On Thursday, August 15, we, as a Protestant Reformed people, came together at John Ball Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, to commemorate Rev. Hoeksema’s 25th anniversary as minister of the Word of God. Surely, no greater privilege and no greater work can be bestowed upon mortal man than to preach the Word of God. Ordinarily this is an event worthy of remembrance. And when a minister of the Word of God has labored 25 years in his chosen work, this event is usually celebrated in some form or another. Fact is, the Bible is the Word of God, the infallible, divinely inspired record of the powerful, efficacious, effectual Word of God, which the Lord speaks and only can speak in the hearts of His people. To be a minister of that Word implies that God has chosen, called him to proclaim that Word, has commissioned him to preach His truth, and that therefore through his preaching of the same it pleases Jehovah to edify, strengthen, and confirm His people. Therefore we declare that the preaching of the Word of God is the highest possible calling unto which mortal man can be called. However, the celebration of August 15 was not any such ordinary event. Rev. Hoeksema is not merely a minister of the Word of God, but upon him the task had been laid, not only to preach that Word, but also to defend it against heretical interpretations of the same within the very bosom of the churches wherein we formerly had a name and place. Doing so, and being consequently barred from the fellowship of these churches, he continued to proclaim the truth, and today is acknowledged, together with Rev. G. M. Ophoff, to be the spiritual leader of our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Ordinarily we have our annual Field-Day on the Fourth of July. This custom we have observed as Protestant Reformed Churches ever since 1925. This year, however, was an exception to this rule. The consistory of the Fuller Ave. Protestant Reformed Church, because of Rev. Hoeksema’s 25 years in the ministry, deemed it proper to celebrate this event. Because of the pastor’s vacation this celebration could not be held on the fourth of July. Of course, our annual Field-Day, proceeding as always from the Standard Bearer, could have been held regardless. However, two field-days in one season was considered too much of a good thing. Hence it was arranged between Fuller Ave.’s consistory and the Standard Bearer to cancel our annual July Fourth affair, and substitute for it the celebration of Rev. Hoeksema’s anniversary. And so this celebration, proceeding from Fuller Ave.’s consistory, but also observed by all our people in general, took place on August 15.
The setting of our celebration was ideal. Firstly, the Lord gave us a beautiful day, partly cloudy and warm. Then, in John Ball Park we enjoyed a beautiful layout, particularly if we bear in mind the nature of the day. We had the Park practically to ourselves. This, of course, was possible only because the celebration took place on a day other than a holiday. It would be impossible to hold our annual Field-Day in a public park on a holiday because of the many others who would be present and milling about. On this occasion, however, the setting was ideal. The committee had made arrangements for 1,500 seats between the speakers’ stand or band-stand and the pavilion. This number of seats, however, proved to be far from sufficient. For, although the celebration was sponsored by, proceeded from the consistory of our Fuller Ave. Church, it was truly a Protestant Reformed affair, also in the sense that many of our churches, inasfar as possible, took part in it. It seemed to me that almost all our people were present. Fuller Ave., Roosevelt Park, Creston, Hope, Grand Haven, Hudsonville, Byron Center, Holland, Kalamazoo, South Holland, Portland—all were indeed well represented, with the exception of South Holland, which, however, is some 175 miles distant from Grand Rapids. Also the ministers of Pella and Doon, Revs. Lubbers and Van der Breggen were among us. From the viewpoint of numbers it was, we believe, the most successful undertaking staged by our churches of such a nature since the “good old days” of 1925. And, to make one more remark as far as the setting is concerned, the celebration was to some extent a reunion, particularly for the congregation of Fuller Ave. Rev. Hoeksema had been absent from his church, had been vacationing since June 30. Only two days before the celebration he had returned from the east. Hence, he had not as yet appeared, in his pulpit at Fuller Ave. Therefore we remark that this field-day also partook to some extent of the nature of a reunion.
