From September, 1982, to February, 1983, Miss Ten Harmsel took a leave of absence from teaching at Calvin College to translate Jeremias De Decker’s rather lengthy and detailed poem, Good Friday. De Decker, born in 1609, a close friend of Rembrandt and a member of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, has been characterized as a biblical pietist and a man with a broad knowledge and understanding of Scripture. As a poet, he was personally deeply involved in his religious writings, which reflect a sensitive earnestness and a strong moral and ethical emphasis. In a prologue and nine headings describing scenes from the Last Supper through the Resurrection, he tells the story of our Savior’s suffering during Passion week.
Good Friday is beautiful poetry and easy to read; and the reproductions of etchings by Rembrandt fit the tone of De Decker’s poetry and enhance the book. A man of his times, De Decker wrote in the Baroque style of his day, with vivid imagery and paradoxical word-play. For example, in the section, “Christ Accused” (before Pilate) he writes:
O Jesu, all of us, whose sins are very great,
Will need an advocate.
When at God’s throne I stand in all my misery,
Let your tongue speak for me.
For you, to don the clothes of Advocate above,
First had to show your love
By letting human courts condemn your guiltless state
Without an advocate.
In “Christ Beaten, Spit Upon, and Mocked”:
Here he who speaks to God to heal our wickedness
Stands dumb, without a sound;
Oh, here the Comforter of all stands comfortless,
The Healer wounded here, the Liberator bound.
In “Christ Crucified”, just after Christ had cried,
“My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsake me?” he tells what it means for us:
God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by Gods love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!
And in “Christ Buried”:
His flesh and bones, however, will not rot—
Oh, surely, surely not!
For God will wake him shortly from his tomb
Not rotting, but in bloom!
The translation is careful and accurate and captures the rhythms of the original (which is printed in the back of the book). Occasionally in both the original and translation, and in a few instances in the translation only, Arminianism creeps in, as in the lines:
He was the Paschal lamb who promised long ago
To suffer for the woe
Of all humanity;
Therefore he had to bleed, be butchered on this tree.
The book is a fresh, inspiring approach to the sufferings and death of our Savior, with surprising insights taken from the whole of Scripture, and I recommend it for devotional and edifying reading.