Tag Archives: Secession of 1834

Delilah’s Lap

Frouwe Helenius Venema — portrait from later in life.

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 town 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.

The Liberation of 1944

This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of 1944.  If you have no idea what that is, you’re in good company.  I remember hearing about it for the first time in my Christian school and my thoughts went right away to the Canadian soldiers liberating the Netherlands during the Second World War.  It’s at the same time, but this is a totally different event, something from church history.

The story begins in the early 1800s.  The Reformed Church in the Netherlands was in a bad way.  Scripture-denying theological liberalism was in the ascendancy.  God brought about a Reformation known as the Secession of 1834.  Later, in 1886, under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper and others, another Reformation happened.  This was called the Doleantie, literally, “the Grieving.”  In 1892, the Secession and Doleantie churches were united together in one federation.  This happened through the herculean efforts of influential figures like Herman Bavinck (from the Secession churches) and Abraham Kuyper (from the Doleantie churches).

United, but…   

By 1921 both Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper were gone.  The Union of 1892 was something that lay almost 30 years in the past.  In those thirty years, there had been tensions.  It took time for Secession and Doleantie churches to learn to live with one another.  That took place on a local level.  Many Dutch towns and villages had both a Secession church and a Doleantie church.  Now they were both in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The old Secession church was known as the ‘A’ church, and the Doleantie church would be known as the ‘B’ church.  In some places eventually they merged into one congregation, but in other places they continued their separate existence.

Yet deeper problems existed.  The question of Abraham Kuyper’s theology continued.  He had some peculiar beliefs, especially about baptism.  He believed in presumptive regeneration.  Kuyper argued that we baptize on the presumption that the child being baptized is born again or regenerate.  If it turns out later that the child is not regenerate, then it wasn’t a real baptism.  There were other doctrinal concerns as well, but it’s especially the doctrine of baptism and the covenant that becomes a matter of controversy later on.

In 1905, a Synod was held in Utrecht.  This synod was asked to deal with the theology of Kuyper.  It did this by means of what has come to be known as the Conclusions of Utrecht.  It’s also sometimes called “the Pacification Formula” because it was meant to pacify the churches.  It was meant to lay all the concerns to rest about what could and could not be taught in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  On the point of baptism, they came up with a compromise statement.  It mildly rejected some of Kuyper’s formulations, while allowing for others.  So Utrecht said that children “must be held to be regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until upon growing up they should manifest the contrary in their way of life or doctrine.”[1]  However, Utrecht also said that it is “less correct to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their presumed regeneration, since the ground of baptism is found in the command and promise of God.”[2]

Three Streams in the RCN

So Kuyper and his followers were gently chastened by this synod.  Nevertheless, this chastening had little lasting effect.  Kuyper’s followers became increasingly insistent about his formulations as time went on.  They formed one stream in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands as we get into the 1920s and 1930s.

There was another stream, however.  This stream originated with an organization known as the Dutch Christian Student Union.  This was a broad organization that involved people from all kinds of different backgrounds.  It started off with the Apostles’ Creed as its doctrinal basis, but this was soon abandoned.  A statement of purpose was developed which mentioned the Trinity and this also was deemed too restrictive.  Soon this organization settled on this purpose:  “to introduce and build up the Christian life and worldview, which is grounded in the Bible and which, linking up with the historical development of Christianity, takes account of the needs and demands of the present time.”[3]  Seminary students from both the Free University and the seminary in Kampen were involved with this organization; some were even leaders.  Even ministers and seminary professors were involved.  This was an organization that included the same kind of liberal thinking that had earlier led to the Secession and the Doleantie.  It seemed that some people had forgotten their church history or just didn’t care.  In 1920 in Leeuwarden, at the synod of the Reformed Churches, a warning was issued against membership in the Dutch Christian Student Union.  However, it was just a warning.  It didn’t really have any teeth.  It didn’t stop further developments.

One of the developments out of this stream was the Geelkerken case.  In a catechism sermon Rev. J. G. Geelkerken stated that it’s possible that there was no literal snake speaking in the Garden of Eden.  The case ended up at the Synod of Assen in 1926.  The Synod decided against Geelkerken; his views could not be tolerated in the Reformed Churches.  However, they went further:  they suspended and deposed him.  His views were wrong and unbiblical.  But this synod did something that contravened the agreed-upon church order.  Only a local church can suspend and depose ministers and other office bearers.  Still, Synod Assen went ahead and usurped the rights of the local church.  This set a bad precedent for years to come.

