The Standard Bearer in Retrospect

“Time,” it is said, “marches on.” Rather, one ought to insist that God’s counsel is in process of realization. That is impressed upon us especially at an anniversary. Then we remark about how quickly time passes. It also becomes the occasion of consideration of the past events. Such consideration is particularly significant when done by one who had himself gone through the events described. In Vol. 32 of our Standard Bearer the late Rev. G.M. Ophoff does that in an address commemorating the 40th anniversary of the late Rev. H. Hoeksema in the ministry.

“Anniversary Address”

Rev. G.M. Ophoff

Beloved in the Lord; we are assembled here in joyful mood to commemorate the fact that our brother, Rev. Herman Hoeksema, has completed forty years of service in the ministry of the Gospel. In the name of all our people, I heartily congratulate our brother, and our ardent desire is, that, the Lord willing, several more years may go by before the Lord takes him home. This is our prayer. And I feel certain that it is a permissible prayer, seeing that I subordinate it to the Lord’s will. A permissible prayer, I say. This would not be the case if the physical condition of our brother were such as to compel us to conclude that he has only a few more days to live. My impression is, that, though he is sixty-nine years old, he is still a rather young person in the point of view of his physical and mental vitality. He can still do a lot of walking and swimming. And in the pulpit he is still surprisingly vigorous. His mental powers have not diminished noticeably. His sermons are still characterized by that excellency that has always made it a joy to listen to them. He still writes as clearly and logically and forcibly and as edifyingly as always. This is the more remarkable in view of his severe illness of recent years. For a while he was completely paralyzed. He could not read, he could not talk, he could not think. He could hardly utter a sound. He could not move a muscle. But the Lord had mercy upon him and upon us all. He gave him a most remarkable recovery. And therefore I repeat, the prayer that the Lord may prolong his life for several years is a permissible one. For it seems that this is the Lord’s will. At least it does not appear that it is not the Lord’s will. And these final years of our brother’s life may turn out to be as productive as any of his previous years in the ministry of the Gospels. 

The committee did not limit me by indicating what I should speak on in connection with this occasion. So I am free to choose. Let me delve a little in the past and make some appropriate remarks as I proceed. 

I first came to know about Rev. Hoeksema when I became a student in Calvin. He, too, at that time was a student in Calvin. But he was five years ahead of me, so that we were in school together for about this length of time. During these years we had no contact with each other, except for one year during which he was my teacher in English literature. I also recall that, when I was in the seminary, he was asked by the students to lecture before them on the subject of common grace, which he did. At the time he was residing in Grand Rapids as pastor of his present charge — then the Christian Reformed Church of Eastern Ave. 

It was while I was in the seminary that the Janssen controversy ran its course. Prof. Janssen gave instruction in the Old Testament branches. The trouble with his instruction was that it was characterized by rationalistic tendencies. Our brother, Rev. H. Hoeksema, was the only one who was capable of making this plain to the churches. Others had tried it but had failed. And by other, I mean the four professors in the seminary, the late professors Volbeda, Heyns, and TenHoor, and Prof. Berkhof, and some ministers including Rev. H. J. Kuiper, the editor of the Christian Reformed Banner. As a result of our brother’s exposures, Prof. Janssen was deposed from his office of professor of theology. 

During all the time of this controversy, I made no personal contacts with Rev. Hoeksema. I was esteeming him at a distance. His good fight for the truth in the Janssen controversy had endeared him to my heart. His singular abilities as a theologian and controversialist — abilities that had been called into action especially by the Janssen controversy — won for him my admiration, respect, gratitude, and trust. It caused him to stand out in my mind as the only able champion of the truth in the churches, as the only one of all the ministers including the professors, who really had right understanding of things. From that day on he was my man, although as yet he knew nothing about it, as I not once had set my foot on his doorstep. 

By his exposures of the wrongness of Prof. Janssen’s instruction — exposures that, as was said, had resulted in his deposition — our brother, Rev. Hoeksema, had rendered the churches an incalculable service. Yet, what happened? Let us see what happened. The friends and supporters of Janssen, of which there were several in the churches, were furious with Hoeksema, as could be expected. And it became revealed that they actually vowed to rid the churches of him. And they also succeeded with their three points — the famous “Three Points” of the synod of 1924. And what was so startling is, that, in achieving their aim, in realizing their purpose, they sought and secured the cooperation of those very persons — ministers and professors — who had stood shoulder to shoulder with Rev. Hoeksema during the Janssen controversy, and who all along had run his doorstep flat, so to say, urging him to keep up the good fight by all means. 

This, I say is startling, amazing. For the “Three Points” are Arminian. The doctrine contained in them runs contrary to the truth of the Scriptures as formulated in our Reformed Confessions. The first “point” teaches a favorable attitude of God also toward the reprobated. As taken in connection with the ground upon which it was made to repose, it teaches, does this “point”, that the preaching of the Gospel is grace also for the reprobated. The idea of the second and the third “Points” is, that through the operation of God’s grace in him, the reprobated can and does perform works that have true ethical, spiritual value in the sight of God. This is a plain denial of the Scriptural doctrine of man’s total depravity. Fact is, that in adopting the “Three Points” the Christian Reformed churches through their representatives as assembled in Synod officially subscribed and introduced into their churches the entire conditional theology of the Arminians. This is what their doing amounts to. And what is also so astounding is, that the articles of the “‘Confession” that were quoted in support of these “Points” teach the very opposite from what is taught in these “Points”. They teach our doctrine, do these articles. What it comes down to is, that we were deposed from office for the very reason that in our teaching and preaching we were adhering strictly to the Scriptures and the Confession. 

