“From Heart to Heart” – A Letter of A.C.Van Raalte to His Wife

On this archives Thursday, I am also going to draw on the archives of another party – Heritage Hall, the archives of Calvin College and the Calvin Theological Seminary (tied, of course, to the CRC).

Heart2Heart-VanRaalte Letters-1997Last week Saturday at a local Thrift store I found booklet “Number Four” of the Heritage Hall Publications (1997), titled From Heart to Heart: Letters from the Rev.Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte to His Wife, Christina Johanna Van Raalte-de Moen, 1836-1847. Ten of these twelve letters, with the English translation in the front  and the original Dutch in the back, were penned by Rev.Van Raalte shortly after the Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands (the “Afscheiding”), when the small band of faithful ministers were travelling throughout the countryside trying to minister to the small congregations scattered throughout Holland. The last two letters cover the period when Van Raalte had arrived in the United States (specifically Michigan) and was looking for a place to settle.

Because I am also reading Marv Kamps’ new book on this history, 1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church (RFPA, 2014), these letters make a good tie to this book.

ACVanRaalte-1The occasion for the publication of these letters by Heritage Hall (which owns a small collection of Van Raalte’s letters) was the 150th anniversary (February, 1997) of Van Raalte’s founding of the “Colony” of Dutch immigrants in Holland, Michigan. For more on Van Raalte visit the website of the Van Raalte Institute on the campus of Hope College.

Today I will quote from one of the letters from the earlier period, dated December 28, 1837. It gives insight into the busy lives of these Secession pastors, as well as into the struggles of the Secession churches, including the persecution they were suffering at the hands of the Dutch government.

I completed the business in Hellendoorn on Saturday and on Saturday, moreover, I rode to Ommen. I preached in the vicinity of Ommen on Sunday and on Monday. We saw neither the mayor nor the policeman. On Tuesday we walked fifteen minutes farther to a place which is under the authority of another mayor. We did this because the autorities in Ommen were looking for us, and thus they searched for us in vain.

Yesterday we had a meeting of Classis at Stegeren because some seeds of dissension had been sown in the congregation as a result of which some people were led astray in part due to ignorance, but by God’s grace all the leaders have been persuaded to stand united, hand in hand, in the attempt to resist as much as possible the seed of divisiveness.

I have read that letter from Zwartsluis and I can well understand that things like this often weigh heavily on you, but beloved Wife, always remember that Jesus says it well that offenses come our way in order that the righteous may be revealed. My dear wife, everything is the fulfillment of God’s plan, and, in addition, it is written that all things will work for the welfare of those who love the Lord.

Tomorrow I hope to go to Den Ham to conduct family visitation, to confirm the faith of new members, and to preach there next Sunday. …I hope to come home on Friday, but probably it will be Saturday. I long for home.

…The horse is fresh and frisky but now and then it coughs. It has some bumps on its neck, but that does not bother him. I am glad I took the saddle with me because the water of the Vegt is so high in this area that I have to do everything on horseback. I still do not know how I shall get the buggy home.

…Kiss our Albertus for me. Greet Da and Mientje. May the fear and the love of God reign in your heart. Greet the consistory, our neighbor, and all those who ask about Zion.

Now, dear Wife, the Lord be with you.

Your loving husband,

Van Raalte

Honey for the Hearts of Readers (2)

honey-for-a-childs-heart-coverBack on April 8 I made an initial post about the Gladys Hunt’s book Honey for a Child’s Heart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969). After telling you a bit about the author, I went on to quote from her first chapter, “Bequest of Wings”, which contains some great thoughts about the power of and need for reading, especially but not exclusively for children.

Today I would like to quote once again from this chapter, specifically where Hunt writes about the importance of good writing (and therefore good reading) for Christians. What she has to say may startle us a bit, but I think it is worth hearing.

Some may find hints of “common grace” here, but you will note that Hunt does not use that term. Nor is she undermining the truth of the antithesis, in my estimation. An appreciation for God’s “common gifts” distributed by His sovereign providence to people other than Christians? Yes. Creative gifts that we as believers may also use and profit from? Yes, with discernment and limitations, of course. “Common” grace? No such thing.

Listen, then, to what Hunt says, and reflect carefully in terms of what you read – and what you may read to your children:

Since words are the way we communicate experiences, truths and situations, who should know how to use them more creatively than Christians? The world is crying out for imaginative people who can spell out truth in words which communicate meaningfully to people in their human situation. Of all people on earth, committed Christians ought to be the most creative, for they are indwelt by the Creator. Charles Morgan speaks of creative art as ‘that power to be for the moment a flash of communication between God and man.’ That concept opens up our horizons to a glimpse of God-huge thoughts, of beauty, of substance beyond our cloddish earthiness, of the immensity of all there is to discover.

