Western Michigan and the Dutch Immigrants (2)

ACVanRaalte-1Picking up the thread from our last post on the Dutch in West Michigan, we find this next from chapter two of Herbert J. Brinks’ book Write Back Soon: Letters from Immigrants in America (CRC Publications, 1986), about the Dutch immigrants who settled in West Michigan:

     The Netherlanders who settled in western Michigan were, of course, not the first Europeans to investigate that corner of the North American wilderness. As early as 1620 the French had used this area to trade with Indian tribes. And in 1688 Father Jacques Marquette, a missionary-explorer, founded a permanent village at Saulte Sainte Marie. Since other French missionaries organized mission stations all long the coast of Lake Michigan, it’s not surprising that in 1847 Van Raalte [image to left] and his followers met a tribe of Christian Indians on the future sight of Holland, Michigan.

Michigan afforded Van Raalte a better opportunity to isolate his colony than did the neighboring states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, all of which had been settled and organized earlier than the Wolverine State. Since Michigan did not gain independent statehood until 1837, Van Raalte was able to acquire large tracts of unsettled land for his group.

…Van Raalte’s efforts in Holland, Michigan, paralleled similar efforts among his American neighbors. The towns and villages in the colony’s immediate vicinity were all youthful and crude, having origins as trading posts or Indian settlements. Port Sheldon, the colony’s nearest neighbor, had been developed in 1837 for reasons much like those which Van Raalte cherished in selecting Holland. Like Holland, Port Sheldon had access to Lake Michigan through an adjoining inland lake that provided a potential harbor. But Port Sheldon had been organized by speculators who hoped to lure purchasers with the promise of spiraling land values. The founders constructed a huge hotel on the site and had already sold some of the town lots when the economic crisis of 1837 pulled land values down and forced the town’s developers into bankruptcy. Van Raalte proceeded more wisely. His colony consisted of settlers, not empty projections of speculative wealth.

write-back-soon-hbrinks-1986Chapter Two is titled “Michigan: A Model for Ethnic Solidarity” (pp.26-27)

Two Interesting Title Pages from the D.Engelsma Library

As we continue to sort through and process the library of emeritus professor David Engelsma (PRC Seminary), we keep finding large and small treasures, including interesting notes on title pages in the books. Such notes always tell a story, or at least part of a story.

There is rich history recorded not only on the pages of books, but also in the personal notes – or stamps – the book’s owner(s) left behind on the opening pages.

Below are two such “small” treasures discovered recently. Let’s see if you can make the connection. If not, I will do so for you.



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15 Religion Treasures at Yale | Tom Krattenmaker

Challies.com referenced this in a post today but the original post was back in February of this year. It is still worth looking up to see the treasures found at Yale University.

Below is the brief introduction to the post at the Huff Post “Religion” section; follow the link to see all fifteen of the religious treasures Krattenmaker highlights.

Yale, a place that started out as a training ground for Congregationalist ministers (whose students included none other than Jonathan Edwards) retains to this day a dazzling array of religious treasures and relics, all publicly available.

Source: 15 Religion Treasures at Yale | Tom Krattenmaker

Here are a few of my own personal highlights:

gutenberg bible

Johann Gutenberg; “Biblia latina” (Gutenberg Bible); 1454; paper and 18th-century calf.

Gutenberg Bible – Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Five-hundred years ago, the Reformation transformed Christianity and the Western world. What made it possible was the dissemination of the Bible into many people’s hands. And what made that possible was the printing press, which allowed, for the first time, mass production of Bibles. Printed in Latin and known for its high aesthetic quality, the Gutenberg Bible was the first book ever printed by movable type. The 22 complete copies that exist today are among the most valuable books in the world. By appointment, Yale classes get to take this priceless piece of history out of the case and page though it, like the first Protestants half a millennium ago.

jonathan edwards

Jonathan Edwards; Deut. 32:35(c): “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at each moment out of hell but the meer pleasure of God,” from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; June 1941; paper; Jonathan Edwards Collection.

Original text of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Rarely has a single piece of sermonizing conjured fear of hell like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” As the story goes, this Yale alum didn’t stir much of a reaction when he first delivered the sermon (a milder, more pastoral version than what was to come) to his own congregation in Northampton, Mass., in 1741. Edwards amped up the scary parts as he began to give the sermon at other churches. “There was a great moaning – & crying out throughout ye whole House”–that’s how one witness described the effect after hearing Edwards give the sermon. The outline from which Edwards preached it out on the circuit, like the original “Sinners” sermon, resides in the Beinecke collections. (They say cursive writing is a dying art these days. Judging from Edwards’ penmanship, not everyone was great at it in the 1700s either.)

