If we are to be remembered...
The end will meet us all in the end. We work and pray, and work and pray. And in the end, the end will come. When it does, how will we be remembered, if we are remembered? I was recently comforted by the account of one faithful man's memory. The man was Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian, statesman, churchman, and pastor primarily of the 1800s. Biographer Ron Gleason gives the following memorial of Bavinck's departure from earthly ministry.
Bavinck's journey in this life came to a quiet and peaceful end on July 29, 1921. At 4:30 am, in full trust in the Lord and in great peace, he passed from earth into heaven. The struggle had been long and, at times, arduous, but God's grace saw him through to the end and allowed him to realize what it means to keep the faith. It was appropriate for a quiet and peaceful man to be translated to heaven in a quiet and peaceful manner. Bavinck had been one of God's gifts to the Church of Jesus Christ. God gave the church a man who was the consummate scholar but also one who was gentle, humble, and approachable. He was the scholar in the classroom, a man of international allure, who was equally at home with a peasant in a small fishing village and with one of God's "special" covenant children. As he lived and moved among God's people, he was a scholar, a politician, a churchman, a husband, a father, and a friend. The country of Holland would miss this man.
It was a hot summer that year in Holland. Hepp records that the day of the funeral was exceedingly hot. A large number of people who would have attended the funeral were away in other countries on vacation. Also, because of the unbearable and oppressive heat, the funeral speeches had to be kept to a bare minimum. The result was that many who would normally have attended did not. The Dutch are not accustomed to hot temperatures; their climate is usually cool to cold and damp. Wearing black clothing in sweltering heat was practically "virgin territory" for many in attendance.
Some of Bavinck's former students carried his casket out of his house and onto the Singelgracht in Amsterdam on the afternoon of August 2, 1921. Whereas thousands had lined the streets for Kuyper's funeral, hundreds lined them for Bavinck's. The number of public mourners does not mean, however, that Bavinck was less significant to Holland than Kuyper was. Quite the contrary is the case. Bavinck meant substantially more in terms of solid Reformed theology than his elder friend and colleague did. On the cardinal points of the Reformed faith, Kuyper and Bavinck were very close. It is equally true, however, that "the elaboration Kuyper gives some themes is more romantic and speculative than that of Bavinck." Where Kuyper tended toward speculation at times, Bavinck was more a man of precision and exact exegesis.
Old friends and new made their way to Amsterdam for the occasion, and Leiden University was represented by Bavinck's lifelong friend Snouck Hurgronje. Pastor Brussaard from Bloemendaal led the funeral service both at Bavinck's home as well as the grave site. Wielenga went on vacation. At the graveside, Bloemendaal had those gathered sing from Psalm 84: "The LORD His goodness had revealed: He is to us a sun and shield; For He bestows renown and favor. And when the upright seek His face, the Lord will not withhold His grace; His faithfulness endures forever. O LORD of hosts, how blest is he who puts his hope and trust in Thee." At the conclusion of the singing, the funeral director nodded, and Bavinck's body descended into the grave. Spontaneously someone among those gathered that hot August day began to sing from Psalm 72:11, and since the Dutch memorize the psalms, all present began to sing the words, "The king, whose name we are professing, shall like the sun endure. In hiim all nations find their blessing; Make Thou his throne secure! Blest be the Lord, for He so glorious alone does wondrous things. O God, in all the earth our chorus with 'Amen, Amen' rings." With songs of praise to God, Bavinck's body was committed back to the earth. Surely Lord's Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism was on everyone's mind.
That day the Reformed buried one of their noblest and greatest sons and theologians. He was loved in life, and he was revered in death. Slowly the grace site emptied, and when the last person walked through the front gate, God closed a chapter in the book of the history of his church in Holland and in the world. Later, on September 20, 1921, J.J.G. Baron van Voorst tot Voorst delivered a message that he had received from Mr. Ruys, Bavinck's son-in-law, stating that Bavinck had died. Van Voorst tot Voorst was the moderator of teh First Chamber and a lifelong friend of Bavinck's. He informed the members of what they already knew, namely, that Herman Bavinck had died. He noted that for ten years Bavinck had been a significant member of the Chamber and one who had adorned their meetings. His exemplary life, his integrity, and his honest manner made a clear and abiding example to all of them. The fatherland, he reminded the Chamber, could be proud of sons like Bavinck, and he would be sorely missed. Bavinck had been a blessing to many because of his scientific, political, and social labors. His memory would live on among them as a gifted, industrious, and eminent man who work with others in an irenic, friendly, and encouraging fashion.
While may not be gifted for science, politics, social service, and the like. But by grace, as for Bavinck, our memory may be one of faithfulness to the truth of Christ and His Kingdom of good news.
*Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian, 426-429.