They say combat forges a bond between men, makes them brothers. That was the experience of Dirk Hoksbergen too. And if there’s anything that can create a chasm between brothers once bonded by combat, it’s a woman. At least that’s how Dirk experienced it.
In 1833, Dirk was a prosperous dairy farmer near Wilsum, the Netherlands. His farm was located just a short ferry-ride across the IJsel River from Wilsum, a tiny village not far from the city of Kampen. By this point, Dirk had been married to Matje Broekhuis for 10 years. They’d been blessed with several children, but as often happened in those days, some were lost in infancy.
When it comes to Dirk Hoksbergen, put away whatever prejudiced ideas you may have about farmers. He was relatively well-educated. From his youth, he’d been an avid reader, especially of Reformed theology. His devout father Beert Hoksbergen led him to a steady diet of authors like Alexander Comrie, Wilhelmus à Brakel, and John Calvin. Dirk also knew how to wield the quill. To him, writing was like walking, even though his style was often rustic.
So on December 19, 1833, Dirk is sitting at the table in his farmhouse, quill in hand. He’s been thinking for some time about what he’s about to write. He thinks about everything his father taught him about the Christian faith and what it really means. He thinks about what’s become of the Church. Dirk’s blood pressure soars when he reflects on what’s become of the schools where Dutch youth are taught. It’s all looking like the manure pile on his farm and he’s ready to do something about it.
Now Dirk has heard of someone else with the same concerns. Over 100 km to the north, in the village of Ulrum, a pastor named Hendrik De Cock discovered the true Reformed faith. Though he’d been a pastor for several years, he hadn’t become a Christian until his time in Ulrum. A parishioner witnessed to him and was one of several means God used to bring him to true faith in Christ. Now De Cock saw with increasing clarity the corruption in the Church. He began to sound the alarm. Though Ulrum was only a village, De Cock’s name was becoming well-known among believers in the Dutch State Church.
So Hendrik De Cock’s Ulrum parsonage is the natural destination for Dirk’s letter. Dirk thinks to himself, “Surely, Dominee De Cock will be a sympathetic ally. He’ll understand. Maybe my letter will even embolden him to more action.” The letter writing goes late into the night. By the time it’s finished, Dirk has used up 51 pages. His epistle is soon sent off to Ulrum.
De Cock is impressed with his dairy farmer correspondent. Here’s a man who knows his Bible, who loves the old Reformed faith, and who can express himself in writing. He writes to a friend, “The wise and understanding do not see, yes they are blinder than moles, seeing light for darkness; while a simple farmer shows clearly the state of Church and school, based on God’s eternal and infallible Word.” De Cock has connections. He sees to it that Dirk’s letter is published as a booklet and he writes a commendatory Foreword. With this, these two men become comrades in ecclesiastical combat – brothers in arms.
The first major battle takes place not long afterwards. Rev. Hendrik De Cock is first suspended and then deposed by the Dutch State Church. This because he called out the Church’s doctrinal corruption and refused to back down. Thankfully, the Ulrum congregation stands behind him and on October 13, 1834, they secede from the State Church. This is the official beginning of “the Secession.” Other individuals and congregations soon follow suit.
On Wednesday June 3, 1835, Dirk Hoksbergen hosts Hendrik De Cock at his farm in Wilsum. On that summer day, they talk at length about the situation and what needs to be done. Together they talk tactics and plot the next move against the enemy. Later that same day the two men call a meeting for concerned church members in Wilsum. Sufficient numbers attend that the decision is made there and then to secede and institute a new congregation. Elders and deacons are elected and installed in a worship service. But Dirk isn’t among those office bearers. He’s slated for a more strategic place. After the meeting concludes, Dirk and Rev. De Cock travel the short distance to the city of Kampen. They stay overnight. The next day, June 4, they call together the concerned church members of Kampen. Some 35 people attend the meeting. As in Wilsum, they decide right then to secede from the State Church. A worship service is held on this Thursday and elders are installed – one of whom is Dirk. In fact, Dirk is recognized as a “teaching elder” in Kampen – he’ll be responsible for the edification of the congregation. At first he reads sermons written by others, but soon he’s preaching his own messages in the local dialect.
So by the end of June in 1835, there’s not only a seceded congregation in Ulrum, but also in Wilsum and Kampen. Many other concerned pastors and congregations join them. Soon there are enough secession churches to have a national synod.
The first synod is held in March 1836 in Amsterdam. Both Dirk and Rev. De Cock were delegates. Dirk was soon recognized as being head and shoulders above his fellow elders. He’s appointed to a couple of committees, including one where he’s serving with his friend Rev. De Cock. Most of the other delegates fondly refer to him as “Uncle Dirk.” However, this Synod already reveals a rift among these churches. It centers on Rev. Scholte and his ideas about church government. Rev. Scholte doesn’t much appreciate the old Church Order adopted by the Synod of Dort. He’s doing everything he can to see that this old form of government is left in the past. That aggravates traditionalists like Dirk and Rev. De Cock. The two of them are convinced that Rev. Scholte is heading down the wrong track. At Synod Amsterdam, their view carries the day. That battle was won.
Or so it seemed. After the Synod, Rev. Scholte doesn’t relent. He draws up his own church order and persuades local churches and even provincial synods to adopt it. He acts as if Synod Amsterdam hadn’t decided for Dort! This raises the dairy farmer’s ire.
