It is now 25 years ago that Rev. Hoeksema entered upon his career as minister of the gospel. It is this event in the life of our brother that we now commemorate. Rev. Hoeksema, as we all know, did not begin his ministry in the denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches. This cannot be, as 25 years ago the denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches did not exist. Our brother began his ministry in the denomination of Christian Reformed Churches. His first charge was the Christian Reformed Church of 14th St., Holland, Mich. It was this congregation that instrumentally vested him with the office of minister of the gospel 25 years ago. This congregation was served approximately four years by him when he received and accepted a call to the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. When this congregation became the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Rev. Hoeksema had been a minister of the gospel approximately ten years. It means that the first 9 or 10 years of Rev. Hoeksema’s ministry were spent in the denomination of Christian Reformed Churches and that he has been a minister in the denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches 16 years. Yet what we now commemorate, brings to mind the entrance of our brother upon his career of minster of the gospel approximately 25 years ago. It means that we bring to remembrance not merely that 16 years of service of our brother in the denomination of Prot. Ref. Churches, but also that preceding 9 years of service in the denomination of Chr. Ref. Churches. Why should we take no notice of these preceding 9 years? Why should these years be obliterated from our memory? They should not, certainly. They should be included in our contemplations, as well as the 16 years of ministry that followed them. For these preceding 9 years had great significance for our brother in particular, and for us all in general. These years belonged to the formative period of our brother’s career as minister of the gospel. It was during these years that his eyes were opened to the fallacies of the common grace philosophy. It was during these years that he was prepared for that good fight, the fighting of which resulted in his and our expulsion from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches. It was during these 9 years that he was joined as pastor to that brotherhood—the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids and his present charge—that by the mercy of God stood by him and fought with him from the beginning of that strife until the present time. So I say again, these first 9 years must not be excluded from our meditations today. To exclude them would be to take the stand that Rev. Hoeksema first began to exist for us when he, together with his consistory and the loyal members of his congregation were expelled from the denomination of the Christian Reformed Churches. And this stand is wrong.
And yet, however true it may be that these first 9 years of the brother’s ministry should not be ignored, it is to these last 16 years of his ministry that we give greater attention. For these last 16 years comprise a period during which our brother’s service especially concerned us. This period was ushered in by the following events: The expulsion of a number of officebearers, including Rev. Hoeksema, from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches. The three congregations, Eastern Ave., Kalamazoo and Hope, Riverbend organizing on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity and temporarily adopting the name of Protesting Christian Reformed Churches. The reorganization approximately a year later of these same churches and a few others on the basis of these same forms of unity and the adoption by this new organization, federation of churches, of the name Protestant Reformed. There were still other events, namely, the opening of our School, and the formation of the Reformed Free Publishing Association, for the purpose of publishing The Standard Bearer. Of these events the outstanding one, the one of greatest significance is the coming into being of the denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches.
Now in this our denomination, federation of churches, our brother, the Rev. Hoeksema, occupies a large place. In this federation of churches, he is and has been during the entire period of its existence, the leader—the leader in every one of its departments of activity. There is, to begin with, the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, the brother’s present charge. He was the one to shepherd this flock during this entire period and until recently the only one. Then we have our Standard Bearer, a bi-monthly periodical. Of this publication he is and has been Editor-in-chief during this entire period. The lion share of the material that has appeared on the pages of this magazine came from his pen. Then we have our Theological School. He is one of the instructors in this school of ours. How large than the place which he has occupied in our circles during this period. And how manifold his labors. How numerous the duties of his office. How great his service.
Now it is especially this service which we this day commemorate. The commemoration of this service is the delightful task to which we resolved to address ourselves when we decided to celebrate the brother’s entrance upon his career of minister of the gospel. Now as this service cannot very well be separated from Rev. Hoeksema, it follows that what we say of this service of our brother’s ministry in our midst, concerns our brother, the Reverend Hoeksema, must necessarily reflect upon his person. To speak well of this service, rendered by our brother, is to speak well of him. To voice our appreciation of this service is to voice our appreciation of him. To honor this service is to honor him. To set forth the significance of this service is to set forth the significance of him. To thank and to praise God for this service is to praise and thank God for him. This being true, would it then not be better for us to keep silence of this service altogether. In other words, is it right for us to voice words of appreciation of a man and to that man’s face. Is it right for us to recognize publicly the worth of a man, recognize the worth of a man in that man’s hearing and to his face. And my answer: Yes, this is right. The apostle Paul set forth the worth of his colleagues to their faces. His epistles are interspersed with words of appreciation about his co-laborers in the kingdom. And some of these words were addressed by him directly to these laborers. In the 16th chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans I come upon passages which read, “Greet Priscilla and Aquilla, my helpers in Christ Jesus; Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I gave thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” And again, “Salute my well-beloved Epenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.” And again, “Salute Andronicus and Junia my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” And again, “Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor upon us.” And in what glowing terms did Paul speak of Timothy’s devotion to Christ and His church. To the church at Philippi Paul wrote this about Timothy, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with his father, he has served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently.” Paul, it is plain, knew how to appreciate his fellow-workers. He recognized the worth of these workers, and did not deem it unbecoming to set forth their worth by the written and spoken word when there was occasion for this. Why should it be wrong to esteem and recognize the worth of a man of God? So far from the truth it is that such a doing on our part is wrong, that it is the will of God that we do esteem and recognize the worth of his servants. For consider that these servants are His gifts to us,—gifts which He bestows in His love and mercy. Thus not to esteem these servants, to be unwilling to know and to recognize their worth is to despise God’s gracious gifts. The apostle understood this. He thus knew and recognized the worth of his fellow-laborers. And to his recognition of their worth he also gave expression.