As we come into the 1930s, a third stream was developing in the Reformed churches.  These were mostly younger ministers who rejected the Dutch Christian Student Union, but also found that some of Kuyper’s views didn’t stand up to biblical and confessional scrutiny.  Among these ministers was Klaas Schilder.  Schilder began critiquing some of Kuyper’s views and this caused controversy.  Kuyper’s devotees accused this Reformational stream of deviating from the Reformed faith.

The Unravelling

That brings us to a series of key Synods at which weighty decisions were made.

The first one is Synod Amsterdam 1936.  This synod received a communication from a classis about the doctrinal disputes regarding Kuyper’s views.  It wasn’t clear what the classis was asking or proposing.  The synod decided to appoint a study committee made up of people from both sides.  However, after the synod was over and the committee got to work, it quickly became evident that there were deep problems.  One of the people in the committee (Prof. Valentine Hepp) started throwing around accusations with no proof.  This behaviour drove out three of the eight other committee members, the three who were on the side of those concerned about Kuyper’s theology.  The result, of course, would be an imbalanced report to the next synod.  However, those concerned members also wrote their own report.

The next synod was Sneek 1939.  It is usually referred to as Sneek/Utrecht and this synod actually ended up lasting until 1942.  This was the synod that would deal with the doctrinal differences.  The political situation comes into play here.  It was tense.  When the synod opened, it was the eve of the Second World War.  In 1940, the synod was still on and the Germans invaded the Netherlands.  It was a time of national crisis.  Proposals were made to the synod to postpone dealing with the doctrinal disputes until there was more stability in national life in the Netherlands.  Despite such pleas, the synod plowed forward.  The majority report from the study committee was received – it made accusations that some ministers and professors, including Klaas Schilder, were deviating from Scripture and the Confessions.  The synod continued through 1940 and 1941, periodically meeting.  At the end of 1941, a decision was made to move the synod to Utrecht and reconvene there in May of 1942.  The following month a decision was made regarding the doctrinal differences.  The Kuyperian stream had scored a victory.  The views of Schilder and others were declared out of bounds.

The next synod was the following year.  Notice how synods here follow one upon the other.  The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands had become top heavy with synodical hierarchy.  Synod Utrecht 1943 received proposals and submissions requesting a reconsideration of the decision of the previous year.  However, these were all rejected.  This synod also maintained the position of the previous one:  Schilder and others would have to fall in line or face the consequences.  Synod Utrecht 1943 continued into 1944.  When it became evident that Schilder would not surrender and fall in line, the Synod first suspended him and then later deposed him.  They did the same with many other office bearers.  According to the Reformed Church Order, this was an illegal action.  Only local consistories could suspend and depose office bearers.  A synod again usurped this authority.  It was another classic example of ecclesiastical hierarchy.

On August 11, 1944 a meeting was held at the Lutheran Church in The Hague.  It was supposed to be a meeting for all those concerned about the developments with regard to Schilder and others.  Hundreds of people showed up, despite the ongoing war (the Allies had only liberated the southern part of the Netherlands) and the challenges with regard to transportation.  At the meeting, after some speeches, Schilder read an “Act of Liberation or Return.”  This document was modelled partly on the Act of Secession from 1834.  With this Act in hand, people returned to their local churches and the Liberation (Vrijmaking) was underway.  Many people freed themselves from the synodical hierarchy.  Those who were liberated claimed to be the true continuation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  They called themselves Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) or Reformed Churches maintaining article 31.  Article 31 refers to an article of our Church Order which states that decisions made by synods and classes shall be considered settled and binding unless they are proven to be in conflict with Scripture or the Church Order.  The Liberated believed that the doctrinal decisions of 1942 were in conflict with Scripture and the suspensions and depositions in 1944 were in conflict with the Church Order.


The Liberation is a fairly recent part of our church history.  Shortly after the Liberation, post-War emigration brought many Liberated church members to both Canada and Australia.  They were the ones who started the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  It’s a significant part of our heritage.

It’s sometimes said that the “past is the parent of the present.”  For example, if you want to know why our churches are so particular about our Church Order and its principles, you have to understand the Liberation of 1944.  If you want to know why the first Dutch immigrants to Canada and Australia didn’t join with other Reformed believers, it’s related to the Liberation.  If you want to know why there’s often antipathy towards Abraham Kuyper in the CanRC and FRCA, again it’s 1944.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, this event has profoundly shaped the character and culture of our churches.

