Mr. President, Rev. and Mrs. Hoeksema, Beloved in the Lord:
It would not do to begin my speech somewhat on this order—On this joyful occasion I am very glad to be in your midst, and as I look upon your smiling and happy faces, etc., etc. No, that would be the wrong approach. The truth of the matter is that I am about 2,500 miles away from you as I speak these words, and I am looking into a little instrument which seems to have a great power to embarrass me. Moreover, I am far from looking into any smiling or happy faces. The room where I am recording these words is empty but for my solitary presence. Even the technician is hiding himself in another part of the building, and I must carry on alone.
However, the occasion is a joyful one and I can assure you that although I am absent in body, I am with you in spirit, even though I cannot join in your speaking, singing and listening pleasure, there, where you have a glorious day of wonderful spiritual communion. I hope, nevertheless, that my recorded voice will somehow, in some way, interpret the hidden joyous feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude that fills my heart. For it is a joyful occasion. Exulting in our covenant God, we commemorate the fact that He gave His servant to us, His church, for lo these many years. It would be base ingratitude to both God and man to let this day pass unnoticed. It is altogether proper that the day be set aside for all your feasting, speech making, hymns and psalms and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart.
Rev. Hoeksema and family, when I say these things, I do not speak for myself alone. My voice must be regarded as representative. I speak for my family, my consistory and my congregation. Before the latter knew my person, they had already thankfully enjoyed the contents of at least some part of these 25 years of love’s labor in the vineyard of Christ, which we are now commemorating.
I happen to know that the very sound of Redlands has a peculiar charm for the Reverend Hoeksema. What he accomplished there more than eight years ago will never be forgotten, neither by them nor by him. Spiritual bonds were laid by our God through the ministry of the Word and conversation that tended to Godliness, such as will challenge time and space, enduring for all eternity. Therefore I would emphasize that my voice is now Redlands’ voice of hearty felicitations.
I had thought of including a word of warning for all of us on this glad day, for there is an ever present danger lurking on every corner on days such as these. The inclination of the heart of man is evil from his youth. He will exalt the creature before the righteous face of the Creator. We hear and see and read of examples of sidy hero worship on every side in the life of the godless world. Yes, they have their jubilees, but they exult in man. They are jubilant in the creature that is but dust and ashes, while the praises of Jehovah are alien to their banqueting hall. Moreover, they even make a very poor job of their creature-exaltation. Who has not vexed his righteous soul because of the ill-hidden hypocrisies and hollowness of all this praise of man. “Hail, fellows! Well met!” Yes, indeed. But they stab one another in the back at every opportunity. And what else can they do, where they are burdened with the terrible inheritance of evil and corruption? Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard his spots? They hate God and they hate their brother, who is made in the similitude of God. No, a jubilee in the world is an evil spectacle of sham friendship, a laughable caricature of true appreciation, a vain show of would-be thanksgiving and gratitude. Therefore, even at its best, it is corrupt. While He, who ought to be the main object of all jubilees, namely the God of our salvation, is silently harvesting the harvest of wrath reserved for the day of reckoning.
I was going to sound a voice of warning, therefore, but I desist. It is not necessary. I might even go so far as to state that the idea could be wrought into a fitting speech for today’s jubilee, to show that if our people have learned one solitary thing throughout the 25 years ministry of Rev. Hoeksema, then it is certainly this inspiring conviction and confession: Jehovah is God! Jehovah is God! Praise, magnify, and glorify Him alone.
And now what shall I say? You may ask of me to give a historical account of these 25 years of the Rev. Hoeksema’s ministry. The material, gifts and talents, out of which historians are molded, are sadly lacking in my makeup. If I were to attempt such a historical sketch, I am sure that the results would be incomplete and fragmentary. First of all, I have not known him that long, and secondly, I lack the historical data necessary for such an undertaking. About twelve or thirteen years ago, I began to gather all the pamphlets, brochures, and books which he had written alone or in collaboration with the four professors and the other ministers, or, which he wrote together with the Rev. Danhof. But from time to time good friends of mine revealed that they needed this material more than I. For they borrowed it and forgot to bring it back. The last blow to my collection of the Hoeksema material was struck when Dr. Schilder took the greater part of it to the Netherlands. Well, I am sure that he needed it more than I, and the positive fruit of this friendly robbery was shown in his subsequent writings. Even aboard ship on his return to the Netherlands, he quoted from one of my former brochures. But my collection of these works was on its last legs.
No, I could not write a Hoeksema history. At least it would not be a history in the accepted sense of the word. However, let no one think that the more than twenty years of his acquaintance have been without positive fruit for me. I smile when I say these words, and I know that you forgive me. You see, the Rev. Hoeksema is a man who manages to make his presence felt. And this is especially true with men and women whom I will call kindred souls. At any rate, if ever any man was molded by the influence of another, it is I. I cannot conceive of myself as I am today, if God had not made his way to cross mine. A little of that influence I would sketch.
