Professor Homer C. Hoeksema

Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

One of the great wonders of salvation is that God does not save a mass of people; He saves a church, the body of Christ. The formation of the church from all eternity is the work of a master Designer, an Architect of infinite ability, a Craftsman of incredible skill. There is purpose in the salvation of the church and purpose in the careful choice of each member of that church, for each member is a member of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12), a stone in the temple of God (Eph. 2:19-22), a branch grafted into the Vine (John 15:1-5).

But God Who chose His church according to infinite wisdom from all eternity also sovereignly determines the whole life of each elect. This sovereign determination is not arbitrary and capricious planning; God's determinations are in such perfect wisdom that every part of our lives, down to the smallest details, are to prepare us for our own unique place in the final glory of the whole church and Christ in heaven. The Psalmist speaks of God hiding our tears in His bottle because each tear which rolls down our cheeks is precious in God's sight, as part of His work in shaping us and fitting us for our place in glory. If the church in heaven can be compared to a temple (Eph. 2:19-22), then God's work in our lives is His chipping away, polishing, shaping, forming, transforming of dirty useless rocks .gradually to make us into shining stones of His dwelling place. 

Each saint has his own place in glory where he serves the greater glory of the whole church and the greatest glory of God in Christ. But then also each saint has his own purpose in life—that short and passing life which he lives here in this valley of tears. It is not possible for us to see that great purpose of God either in our own lives or in someone else's life. We usually think that people either die too soon or live too long. They are taken away before their work is finished, or they live on when they have no work or purpose any longer in life. That is our evaluation based on our inability to see the superb craftsmanship of God in building His temple. 

From our point of view Homer Hoeksema lived too short a time. He lived too short a time from the viewpoint of his wife, his children, and his grandchildren who loved him. He lived too short a time by his own reckoning, for he eagerly looked forward to escape from the burdens of his editorial work on The Standard Bearer, to an easement of his heavy load in the seminary, to a time when lesser demands would be placed upon his time and energy; he wanted to have time for thought, for reflection, for study, for writing. Yes, especially for writing. He had not had much time for this throughout his ministry, and he had at least four projects in various stages of completion to which he could now turn his attention. His work was not really over; in fact, from one point of view his life up to his 66th birthday had been a kind of preparation for his last years when the fruits of an active ministry, study, and reflection could be put into books which would serve the church of Christ in years to come. A new history of the Protestant Reformed Churches; a completion and partial re-writing of his Old Testament History material; a commentary on Isaiah; a book on the doctrine of Scripture which could serve as a supplement to the Reformed Dogmatics of his father; another on the doctrine of the atonement—the notes on this subject alone filled two bulging files. So much to do, and now the time to do it. On July 17, 1989 at the age of 66, God said to Homer Hoeksema, "You have done all you can do and must do in this life; your work is finished on the earth; your place is ready for you in glory and you are shaped perfectly for that place; I call you to greater and perfect service above." It was a call he could not decline and would not have declined if he could. One rests in the perfect wisdom of our Father Whose ways are not our ways and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8). 

We cannot see the perfect plan of God in Homer Hoeksema's life. We can, perhaps, see small bits and pieces. Some of these bits and pieces ought to be brought together in the hope that each will fit somewhere in the perfect picture when some day we see it. 

Homer was born in the parsonage of the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church on January 30, 1923 and was baptized in that same church, for his father was pastor there. It was a time of great struggle, for already the battle lines were being drawn between the defenders and opponents of common grace. And the battle lines would be drawn at the doorstep of the Eastern Ave. parsonage. The Protestant Reformed Churches would be born just two years later, with Homer's father as the spiritual father of the new denomination. 

Homer Hoeksema's gifts were primarily the gifts of instruction. He possessed his father's keen analytical mind with which he was able to penetrate quickly into the heart of a question or issue. He was able to lay an issue open, show clearly all its parts, show the relationships of each part to every other, and put it all back again in a way that was clearly understandable. His sermons were masterpieces of exegesis, his writings clear and understandable, his instruction always precise and complete. God had made him the man he was that he could labor in the Seminary to teach others the work of preaching. All his life was preparation for that. 