My Opa Vanderland was a local leader in the Liberation in his church in Marum.  For him, as for many others, this event was deeply personal and any discussion of it would be emotionally charged.  He was scarred by the Liberation, as well as by the Nazi occupation happening at exactly the same time.  Then he immigrated to Canada.  That too was a life-changing experience with hardships we can hardly comprehend.  It’s easy to take a triumphalistic view of the Liberation.  It’s easy to view it simplistically as an act of God to liberate his people from ecclesiastical wickedness.  Yet, as time goes on, we need to also see the extensive personal pain and trouble involved.  We can start to see how an intense ecclesiastical conflict like this, however necessary, can shape individuals and churches, and not always in good ways.  We always have to remember our constant need for God’s grace, for the gospel, for our Saviour Jesus.  After all, a “Liberated” church is still far from a perfect church, both in the past and the present.

[1] Van Oene, Patrimony Profile, 230.

[2] Van Oene, Patrimony Profile, 230.

[3] Van Reest, Schilder’s Struggle, 33.

Quotable Church History: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation…”

This is the eighth in a series on famous quotes from church history.  We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

By the late 1700s, the Reformed church in the Netherlands had largely become anemic.  Unbelief and liberal theology ran rampant.  There were few gospel preachers and only scattered handfuls of true believers.  Instead, what dominated was the type of religion emphasizing Jesus as the good example for a moral life.  Doctrine was  sidelined, along with the creeds and Reformed confessions.

This was the story in the tiny village church of Ulrum coming into the 1800s.  Ulrum is located in the north-west of the Dutch province of Groningen (one of the two most northern Dutch provinces).  In 1826, Ulrum received a new pastor in the person of Petrus Hofstede de Groot.  De Groot was the typical minister of his day.  In one place he summarized his belief:  “Christianity is no doctrine, it is power, spirit, and life, for the enlightenment, warming, sanctification, and perfection of man.”  His message was moral improvement.  While some delighted in the pablum he offered in his weekly preaching, others in Ulrum saw the sad reality.  Several Ulrum members refused to make a public profession of faith with de Groot as their minister.  Thankfully, de Groot’s ministry was short:  he left to teach at the University of Groningen in 1829, only three years after arriving in Ulrum.

De Groot handpicked his successor.  Hendrik de Cock was his good friend and a like-minded preacher.  He arrived in Ulrum in October 1829.  At first his preaching was much the same as de Groot.  However, he did make some changes.  For example, prior to his arrival, Ulrum consistory meetings were never convened or closed with prayer.  De Cock introduced prayer at the beginning of the first meeting of the year and prayer at the end of the last meeting of the year.  It was a small step.  Nevertheless, despite being a minister and quite religious, de Cock was really no different than de Groot at this time:  both were missing the gospel, and both were lacking in true faith.

One of the members who had refused to make profession of his faith with de Groot was a working-class brother by the name of Klaas Pieters Kuypenga.  In due time, de Cock urged Kuypenga to come by the Ulrum manse for an hour a week to receive further instruction.  Kuypenga agreed.  But what happened was remarkable.  Kuypenga became one of God’s instruments to bring de Cock to true faith in Jesus Christ.  During one of their sessions, Kuypenga remarked to his pastor:  “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation, I would be eternally lost.”  This language stunned de Cock and it put the proverbial stone in his shoe — he couldn’t stop thinking about what this meant.  In due time, God would providentially bring other factors into play so that de Cock would become a Christian and start preaching like one.  De Cock would go on to challenge the liberalism of the Dutch Reformed Church and be instrumental in a reformation known as the Secession (in Dutch: Afscheiding) of 1834.

One would think it rather obvious that Kuypenga spoke biblical truth to his pastor.  Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…”  Adding anything from our works to Christ’s work would place us under a curse.  Or one could think of Isaiah 64:6 which insists that even our so-called righteous deeds are like unmentionables in the sight of God.  Furthermore, Romans 3:28 reminds us that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  We have nothing to contribute to our salvation except for the sin which made it necessary.  The moment you seek to add something to the perfect work of Christ, you are holding to a different gospel, a false gospel which will damn you.  Klaas Pieters Kuypenga had been trained by the Holy Spirit to speak his truth.

It wouldn’t be the last time God would use a regular church member as a powerful instrument to bring reformation.  He did something similar with Abraham Kuyper and a lady named Pietje Balthus.  Both Hendrik de Cock and Abrhaham Kuyper were exceptionally learned men, scholarly pastors — and yet God used these “little people” to turn their worlds upside down for the gospel.  These episodes in church history illustrate that 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 continues to hold true:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.


Book Review: 1834

1834 Marvin Kamps

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.