It must have been in the year 1916 or 1917 that I first heard and met him. He delivered a Christian School speech on Deuteronomy 6:6, 7, in the Third Reformed Church of Kalamazoo. After the speech I said to my friends, “This is what I have waited for all my conscious spiritual life.” In those days and at those places they fed us husks that the swine would eat, and not the heavenly bread of life. In this, first speech of Rev. Hoeksema, I listened to the first throb of God’s covenant life, and it fell upon my thirsty soul like cooling streams refresh the desert land. If I may so express myself, it brought me to rest and tranquility. And that rest and harmony has increased through the years.
At different occasions I have written about the ‘oude stem,’ and you must bear with me. Such effusions are the fruit of history. Yes, the sound of that voice, and I speak spiritually, partook of the eternal, the glorious. It witnessed and testified of the covenant of God’s eternal love and friendship. A voice than which there was none more spiritually melodious. Nowhere did we hear such spiritual exposition of the Word of God.
I remember when I met him the first time in Grand Rapids. I wanted to make him understand what he had done for me and what I thought of him. I expressed myself rather strangely and yet correctly. I said, “Do you know, Rev. Hoeksema, why I enjoy your sermons so? It is because you speak like the prophets and the evangelists of Scripture.” You see, beloved, sound Biblical preaching carries conviction. It is the only preaching that the Holy Ghost can use for the application of the Word of God in the heart.
While he was at Holland, Michigan, I attended Calvin College. At that time all I heard of him was the one solitary speech in Kalamazoo, of which I spoke to you some time ago, and yet the influence was of such a nature that when the other students heard me in our usual debates, one of them said, “There is one book among many which you have great need of reading, and that book is Kuiper’s ‘Gemeene Gratie.’” (In passing, I may relate the significant fact that this student, later a minister in the Christian Reformed Churches, became apostate with respect to the faith of his fathers, and now serves the world exclusively.) And that influence has increased through the years. He became my pastor for five years and for an equal number of years he became my professor. The truth of God which I had seen at Kalamazoo, like a glorious shining shaft of brilliant light that shed luminous rays in our abject and dolorous twilight or semi-darkness, became through the years such a wondrous power in my life that I live to sing and to speak of it in the midst of the congregation of God.
No, I cannot write a history of the Rev. Hoeksema’s 25 years of ministerial work. All I can do is testify in your midst that he is a man, who through the grace and the gift of God which is in him, can and does make his influence felt for good. This seems a trite saying, but yet I am certain that kindred souls among you, and God give that they comprise the whole multitude, will respond, will acknowledge that this so-called trite saying is fraught with deep and effective truth. Let me tell you that at every occasion when a visiting minister of our churches would come to Redlands, whom my people had never heard before, the congregation would exclaim, ‘They all speak the same language.” Although each has his own characteristic way of presenting the truth, it is all one tongue, one message, one glorious truth we are preaching. And so it is. We are stamped with the stamp of what I would call a God- exalting an all-sin-condemning theology.
It goes without saying that all this influence for good is properly the work of God’s grace operative in today’s guest of honor. That is the way I like to look at him and judge of him. For judge of him we must and we will. In this connection the question arises, What is the reason for today’s jubilation? Many of our brethren in Christ live, struggle and die without the benefit of a day like this. Why are we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, commemorating this jubilee? A very interesting question that. It was naturally the first question presenting itself to me for an answer when I heard from afar that I was supposed to speak on this occasion, and I have answered it in part, in fact I have come very close to a very definite and complete answer at the end of the other side of this record. But we will try to complete the record, so to speak.
I might put the question in this form. What is the divine idea in the gift of this man’s 25 years of life and work? We may ask ourselves, What is God’s message to us on this joyful day? It certainly means more to us than the fact that he accomplished 25 years of ministerial work. That happens to very many ministers. On such days the consistory comes to the parsonage. They drink some coffee, make a few complimentary remarks, and we go on with our work. No, I feel instinctively that we have something special here and I will try and present it into words. There are those who would say we celebrate today because God gave us in the Rev. Ploeksema a great exponent of Reformed polemics. It was particularly in that field that he came to the notice of the inhabitants of Zion. And then we will hear the record speak. How he fought against the enemies of Christian instruction, how he slew his thousands in the Bultema case. They will tell you of his victories against higher criticism in the famous majority report and later of his articles in the papers when he attacked and overcame the Jansenites. And, finally, they will point with pride to the gigantic struggle of this servant of God against this terrible lie, later laid down in the infamous Three Points. His polemics were read far and wide. His very name is connected with the name of this heresy. Some even think that he concocted these lies. And as it was with the heresies mentioned above, so it always was with any other deviation from the truth. He would be the first to raise his voice against such wandering from the pathway of the Reformed confession. And I will admit that his work in that field has been Herculean. But it is not the deepest reason why we thank God today.
There are others who will point with almost pardonable pride to his labors in the field of journalism. Was it not Dr. Schilder who charmed our hearts when he spoke of the evolution of a distinct literature of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And as I write these lines, I glance at the 15 volumes of the Standard Bearer and smile. Yes, the pride of those people is pardonable. He did a great work in writing those many pages. I ought to know. But, no, I do not think that even there we have struck at the root of our great rejoicing.