Yet, tragically, Christians often seem most inhibited and poverty-stricken in human expression and creativity. Part of this predicament comes from a false concept of what is true and good. The fear of contamination has led people to believe that only what someone else has clearly labelled Christian is safe. Truth is falsely made as narrow as any given sub-culture, not as large as God’s lavish gifts to men. Truth and excellence have a way of springing up all over the world, and our role as parents is to teach our children how to find and enjoy the riches of God and to reject what is mediocre and unworthy of Him (p.17).

How Then Shall We “Go”? – Karl Dahlfred

How Then Shall We “Go”? by Karl Dahlfred | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

April-TT-2014Yesterday prior to our worship services I was able to get some Tabletalk reading in. I read the next two articles focused on the theme of the April issue, “The Great Commission”. The one that I especially benefited from is the one by Rev.Karl Dahlfred linked above.

Treating especially the meaning of Jesus’ charge to “go” in the Great Commission, Dahlfred carefully points out to whom this is directed and how this applies to the members of the church.  He makes many good points throughout the article, and I encourage you to read it and benefit from its teaching as well.

I give you a couple of parts to his article here; read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

It is important to note that Christ’s commission to go and make disciples is given to the entire church, not just to individual Christians. It is popular to view the Great Commission as a command for every individual Christian to be involved in evangelism. And some missions advocates have claimed that unless you have a specific calling to stay home, you must become a cross-cultural missionary in obedience to the Great Commission. As well-intentioned as these viewpoints may be, they miss the mark when it comes to putting Christ’s command in the context of the New Testament’s teaching on the body of Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:4–6). While every Christian has a role to play in the Great Commission, we don’t all have the same role.

Toward the end of the article, Dahlfred adds these practical thoughts:

Even though we won’t all be flying across the globe to share the gospel or teaching and baptizing in our local church, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be involved in the “going” aspect of obedience to the Great Commission. Like the original disciples who were in Jerusalem, we seek to live faithfully in the place where we find ourselves, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). And regardless of our station in life, there are ways that we can have a part in making disciples of all nations.

For starters, we can learn about evangelism and missions. Read a missionary biography such as the story of Adoniram Judson or John Paton. Find out which missionaries your church supports. Get on their mailing list, read their prayer letters, and pray for them. Support missionaries financially.

Rev. Karl Dahlfred is adjunct professor of missions and church history at Bangkok Bible Seminary in Bangkok, Thailand, and assistant to the general manager for Overseas Missionary Fellowship Publishers in Thailand.

Easter Meditation/Prayer: “Victory”

1Cor15-57Today I also post another Puritan devotion from the wonderful book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975). This one is titled “Victory”, and because it covers the whole spectrum of what God did in saving us through Jesus Christ to secure victory for us, it is most appropriate for this Resurrection Sunday.

O divine Redeemer,

Great was thy goodness

in undertaking my redemption,

in consenting to be made sin for me,

in conquering all my foes;

Great was thy strength

in enduring the extremities of divine wrath,

in taking away the load of my iniquities;

Great was thy love

in manifesting thyself alive,

in showing thy sacred wounds,

that every fear might vanish,

and every doubt be removed;

Great was thy mercy

in ascending to heaven

in being crowned and enthroned

there to intercede for me,

there to succour me in temptation,

there to open the eternal book,

there to receive me finally to thyself;

Great was thy wisdom

in devising this means of salvation;

Bathe my soul in rich consolations

of thy resurrection life;

Great was thy grace

in commanding me to come hand in hand

with thee to the Father,

to be knit to him eternally,

to discover in him my rest,

to find in him my peace,

to behold his glory,

to honour him who is alone worthy;

in giving me the Spirit as teacher, guide,


that I may live repenting of sin,

conquer Satan,

find victory in life.

When thou art absent all sorrows are here,

When thou art present all blessings are mine.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (12)

HeisRisen-1On this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we make a final post from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (Nancy Guthrie, ed.; Crossway, 2009). Chapter 22 contains an excerpt from St.Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospels, specifically on Luke 24:36-45. Though his style is different, this great 4th-century church father has some powerful thoughts and applications for us, the 21st-century church.

May they serve to point us to our risen Lord and to the faith we must have in Him alone – for comfort and hope in living and in dying.