The main festivities of the day were to begin at 3:00 P.M. Rev. R. Veldman of Fuller Ave. was chairman of the day. There were sports and games for the children earlier in the afternoon until 3:00 P.M. It it, of course, not my purpose or task in this article to give a resume or synopsis of all the speeches which were given. These speeches, appear in this special issue of our Standard Bearer and can be read by all our people. I will, however, devote a few lines, to explain why each speaker spoke. Six speeches were delivered, three in the afternoon and three in the evening. Promptly at 3:00 P.M. the chairman of the day opened the day’s festivities by reading a portion from the Scriptures and a word of prayer. The first speaker of the afternoon was the undersigned, who spoke as representing the Standard Bearer. It is, of course, understood that this celebration of Rev. Hoeksema’s anniversary bore a special character. To this I have already called attention in the foregoing. This will explain the nature of the several speeches which were delivered. Following the undersigned, Rev. De Jong of Hudsonville spoke in the Holland language in connection with the birth and truth of bur Protestant Reformed Churches. The afternoon program was concluded by Rev. Kok who spoke as representing our missionary activity. After supper the evening program began at 7:00 P.M. And what an inspiring scene greeted us at this time! Although the afternoon attendance had already been above expectation (we must remember that the celebration took place not on a holiday, and that therefore many could not be present because of their work), the evening attendance surely exceeded all expectations. The committee had arranged for 1,500 seats. Only 1,500 seats. Now I do not know whether this number constituted the limit which could be had. Fact is, it proved to be wholly insufficient. Various estimates have been given of the number of people present. Some have ventured to place the figure at 4,000. However, I think that we can safely and conservatively place the attendance figure at 2,500. The first speaker of the evening was Rev. Ophoff who represented our Theological School. He was followed by Rev. G. Vos of Redlands. Because Rev. Vos himself could not be present it had been arranged to have his speech given to us by transcription. This proved to be quite a novelty. His voice was clearly recognizable. I assume that Rev. Vos represented the older (not oldest) element in our midst, who had lived through the struggle of 1924. The final speaker of the evening was brother S. G. Schaafsma of Fuller Ave., who represented that congregation. He had been chosen to speak because he, at the time of the conflict, had served as clerk of that consistory.
In connection with this program we would make a few miscellaneous remarks. Firstly, all the speeches bore an historical character. The committee had arranged this purposely because of the character of the celebration. Also, a loud-speaker had been provided which very effectively facilitated matters not only for the speakers but also for the audience. Moreover, the program was interspersed with singing by the audience and a few vocal and musical selections. Besides this, two fitting telegrams were received and read from our congregation of Hull and Edgerton, relative to Rev. Hoeksema’s anniversary. Finally, Rev. and Mrs. Hoeksema appeared on the speaker’s stand. The “dominee” spoke very fittingly and was presented a beautiful album and a financial gift. The program was concluded with a word of prayer by Rev. M. Schipper of Roosevelt Park.
Describing this celebration and giving my own personal impressions of the day two features must receive emphasis. Firstly, in connection with the speeches which were given, I wish to remark that, recognizing the gifts and talents which God has bestowed on Rev. Hoeksema and grateful unto him because of the unique place which the occupies in our churches, the celebration did not fail to give all glory and praise to God from Whom alone all blessings flow. To be sure, Rev. Hoeksema has done a tremendous amount of work among us. As Protestant Reformed Churches we are indebted to him. Unflinchingly he stood for the cause of God’s sovereign grace, has indeed explained and opened the Scriptures unto us. And inasfar as he was caked of God to defend and hold fast unto the faith once delivered unto the saints and that through him we all were led into a clearer and better insight of the Scriptures, we express unto him our profound gratitude. Therefore he occupies a large place in our heart and life. Yet, recognizing the fact that man is a mere mortal and that what we are and do we are and do only by the grace of God, our celebration did not degenerate into hero-worship, but gave all glory to God. I can certainly affirm that this was characteristic of the entire day. Moreover, this is, of course, the outstanding feature of the day. A higher and more outstanding characteristic m inconceivable, Then we are and will remain secure as Protestant Reformed Churches, if we continue on this high level and persevere in that high calling whereunto we are called, namely, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, for out of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, now and forever.
My second chief impression of the day was that the commemoration was spontaneous. It was real. I could not understand how anyone, present in the evening, could escape this impression. It simply forced itself upon you. In this connection I must again remind our people of that stirring climax of the day when that beautiful album was presented to Rev. and Mrs. Hoeksema. What a moment it was when the chairman asked the audience to sing the doxology in the Holland and English languages while the reverend and his wife stood on the platform! It was a singing in which the audience found it difficult to take part. And it was also difficult for Rev. Hoeksema to speak that which lived in his soul. Resides, it would have been more difficult still for him to speak had he been able to see the audience which he could not because of the lateness of the hour. Surely, the celebration was spontaneous. And, according to his own words, that which impressed him so profoundly was the large, the unique place which he occupies in the hearts of all our people. This was the beautiful and fitting climax of a day well spent. And thereupon we returned home, giving thanks unto God, I am sure, for all the blessings which He has so richly bestowed upon us.