Well, then it must be his great gifts as an orator. Is it not true that some Calvin students were warned not to go to his church because of his terrible drawing power and the fatal charm of his personal magnetism? Even apart from such distorted testimonies, is it not true that he can preach the Word of God like none in our circles, and then I would embrace all the Reformed Churches in my comparison. And then I would agree that we certainly thank God for Rev. Hoeksema as a pulpit orator of great power and eloquence. He has charmed us all, and yet I would take issue with those who would single out this fine gift as the one outstanding reason why we are thanking God today and every day for his gift in this man.
Oh, no, the field is broad, and I have not come to the end of possibilities. I hear a veritable chorus of voices that will point out to me his remarkable gift to exegete the Word of God. It has become proverbial among us to say, “When you take issue with him, be absolutely sure of yourself, because he is usually right.” And I assure you, beloved friends, that I know whereof I speak. Also, here I would agree with all those voices that his gift to open the text, to lay bare the thought of the Word of God, dwells in him as in no other of my acquaintance, either in this age or by our books in former ages. I may say that he is a man mighty in the Scriptures and I am sure that none will contradict me. Even his avowed enemies have told me face to face that none can exegete the Word of God, to their knowledge, better than he. God gave him a very strong logical mind, and we, ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches, benefit much more from that gifted mind than we realize ourselves. And therefore I agree that for that reason, he is a gift of God to us. I will even go much farther than that. He is a gift of God to the church of God at large in this field. His exegeses will live after him, and I am persuaded to believe that he will receive his due after his death much more than now.
But if you will appreciate the past and the present aright, with respect to the question at hand, you will agree that even here we have not arrived at the real reason why we are thankful to God.
Neither is it in the field of dogmatics. It is true that on many points and dogmas there ihas arisen much more light through his work and thoughts. Today we see much clearer the beautiful conception of the grace of God than in the second decade of this century. This is especially true of the development of the dogma of the covenant of grace. We see now clearly that the covenant idea is the substratum of the whole house of God, whose picture we admire in the first earthly paradise, whose type we heartily welcome in the entire history and offer-cultus of Israel, whose earnest we have within our hearts through the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Builder of that house and who laid its foundation in His own precious blood and whose full realization shall cause us to sing everlastingly. The house of God, whose central idea is found in God’s own covenant life! And so it is with many dogmas. He made them live for us at school, he taught them, not as dry as dust system of man-made distinctions and definitions, but he taught them as the system of living truth, that was constantly fed from the Word of God. The charge that he made dogmatics to rule over his exegesis is base and false. The very opposite is true. Still, my friends, we have failed to find the one satisfying answer to our question, for even his great gift in the field of dogmatics is not the deepest urge of our gratitude today. No, there is a distinct reason for our jubilee.
As I see it, the answer is found when we make a comparison between our lives today and say 20 or more years ago. It will not be easy to do this, for we are forgetful creatures. I have made a comparison and have done so often. And I find that the Rev. Hoeksema has been used by our covenant God to make us more
God-conscious. And the Lord has done so through him by endowing him with all the gifts and talents enumerated above. These gifts, in the various fields enumerated, are and never were an end in themselves. They serve and have served to bring the church to the consciousness of tihe great Other, the Triune God, the covenant God of His people, who shall surely requite the evil and reward the good, Who always doeth His good pleasure, and Who shall glorify Himself in the Son of His right hand, who shall stand with many brethren eternally before His glorious face.
This is the deep note of gratitude in my soul; to wit, that my God would use His servant to bring me ever closer to a hallowed contemplation of such everlasting beauties of holiness, in order that they might praise God forever. And I am persuaded that I hear many echoes voicing like sentiment and conviction out of your hearts and the hearts of your children.
And terrible as it may be, it is also the reason why he is so cordially hated by many others who would rather make out a case for a wicked man than for the living God, Who is blessed forever. But hatred and all manner of wickedness, which he had to taste notwithstanding, this servant of God shall continue to do God’s work. More correct would it have been if I said, God shall continue to work in our midst through him. For that is the way it is. And for how long? We do not know. We hope and pray that it may be for many years to come. And when the struggle is over and the battle on earth ended, we know that he shall enter into the rest which remaineth for the children of God, and receive the reward of a faithful servant. There we, and all God’s people, shall see still clearer what he has shown us through His servant, that, namely, salvation is the Lord’s. And we shall live always God-consciously, for He shall be all in all.
In conclusion, beloved, I would like to have you all sing the wonderful Dutch Psalm 89, the 8th verse.
Gij toch, Gij zijt hun roem, de kracht van hunne kracht;
Uw vrije gunst alleen wordt d’eere toegebracht;
Wij steken ‘t hoofd omhoog, en zullen d’eerkroon dragen,
Door U, door U alleen, om ‘t eeuwig welbehagen;
Want God is ons ten sehild in ‘t strijdperk van dit leven,
En onze Koning is van Isrels God gegeven.
I thank you,
Rev. G. Vos