The Lord appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and saluted them, saying, ‘Peace be unto you.’ This is peace indeed, and the salutation of salvation: for the very word ‘salutation’ has received its name from salvation. And what can be better than that salvation itself should salute man? For Christ is our salvation. He is our salvation, who was wounded for us, and fixed by nails to the tree, and being taken down from the tree, was laid in the sepulcher. And from the sepulcher he arose, with his wounds healed, his scars kept. For this he judged expedient for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, whereby the wounds of their hearts might be healed.

What wounds? The wounds of unbelief. For he appeared to their eyes, exhibiting real flesh, and they thought they saw a spirit. It is no light wound, this wound of the heart. Yea, they have made a malignant heresy who have abided in this wound. But do we suppose that the disciples had not been wounded, because they were so quickly healed? Only, beloved, suppose, if they had continued in this wound, to think that the body which had been buried, could not rise again, but that a spirit in the image of a body, deceived the eyes of men. If they had continued in this belief, yea, rather in this unbelief, not their wounds, but their death would have had to be bewailed.

…Hear him speaking; lo, he speaks to thee, thou unhappy one, he speaks to thee: ‘Why art thou troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into thine heart?’ ‘See,’, saith he, ‘My hands and My feet. Handle me and see, because a spirit hath not flesh and bones as he see Me have.’ This spake the truth, and did he deceive? It was a body then, it was flesh; that which has been buried, appeared. Let doubting perish, and meet praise ensue.

Come then, O Lord, employ thy keys, open, that we may understand… (pp.127-130)

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (11)

ancient tombOn this Saturday of the week remembering in a special way our Lord’s passion, we are at that point between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. On Saturday – all day – Jesus lay in the grave in which he was buried on Friday night before sundown. This too belonged to his humiliation and to his experience of the full reality of the consequences of our sin.

For the grave is the place of the dead, the place where the corruption of sin and death work to ravage even our bodies and return us to the dust from which we were originally taken. But worse, the grave (apart from Christ) is also a doorway into eternal death, the place where the sinner is destined to rise unto everlasting separation from God and the suffering of unending torment in the restless “home” of hell. The grave is a fearful place – apart from Christ!

But for Christ, the Victor over death at the cross, the grave is a place not only of humiliation and suffering but also of exaltation and blessedness. Jesus’ tomb is a place of transition, when he – because of His perfect sacrifice for sin on Calvary and His defeat of sin’s penalty (death) at Golgatha – moves from lowliness to exaltedness, from suffering to reward, and from death to life.

O, He is dead and buried alright! He is in the grave, the place of death and corruption! But only for the bare minimum of time according to the Scriptures (three days, only one being a full day)! And even then, death cannot touch Him, for His body experienced no corruption, no breakdown of tissue and decay (Psalm 16:9-11 and Acts 2:29ff.). If we may put it that way, surrounded by death and lying in death, Jesus is alive even in the grave (because He has the victory over death in hand), though on Saturday He has not yet burst forth out of the tomb of Joseph!

And so we, like Jesus did, eagerly await the dawning of the first day of the week. We know what’s coming – like our Lord did – and we cannot wait for Resurrection Sunday!

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWhile we wait and ponder this time of transition for our Lord, we post once more from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross. Today we quote from chapter 18, which contains an excerpt from J.I.Packer’s Growing in Christ book (Crossway, 1994), where he is treating two phrases from the Apostles’ Creed, under the heading “He Descended Into Hell and Ascended Into Heaven”. I quote from the beginning of Guthrie’s selection of material:

Death has been called ‘the new obscenity’, the nasty thing that no polite person nowadays will talk about in public. But death, even when unmentionable remains inescapable. The one sure fact of life is that one day, with or without warning, quietly or painfully, it is going to stop. How will I, then, cope with death when my turn comes?

Christians hold that the Jesus of the Scriptures is alive, and that those who know him as Savior, Lord, and Friend find in this knowledge a way through all life’s problems, dying included. For ‘Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before.’ Having tasted death himself, he can support us while we taste it, and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which he himself has passed. Death without Christ is ‘the king of terrors,’ but death with Christ loses the ‘sting,’ the power to hurt, which it otherwise would have.

John Preston, the Puritan, knew this. When he lay dying, they asked him if he feared death, now that it was so close. “No,’ whispered Preston; ‘I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.’ As if to say: I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.

This is victory – victory over death, and the fear it brings (pp.105-06).

And then a little later Packer writes:

Suppose that Jesus, having died on the cross, had stayed dead. Suppose that, like Socrates or Confucius, he was now no more than a beautiful memory. Would it matter? We should still have his example and teaching; wouldn’t they be enough?

Had Jesus not risen, but stayed dead, the bottom would drop out of Christianity, for four things would then be true.

First, to quote Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:17: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’

Second, there is then no hope of our rising either; we must expect to stay dead, too.

