PRC History – H. De Bolster on Learning the Doctrine of Election from H. Hoeksema

Debolster-cover-2003A recent addition to the PRC Seminary library is a book that came with some things from bookseller Gary Vander Schaaf. The title is Struggles and Blessings: The Pilgrimage of Henry R. De Bolster (self-published in 2003).

Initially, the book did not capture my attention because it seemed only to be the personal story of another Christian Reformed Church minister. But when I started to catalog it, I learned that De Bolster had a PRC connection. Turns out he immigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands after WW II, as did many Hollanders, and was sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Peter Alphenaar in Kalamazoo, members of the PRC in that city.

Thus, when he made his way to Grand Rapids with another young man (Henk De Raad), they came to attend (and eventually join) First PRC, where Herman Hoeksema was minister, along with H. DeWolf and C. Hanko. And, in fact, De Bolster and De Raad both began to pursue the ministry in the PRC, attending our Seminary in 1950.

Now you will remember that the early 1950s were tumultuous years in the PRC, as the controversy on the vital Reformed doctrine of the covenant was brewing (especially whether it was conditional vs. unconditional, and involving Dr. K. Schilder and many Dutch immigrants who came into the PRC and CRC during those years). De Bolster found himself in the middle of that controversy and ended up siding with Schilder and De Wolf (and many others), which meant he left the PRC and her seminary. The author has some harsh criticism of Hoeksema and the PRC related to that controversy and the way he claims he was treated. I will not quote from those portions of the book or comment on his portrayal of the controversy.

Rather, I will reference his favorable comments on Hoeksema, because early in De Bolster’s years in the PRC he had some good things to say about his minister and seminary instructor. Specifically, he has a positive perspective on what “HH” taught him about the doctrine of election. I quote:

The first few months of my study [in the PRC seminary] were enjoyable. Through Hoeksema’s teaching I gained a fresh and joyous appreciation of the doctrine of election. As a young man I always wondered whether I was one of the elect. I remember thinking about that question quite a bit. It made me restless. If I was not of the elect everything I pursued would be useless. It was all in God’s book.

Hoeksema made me see that election is the comfort God gives His people in a world of doubt and insecurity. I am your God and I shower all my gifts on you, even the gift of faith. You cannot believe without being elected, Hoeksema would say. Election is the way by which God allows His children to hear from God Himself that they are safe in His hand. Election is like the foundation of a house. When the foundation is secure, the house is solid and can weather any storm. Hoeksema reminded us that in order to get into that solid house you do not crawl through the foundation, but enter through the door. That door is Christ.

I had heard all this before but because of his constant emphasis on election this comfort permeated my consciousness. No matter what, the Lord will not forsake me, because I am His elected child. Election does not depend on my doing, it is the gracious gift of God. I cannot comprehend this with my finite mind, but God reveals it in his infallible Word. Thanks be to God!

Today we can be thankful that this emphasis was given to this young man (and to many others who heard “HH” preach) and that it influenced his faith and life for good. It shows not only how strongly Hoeksema emphasized this fundamental biblical truth in his preaching and teaching, but also how practical he made this truth in terms of comfort and assurance for believing souls.