It’s improper, so they tell me, to begin an essay, article or meditation with the pronoun of the first person singular “I”. So be it. And therefore I sneaked in this opening paragraph.
I saw him!
I must have been about twenty-two years old, just two years from the Netherlands.
My friends told me: “Tonight we are going to hear a man whom you MUST meet and listen to!” You see, this man’s reputation had already at that early date preceeded him. I had a large circle of friends in that Reformed church, and we very often talked about the fact that we heard so little of the Biblical doctrine of predestination. Our minister was a regular Methodist, and we were often at odds with him. Indeed so much that he had told me personally not to mention election and reprobation anymore in the presence of the other young people in our catechism classes and young people’s society meetings.
But now, so said my friends, you are going to hear a man who loves the doctrine of predestination.
And yes, I saw him!
How could I ever forget that evening? From my early youth in the Netherlands I was raised on that doctrine of election and reprobation. And never did I hear it proclaimed. In those days the older youths would also attend Men’s Society, and there we had to wage a battle against the Arminian heresy.
And I saw him!
He spoke for the Christian School Society at the occasion of the graduation of our children. And his text was, Deut. 6:6, 7. Look it up, if you so please.
I was young, barely twenty-two years old. You hear the phrase rather often. But in my mouth this phrase is not conventional, but simple truth: I had never before in my life heard something so beautiful. I said to my companions afterwards: He speaks like the prophets of the Old Testament!
After that speech I. went up front and shook hands with him. I later asked him, but he did not remember it. So many people came and talked to him afterwards.
A strange coincidence: She, who three years later became my wife, also came forward that evening to shake hands with him. But I did not know her, nor see her then.
The hearing of that speech changed my entire life. I wrote to Hope College and entered there the following fall. For several years I had the burning desire to become a minister of the glorious Word, but never dared to talk about it to anyone. But that speech engendered courage and conviction.
And I saw him again, for the second time.
It was in the old Van Raalte church. The text: Jehoshaphat’s league with Ahab of II Chronicles 18.
It was during my fourteen days’ stay at. Hope College. And again it was decisive in my young life. I broke with Hope and the Reformed Churches and went to Calvin and Dennis Avenue Christian Ref. Church.
Here comes a hiatus in my life. For family relations I had to break my course at Calvin and move to Mt. Clemens to help my father and mother who came to this country during my stay at Calvin, and mistakenly had settled far from a Chr. Ref. Church. So I stayed with them for eighteen months; but when we were able, I. returned with them to our Jerusalem (Grand Rapids).
And I heard and saw him again. During this hiatus he had accepted the call to Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church. I give you one guess as to what I did. You are right: I took my papers from Dennis Avenue Chr. Ref. Church and attended Eastern Avenue.
And the storm had already arisen.
And what a storm! I followed it from step to step.
I could not believe my eyes or my ears. Men whose sermons I adored, such as Volbeda and Rink Kuiper turned against him.
In those days I was a taxicab driver. I drove him around during week days and nights, as also on Sundays on his classical appointments. Yes, I had learned to know him intimately. We often spoke together. They were golden hours. During those days Verhil, he, and I had a meeting with but one purpose: seek a medium through which he could divulge the beauteous truth. And from that meeting grew our beloved RFPA.
The storm became a tempest. Dark and threatening clouds gathered about the heads of the THREE. In those I wept, fool that I was. I neglected my business, and attended all the sessions of classis and synod. I saw it all.
Here were men who loved what is called HEART OF THE CHURCH! Yes, my beloved reader, yes; the doctrine of predestination was called THE HEART OF THE CHURCH. In some books that are still among US it is stated in the Latin tongue: Cor ecclesia.
My dear heart! I could go on and on, but I’m afraid you would grow weary of my prattlings. And so I will hurry on.
In those days I saw him again! Churchill would call it HIS FINEST HOUR!
It was in Kalamazoo. Whenever I ride past that church my heart melts within me. To that church is attached the shame of the churches that threw us out in mid-winter.
But I saw him!
I had prodded him on and on, and kept on asking him: why don’t you speak!!!?
But he smiled and kept silent. But at the right moment he rose up and spoke. It is not trite now when I say: you could hear a pin drop. It was benauwd still.
And he received the privilege to speak after supper. The word went out and many published it, and the church was full. I smile when I write this.
The church full? If the local fire department had known it they would have cleared the church. We were packed in like the proverbial sardines in a can.