And it leads to another Synod in 1837, this time in Utrecht. Again, both Rev. De Cock and Dirk Hoksbergen are delegates. Dirk attends with strict instructions from his delegating provincial synod to “maintain the Synod of Dort with its Church Order without any changes.” Not that he needs those instructions – it’s his own firm conviction too. Rev. De Cock, his fellow soldier under the cross, shares that opinion. Together, they’re not going to back down.
They don’t. The pressure is enormous. Because of government persecution, the Synod was actually illegal. Once all the delegates were in the building, they had to stay there. For days they were locked down together behind those walls. No one could leave until it was over. The 24 delegates bicker and battle for days on end. The Dutch are known to be stoic, but ecclesiastical warfare can bring the toughest Dutchman to tears.
One morning, Dirk wakes up and can’t find Rev. De Cock. He searches the building and eventually finds De Cock sequestered in a lonely corner. He’s sobbing uncontrollably. Rev. De Cock just can’t cope with the acrimonious Church Order debates. Dirk comforts his friend with 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Encouraged, they together leave the room resolved to carry on the fight for Old Dort.
But this isn’t a battle they can win. The numbers just aren’t there – there are only five elders (including Dirk) and one minster (De Cock) on the side of Dort – 6 of 24 delegates. Rev. Scholte has long been working behind the scenes to convince delegates. When it comes time for the vote, the Synod says farewell to Dort. Scholte’s Church Order is accepted.
Dirk and Rev. De Cock travel home together – defeated and disillusioned. As they sit in the carriage travelling north, it’s Rev. De Cock’s turn to encourage his ally.
“Brother, we mustn’t give in. There’s too much at stake.”
“But Dominee, how can we do anything now? Even if we don’t accept this decision, the majority does.”
“Brother, we cannot give in. We can’t grow weak. The decision is wrong and we have to stand against it, just like we stood against the State Church. God will bless our steadfastness.”
“Yes, Dominee, you’re right. We may have lost this battle, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war. We must keep fighting for what our fathers gave us at Dort.”
When they arrive in Zwolle, they reach a crossroads and go their separate ways. Dirk heads to his farm in Wilsum, while De Cock travels back to his church in Ulrum. Dirk couldn’t have known that this was a parting of ways in more than one sense.
Rev. Albertus Van Raalte had also been delegated to the Synod in Utrecht. He was on the Scholte side of the Church Order debate. But he also knew the strategic value of having Rev. De Cock on board – De Cock was hugely influential in the Secession churches. Even though the Synod had decided, if De Cock was against it, there were going to be issues.
As the Synod concluded, Rev. Van Raalte devised a plan. Somehow he found a way to make the 200 km journey from Utrecht to Ulrum post haste. He made it there before Rev. De Cock. He arrived in Ulrum and went straight to the manse. There he found Hendrik’s wife, all alone, waiting for her husband’s return.
Frouwe Venema was a sober, serious, godly woman. She’d been a good helpmeet for Rev. De Cock, supporting him in his battles for the truth of God’s Word. She was also, as they say, “a force to be reckoned with.” If anyone could get through to Rev. De Cock, it would be his wife. She was a reasonable woman and had her husband’s ear like no one else.
Rev. DeCock returns home from Synod. He walks in and, to his surprise, fresh from Synod too, Rev. Van Raalte is sitting at his table. He’s been speaking with Frouwe.
“Well, what is this about then?”
“Brother, for the sake of peace in the churches, I came here to speak with your wife. She’s a wise woman and I think you need to listen to her.”
“No, I think you need to leave. You and your colleagues have caused enough trouble for me and for the churches. Go.”
The manse door closes and Rev. Van Raalte begins his journey back to Ommen. Hendrik glares at Frouwe.
“What were you thinking allowing that man in our home? He’s a trouble-maker.”
“Hendrik, the Lord teaches us to pursue peace.”
“But not at all costs! We have to stand for the truth of what the Lord gave through our fathers.”
“Hendrik, there’s been enough fighting. The churches need peace. We can’t be constantly dealing with conflict. Can’t you just give in and give up this fight? It’s not worth it.”
“My dear wife, I’m tired from my journey. I need rest. Enough talking for now, please.”
In short order, Frouwe convinces her husband to accept the new Church Order and give up the fight against it. Thereafter Rev. De Cock goes on a tour with Rev. Van Raalte to many of the churches still harbouring reservations. The churches of Wilsum and Kampen weren’t included on this tour. De Cock and Van Raalte would decidedly not have been welcome.
When word reaches Dirk about De Cock’s change of mind, he feels profoundly betrayed by his co-belligerent. They’d been through so many battles together. They’d fought hard against Scholte and his innovations. They’d strategized together. They’d wept together. They were there for one another. In the carriage home from Synod, they’d agreed that they’d keep fighting. Now De Cock kicked it all to the side. All because of his wife. Dirk’s blood boils at this treachery. Unlike De Cock he’s not going to relent. He’s going to still stand with the Dort fathers, no matter what. Rev. De Cock might compromise, but Dirk never will – and he never did.
Later on in Dirk’s life, the pain of De Cock’s betrayal never subsided. It was a bitter parting. In later life, at a certain moment, he writes about how Frouwe persuaded his one-time friend: “Then he laid his head in Delilah’s lap!” To Dirk, Hendrik De Cock was Samson robbed of his strength by a cunning woman with Philistines conniving behind the scenes. To him, it was that kind of betrayal – and it stung.