We should notice however, that what Paul did not do is to glory in man, glory in these fellow-workmen of his, end with their spiritual powers and talents in these laborers. To the contrary, Paul gloried in God, in the cross of Christ. He ended in God with the talents and spiritual capacities of himself and of his fellow-laborers. Attend once more to this word from his pen, “Greet Priscilla and Aquilla my helpers in Christ. . . .” Mark you, the apostle calls these Christian people his helpers in Christ. The phrase in Christ speaks volumes. It tells us that Paul by the mercy of God took cognizance of the fact that in themselves, apart from Christ, Priscilla and Aquilla were nothing, that of all their gifts, Christ, in whom all fulness bodily dwells, was the seat and channel, that thus Priscilla and Aquilla were God’s workmanship, created unto good works in Christ Jesus. And therefore Paul’s esteeming his fellow-laborers, his recognizing their worth, his giving expression to this recognization was indeed a good work—a work in which God could and did delight. For Paul’s esteeming his fellow-laborers was at bottom an action that consisted in his esteeming, glorifying and praising God, not man but God.
Let us now return again to ourselves. We have congregated here to commemorate the ministry of our brother, Rev. Hoeksema. We shall recognize, acknowledge, and concentrate upon the worth of this ministry in our midst, the worth of this ministry for the cause of God as we are privileged to represent it. Doing so, we do a good work. For our brother is God’s gift to us, and it is God’s will that we appreciate His gifts to us, know their true value. Not to do so is sin. However, we may not and by the mercy of God will not glory in man. We may not end with our brother and with his endowments in him. To do so would be to deify, to worship a mere man. And how sinful this would be. For man in himself is nothing. God is all. We must end with our brother, with his ministry and gifts solely in God. And this by His mercy we will do. We will consider that apart from Christ, God’s servants are nothing. We will consider that God’s servants, that our brother is God’s creature created unto good works in Christ Jesus. And doing so our concentrating upon our brother’s ministry, our setting forth the worth and significance of this ministry by word of mouth will be a good work indeed because at bottom it will be a work consisting in our praising and adoring God for what He gave us in our brother.
These remarks of mine thus far made, you must regard as forming a kind of introduction to my speech that now follows, and not only to my speech but to all the rest of the speeches to be given this afternoon and in this evening. In congregating in this place to commemorate the past ministry of our brother, we must realize what we do and have a clear understanding of the meaning of our doing. For consider once more that we are to speak about a man, about the ministry of a man and set forth the worth of that ministry. Therefore when I set myself to the task of preparing an address for this occasion, the question arose in my soul whether the act of commemorating and celebrating the ministerial career of a servant of God might not be an act that as such is wrong. Might it not be an act that of necessity involves us in the sin of glorying in man. However, thinking into the matter, I quickly perceived that the act as such is not wrong, that the act can indeed be a good work in that it can be done to the praise of God. And when done by God’s believing people, who end with all that they are and possess in God, it is a good work, not of course a work uncontaminated by sin, but a work essentially good. That this might be plain to us at the outset, I made these remarks.
