A Pastoral Heart (cont.)
Herman Hoeksema had the heart of a pastor.
His sermons were a public expression of his pastoral heart, as I demonstrated in the previous article.
I saw this heart in Hoeksema’s ministry “from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
It was the late spring of 1960.
Grandpa Jasper Koole was dying. He asked me whether Rev. Hoeksema would be willing to call on him as he, Grandpa Koole, lay on what he knew to be his deathbed. And would I make the request of Rev. Hoeksema for him. The reason he asked me was that I had just enrolled to enter the Protestant Reformed Seminary in the fall of 1960.
Jasper Koole was a lifelong, faithful member of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In fact, he was a charter member of First Church. He suffered the reproach of Christ with Herman Hoeksema, the consistory, and many other members of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in being cast out of the Christian Reformed Church for the confession of the sovereign, particular grace of God in Jesus Christ.
But Jasper Koole, who believed in Jesus Christ as presented in the gospel, was plagued with doubt concerning his salvation. For many years, he remained only a baptized member of First Church. At the baptism of his first three children, Jasper Koole remained seated and silent as Bessie, his wife, stood before the large congregation of First Church, answering the questions of the baptism form and holding the children as the minister sprinkled them with water in the name of the triune God. Only when the fourth child was to be baptized was he able to make public confession of his faith and thus present his child for baptism. Jasper Koole was forty.
His children relate that when First Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper, their father would walk them to church from Batavia Place, see his wife and them into the sanctuary, and then disappear. For the hour and a half of the service, he would walk the streets of Grand Rapids, until the service of the holy Supper was finished. Then he would appear again to walk them home. He felt himself unworthy even to be present at a worship service that included the Supper of the body and the blood of the Savior.
My mother tells how, as a child, she stumbled upon her father in his bedroom, wholly unaware of her presence, on his knees at the side of the bed, groaning aloud to God over his sins.
Therein was not his weakness.
Whether we groan aloud (and this is not foreign to any believer), all believers abhor themselves on account of their sinfulness and sins. “O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24) It is no small part of our sin that we do not abhor ourselves sufficiently. We ought to be on our knees groaning over our guilt and shame more than we are. Much more.
But the weakness of Jasper Koole was his failure to trust the promise of the gospel to every penitent sinner, even such a great sinner as Jasper Koole knew himself to be (and as every one of us in fact is), that God will forgive his sins for the sake of the death of Jesus Christ.
This was a grievous weakness.
There were reasons for the weakness, reasons for doubting his salvation. Not excuses or justification, for there is no excuse or justification for the sin of unbelieving doubt. But reasons.
Grandpa Koole was a Zeelander, having emigrated with his parents to the United States from that province in the Netherlands when he was three years old. Zeelanders are given to feelings in religion. They are prone to mysticism and doubt.
His upbringing in the home (how vital, how determinative is a child’s upbringing at home! parents, take heed!) was heavily influenced by the “nadere reformatie” (“further reformation”), Zeeland being a very fertile field for that movement of religious feelings, with its insistence that all children of church members are unregenerated until they grow up and have an extraordinary experience; its overpowering message of the darkness of sin with hardly a note of deliverance or a ray of light for the miserable sinner in the glad tidings of the abounding grace of God in the cross of Christ; its urging of doubt of one’s salvation as normal for most, if not all, church members for many years; its supercilious criticism of believers in other churches who dare to be sure of their salvation as “light,” that is, superficial, people (as though assurance were a vice and doubt, a virtue); and its strong suggestion, if not blunt assertion, that the only way to be certain of salvation is the experience of an extraordinary, mysterious, mystical experience.
The gloomy and mystical Puritan theology of the “further reformation” is powerful, stubbornly resistant to the preaching of the gospel of certainty and assurance. It took years of Hoeksema’s preaching of grace to heal Jasper Koole’s disease of doubt. Even then, the struggle with doubt continued.
And a reason was Satan, malignant minister of doubt (as the Holy Spirit is the blessed agent of certainty), who is delighted to use a corrupted Reformed theology, bad spiritual physicians of the souls of church members, and misled parents to deprive multitudes of professing people of God of the assurance of salvation.
Now Grandpa Koole lay dying.
As the dark shadows of death deepen, our sins rise up against us in their exceeding great number and in their exceeding great evil. In the deep shadows of death appear the minions of the prince of darkness for the final assault. “Can you be a child of God? You? Remember your sins! Here they are! Look at them! Did you ever really love God? Did you ever really do anything for his sake? And if you cry out, you wretch, that you believe in Jesus, are you sure? Absolutely sure? The God who stands on the other side of your last breath, which comes quickly, awaits your entrance into eternity, to damn you.”
The climactic struggle of faith against doubt.
Especially for a Zeelander, brought up to doubt, doubting for forty years, struggling with doubt all his life.
Would Rev. Hoeksema be willing to call on him? Grandpa Koole was serious with the question. He wondered whether Rev. Hoeksema would be willing. To Grandpa Koole, Rev. Hoeksema was a great man of God, probably far too busy with important duties of the church to call on the likes of Jasper Koole. Justifiably, too busy. Grandpa Koole knew himself to be an insignificant member of First Church, as by all human standards he was. He was not sure Rev. Hoeksema would even know who he was. He mentioned that Rev. Hoeksema had never visited him at his home, at least socially (which struck me as very strange, being myself a member of a small church in which the minister visited with all the families).
I called Rev. Hoeksema. Would he pay a pastoral visit to his dying parishioner, Jasper Koole? Unsure whether he did indeed know Grandpa Koole, I began identifying my grandfather. Rev. Hoeksema interrupted me, “I know Jasper Koole. I will be over right away. Will you be there to let me in?”
Within the hour, the big car pulled up to the curb on Thomas Street. I led Rev. Hoeksema to the little bedroom where a wan and wasted Jasper Koole lay on his deathbed. Then I shut the door on the two old men, Rev. Hoeksema, age seventy-four, and my grandfather, age seventy-three.
No human knows what went on in that room. Neither Grandpa Koole nor Rev. Hoeksema ever said a word to me or to anyone else what went on between them, and between the devils of hell and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
But today I am as sure of what was said there as if I had listened at the door.
Jasper Koole cried out in misery about his sins and in fear about his salvation.
Hoeksema heard him out.
When Grandpa Koole had finished, Hoeksema responded in the house of his parishioner, whom he loved as one of Christ’s own, as he had preached Sunday after Sunday in the pulpit of First Church. I can hear Hoeksema begin by affirming that Jasper Koole was as great a sinner as he confessed himself to be, indeed, worse, far worse. There is no way to assurance of salvation by denying or minimizing sin. Then he brought to Jasper Koole, penitent sinner and believer, the promise of God himself, who cannot lie, that his sins were forgiven and blotted out for the sake of the cross of Christ, in the eternal love of God for him, so that death for Jasper Koole would be entrance into eternal life and glory.
Without any doubt!
Having read the Bible and prayed, Rev. Hoeksema went his way.
Within a month or so, Grandpa Koole died in faith’s assurance of salvation.
Not without the means of a genuinely pastoral heart, a heart able and willing to bring the comfort of the gospel, both publicly from the pulpit and from house to house.
Many thousands have died, and will die, as Jasper Koole died and as God wills his beloved people to die, in the assurance of salvation and in the confidence of the resurrection, by means of the gospel—the pure, sound Reformed faith—as preached by Herman Hoeksema and by those whom he instructed.
With God, this counts for greatness.
Because it is from God.