The Antithesis and Chapel at Calvin College – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanIn the last few months we have been quoting from the fifth chapter of John J. Timmerman’s book Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), where he describes the early years of education at Calvin College. We called special attention to his emphasis on the antithesis as it was taught and manifested at this Reformed institution.

Today I continue quoting from this section, as Timmerman relates the antithesis to chapels at Calvin. This too makes for interesting – and some humorous – reading.

The emphasis on the antithesis was also apparent in the insistence on chapel attendance. There was little surveillance in those days. Prof. Rooks wandered around occasionally, checking likely retreats; but in actuality there was little disciplinary action. There always were inveterate skippers, but chapel was generally well attended. A far greater proportion of the whole student body attended than do today. In fact, in actual numbers there were often more students attending daily chapel at Calvin then than there are today in a college ten times its size.

Chapel services varied. Occasionally, clergymen and celebrities were invited to speak, but most of the sessions were conducted by faculty members. Those humble enough to recognize their ineptitude at public speaking regularly devoted the session to song, Scripture reading, and prayer. Others, however, spoke frequently. I remember a fascinating series of talks by Prof. Johannes Broene on the personalities of the apostles. Prof. Vanden Bosch always spoke. He was a meticulous man, almost fussily neat. Annoyed at the litter dropped in the building, he once spoke on the text ‘Let him that is filthy be filthy still.’ Dr. Peter Hoekstra often illuminated Scripture passages with historical data. Prof. Rooks gave his talks in the Oxford accent he had acquired in Graafschap. Dr. Ralph Stob spoke on the same topic for quite a while, and he always assumed that the students remembered the content of the preceding speech. Prof. Nieuwdorp, a fine mathematician, gave several talks on the ‘Stahrs.’

…At its best, chapel was spiritual refreshment; at the lowest level it was a rendezvous, a brief date, a study period, or a time to sleep. For most it was an activity to participate in, not something to escape. It was a boon not a bore. Students did not often skip chapel; and neither did the professors (pp.29-30).

A History of Persecution – George Grant – August “Tabletalk”

A History of Persecution by George Grant | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This month’s issue of Tabletalk centers on the theme of persecution – persecution against Christians and the Christian church.

The second main article on this subject covers the history of persecution, and is written by Dr. George Grant, pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN. I found this broad treatment to be profitable and provide you the link to it here on the Ligonier website.

Here are a few paragraphs from Grant’s article:

The horrific ruthlessness of ISIS, the brazen cruelty of Boko Haram, the obsessive repression of the North Korean Juche, the vicious terrorism of al-Qaeda—I confess that when confronted with the persecution of my Christian brothers and sisters around the world in recent days, I am shocked. But I know I shouldn’t be. Long ago, the Apostle Paul asserted, “All those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There is no way around it. Persecution is inevitable.

Throughout church history, believers have suffered persecution and obscurity. They have been beaten, ridiculed, defrocked, and defamed. They have suffered poverty, isolation, betrayal, and disgrace. They have been hounded, harassed, and murdered. The heroes of the faith have always been those who sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and reputations for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, persecution and martyrdom have been among the church’s highest callings and greatest honors.

In the first three centuries of the church, from Nero to Diocletian, Roman imperial and provincial persecutions were fierce. Tradition tells us of gladiators in the Colosseum, lions in the Circus Maximus, and staked pyres in the Forum as threatening the earliest believers. They were forced into a precarious, often secretive existence, living on the margins of society and meeting in catacombs, caverns, and copse (thicket of trees) hideaways. Yet they persevered. As Tertullian quipped, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I also appreciated this section at the end of the article, where Grant treats how Christians must respond to persecution:

Merciful service in the face of suffering is “often the glue that holds together the varied fragments of the confessing church,” Romanian pastor Josef Tson says. It affords the church “strong bonds of unity, compassion, and tenderheartedness,” Russian evangelist Georgi Vins says. “In the face of tyranny, oppression, and humiliation, the church has no option but to be the church,” Croatian pastor Josep Kulacik asserts. “Disguised as evil, persecution comes to us as an ultimate manifestation of God’s good providence,” Bosnian Christian leader Frizof Gemielic says, “because it provokes us toward a new-found dependence upon His grace, upon His Word, and upon His people. It is in that sense a paradoxical blessing perhaps even more profound than prosperity.”

