PRC Archives – H. Hoeksema’s Inaugural Sermons 100 Years Ago Today

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Today is leap day in this leap year of 2020. And this date of February 29 marks a significant event that relates to Protestant Reformed history (though the PRCA would not be officially formed until five years later): the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the inaugural sermons of Herman Hoeksema after he was ordained as minister of the Word in Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church.

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These sermons (two of them, one in Dutch, one in English) were soon published under the title of one of the messages, “Ik Wil Dat, Gij Weet” (“I will that you know”) en “I’ll Cry” by J. Hoorn, a publisher on Eastern Ave. in Grand Rapids, MI (see photo above).

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The Dutch sermon that was published (morning service) was based on Colossians 2:1-3, the opening words of which text form the title (“I would that ye knew” KJV). The English sermon that was published (evening service) was based on Isaiah 40:6-8, as you will see from the above first page.

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Both of these sermons were featured in a fairly recent issue of the PR Theological Journal (April 2013, vol.46, #2, pp.80-109), including the first translation into English of that first sermon. The editor of the PRTJ introduced this featured article in these words:

Recently Miss Agatha Lubbers, long-time educator in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools, came into possession of a booklet containing the two sermons preached by Rev. Herman Hoeksema on the first Sunday after his installation as minister of the Word and sacraments in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of these inaugural sermons was in Dutch and the other in English. She immediately took it upon herself to translate the Dutch sermon. Struck by its message, as well as by the accompanying English sermon, she brought them to me. We gave the Dutch sermon to Mr. Marvin Kamps. Having read Miss Lubbers’ translation, Mr. Kamps produced his own, which we include in this issue of PRTJ. The sermons are stirring! They encapsulate Hoeksema’s entire ministry. And they serve as a powerful reminder to the Reformed minister today concerning the nature of his calling. You will want to read both sermons.

And Miss Lubbers (my high school church history teacher among other things!) provided her own introduction to these “HH” sermons:

It was on Tuesday, February 24, 1920 that the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema, one of the “founders” and theological leaders of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, was installed as minister of the gospel in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church (at that time generally called the Eastern Avenue Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk). Rev. Herman Hoeksema, a young, vigorous, and industrious 34-year-old man, who had been ordained in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church of Holland in 1915, received and accepted the call to be the pastor of Eastern Avenue.

Rev. Hoeksema reports in one of his writings that he had been very busy in Holland. In Holland he had established himself as a minister who loved the gospel and who was an exciting preacher. It is perhaps worthy of note that during those years he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College (Curatorium) and was the main speaker at the dedication in 1915 of the new Calvin College Building on Franklin Street campus. He was also a regular contributor to the Banner.

Rev. Herman Hoeksema was installed in Eastern Avenue CRC to take the place of Rev. J. Groen. The building is still standing today on the same site, though with some changes. The congregation is reported to have consisted of approximately 450 families. Rev. Hoeksema, in his first Sunday morning service, called upon the Lord and the Consistory “to help him in the work of this large congregation.” It was reported that the work of catechism instruction and the leading of Bible study societies had been largely neglected.

On this historic date, it would be worth your while to read these sermons. They will make for edifying reading on this last day of the week – and great preparation for the Lord’s Day tomorrow. Want a taste of one of these sermons? Here you go:

Everywhere Holy Scripture lays heavy emphasis on this growth in knowledge. Really, there is no better proof of the intent of God as regards His relation to His people, than the existence of sacred Scripture itself. Indeed, Scripture does not merely offer a limited, very narrow revelation of the God of our salvation. It does not inform us only of the fact that there is in the blood of Christ reconciliation with God for our souls. It does not present, that which men in our day regard as sufficient, a gospel on a postage-stamp-sized sticker. But Scripture reveals to us the full counsel of God, it gives us insight into the full redemptive plan of deliverance, and it presents to us all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. And there can be no two ways about it, that God the Lord absolutely has not bestowed in His wisdom this Bible so that we should let it lie ignored, or so that we can choose to take from it what pleases us and at the same time leave be what does not suit our taste; but God gave it to us so that we should submit to the whole of the Bible, so that we should appropriate the whole of the revelation of God, and so that in this way we should mature in the knowledge of God, who is life.

Time and again Scripture lays emphasis on that fact. In the Old Testament the complaint is made that the Lord’s people perish for a lack of knowledge. In the new dispensation the apostles proclaimed the full, rich Christ, and Paul preaches the whole counsel of God. The church is admonished not to loiter in the first principles but go on to perfection. She must know what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of God. She must grow up into the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, of course, this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Nota bene: I wish to thank current church history teacher at Covenant Christian HS, Mr. Dan Van Uffelen, for reminding me of this anniversary and encouraging me to make this post today, as well as for the pictures he provided. And yes, we do have original copies of these published sermons in the PRC archives.

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