And I saw him and heard him.
He spoke for two hours, and I bless the name of Professor Clarence Bouma who handed him a drink of water at the halfway point of his address.
But O that speech! Would that it were written in the rock with a pencil of steel. But be you still, my heart. God has written that speech in His annals which are both true and enduring.
If synod would have voted at the conclusion of that speech, we would never have had a Protestant Reformed Church in the world.
But corruption set in during the night, and in the morning of the next day the lie prevailed. And the die was cast. The THREE POINTS were born! The infamous Three Points which place a hedge around the reprobate and which cast out God’s servants and handmaidens!
After that speech? That speech which outlined God’s adorable virtue of lovingkindness for His people that are foreknown in His indescribable love and grace and mercy? That speech which clearly proved from the Holy Scriptures that God hates and judges the wicked every day? He was cast off.
But I saw him and heard him that night, and my heart rejoiced in the truth, and right there I dedicated my whole life to the TRUTH! And I determined to preach that truth to God’s beloved people to life’s last breath.
Yes, I know that you know the succeeding history. But this is to bring to remembrance.
The school was organized, and there we sat: eleven of us. With our three professors.
And I saw him again.
I openly confess, dear hearts, that he showed me the whole system of the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. His lectures on Dogmatics made the Scriptures live. I said to him on many occasions: if I hear you at any time in your lectures and sermons, I can preach ten sermons.
Yes, they threw him out of their communion.
At Christmas morning we traveled through the snow to that blessed field house in Franklin Park. We had lost our church, our parsonage, our name and our church confession, as well as the communion of God’s people, and we were cast out as the off scouring of the world. But even today they write: “and thus it came to a schism and the start of the Protestant Reformed Church.” DE WACHTER, Sept. 14, 1965, page 13.
Schism? No, dear brother, a cast-away!
The three brethren were cast off on the basis of Articles 79 and 80 of the Dordtsche Kerkenorde. On a par with murderers!
En het schreit ten hemel! (And it cries to heaven!) No, they do not want him in their midst, but they embrace the man who teaches future missionaries that God loves all men and that Christ died for all men. What is this? It is rank Methodism and Arminianism. Everyone knows that.
But I must hasten. I wrote my VALE! And I never thought that I would write again for our belovedStandard Bearer.
I saw him.
Yes, but now I saw him weep.
Yes, I saw him weep three times.
The first time in the midst of the most terrible warfare we ever had. That warfare was between us and the brethren with whom “we took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.”
In the midst of that warfare he wept in sight of all the people, crying out in the agony of his soul: “They have corrupted my church!”
The second time I saw him weep was when his wife called me in Hudsonville and said: “Come, Gerrit, and comfort my husband, for he is weeping.”
Why he wept?
He wept bitter tears of lamentation because of the reading of the crossbill before the Court of men. And I said to him: “Rejoice and be exceeding glad for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.”
And the third time I saw him weep was in my house at midnight, later, much later. And he said: “Gerrit, I weep because of the brethren that left us.”
Beloved readers, I think that God has caught those tears in His bottles. They are precious in His sight.
And then I saw him again. I can hardly write about it.
It was in Pine Rest. He saw me and stretched out his hand towards me and gurgled my name. It was a gurgle. No more. The golden-tongued man could speak no more.
I saw him once more. It was at his funeral. But it was not he anymore. No, it was not he whom I knew and loved. It was his earthly remains which we would soon bring to the earth again, yes, again.
And I saw him once more, but I cannot prove that.
It was while I was praying at the graveyard. Then I saw him in heaven, and his eye was on Him Whom he loved and served during a long and very stormy life. His mouth was again opened, and he sang the sweet melodies of heaven.
And my heart was at rest.
Yes, I know that you will ask: But did you not see during all those fifty years any evil at all in him?
My answer is very simple: he was a poor sinner, and every day he told God so I often heard him struggle in his long prayers on the pulpit.
And there is a great silence with God about the sins of His beloved people. Oh, read Psalm 103 and be at rest. He forgives all thy transgressions. And remembers them no more.
Somebody said to me: This is the end of an era. And I agreed.
But it is also the beginning of a new era.
We have among us his son; and with him is a worthy companion, Prof. Herman Hanko. And we have a band of young and devoted men who love to preach the truth he loved, preached, taught, and suffered for.
But what is more: We have God!