Remembering Professor Berkhof

The May/June issue of Torch and Trumpet appeared so shortly before the death of Professor Louis Berkhof that it was impossible to devote more than a bit of space to his person and his labor for the Church. We promise to add to our tribute in the July/August issue.


Those who attended the funeral services at the Neland Avenue Church will recognize what follows as the closing portion of one of the two messages which were then spoken. The text was Hebrews 13:7: “Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith.”

“To remember those that had the rule over us means to hold them in loving and respectful memory. The implication is that we may state our reasons for remembering them. This remembering should be an intelligent remembering.” We take it that this permits us to explain how the grace of God was manifested in them.

“We remember Professor Berkhof because of his teaching; because in his teaching he was hue to the Word of God. He was not only a local dispenser of the bread of life. He was, so to speak, one of the distributors for a wide area; and we, dispensers of that spiritual bread, benefitted from his distribution. We remember Professor Berkhof as a professor at our Seminary. We were in his classes for only a year, but his lectures exerted a lasting influence on us. His teaching was clear, concise, systematic. Having a systematic mind, he was by nature as well as training adapted for the chair of Systematic Theology, though he first occupied the chair of Old and New Testament. He taught also other branches in our Seminary. There was something massive about his intellectual equipment, as about his physique. Those who read his theological works know how much he could say, and say well, on a single page. He was a voracious reader, an ardent lover of books, and Widely read on a great variety of subjects.

“Berkhof’s books and articles bear witness to the statement just made. He wrote not only on doctrine but also on modern trends of thought, on missions, on education, on the spiritual life, on controversial matters, on youth problems, and on social subjects.

“We are exhorted to remember such men. That means we should be conversant with their teachings. It means we should read what our past leaders have written. Here is an exhortation we all need, ministers as well as laymen. In view of the tremendous pace of modern life, of much haste, of running to and fro, we are sorely tempted to neglect our reading or to resort to books that are light and inferior. To remember Professor Berkhof means to read what he has written.

“We remember Professor Berkhof as a preacher. In this respect he was our ideal. We remember his orderly, illuminating way of treating a text. He was a balanced preacher. He proclaimed the love of God but also his justice; his sovereignty but also man’s responsibility. He addressed saints but also sinners. He spoke to the mind but also to the heart.

“We remember Professor Berkhof for his practical work in the Church. Though he was first of all a scholar, he did not withdraw from the practical affairs of the Church. He served on many committees, took an active part in the affairs of the Young Men’s Federation, and was the leader of the Men’s Society of this church for a decade.

“We remember Berkhof’s Christian personality. He was reserved, dignified, gracious, and withal thoroughly human. It took some time to become familiar with him; but to those who really knew him he was a common man. He had a keen sense of humor. It was a delight to spend an evening at his home. Berkhof was a humble man. For fifteen years it was our task to preach in his presence. All we could do was to return to him, in very imperfect homiletical form, that which he and others had taught us; but his reaction was always one of appreciation, never of criticism.

“We remember Professor Berkhof for his piety. It was manifested in his consistent walk of life. It was revealed in his patient endurance of much affliction in recent years. It was expressed in his writings. He was deeply conscious of the fact that he was a recipient of the marvelous grace of God. This is evident, for example, from the last words of his last article for De Wachter, to which Rev. Van HaIsema called our attention. They read as follows (translated): “It is only through that grace that we can enjoy the assurance of faith…And in the hour of death it is the forgiving grace of God which enables us to rest our head in confidence, fills our hearts with the hope of eternal life, and causes us to look forward with holy joy to the eternal mansions which God has prepared for his own.”

“These are his last words to the readers of our Dutch church paper—his swan song to the Christian Reformed Church. They are a source of rich comfort to the bereaved family. Considering the issue of his life, let us imitate his faith.”