Let us now concentrate on our brother’s ministry, service, and on that part of it which he performed in our Theological School. I was asked to confine myself to this part of his service. Let me then set out with the statement that we have a school. As has already been said, the opening of this school, our theological seminary, was one of the events that ushered in a new period in the life of our brother and in the life of us all. Yes we have a school where young men are trained for the office of ministers of the gospel. For as Protestant Reformed people, we believe in a trained ministry. Let us direct our attention for a moment to our school. There never has been and is not now anything about our school that renders it attractive to the flesh. Our school always has been small and is small today. Judged by the standards of the world, it is and always has been without form and stature. At the time of its establishment it had but three instructors. A year later this number was reduced to two. Since then this number has not been increased. Our school has but two instructors today, as we all know. From the time of its establishment, our school has been without a building of its own. Most of the time, the instructors, since the establishment of our school, have been meeting with their students in a basement. At present instructors and students come together in the basement of Fuller Ave. Church,—a very good basement indeed, but still a basement. Perhaps we should speak here of church parlors. Our school has always had a small number of students. Most of the students who came to our school since the day of its establishment were persons without a college training. Thus judged by the standards of the world, our school is not great, has little significance. More must be said. In the eyes of men, but let me be more specific, in the eyes of our opponents, our school is an object of hatred and ridicule. As is our churches, our Standard Bearer and our Missionary minister, so our school,—it is a thorn in the flesh of our opponents. They would be glad should our school disappear from the face of the earth. And this has its explanation. Our school was born out of strife, out of controversy. To be specific, our school was born out of the common grace controversy,—a controversy that resulted in our expulsion from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches. Then we came into being as a denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches. As churches, we resolved that we had to have a school, a theological seminary of our own,—a school uncontaminated, as to its instruction, by the pernicious philosophy of common grace. We felt that such a school was indispensable to the wellbeing of our churches. It was simply out of the question, that we permit our own men, our own aspirants to the office of minister of the gospel, to receive their training in an institution, school, other than our own. We felt that should we permit this, we as churches would have no future. For we felt and knew that none of these other schools measure up to even the chief and fundamental, requirement of a safe seminary, namely, soundness of doctrine. We felt therefore that we needed a school of our own,—a school controlled and supervised and ruled by ourselves, by our own churches. Well, God has given us such a school,—a school of our own. And we insist that our school be reformed, thoroughly reformed in its instruction, that this instruction be given in complete agreement with our reformed confession. And we can’t be too vigilant. For the men who are to fill our pulpits come from this school. It stands to reason therefore that the deterioration of our school in life and doctrine would necessarily go hand in hand with deterioration of life and doctrine in our churches. So, our school must be a bulwark of the truth, as we possess it in Christ and as we give expression to it in our reformed confessions. Well, it is our conviction that our school has, from the day of its establishment been a stronghold of the truth. It is our conviction that our school is still a stronghold of the truth. Certainly, its instruction is unmixed with the pernicious philosophy of common grace. That instruction is truly reformed. And this precisely is the secret of strength of our school. Therefore our school has significance and influence despite what men, our opponents may think and say about it. In their hearts our opponents well realize that our school is an institution to be reckoned with. They are afraid of our school, as they are also afraid of our Standard Bearer and of our churches, and let me add, of our missionary minister whom we now have in the field. They are afraid of our school. They fear it. And they hate it. Also our school is a thorn in their flesh. This is fact—a fact which we tell with sorrow in our hearts. We certainly do wish that it were not so for their sakes. Our school is hated and dreaded because of the character of its instruction, because in that instruction God appears as a being who is God and none else. And therefore, such is our assurance, our school is an object of endearment to God. He has blessed our school and is blessing our school as His very own gift to us. And the evidence of this is that our school, is what it is, a stronghold of the truth. And I don’t think that I would be overshooting the mark should I say that our school is the stronghold of the truth in this land of ours. Let us then be grateful to God for our school. Let it be also an object of endearment to us. Let us love our school and support it through our prayers and material gifts. Let us realize what God gave us in our school.
Well, our brother, Rev. Hoeksema, teaches in our school. He has done so since the very day of its establishment. He is one of its two instructors. And the place he occupies in our school is large indeed. For our school he, as God’s workmanship, had great significance. What is that significance? Let me state this in few words. As God has made him, prepared him for us, for our churches, and in particular for our school, so God through him, our brother, has made our school, has made it to be what it is. This is not saying too much. What I say is the truth. Through him, God has made our school, and thus has made, formed, the ministers who occupy our pulpits. On account of the talents and capacities with which God has so richly endowed our brother, this is precisely his significance for our school. The branches of study which our brother teaches in our school are of all the branches taught there, the most important. I think now of such branches of study as dogmatics. And for the teaching of these branches of study, God had eminently qualified him. I need not enlarge on this certainly. And with what zeal has he given himself to our school during all these past years. We may say this. As has already been explained, it is God’s will that we value what He gives us in His servants. And saying this, in setting forth the significance of our brother for our school, we mean not to glory in man and we do not. Man is nothing. God is all. And his servants are His workmanship, I say it again. We therefore glory in God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and praise Him for what He gives us in His servants. And this is what we do as believing people through our commemorating the ministry of our brother. We say to God that we are grateful to Him for His gifts and end with them in Him. And of course it is our wish and prayer that our brother may be spared many years also for our school. Our school needs him. Yet, of course, this must not be interpreted to mean that God is dependent on him for the keeping of our school in its present state. God is dependent on no one for He is God and being God He creates His own instruments and agents. He cares for His own cause. And the cause which we are as school and as churches may represent is His cause, so we need have no worry. Yet we should understand that this does not mean that should God take our brother from us, He would raise up in his stead a man that measured up to his stature. Therefore our prayer and wish is that our brother may be spared for our school for many years to come.
I have said,
Rev. G. M. Ophoff