1834: Hendrik de Cock’s Return to the True Church, Marvin Kamps. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2014. Hardcover, 512 pages, $43.95 USD.
If first impressions count for anything, this book is a winner from the start. It has a sharp, handsome look and feel. From front to back, it’s been professionally produced and that made this reviewer favorably inclined from the start. The Reformed Free Publishing Association has done justice to the subject by packaging this substantial volume with great care.
The subject is a compelling figure from our Reformed church history in the Netherlands: Rev. Hendrik de Cock. He was a leader in the Secession (or “Afscheiding” in Dutch) of 1834. The Lord worked through de Cock to recover the Reformed faith in the Netherlands after a period of great darkness and decline. This book traces his story in great detail. There is no other book like this in English – it is truly one of a kind.
Normally I’d tell you something about the author. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about him and the book doesn’t say much. I did have the opportunity to meet Mr. Kamps a couple of years ago in connection with his work in translating the original preface to the Belgic Confession. I know that he is proficient in the Dutch language and in Reformed theology – I gathered from the Acknowledgements that he is a graduate of the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, Michigan. Elsewhere I also learned that he has served as a minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
A short review is not the place to tell the whole story of de Cock – that would defeat the whole purpose of writing this review. It’s enough for me to say that everything seems to be adequately covered. I’ve read a lot on de Cock, mostly in English, and there were a lot of new things that I learned about him from Kamps. As I intimated earlier, there’s simply a lot here that you’re not going to find anywhere else. For example, more than half of the book is taken up with translations of various primary source documents relating to the life and work of Hendrik de Cock. This cannot be found anywhere else. Kamps has done the English-speaking Reformed world a huge service by writing and compiling this volume.
The book is strong in highlighting the issues at stake in the Secession of 1834. The author is insistent that the very gospel was under attack in the Reformed Church. He makes a solid case for that and then maintains that de Cock and the other leaders of the Secession were zealous to recover the biblical gospel. Writes Kamps, “The significance of the Secession of 1834 was that it was a return to the gospel of sovereign grace” (238). Indeed, in a time when the Canons of Dort were forgotten or ignored, the Seceders argued passionately for their restoration and the recovery of the biblical doctrines contained therein.
I also appreciated the manner in which Kamps seeks to apply lessons from this history to the present day. This might disappoint the reader looking for a “scholarly” approach to de Cock and the Secession of 1834. While his work will be of benefit to scholars (especially the many footnotes and the primary sources he translates), Kamps is not writing for them. Instead, he’s writing for ordinary Reformed believers, helping them to understand what the LORD did in their history and what can be gleaned from it for the present day. In other words, this is a church history book written from the perspective of someone who has a deep faith investment in the subject matter.
That faith perspective is Reformed, but also at times distinctly Protestant Reformed. Some of his terminology is P.R. (“church institute,” “minor creeds”), but also some of the doctrine. Readers will especially notice that coming through in chapter 8. The author is insistent that all the Fathers of the Secession (including de Cock) held that the covenant is governed by election. The covenant is established unconditionally with the elect and the elect only. Naturally, Kamps draws attention to this as a way of establishing the pedigree of the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the covenant. Readers should be aware that this view is in parts of chapter 8, though it is not an overarching theme running through the book.
If I might add a small word of criticism, I find that the author occasionally over-stated the current situation. As mentioned, he wants to apply the lessons of 1834 to today, so we need to have a handle on the problems of today. This leads our author to some surprising statements such as, “Today the doctrines of election and the sinner’s depravity are offensive to most people who claim to be Reformed” (232). Later he opines that election and regeneration are “the two most hated doctrines in the Reformed church community” (237). “Reformed” is a slippery adjective these days with many of the so-called New Calvinists laying claim to it. I certainly don’t see a lot of hatred for these doctrines among them or us; in fact, quite the opposite. That makes me wonder: does Mr. Kamps perhaps mean to say, “the Protestant Reformed formulation” of these doctrines?
1834 is a masterpiece of Reformed church history. Well-written and the product of countless hours of research, it was a delight to read. Even though its author comes from a different ecclesiastical background, we have a shared heritage in the Secession. As the author acknowledges in the preface, both the Protestant Reformed and Canadian Reformed Churches count Hendrik de Cock as one of their spiritual forefathers. We can be grateful that our Protestant Reformed friends have taken up the cause of making sure this valuable piece of our shared heritage is not forgotten.