks as they sit at their tables. The visitor that day was observed to have had his coat collar turned up for his protection. The most welcome news the staff and students could possibly hear would be that a suitable Seminary building (re-modeled house) or a new school (fit for their needs) would be supplied soon. Are you listening Theological School Committee, Synodical delegates and constituency?