His education was the threefold covenant tie which is the heritage of every child in the covenant: School—Baxter St. Christian School and Grand Rapids Christian High School; Church—First Protestant Reformed Church on the corner of Fuller and Franklin; Home—by his God-fearing parents. His father had a great influence on him, not only because he was a man of some importance in the ecclesiastical world, but because he liked to walk, every day. He would often take one of his children along, and many times would take Homer. From young days Homer and his father talked easily and comfortably together. 

Sometimes God calls to the ministry in unexpected ways and even relatively late in life. But it is not always that way. If you would have asked Homer to pinpoint the time when God called him to the ministry, he would have looked puzzled; and, after some reflection, would have answered: "I cannot really recall a time in my life when I considered being anything else but a minister." And so it was on to college, first of all with a freshman scholarship from high school in his pocket. He graduated in 1944 and attended the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches then meeting in the basement of First Church. Graduating from Seminary in 1947, he followed his Seminary instruction with two years of post-graduate work in the Seminary. 

Two things happened at this time which were unalterably to shape his life. The first was his father's stroke in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the early summer of 1948. Although Rev. Hoeksema recovered from his stroke and spent many more profitable years in his work, he never wrote or typed another word himself; all his articles for The Standard Bearer and other magazines, all his sermons, all his correspondence, all his speeches, all his books, went through his son's typewriter. It was recorded on one of the first recorders on the market, an extremely heavy and clumsy wire recorder which weighed about 70 pounds and had large spools of miles of wire on them. How well I recall this recorder in Seminary; and how frustrating it was to see tangles of wire spread over the classroom floor when the recorder malfunctioned. 

The second event which shaped his life was the beginning of his labors in the pastoral ministry in September of 1949. The Lord called him to the congregation in Doon, Iowa where he labored for almost six years. Service in the pastoral ministry is essential to successful teaching in the Seminary. The Constitution of the Theological School speaks of the fact that professors who are called to this work ought preferably to have had experience in the pastoral ministry. 

But it was clear already in the parsonage that Prof. Hoeksema's gifts lay in teaching. He was a superb preacher: a master exegete, a skilled homiletician, a forceful speaker. But his gifts were not the gifts of a pastor, of a visitor of the sick, a comforter of the sorrowing, a strengthener of the weak. He could do this work and did do this work, but his strengths lay elsewhere. And these strengths were to be used in the service of the truth of God. 

While he was in Doon the storms of the controversy over conditional theology finally broke. It was a busy time in Doon's parsonage, and the lights in the study burned into the wee hours of the morning. Rev. H. Hoeksema was once again the leader in the defense of the truth of the sovereign, unconditional, and particular character of the promise of the covenant; but all his writings were prepared for publication in Doon's parsonage. The hours between 12:00 midnight and 2:00 A.M. were reserved for this work, for then the house was quiet. 

But Prof. Hoeksema was the only ministerial voice in the West to defend the heritage of the truth of God's covenant, and Doon's parsonage became the center of the whole of Classis West's faithful people. From most of the congregation in Classis West came cries for help because ministers were unfaithful and no longer wanted the truth. They were difficult and -busy years, but the Lord blessed these labors too. 

In 1955 Prof. Hoeksema accepted the call to South Holland. Although the controversy of 1953 was over, much still had to be done to put the denomination again on a firm footing. The split had been destructive and many years would pass before the denomination recovered. Congregations had to be built up, property issues settled, and decisions obtained from the courts concerning who constituted-the true Protestant Reformed churches. The years in South Holland engaged Prof. Hoeksema in this type of work in addition to his busy congregational activities. 

