At this point I must say a little bit about what prompts this series of articles which will be appearing from time to time in our Beacon Lights.
The series of articles has its birth in a rather extended discussion between myself and a good friend of mine who is also a faithful member of our churches. We were sitting in my study and pondering, as I recall it, subjects related to the 50th anniversary of our churches. This was already the latter part of last winter or the early part of last spring. This friend of whom I speak expressed the opinion that our churches have a unique and glorious heritage which the Lord our God has given us. He expressed concern that our young people, especially, were perhaps not sufficiently impressed with what a wonderful heritage it is that we have. He was referring not only to the heritage of the truth, that is, as it has come down to us over the ages, but especially the heritage which is uniquely ours as Protestant Reformed Churches.
As the conversation progressed, we began talking about the point I was trying to make in the last article – that this heritage comes to us through men of God’s choice. We were talking about the fact that God has also given to our churches men who were “men of the hour,” precisely fitted for the work of the church, men who belong to our own history. These men were, of course, the Reverends Herman Hoeksema and George Ophoff. To know our history and understand our heritage, we concluded that it is necessary to know the men whom God gave to us. It is necessary to know the kind of men they were. It is necessary to know what they did. It is necessary to know what they thought and believed and how they fought for the cause of the gospel. History – our history – is not an outline of factual data and dates, but a flesh and blood history of men of God.
If our young people know these men, they will know also an important part of our heritage.
Our churches possess now, through the labors of Mrs. Homer Hoeksema, and outstanding biography of Rev. H. Hoeksema, but they have nothing which can be preserved of Rev. Ophoff, other than his writings. Gradually, the idea formed in our minds to write a series of articles which would attempt to bring before the consciousness of our people also this stalwart defender of the faith. We are the losers if the memory of what God did through Rev. Ophoff is forgotten. Many of our people, of course, remember him. They worked with him, were instructed by him, learned of him, heard him preach, knew him intimately, and could talk of him for hours with love and respect in their every word. Many of our people, particularly the new generation, do not know him – other than what they heard from others, here a snatch and there a story.
I am a poor choice to be the one to be writing this series. There are, no doubt, others who knew him more intimately than I and who could do this better than I can. I knew him when I entered the seminary and received my seminary instruction from him in part. I know him in the last years of his life. I knew him primarily officially as my teacher and sometimes as my pastor, but the unofficial Rev. Ophoff I knew only scantily.
My friend was his son – Herman Ophoff. So, as the idea grew to write a series of articles about him, I told Herm that he would have to do the leg work. This he did. He spent a large number of weeks talking to people, speaking to his won brothers, recalling what he remembered from his own life in the parsonage, digging gout data which even he did not know, collecting pictures of interest, and handing it all over to me. Much of the material has now been collected. We have pored over it together and have talked hour after hour about Rev. Ophoff, and gradually there has emerged what we think is a fairly accurate picture of one who was a leader among us.
The manuscript of these articles is going to be presented to the members of Rev. Ophoff’s family and is going to be read by others – older men in the churches, for their perusal and criticism; and we hope that what emerges is a series of articles which will give to those of our readers who never knew George Ophoff, a bit of an idea of the kind of man he was and the role he played in our history. We have tried to present him, to use the words of Oliver Cromwell, with his “warts.” We have done this for a very specific purpose.
That brings me to what we hope to accomplish with these articles. We are not interested in a mere character sketch. This in itself might be fascinating and interesting. There are many stories which are still told, perhaps by this time with many embellishments, of Rev. Ophoff’s “absentmindedness.” There have been few, if any, men like him in the history of the church, but this is not our purpose.
Nor is our purpose to bring our readers to worshipful reverence before the shrine of a mere man. He himself would have detested this and it would be an insult to his memory to engage in this kind of “hero-worship.”
We are interested especially in two things. The first is to give our readers some insights into how God prepares and uses particular men with individual gifts and characters for his work. The second purpose is to renew in our young people an interest in and love for our heritage as Protestant Reformed Churches.
If these articles give and appreciation for what God has wrought, and if the zeal of love for the truth which characterized Rev. Ophoff seizes the hearts of his spiritual heirs, these articles will not have been written in vain.