Western Michigan and the Dutch Immigrants – H.Brinks

write-back-soon-hbrinks-1986From chapter two of Herbert J. Brinks’ book Write Back Soon: Letters from Immigrants in America (CRC Publications, 1986), about the Dutch immigrants who settled in West Michigan:

By the 1870s Dutch communities in Michigan, Chicago,and Wisconsin boasted ethnic churches and schools supported by a constituency of artisans and farmers. Arriving in these neighborhoods between 1870 and 1920, new immigrants found their own people, language, and institutions. By the mid-twentieth century, when urban blight spoiled the attractions of city life, many urban Dutch-Americans joined their country cousins who had established agricultural communities on the metropolitan fringes. These new suburbanites were again able to enjoy familiar social patterns, including the churches, schools, and general mores they had previously supported in their urban neighborhoods.

This conveniently pleasant arrangement of urban-rural mobility occurred first in western Michigan. Albertus C.. Van Raalte, who founded his colony on the shores of Lake Michigan, had neither planned nor encouraged this arrangement. But economic necessity forced his followers to send their children off among the Americans as hired hands, housemaids, and factory workers. They scattered in all directions; Allegan, Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids. Among these, Grand Rapids offered the best opportunities for employment. In addition, a pious Zeelander named H. Van Driel had already organized a Dutch-language worship service there in 1848. Thus, only one year after Van Raalte’s people occupied the wooded shore of Black Lake, Van Driel was reading Dutch sermons to an audience which included over one hundred young women who were providing domestic service among the American families of Grand Rapids. By 1851, it is estimated that a total of four hundred Hollanders were living in Grand Rapids.

“Michigan: A Model for Ethnic Solidarity” (pp.25-26)

Humanism and the 15th Century Church: Erasmus and the Greek NT – R.Reeves

Setting the Stage by Ryan Reeves | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Before taking leave of the July issue of Tabletalk, we will spend one more post looking at the history of the church during the 15th century – the theme of this month’s issue.

Dr. Ryan Reeves has the final featured article on the subject and he gives us another “big picture” glance at this important century of church history.

ErasmusHis entire article is worth your time and effort – lots of new things to learn or be reminded of as far as major events during this time; but I will give you the end of his article because of the special significance of a certain Dutchman whom God used to set the stage for the Reformation in a special way, and whom a certain great Reformer would engage theologically and biblically on the doctrine of free will (Remember the great Reformation work The Bondage of the Will?!).

Sensing the opportunity to expand learning and literacy, the humanists unleashed a torrent of writing on theology, Bible, classical studies, and history. Of all the humanists, Erasmus of Rotterdam was their prince. Born in 1466 as the illegitimate son of a priest, Erasmus demonstrated skill with languages and textual criticism that propelled him onto the stage as a leading light of the new intellectual movement of the Renaissance. In the course of his life, Erasmus gave the world complete editions of the works of the church fathers as well as numerous tracts on theological subjects.

By far his most impactful work was the Greek New Testament—a work he admitted was gathered in a slapdash manner from twelfth-century Byzantine texts, with some passages wrongly added to the Bible and six verses of the book of Revelation missing entirely. The Greek New Testament was something like a modern interlinear Bible. In one column was the Greek text; next to it was a fresh Latin translation by Erasmus. Not only did this provide readers with the original Greek, but it also provided a road map for students to help determine how to render the Greek into their language. It is no surprise, then, that Luther used this text as the basis of his German New Testament, which he translated after his trial at the Diet of Worms.

Through destruction and exploration, the fifteenth century did more than bridge the gap between the medieval age and the modern world; it set the stage for the Reformation.


Jan Hus: God’s Czech “Goose” – Aaron Denlinger

The Goose by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015 As noted on previous Mondays this month, the July issue of Tabletalk takes us through the 15th century of church history, when God’s hand was sovereignly preparing the world, especially Europe, for the coming Reformation of His church. One of the ways in which God worked was through certain “pre-Reformers”, such as John Wyclif and Jan Hus.

The above-linked article by Dr. Aaron Denlinger, professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL, focuses on the latter man and his place in this part of the history of Christ’s church.

I believe you will find this article to be a stimulating account of how God used “the goose” to  open the door to further and full Reformation in the church. Here are the opening paragraphs; read all of it at the Ligonier link above.

If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after.” So wrotJan-Huse John Foxe in his sixteenth-century Book of Martyrs, referring to a statement attributed to the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus on the occasion of his death. Convicted of heresy in 1415 by the Council of Constance, Hus—according to a story that originated some years after the fact—turned to his executioners shortly before his sentence was carried out and remarked, “Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.”

