Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: October 15, 2007, p. 30.
Hendrik de Cock
De Cock was the oldest of the Secession leaders, the first to take an active stand against unbiblical doctrines and practices in the state church; the first to be disciplined; the first, with his congregation, to secede from the Dutch Reformed Church; and also the first of the leaders to die, for he saw only the beginnings of the Secession, dying already in 1842, just eight years after its beginning and at the young age of 41. His history is the history of the early years of the Secession.
As is often the case with church reformation, the Secession began with a reformation in the life and soul of de Cock. So desperate were conditions in the state church that de Cock learned virtually nothing of sin and grace and of salvation through Jesus Christ, in spite of his upbringing in a nominally Christian home, his attendance at Christian schools, and his graduation from the University of Gronigen as a candidate for the ministry of the gospel.
During the early years of his ministry he preached a modernist gospel and later judged himself to have been at that time an unconverted man. To bring him to a knowledge of himself, of the truth, and of the Savior, God used the testimony of an elderly farm worker, Klaas Kuipenga, who told de Cock, “If I had to add one sigh to my own salvation, I would certainly be lost.” This happened at a time when Kuipenga was receiving instruction from de Cock in a private catechism class in preparation for church membership. So, by God’s grace, the teacher became the student.
God also used two pamphlets by Count Van Zuylen Van Nijevelt, “The Only Deliverance” and “Reformed Doctrine,” as well as Calvin’sInstitutes to teach him the Reformed faith. Until discovering the Institutes in the study of a fellow minister, de Cock had not even known of them. Through Calvin he became acquainted with other earlier Reformed writers and discovered the Reformed creeds as well when a copy of the Canons was given him by an elderly widow in his congregation,¹ and which, to his dismay, taught doctrines that he had never learned, even as a seminary student.
He had been in the ministry ten years and was serving a rural congregation in Ulrum in Gronigen at the time of the Secession. In Ulrum his preaching of the gospel attracted crowds who were not hearing the gospel elsewhere. Some of the visitors asked him to baptize their children, since they could not in good conscience have them baptized in the liberal congregations to which they belonged.² This, as well as his preaching of the gospel, his writings, in which he referred to several liberal ministers as “wolves in the sheepfold of Christ,” and his opposition to hymns led to his suspension from the ministry in 1833.
In spite of many injustices he submitted to his suspension for a year. When the authorities refused to allow the Rev. H.P. Scholte to preach for him at the time of the death of his infant daughter, de Cock and his consistory saw that their only hope lay in secession. So it was, that on October 13, 1834, an “Act of Secession,” signed by two elders and three deacons, was presented to the congregation in Ulrum and signed by 140 members and heads of families representing 247 souls (only eight members did not sign). This act was quickly followed by the secessions of Scholte, Brummelkamp, Meerburg, Van Velzen, and others, all of whom were also deposed.
de Cock continued to suffer for his convictions and actions, as did the other leaders and their congregations, enduring harassment, fines, imprisonment, and slander. He had twelve soldiers billeted in his home in Ulrum, was subsequently forbidden to preach in his congregation there, was expelled from his home, had his worship services interrupted, was attacked and thrown into a thorn hedge by a mob while returning from a meeting, and spent three months in prison. He died before the persecution eased.
What de Cock suffered was the lot of all the seceders. One minister, a Rev. H.J. Budding, was fined 40,000 florins ($25-30,000). When the seceders were unable to pay their fines, which most of them were unable to do, their possessions were seized and sold, often on the Lord’s Day, so that their possessions could not be repurchased. So severe was the persecution that it was noticed in other countries. A French periodical carried the following notice in 1839:
Holland, which owes its praise and prosperity especially to this that it received to its bosom with affection all Christians persecuted for their faith, now furnishes a spectacle of savage persecutions for the faith. Deeply deplorable is it to witness such events taking place under the rule of the House of Orange-Nassau which has demonstrated so many services to the Gospel and religious liberty.³
The seceders bore this persecution patiently for the sake of the gospel, but its severity led many of them to emigrate to the United States. Van Raalte said many years later:
I am happy that I followed the voice of my conscience, even though it cost me a great deal. On the other hand, it grieves me considerably that in my own fatherland now stirred up by the Hervormde Synod and the Netherlands government and citizens, I was fined, tormented by having soldiers quartered in our home, thrown into prison, and throughout the years had filth and stones thrown at me as though I were the scum of society.4
The persecution eased when William II became king in 1840, but by that time many were thinking in terms of emigration, and it was not long after that two of the leaders, Scholte and Van Raalte, along with thousands of the seceders, left for the United States. Persecution was not the only factor in their departure. A potato blight had destroyed the crops in the Netherlands, and the poverty of the ordinary people led them to seek a better living elsewhere, but what they suffered was used by God to transplant the Reformed faith to our own country.