Rev. Hoeksema was expelled from the communion of the Christian Reformed churches, because he refused to do what before God he might not do, namely subscribe, preach and defend the doctrine of the “Three Points.” His consistory was similarly dealt with for its refusal to place their pastor before these points. The late Rev. Danhof and his consistory and the undersigned with his consistory were deposed by Classis (Grand Rapids) West for the same reason. For conscience sake it was also impossible for Danhof and for me to subscribe, preach, and defend the doctrine of “The Three Points”. And it was impossible for our consistories to place us before these points. 

But I must not get into this any deeper. Allow me but one remark. The Christian Reformed churches seem to be going places. They have a school with a large enrollment, staffed with a faculty that numbers as many as fifty members, I believe. And they are always, at it, adding school building to school building because of the continual influx of new students coming from everywhere. They have missionaries in the foreign field, and a goodly number of so-called gospel chapels. The voice of their radio minister is carried over the air to almost every nook and corner of our land. For it is heard on I don’t know how many radio stations. They have extended themselves as a denomination deep into Canada, where among the immigrants many churches have been organized bearing the name Christian Reformed. But in the sight of God their whole huge program must be devoid of real use and meaning. For in 1924 they corrupted and forsook the truth and replaced it by the carnal and false imaginings of Arminius, and thereby they became just another denomination of Arminian churches. Certainly, they still have the truth but only on the books: it is no longer being heard in their pulpits — the truth of God’s sovereign grace and of His sovereign election and reprobation. And unless they repent of their abomination and return to the truth, they have no future. The day will dawn but not for them as a denomination. The Christian Reformed churches are not to be envied but to be pitied only. 

The sole calling of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ as constrained by love, in order that Christ through that proclamation may gather out of the world His people. When the church, a church, corrupts the Gospel of Christ, it tramples its calling and then like salt that has lost its savor it is good for nothing but to be cast on the dunghill to be trodden under foot by men. And then it may still be doing big things, but it walks in a vain show. And the motive of all its doings can be none other than the desire to become big in the eyes of the world, to gain recognition, to acquire for itself name and fame with men. 

But to return to our brother, the Rev. Hoeksema. How true it is that most of the years of his ministerial career have been years of storm and strife for him, a fight for the truth. But the Lord was with him and sustained him through all these years. Take our most recent fight for the truth in the bosom: of our own churches. How wonderfully the Lord raised him up from a bed of illness that he might lead us also in this fight. God is God and none else. This was again the issue, as it was in 1924. It is always the issue essentially. How wonderfully the Lord has wrought through our brother through all the years of his ministry. I think now of his labors as a pastor of a large congregation, of his labors as professor in our school, of his labors as writer and lecturer. We have a copious Protestant Reformed literature, the bulk of which came from his pen. Indeed, we are grateful to God for what He gave us in the person of our brother. 

Fifteen years ago we were commemorating the fact of his having completed 25 years in the ministry of the Gospel. He then joined in our prayer that it might please the Lord to allow him to labor still another twenty-five years in our midst. If the Lord answers that prayer, he will still be with us, laboring in our midst, for another ten years. May it indeed please the Lord to prolong his life for that many years and even for more than that many years. 

A final word about ourselves as a denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches. It is twenty-nine years ago, I believe, that as a denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches we were brought into being. Our beginning was small. We numbered but three churches. Through the years other Protestant Reformed Churches were organized, but not so many. Certainly our growth was not phenomenal. As a result of our most recent fight for the truth, we are again nearly as small as we were in the beginning. But if only we are spiritual and love the truth, our smallness will not disturb and trouble us at all, seeing that the cause of our smallness is that we abode in the truth by God’s mercy. More must be said. If we are spiritual, we will even rejoice because of our smallness, seeing that it betokens that we have kept the faith and that therefore the favor of God is upon us. 

And let us not imagine that we have no significance just because we are small. It is we, Protestant Reformed, that hold and confess the truth in its purest form, that is, as uncorrupted by Arminian leaven. And therefore our influence is bound to be felt particularly by all that calls itself Reformed. 

As to our smallness, let us consider that the matter of our numerical growth is God’s business only and not ours, that our calling is to abide in the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Let our prayer constantly be for grace to walk worthy of this calling — the calling wherewith the saints are called. For unless we abide in the truth, we, too, shall have no future as churches. 

And let us not boast in ourselves but walk humbly before His sight as always considering that apart from His redeeming grace, God’s believing people are but vile, ill-deserving and condemnable men, that even as saints of God they still are continually polluting their way before Him by their sins, seeing that in this life they have but a small principle of the true obedience in them, and that therefore the reason that “the sons of Jacob,” whoever these sons may be, however faithful in this life by His mercy, are not consumed, lies not in them certainly but in God only: He is Jehovah, He changes not, Mal. 3:6. This is but one of the sides of the truth that we hold. Let us hold it and hold it dear, believe it with all our heart and confess it before God continually without ceasing, also with respect to ourselves by all means, lest in judging others, we ourselves be judged and condemned of God.