Why might Hus have identified himself as “a goose”? And why might later commentators—not least, Luther himself—have believed that Hus’ legendary prophecy referred to the German monk whose protest against indulgences launched the Reformation a century later?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Hus, born about 1372, hailed from the southern Bohemian town of Husinec (literally, “Goosetown”) in what is now the Czech Republic. His surname, derived from his place of birth, means “goose” in Czech. Understanding why Luther and later Protestants believed Hus had anticipated, if not predicted, the Reformation is more difficult and requires some consideration of Hus’ life, doctrine, and death.

Pre-Reformation Rumblings: Gutenberg and Gansfort

The Fifteenth Century by Nicholas Needham | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015Last Monday we began to reference this month’s issue of Tabletalk, this one focusing on the 15th century of the church and “the eve of the Reformation.” At that time I gave you the link to this opening featured article by church historian Nicholas Needham, an article that gives us the “big picture” of this century of Christ’s church.

Today I want to pull a couple of sections from it so as to highlight two ways in which God was preparing the way for the great Reformation of the 16th century. One item is a technological advance; the other is an obscure Dutchman.

Here is what Needham says on these two pre-Reformation matters.

The Printing Press Revolution

From the closing decades of the fifteenth century, the Renaissance overflowed into the rest of Europe. One of the main reasons that humanist ideals spread so effectively from their Italian heartland was the invention of printing by movable type. In about 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1395–1468) of Mainz, Germany, set up the first such European printing press, and the first book he printed was the Bible. By 1500, more than two hundred presses were operating throughout Europe.

We can hardly overstate the cultural revolution this effected. Gone were the days when scribes had to copy books by hand. For the first time, a publisher could make thousands of copies of a book easily and quickly and then put them into mass circulation. This meant that ideas could spread more swiftly; it also meant that literacy became more highly valued.

Wessel Gansfort (1419–89)

Born at Groningen in the Netherlands, Wessel Gansfort studied in various universities before lecturing in Heidelberg and Paris. He was a pioneer humanist and an expert in Greek and Hebrew. In theology, Gansfort was at first a disciple of Thomas Aquinas, but he later turned to Augustine of Hippo as a safer guide. He went back to Groningen in about 1474 to act as spiritual director in the Mount St. Agnes monastery.

Gansfort’s preaching and teaching attracted a wide circle of admirers. As John of Wesel did, he made probing criticisms of medieval Roman Catholic doctrine. He denied the infallibility both of the papacy and of general church councils. He defined the church as the entire company of believers, not the organization headed by the papacy. He accepted the sacrifice of the Mass, but he also maintained that Christ was present in the bread and wine for believers only. A strong Augustinian, he upheld salvation by God’s sovereign grace, rejected indulgences, and even taught a doctrine of justification by faith, though it was somewhat confused.

Gansfort was more fortunate than John of Wesel in escaping the Inquisition; he died peacefully. None of Gansfort’s writings were printed until the Reformation, when Luther issued an edition with an admiring preface by himself.

If you want to read further, follow the Ligonier link above.

PRC Archives: Introducing Fourth PRC, Grand Rapids, MI

A week ago we gave you a mystery photo of one of the PRC congregations off the cover of one of its bulletins (dated July 17, 1955). Below is now a scanned copy of the full cover and back of the bulletin with the rest of its information (click on it to enlarge).

4thPRC Bulletin-July-1955_Page_1

As you might guess, there was considerable interest in this photo and church, since it looked so “new” to many of us – including myself! And some of you really went to work attempting to find out what building this was and why you were not familiar with it – and also, what happened to it, since we know it is no longer a place of worship among us.

If you have read the comments on this post (the fine print at the bottom of the post), then you may know that some correctly identified it as Fourth PRC, located at 1436 Kalmazoo Ave, SE, in Grand Rapids, MI.

The reason why so much of my generation and younger do not know this building is because it was lost in the schism of 1953, with members loyal to the PRC eventually becoming SE PRC, the congregation we know to this day. The congregation of Fourth, which followed Rev.H.DeWolf, kept the building, and then were absorbed into the CRC in 1961 when the church became Faith CRC. That congregation disbanded in 1978 and the building is now occupied by Faith Temple Church of God in Christ.

I wish to thank those of you who left comments and others who sent me emails about it. The Noormans from Faith PRC (now) have roots in that congregation, as you will see from Dorothy’s comment. Especially I thank Terry Dykstra for his persistent research on Fourth PRC, some of which I have included here. And for the pictures which he sent me of the building as it still looks today – in very fine condition.


I told a few of you that I would love to stop and tour this building – even rummage around to see if there are any PRC remnants left there yet – as archivists/historians are prone to do! Who knows, I may get brave yet and head over there before the summer is out. I think I may have some interested tag-alongs. :)


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