George Ophoff was ordained into the ministry on January 26, 1922, just one day after his 31st birthday. He was ordained pastor in an evening service in the Hope Christian Reformed Church. The congregation had been in existence since 1916—somewhat less than six years. During this period the congregation had been supplied by classical appointments from Classis Grand Rapids West, students and professors from the Seminary. But in all these years the congregation had never had a pastor of its own.
The congregation was a small rural church. At the time Rev. Ophoff took over the work of shepherdizing this flock, it numbered between thirty and thirty-five families. It had grown to this number from the original seven families which organized together into this congregation. These people were farmers from the area for the most part, and had until the time of organization been members of other Christian Reformed Churches. It was not a “missionary” congregation.
For Rev. Ophoff it was the beginning of a life’s work. Perhaps most of his life he had looked forward to this moment. It is certain that he had never seriously considered any other vocation. His heart had been set on the ministry for many years. There had been many hardships along the way and interruptions of his schooling. There had been times when the goal seemed unreachable and years when he wondered whether the Lord had really called him to this task. But now the time had come to assume his labors as a pastor of one flock in the sheepfold of Christ.
However, the ways of God are far beyond our understanding. In fact, even when we look back over the years of our own life or over the years of the life of another whom we love and have come to know, although we can see indications which clearly show the Lord’s purpose in bringing certain events to pass, we can only see these things dimly. There is a wisdom in our lives which is past finding out. Only when we are finally in glory, will we be able to see the total perfection of God’s way with us. Asaph confessed in Psalm 73: “Thou wilt guide me by thy counsel….” But for Asaph, as for all of us, this is a matter of faith, not of sight. We sing: “All that I am, I owe to Thee. Thy wisdom, Lord, has fashioned me. We know with certainty that this is true, but the mystery of the ways in which God leads us remains beyond our understanding as long as we are in this world where we see through a glass darkly.
We have tried to show, in the articles, which have preceded this one, how Rev. Ophoff’s early life, training, and experiences were used by God to prepare him for his life’s work. But our understanding of these things is always very limited and imperfect. There are times in our lives when, looking back upon a particularly unusual experience, we can say: “I see why the Lord led me along this way.” But even then we see only in part. For the most part, however, the wisdom of God is hidden from us. Looking back over another’s life, this is more than ever true.
Rev. Ophoff himself could hardly have had any idea of all this. He was at the very beginning of his life’s work. He had attained a goal for which he had long labored. But he had no idea what the future had in store for him. If he could have known he would have trembled. He could not have seen the terrible struggle of 1924, the whole new direction the Lord would give to his life as his labors became more and more concentrated in the work of the Seminary, the troubles would multiply in the years preceding the schism of 1953. He could not have known the bone-wearying hours of incessant labors as day and night he worked for the cause of the Church — labors which in the end left him a broken man. He could not have predicted the friends which turned against him, the bitter hatred which was hurled repeatedly in his direction, the slander of malice manifested by those who loved not the truth. One thing is sure: when he took up his work in the peace and quiet of a small rural church far from struggle and strife, this too was really part of the preparation which the Lord would use for a far greater work. Rev. Ophoff was not, in the first place, a pastor. He would be many things. He would have work to do which is of greatest importance in the history books which God keeps in heaven. But this work was not the pastoral ministry. He was not appointed to the ministry for this. He was not even ideally suited to this work. His early years in Hope were a hiatus, a brief lull before the real work would begin. At the time, Rev. Ophoff thought that the pastoral ministry was indeed his calling, but God knew better.
We have to look at his years in Hope Christian Reformed Church from that viewpoint. If we do not, we shall fail to understand the unique place God gave him in the Church and the unique work he was called to do.
I have made these introductory remarks because the time has come to say something about the kind of man Rev. Ophoff was. I take on this part of the task with a great deal of hesitation. There are various reasons for this. I might, for example, mention the fact that I knew Rev. Ophoff personally only after I had begun my studies in the Seminary in the Fall of 1952. Prior to this I had seen him only from a very great distance. But Rev. Ophoff had been ordained over twenty-six years before this. He had changed in many respects, for change is foreign to no man, and with age comes a certain mellowing.
I might mention as reason for my hesitation that Rev. Ophoff had “warts.” I said, in the very beginning of this series, that the warts would have to be painted in the portrait. But can you appreciate the difficulty of this? When one is painting the portrait of one whom you deeply love, it is hard to force the hand to brush those warts in. Love would rather leave them out. But even this is not all. Can one ever really be sure that he gets the warts right? Can he be sure that they are not too large? or, too small? or, in the wrong place? or, of the wrong kind? That is, can one ever be sure he really knows someone else? Can this ever be true even of one whom we know most intimately? Can a husband ever be sure he really knows his wife? that if he were to describe her so that others would know what she is like, he would do it just right?
The task is really an impossible one, yet, an attempt has to be made. It has to be made because if our readers are to get to know this stalwart and courageous warrior in the battle of faith, they have got to know more than a vague and ill-defined skeleton. They have got to know a man of flesh and blood. And here is the difficult part. There are, I think, people who knew Rev. Ophoff better than I knew him, who knew him longer than I knew him, and who are going to say after this is all written: “This is not quite the Ophoff that I knew. He really wasn’t quite that way. He was somehow different from that.” And no doubt some will say that we do him injustice in these articles, while others will say that we give him more credit that he deserves.
But God used a particular kind of man for a particular work and a particular calling — a work and calling which could have been done by no other. We cannot see this in all its beauty as God shapes and molds, uses and works through human instruments; but what we can see we must acknowledge, for it is the work of our God to Whom belongs all our praise.
It would not be well, I think, to try to write one or two articles which are exclusively devoted to what may perhaps be called a character sketch. It is the preferable way to try, if that is possible, to let Rev. Ophoff’s character unfold bit by bit as the story goes on. But there must be some idea to begin with. And to that we turn in our next article.