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George M Ophoff: His Last Years (27)

Now the story is quickly told.

It seems as if the Lord had preserved Rev. Ophoff for this last struggle; and now that the struggle was over, the Lord was ready to take him from the battle.

Already in 1952, the year before the split, Rev. Ophoff entered the hospital for stomach surgery. The pressures of many years of work were finally beginning to take their toll. Although the stomach surgery was successful, the doctors told Rev. Ophoff that he would have to lighten his work load. But this he never did. A lifetime of work had developed a habit which could not be broken. The long days of work and the nights of a light shining beneath the study door continued. It was the height of the controversy, and he could not step aside.

In a sense, the years after the split were quiet and peaceful ones. There was all the work of reconstruction to do, and the labors of the Seminary continued unabated. But the storm was over, and quiet returned to the Churches. Standing stronger now than they had perhaps since the beginning of their history, the Churches enjoyed the unity and peace which God, in His mercy, gave to them.

But these years of peace were few in number. In the summer of 1958, Rev. and Mrs. Ophoff went to Canada for a vacation. On the return home, in Toledo, Ohio, in July of that year, Rev. Ophoff suffered a severe stroke. He was moved by ambulance from the hospital there to Blodgett where he recuperated.

For many years, in fact since he had laid down his labors in Byron Center, Rev. Ophoff and his family lived in the upstairs apartment on 343 Eastern which is about the corner of Eastern and Wealthy. Shortly after the split, because of his advanced age and the rigors of climbing the long and dark staircase, the family moved to a split-level house on Sylvan. Although this was a new house, Rev. Ophoff never really felt at home there. I suppose the small and cramped apartment on Eastern avenue had become a part of his life, and the spacious and modem home on Sylvan seemed to him somewhat improper; but he often complained that he wished he were back in his old familiar surroundings. He had been satisfied with but a little all his life, and it was too late to change.

Nevertheless, after his stroke, even the few stairs on Sylvan proved too much for him, and he and his wife moved to the old family home on 1126 Eastern. Here it was that Ophoff’s parents had lived the last years of their life. It was an old home, but here Ophoff felt once again somewhat at ease.

The stroke was a severe one, and became impossible for him to continue his labors in the Churches. Along with the infirmities of the stroke came also gradual blindness. And so it became also impossi­ble for him to read.

The days were long for there was little which Ophoff could still do. His time was occupied somewhat when the ladies of First Church came to his home to read to him. I picked him up twice a week to take him to Rev. Hoeksema’s Dogmatics class in the Seminary. And the rest of the time he could only exercise his mind in the theological problems which had, all his life, been his one great interest.

I can well remember these Dogmatics classes. They were something to witness. Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff, two great theologians and two great warriors of the faith, often discussing together abstruse points of theology with total frankness, total trust in each other, and both aware that their earthly work was all but finished. Those who were present at those sessions were often moved deeply by these discussions.

In February of 1962, Rev. and Mrs. Ophoff were both moved to the Marne Nursing Home, he because of his failing strength, and she because of hardening of the arteries. They could be alone no longer.

One week before he died, Rev. Ophoff was moved to Pine Rest Hospital, and on June 12, 1962, God called his faithful servant home.

It was but a short time later, July, 1964, that Mrs. Ophoff also died. Her entire life had been devoted to the care of her husband, for in his total absorption in his work, he needed someone to look after his needs. When she was no longer needed, she too soon died, for her work on earth had also come to its close.

And so we come to the end of the story.

It has carried us on somewhat longer than we had originally intended, but if its purpose is attained, the efforts will not have been wasted.

What was this purpose?

These articles were written in order that you might know of one who fought so long and valiantly on behalf of the truth of the gospel. We carry with us our history and our heritage. We are part of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and their history is our history. We cannot leave it behind even if we would. To turn our backs on this history, to ignore it, to despise it, to know nothing of it, is to deny it. God forbid that we should do this.

To know it, to cherish it, to love it, to teach it to the generations following, this is to be faithful to it. This is our calling. We deny it to our own destruction; we cherish it to our everlasting blessedness.

There is a very sad text in the book of Judges. You can find it in Judges 2:8-10: “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also, all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another genera­tion after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.”

In a way, this is an introduction to the book of Judges, because it explains the terrible history of Israel during that wretched time.

But there is here an abiding truth. When a generation arises which know not the Lord nor the mighty works which He did for Israel, then trouble comes to the Church. To know the history of our Church is to know the mighty works which God has done for us. To know the men whom God used in our Churches is to know how God performed these mighty works. This is our calling. Only in this way can we be faithful. And only in this way will God’s blessing rest upon us until the Lord returns. May the devotion and dedication, the faithfulness and zeal which filled those who were our spiritual fathers be found in us and our children!