PRC History: G. Vos, H. Hoeksema, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Sr., and the original “Triple Knowledge” (1956)

For our PRC history/archives feature today, we turn to the pages of the Standard Bearer, where back in 1956 one finds an interesting exchange between Rev. Gerrit Vos (PRC minister) and Mr. William B. Eerdmans, Sr. (important Reformed book publisher), involving Rev. H. Hoeksema and his important work on the Heidelberg Catechism published under the general title of The Triple Knowledge (the discerning Reformed reader will recognize the reason for this title).


Without giving too much away, we will say here that Eerdmans was the original publisher of this series of ten individual books covering the entire 52 Lord’s Days and 129 Q&As of the “Heidelberger.”. But the work was interrupted by a significant event in Hoeksema’s life, such that he thought the work on the Catechism might never be completed. But, in God’s good providence and with the support of Mr. Eerdmans, it was.


As you will see from the picture above (I have an original ten-volume set), the first book in the series, In the Midst of Death, was published in 1943. The final volume, The Perfect Prayer, was published in 1956 (cf. pictures below). Hence, the celebration and congratulations in the SB in 1956.


The exchange to which I referred above began with Rev. Vos’ article titled “Congratulations, Plus!” in the Nov.1, 1956 issue of the SB. This is how he began his note of congratulations on the completion of The Triple Knowledge:

First, I wish to congratulate the Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishing Company, and more particularly, Mr. William Eerdmans. This part of my article is sadly overdue. I should have given time and thought to this item years ago.

When the whole world that calls itself Reformed either ignored its most outstanding theologian, the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, or attacked him and his views, God gave us the foremost publisher of Reformed heritage to publish his works. God moved his heart and mind to open the door to the world of publications.

Most of us do not realize the outlay of money and the subsequent risks involved in the publishing of books. I know, for Mr. Eerdmans told me, and showed me the graphs of costs and sales.

And so I wish to publicly thank him at this occasion: a milepost in the publishing of Hoeksema’s books.

You ask: “How come?” Why did this man, versed in profitable printing and publishing matters, risk so much?

Here is his answer, and it is twofold: first, “The Rev. Hoeksema writes for the ages!” And, second, “This is my partial share of working for the coming of the Kingdom!”

And so, congratulations, Mr. Eerdmans, in finishing the publication of the most valuable set of commentaries on the Heidelberger. May God repay you for what you have done for the Reformed Churches in the United States.

But then came a gracious reply from Mr. Eerdmans in the Dec.1, 1956 issue of the SB. Writing “A Few Words,” he told the story of this wonderful commentary and its author:

In his article Rev. Vos quotes a very beautiful passage from Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s Introduction to the first volume of his now completed ten-volume set of expositions on the Heidelberg Catechism, dated June 1, 1943.

These words of Rev. Hoeksema deserve repeating:

“If in God’s inscrutable purpose there are left to me a sufficient number of days to work and labor, I intend to complete the work, the beginning of which I offer to the public in the present volume.”

Then Rev. Vos continues, “Well. dear reader when Hoeksema wrote that sentence God said: Amen! God knew that He would multiply his days in order to give to the Church of Christ this wonderful Commentary on the Heidelberger.”

In 1947 the Rev. Hoeksema had a heart attack. One day I called on him. He laid outstretched in a garden chair on the lawn of his house. After a few words of greeting Herman said: “Well Bill, this looks as though I will never pen another paragraph.”

At that time he had finished about one third of his Commentary. However the good Lord gave him sufficient healing and strength, so that now, nine years after his heart attack, he has finished the work he in 1943 set out to do.

The friendship between Rev. Hoeksema and me dates from the days we were together at Calvin. We differ, but our honest differences have never broken our friendship. In the spirit of mutual esteem and respect we both proceeded . . . . though with many failures and shortcomings . . . . to keep on walking in the light as we were convinced God gave us to see the light.

Yes, Rev. Vos, I told you that to my way of thinking, Rev. Hoeksema writes for the ages. As a publisher I know that many God-chosen and God-gifted minds have written for the ages.

…And I have a feeling that in the distant future (if the Lord tarries His coming) Ministers and students and laymen will still turn to Hoeksema’s Heidelberger because I consider this work one of the most valuable expositions and documents in that field.

What a wonderful part of the history behind Hoeksema’s HC commentary that is! As Paul Harvey used to say on his special radio program, “Now you know the rest of the story.”


You may also want to know that the new publisher of this work by “HH,” after years of publishing it in three volumes, recently reissued it in its original ten-volume form. Visit the RFPA’s website here for more information.

Published in: on November 8, 2018 at 10:47 PM  Leave a Comment