Besides persecution, especially three things characterize the years following the Secession: growth, emigration to America, and divisions among the seceders themselves. In 1840, the seceders numbered more than 6000 members, but were still a very small group in the Netherlands. The leaders of the state church and the government comforted themselves with the fact that the seceders were the poorest of the people and a minority. That would change when in 1886 Abraham Kuyper led another, larger, and more politically influential movement out of the state church, but neither numbers nor political influence have anything to do with God’s approval and blessing:
[de Cock’s] followers were, for the most part, the poor, the uneducated, the despised, the ignoble of the land. For all that, they were the godly, the pious, the upright who genuinely thirsted for that one true heavenly Bread which is Jesus Christ our Lord.5
The seceders soon recognized the need for an educated ministry and especially for ministers who would continue to stand for the truths of God’s Word. Brummelkamp and de Cock were appointed in 1839 to teach those who aspired to the ministry, but de Cock died soon after and Rev. T.F. de Haan was appointed in his place. A theological school was finally established at Kampen in 1854.
Persecution by the authorities led many to emigrate, and colonies were established in Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the period from 1845-1880. Some 13,000 Hollanders went to America during that time, and the majority of the them were secession people. There they initially aligned themselves with the Reformed Church in America, but many soon left because of apostasy in that denomination and formed the Christian Reformed Church.
After persecution waned and ceased, the seceders gained government recognition, established their own Christian schools, and continued to stand for the truth. In 1886 Dr. Abraham Kuyper led another movement, some 100,000 people, out of the state church. Having come to recognize the Secession of 1834 as a true reformation of God’s church, Kuyper and his group eventually sought union with the Secession churches, and in 1892 that union became a reality. Four hundred Secession churches and 300 congregations that followed Kuyper joined to become the Gereformeerde Kerk (Reformed Church).
This union did not come easily and was for many years incomplete in that there were serious doctrinal differences between the two groups. Individual congregations and members continued to be identified for many years as belonging to one or the other group. In fact, the churches and people of the Secession were identified as the “A” group and the Kuyperians as the “B” group within the denomination. Each maintained its own theological school and kept itself separate from the rest. The Protestant Reformed Churches owe much to both groups.
There were also divisions among the Seceders themselves. The new churches and their leaders fell into two groups or branches, a stronger and more doctrinally sound northern branch (de Cock and Van Velzen) and a weaker southern branch (Brummelkamp and Van Raalte).6 As a result of these divisions, there was much disagreement and infighting among the leaders of the Secession and a number of permanent breaks. Scholte was deposed by the Secession churches and after emigrating to America remained independent. Van Raalte, after emigrating, remained in the Reformed Church in America, when many of those who had followed him to America joined the newly established Christian Reformed Church. In 1838 in the Netherlands, as a result of the divisions over the question of government recognition, a new denomination was formed, De Gereformeerde Kerken onder het Kruis (The Reformed Churches Under the Cross), the churches in which the Netherlands Reformed Congregations have their roots. The differences among the seceders were many. Scholte disagreed already in 1833 with de Cock’s decision to baptize infants from other congregations. There were differences over hymns, some being completely opposed to their use and others having a more tolerant attitude. Those who formed the Churches Under the Cross believed that the Secession churches had gone too far in agreeing to government regulations that allowed them to be officially recognized. There were differences about which church order ought to be used, about clerical dress, and about lay preaching. There were serious doctrinal differences as well over the covenant and baptism, the nature of gospel preaching, and millennialism (Scholte was premillennial in his eschatology).
Of these divisions Van Raalte later wrote:
The dissensions among the believers in the Netherlands caused me constantly a deep sorrow. They were harder for me to bear than the persecution; they deprived me of all enjoyment of life and made me afraid of life.7
Through all these changes, God preserved and built His church, as He continues to do today and will do until our Savior returns. We who have our roots in the Secession can be especially thankful, for it is through this mighty work of grace that God has given us our own existence as churches and has given us a rich heritage of truth. May we, remembering those who fought and suffered for the faith then, continue to fight for the truth today, showing the same willingness to suffer reproach for Christ’s sake and for the truth’s sake.
. . . to be continued.
¹ de Cock later published the Canons, another act for which he was vilified by his enemies.
² The Form for the Administration of Baptism asks parents whether they “acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?”
³ Peter Y. De Jong, “The Dawn of a New Day,” in The Reformation of 1834 (Orange City: Pluim Publishing, 1984), 33.
4 Henry S. Lucas, Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), II, 510.
5 Herman Hanko, Portraits of Faithful Saints (Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing, 1999), 357.
6 It was through this weaker, southern branch that the doctrine of the well-meant offer and a conditional covenant found their way into the Secession churches. Brummelkamp especially was responsible for introducing the theology of the well-meant offer of the gospel into the churches.
7 Albert Hyma, Albertus C. Van Raalte and His Dutch Settlements in the United States (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 39.