Third, if Jesus Christ is not risen, then he is not reigning and will not return, and every single item in the Creed after ‘suffered and was buried’ will have to be struck out.

Fourth, Christianity cannot be what the first Christians thought it was – fellowship with a living Lord who is identical with the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels can still be your hero, but he cannot be your Savior (pp.107-08).

All good food for thought as we got through this “transition” day between Good Friday and Easter.

Good Friday Poem: “Christ Crucified” – J.De Decker

3crossesFor this Good Friday I also want to post something from a collection of poems with that very title (Good Friday) from the pen of 17th-century Dutch poet Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666). This lengthy set of poems was translated by Calvin College professor Henrietta Ten Harmsel (Dutch title of Goede vrydagh) and published by Paideia Press in 1984. It is enhanced by etchings from Rembrandt, De Decker’s contemporary, who also did his personal portrait.

Since this work may not be so well known, I include here also the opening paragraphs of Ten Harmsel’s introduction, where she summaries the structure of Good Friday and includes a few biographical notes:

Many seventeenth-century poets of wetsern Europe wrote moving poems on the suffering and death of Christ. Most of these poems took the form of short lyrics. Good Friday, by Jeremias De Decker, however, is unique because of its lengthy and detailed treatment of all the events of the Passion week. In nine vivid scenes he presents chronologically the unfolding drama that climaxes in the crucifixion. By his mournful viewing of his Savior’s suffering, the poet draws his reader into contemplating Calvary. And in this contemplation two consistent notes emerge: De Decker’s intimate knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, and his intense personal involvement in Christ’s sufferings as he depicts it in Good Friday.

Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666), a member of the Reformed Church of Holland, spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Although he desired little public recognition and was very diffident about publication, his two volumes of collected poems – published in 1656 and again in 1659, and including Good Friday – received general recognition and continuing enthusiastic praise (p.9).

GoodFriday-JDeDeckerFor our purposes today I am going to quote a small section of De Decker’s seventh scene, titled “Christ Crucified”, since this takes us right to Calvary, to contemplate the mystery of God’s Son in our flesh dying for us sinners. I trust you too will notice in these few lines the two things that Ten Harmsel pointed out about the nature of De Decker’s poem.

‘Well, what is this?’ (you cry). ‘What is this that we see?
Why should the heavens cry?
Why should they take away
The brightness of the sun just at the height of day?’

The heavens, you rogues, now mourn to see their Lord’s distress;
Shamed by your ruthlessness,
Block out this awful sight:
To see him die, who is the Father of their light.

The clouds which hide the sun from all earth’s teeming crowds
Are your sin’s darkening clouds.
I hear him? Yes, he shouts.
What anguished cry of death now from these clouds bursts out?

Ah, me, it is my Lord! He suffers now his worst.
From hell we hear it burst-
The devils watch in glee-
‘My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsaken me?’

It is the voice of man, the voice of all who fell
Into the pit of hell;
As one we broke God’s law,
And thus, in one, in him, we are forsaken now.

God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by God’s love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!

As an additional note, this work by De Decker was reviewed in The Standard Bearer by the late Gertrude Hoeksema and given a favorable review.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (10)

Good Friday-1When Jesus took the curse upon himself, he so identified with our sin that he became a curse. God cut him off and justly so. This was an act of divine justice. At the moment that Christ took upon himself the sin of the world, he became the most grotesque, most obscene mass of sin in the history of the world. God is too holy to even look at iniquity. When Christ was hanging on the cross, the Father, as it were, turned his back on Christ. He removed his face. He turned out the lights. He cut off his Son.

There was Jesus, who in human nature had been in a perfect, blessed relationship with God throughout his life. There was Jesus, the Son in whom the Father was well pleased. Now he hung in darkness, isolated from the Father, cut off from fellowship – fully receiving in himself the curse of God – not for his own sin but for the sin he willingly bore by imputation for our sake.

I have heard many sermons about the physical pain of death by crucifixion. I’ve heard graphic descriptions of the nails and the thorns. Surely the physical agony of crucifixion was a ghastly thing. But there were thousands who died on crosses and may have had more painful deaths that that of Christ. But only one person has ever received the full measure of the curse of God while on a cross. I doubt that Jesus was even aware of the nails and the spear – he was so overwhelmed by the outer darkness.

On the cross Jesus was in the reality of hell. He was totally bereft of the grace and the presence of God, utterly separated from all blessedness of the Father. He became a curse for us so that we someday will be able to see the face of God. So that the light of his countenance might fall upon us, God turned his back on his Son. No wonder Christ screamed. He screamed from the depth of his soul. How long did he have to endure it? We don’t know, but a second of it would have been of infinite value.