In 1959 he received the call to the seminary. Rev. Ophoff could no longer do the work and Rev. Hoeksema was clearly nearing the end of his usefulness in the seminary. A new professor had to be obtained. Prof. Hoeksema often spoke of the fact that he came to the Seminary only under the pressure of God's call. I suppose that this is really true of every minister. Once having worked in the pastoral ministry, a faithful minister wants nothing else. To go to the Seminary means to be outside the mainstream of the life of the churches; it means to crawl into a corner where theological studies occupy one's time almost exclusively; it means to live a somewhat ecclesiastically lonely life; it means, above all, to cease being a pastor of a flock. Professors still preach; but the difference between preaching as a guest minister in many different churches and preaching to one's own sheep is great and not understandable to one who has not had to do it. 

Yet the work of the seminary was important, for without this work the churches would have no ministers to preach for them. And so Prof. Hoeksema's life for the next thirty years would be devoted to the work of the seminary. And the result is that the seminary today is quite a different place from what it was thirty years ago. 

During Prof. Hoeksema's tenure in seminary many changes took place—most due to his foresight, organizational ability, dedication to the cause of the churches, and determination to hold securely to the truth of God's Word. The seminary moved from the basement of old First Church to spacious quarters on Ivanrest Avenue in Grandville. For the first time, the mechanics of the operation of the seminary were organized: records were kept, licensing was obtained, official transcripts were made possible, and many other details too numerous to mention were organized. The curriculum was revised and expanded, not only to include various pre-seminary subjects, but also to include a full seminary program with a four-year course of study and elective courses for the students. The curriculum was organized along more suitable divisions of subjects—something made possible by three full-time professors. A Journal was published, now in its 23rd year. Course content was upgraded as professors were able to devote full-time attention to seminary instruction. 

But above all, emphasis was laid upon the fact that the seminary had a right to exist only so long as it remained faithful to the distinctive heritage of our Protestant Reformed Churches. At the center of this work stood Prof. Hoeksema. The denomination became, in a sense, his congregation; his chief tool of communication, instruction in the seminary; his chief work, to remind the .churches by whatever means available to him that we have a heritage precious and glorious, a heritage which is our only right of existence in the welter of denominations, a heritage given by God through the battles of 1924 over common grace and the free offer of the gospel and through the battles of 1953 to maintain the truths of God's everlasting covenant of grace. 

In his last year in college Prof. Hoeksema began dating Gertrude Jonker. They were married on December 19, 1946, Professor Hoeksema's last year in Seminary. God blessed this marriage with four children: Mark, Eunice, and Lois were born while the Hoeksemas lived in Doon; Candace was born while Prof. Hoeksema was serving the South Holland congregation. 

Ironically, perhaps the happiest year of Prof. Hoeksema's life was his last year. This year was spent ministering to a small congregation about as far away from Grand Rapids as it is possible to go—the congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Burnie, Tasmania. The children were married; the work in the Seminary made it possible to escape for a year; the need in Tasmania was great; Prof. Hoeksema was always vastly interested in the church of Christ throughout the world; and it was an opportunity to return to his first love—the pastoral ministry. It was there, after nine months of ministering to God's people, that he learned of his terminal cancer. The doctor told him that he must count the remainder of his life in terms of days or weeks, but not months. 

It is usually not easy to die. It is harder to die when one is planning much work. I thought, when I heard that my colleague had terminal cancer, that it would be difficult for him to die. It was not. One always faces a struggle to be reconciled to God's way when God's will is so different from what we anticipate and want. But the struggle lasted only through the long trip from Burnie back to Grand Rapids. The remainder of his life was peaceful and happy. The miracle of God's grace astounds. 

Prof. Hoeksema lived not days or weeks, but three months. During that time, until too weak even to think, he maintained a vibrant interest in the life and affairs of the church of Christ—of the Protestant Reformed Churches during their annual Synod meetings, and of his beloved congregation in Burnie, Tasmania. He had lived for the welfare of the church; it sustained him in his last hours. 

He spent these last months visiting friends, relatives, and fellow saints. He was happy and content, submissive to the Lords way, eager to go to glory to be with Christ, confident of the safety and final victory of the church which he had so long served. 

Faithful adherence to our precious heritage as churches is due, by God's grace, in large measure to the faithful labors of our beloved professor. May God sustain his widow, his children, and grandchildren; and may the church which he loved prosper.