That we were deeply shocked when on April 1 the news reached us that our God had suddenly called the Rev. Wm. Verhil away from his earthly field of labor and from the church militant, as well as from his dear ones, is merely to express what many more experienced with us when they heard of his sudden decease.
For sudden it was. According to reports we received the brother suffered a heart attack about eight o’clock in the morning, that caused him to lapse into unconsciousness. He never regained consciousness. And at about ten-thirty that same morning of April he left the earthly house of this tabernacle.
And we are not prepared for sudden news of this nature.
O, we realize in the abstract that such is the reality of our present life, which is nothing but a continual death. We know that every moment may be our last. Frequently we see our fellowmen fall about us as suddenly as standing corn under the scythe of the mower. But, nevertheless, we do not really live ion the consciousness that there is but one step between us and death. And thus it happens, that news of the sudden death of one that was dear to us, lived close to us, had a large place in our life, finds us rather unprepared. We are shocked deeply, and it takes some time to realize that it has really happened.
Besides, brother Verhil was one of our small group of ministers, and the first one of them to be called home. What is more, he belongs to that group of our pioneers that was with us from the beginning and that went with us through the entire history that gave birth to our Protestant Reformed Churches, and always took a leading part in it according to his ability and position,. And as to myself, brother Verhil was one of those men with whom I had more personal contact and fellowship, especially in the days of our struggle as churches, than with many others. And therefore, the reader must bear with me, if in this brief in memoriam a personal note of friendship creeps in and comes to the surface.
Not as if on this occasion I intend to extol the praise of man. I know that the deceased brother would be the very last to desire that his praises be sung in public. And I would like to write these few notes in his memory in such a way, that they might have his own approval if he could read them. And yet, they are not a matter of cold statistics to me, but the expression of my personal appreciation and friendship.
Long before the history of 1924 I became acquainted with brother Verhil, in fact, before I became pastor of the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, when I was still in Holland, and he was a member of the Franklin St. Christian Reformed Church here in Grand Rapids. I learned to know him as a young man that had his religious education and doctrinal instruction in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, who was well founded in Reformed truth, loved it with his whole heart, and for that very reason, already at that time, assumed a rather critical attitude over against a good deal of the preaching and instruction of the Christian Reformed Church.
When I became pastor of Eastern Ave. he was one of my members, and I had the opportunity to become more intimately acquainted with him. And the more I learned to know him and understand his principles and his ways, the more I loved him as a friend. First of all, he was a real man. By this I mean that he was very “human” in every sense of the word. He loved life, and could enjoy it. And he was characterized by the very “human” weaknesses which I always find in myself, and for which I loved him all the more. He was a man of definite convictions and strong expression. He was of an upright character, a true friend. And above all, he was truly humble, deeply conscious of his sin, so much so that in the early days of our friendship he was inclined to doubt his part with Christ sometimes, and always ready to confess his sins before God and man.
When the controversy about the error of common grace started, there was never any doubt where the now departed brother stood. He did not halt between two opinions. Nor was there ever any doubt in my heart what he would do, if ever the Christian Reformed Church would condemn us and cast us out. And in this confidence he never disappointed us, for he always revealed himself as a staunch Protestant Reformed man, who was heart and soul devoted to the cause the Lord had called us to represent.
Long before he became minister, or studied for the ministry at our seminary, he always took an active part in everything that concerned the church and the kingdom of God. When the RFPA was organized, and The Standard Bearer was published, he was one of the leaders. A deep interest he showed in the entire controversy and ecclesiastical procedure that led to our deposition and our separate organization as Protestant Reformed Churches. No meeting of classis or synod where the matter was discussed, he would miss, if he could possibly attend. To me he was often a support and a source of comfort in those days.
I first talked to him about the possibility of his becoming minister in our churches, when we returned from Hull, Iowa, in the spring of 1925. I had been sent to speak and preach in Hull and Sioux County, and was authorized to organize congregations if possible. Hull, or rather, some people that belonged to the Hull Christian Reformed Church had asked us to come and labor there. Our deceased brother accompanied me on that trip as a representative of the RFPA and in the interest of The Standard Bearer. Good days they were, even though they were days of strife and trouble. Often I spoke in the Town Hall of Hull on week days, both in the afternoon and in the evening. And always the auditorium was filled. And a congregation was organized there, after three weeks of strenuous work, numbering thirty seven families. Even though later much of the work was evilly destroyed, at that time the Lord comforted us, and encouraged us in our labors. And Verhil made propaganda for The Standard Bearer, and got subscribers. It was on the return trip home, in the Illinois Central we took in those days from Sheldon, that I broached the subject of his studying for the ministry. I thought I perceived many qualifications in the brother that would eminently fit him for that work, especially in our pioneer stage. And we had need of faithful men, that were willing to work and sacrifice themselves for the cause. At first, he differed strongly with me as to his calling and qualifications for the ministry, and I did not press the matter. But the Lord pressed the matter on his heart, and soon after he entered the seminary. He was a faithful worker, and willing to bear hardships for the cause, even then. Witness the cold winter he spent with his family in a miserable shanty of a home in Doom
The rest of my story is soon told. He entered the ministry as pastor of Hull in 1927 as an emergency matter, and on condition that later he would complete his course at our seminary. We had need of ministers, yet the students were not yet ready to graduate. Hence, the emergency measure. When he had finished his course, according to agreement, he became minister of our church in Kalamazoo, from there he went to Oskaloosa, where he remained until the newly organized congregation of Edgerton called him.
Just a couple of weeks ago, he declined the call for home missionary that had been extended to him,. One of the reasons he stated was that he did not feel free to leave his present charge, especially, too, with a view to the movement for a Protestant Reformed School that had been started in Edgerton. But the Lord thought differently, and extended a call which he could not decline, and which, I am sure, he would not have declined if he could.
Our readers know, how faithfully he sent in his contributions to The Standard Bearer, even though he never was in favor of the change introduced in our paper.
I consider the departure of the Rev. Wm. Verhil a decided loss for our churches.
True, he was not a man of great learning, or of profound theological thought. His education came too late, and was too limited for this, But he was a man of staunch Reformed convictions, who was personally acquainted with the history of our churches, and who loved the Protestant Reformed truth. He was Reformed at heart. Moreover, the brother had his own peculiar talents, which none other had, or, at least, no one else possessed in that degree. He was able to apply the truth spiritually and concretely, and knew the spiritual needs of his flock. He had great practical ability, and could handle difficult situations very ably. And he knew how to give “push” to a right cause in the proper direction.
Personally, and as the editor of The Standard Bearer I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy with the bereaved, all of them, but especially with Mrs. Verhil and her daughter. May they abundantly experience that God’s grace is near, and that it is always sufficient to comfort us and to strengthen us for the way we must go! All things work together for good to them that love God! Only a few weeks ago, the departed brother wrote me in connection with a certain adversity the Lord had sent to one of his elders: “But the Lord always does all things well!” That is true for us now!
It is true, too, for the congregation of Edgerton, to whom we also express our consolation. They lost a beloved pastor, a faithful worker in the Lord. May our God sustain them, and give them grace to continue the work!
And, finally, I extend my sympathy to all of our churches and people, and particularly to all those who, like myself, lost in the Rev. Verhil a true friend and faithful brother!
And, in the meantime, let us heed the call that comes to us even through the sudden death of our beloved brother: Work while it is day, ere the night cometh in which no man can work!