Finally, Jesus Christ, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30. It was over. What was over? His life? The pain of nails? No. It was the forsakenness that ended. The curse was finished.

R.C. Sproul, “Cursed” (chapter 15) in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009), pp.94-95.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (9)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWhen Jesus says, ‘I am thirsty,’ I don’t think he means physical thirst, because in the whole passion account we never once hear Jesus complaining about any of the physical torture and agony into which he is placed. He is blindfolded and beaten with fists of soldiers. He is scourged with a whip made with bits of metal and glass fragments tied into straps that are laid repeatedly across his back. There is a crown of thorns meanly pressed into his brow until he bleeds. Never once does he complain. Never once does he say, ‘It hurts.’

So when he says, ‘I am thirsty,’ he is saying, ‘I am thirsty with a thirst that every sinner deserves to experience forever.’ He means that he is going to hell, that he is now like the rich man in hell, with no one to bring him water.

In speaking of his thirst, perhaps Jesus is thinking of Psalm 22:

I am poured out like water,
And my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax;
it is melted within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And Thou dost lay me in the dust of death (vv.14-15).

Jesus understands his thirst biblically. In fact, the larger context of Jesus’ remark about his thirst reads, ‘in order that the Scripture would be fulfilled, [Jesus] said, “I am thirsty.” Psalm 22 begins this way: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ (v.1; quoted in Matt.27:46; Mark 15:34). This thirst is primarily physical but comes about because the Son of God has now been put into hell, a hell that he does not deserve. You and I deserve that unquenchable, unremitting, agonizing thirst because we have sought to fill our lives with anything and everything but him.

At the cross, Jesus asks the question, what do you thirst after? Throughout Scripture, thirst is a metaphor for a deep, inward spiritual emptiness and need. Without God we will die, because the Bible says that what we most thirst for and need at the center of our lives is not stuff but God. The question always is, what do I drink to fill that deep and profound thirst within me? (pp.82-83).

“I am Thirsty” by Joseph “Skip” Ryan, in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. by Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2009.

Word Wednesday – “The Most Important Word in the Universe”!

The above title is in quotation marks because it is a title of a chapter in the book we are going through in this season of reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Chapter 20 of Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (Nancy Guthrie, ed.; Crossway, 2009) is taken from a message given by Ray Ortlund, Jr. based on Romans 3:23-25 and is a perfect complement to our Wednesday word feature.

PropitiationWhat is that word that is “the most important word in the universe”? Read on (and look to your left), as I quote from this chapter:

The English language has about eight hundred thousand words. Most of us get by with around two thousand words. That means that about 788,000 words are sitting on the shelves, just waiting to be dusted off and used. The top ten most frequently used English words ‘are’ (I think this is a typo -cjt), ‘the,’ ‘of,’ and,’ ‘to,’ ‘a,’ ‘in,’ ‘that,’ ‘is,’ ‘I,’ and ‘it’ – but not ‘propitiation.’

When was the last time you used that word? When was the last time you used it? We don’t hear it on the radio or television, because we’ve lost the vocabulary of God. But it’s the most important word in the universe. We need to recover not only the Word of God but the words of God. His words define relevance.

The word ‘propitiation’ comes from the Latin propitio, meaning ‘to render favorable, to appease, to conciliate.’ To propitiate God means to appease his anger. Propitiation is all about God’s wrath.

…God presented Christ Jesus as a propitiation by his blood (see Rom.3:24-35). Do you see the beauty in that? In human religions, it’s the worshiper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it’s God himself who provides the offering. At the cross of Christ, God put something forward. He declared something to the whole world. He presented, he displayed, the clearest statement about himself he has ever made. What was he saying? Two things.

One, he detests our evil with all the intensity of the divine personality. If you want to know what your sin deserves from God, don’t look within yourself, don’t look at your own emotions. Look at that man on the cross – tormented, gasping, bleeding. Take a long thoughtful look. God was presenting something to you there. God was saying something about his perfect emotions toward your sin. He was displaying his wrath.

Two – here is the other thing God was presenting at the cross – the God you have offended doesn’t demand your blood; he gives his own in Christ Jesus. …He has opened the way. He took the initiative. How could it be otherwise? We can’t avert the wrath of God. We’re the problem, not the answer. We’re helpless before God. But ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…’ (John 3:16). At the cross, his love satisfied his wrath… (pp.115-17).

Now, I trust, you understand why pastor Ortlund called this word the most important in the universe. Wouldn’t you agree? Shall we make it part of our regular vocabulary?


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