Rev. Cornelius Bode – a Life Sketch

Rev. Cornelius Bode (1843–1917) was asked to write this sketch at the time of his twentyfifth anniversary in the CRC ministry. Rev. Harold Hollander, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Harrison, South Dakota, translated it from the Dutch as it appeared in De Gereformeerde Amerikaan of August, 1904. Rev. Bode’s account of his deep-seated conviction of the call to the ministry marks a striking contrast to the growing number of dropouts from the ministry in our time.

In making this article available for publication here, Rev. Hollander wrote: “I came across this article in an old issue of De Gereformeerde Amerikaan, and for myself I found it interesting, fascinating, enlightening. It seems to me, that it gives us a little look inside the people who made up the early Christian Reformed Church, a little glimpse of some of their feelings and experiences, and their outlook on life, besides being of some historical interest.”

Since our esteemed brother, Rev. C. Bode is commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination on August 17, 1904, we have invited him to write a sketch of his life for De Gereformeerde Amerikaan. And, to our joy, we received the following, which will certainly be read with pleasure by all who know our beloved brother. We extend our sincere best wishes to Rev. Bode and his (family) with the prayer that the Lord will continue to make him a blesSing for many years. For the accompanying photograph we thank the publishers of the Yearbook, Prof. Hemkes and Rev. Noordewier.

I was born near Emden in East Friesland on the 12th of August, 1843. My parents were devout people. Their names were J. C. Bode and Antje Bode, nee Eckhoff. Their business in the old fatherland was a farm, both dairy and vegetable. Their ecclesiastical position was definitely reformed; they were strict Calvinists. Once during the week, and on Sunday evenings they usually had religious gatherings. The earliest education I enjoyed in the old fatherland was from an orthodox teacher and a godly minister. From my tender youth I loved the truth not only, but I was busy (with it) and my daily prayer was “O deliver Thou my soul O Lord.” Privately I would often cast myself down with the prayer: “Lord, let me not arise before I have become Thy possession.” This went on until we (my parents and the remaining children) came to America. We left for America in the beginning of April, 1854. On the 10th of June, after a difficult and dangerous journey, we arrived at Freeport, Illinois. Our elders settled in Ridott township where I was raised and grew up. Tn the spring of 1856 many were converted to God. The salvation of my immortal soul weighed heavily with me.

Although I was taught to be saved by free grace, nevertheless, looking back, I must acknowledge that a legalistiC principle was a great stumblingblock for me. Four years I spent trying to be justified before God in part by the work of the law. I nearly killed myself. Someone said to my father: “I am afraid that your son has TB.” I said to myself, “No, not TB, but if you knew what was the matter with me, you wouldn’t talk that way.” Regularly, I sought privacy and searched the Word of the Lord. Once, being in great anxiety, I cried out: “Do be gracious, O Lord, and if Thou wilt be gracious to me, then I shall serve Thee in the Gospel.” When I reflected upon what I had promised the Lord, unbelief in me said, “The time will never arise that you will rejoice in the Lord.”

It was in the spring of 1860, on a Sunday evening, that it became clear to me, that with all my efforts, I must still perish and be lost. Then it seemed to me fearing that I would awake in eternal damnation and that deep called to deep. I didnt dare to fall asleep, in the morning I was surprised that 1 was still here. This continued for some days and the Lord gave deliverance. When I considered myself totally lost and downtrodden as on the open field, then a light arose in the darkness. Heavenly joy was poured out in my soul and these words echoed in my heart

We lift our heads aloft, for God, our shield, is o’er us; Through Him, through Him alone, we’ll surely be victorious. Because of His eternal good pleasure, our sovereign God is for us!

I began to ask “Why?” Why was it aimed at me? I sank away in my insignificance and said, “It will take an eternity to praise the Triune God for all His benefits to me.”

For some time I went my way with joy, but the Lord always gave deliverance again, so that I cannot, and may not, doubt that the Heavenly Father is my God and Father. That childlike and believing trust is continually strengthened by special communications of the Holy Spirit to my soul. When the Lord had mercy upon me, the promise made to the Lord returned to me by way of renewal. Great desire and longing to serve my King was in me, but to serve the Lord in the gospel appeared to me to be insurmountably difficult. Mountains of difficulties rose up before me. I knew how to devise all kinds of ways to get out of it, that I might be excused. For years it was my prayer, “Send whom Thou wilt, Lord, but excuse me!” I even went so far that I said to my Lord and King, “Take me to the heavenly Jerusalem, rather than that I should have to walk that road.” I wrest1ed night and day to remain excused, but the heavenly calling to that work remained with me and became stronger and stronger. “Go forth, go forth, speak and witness to a lost world that there is salvation in the one Savior, Jesus Christ,” was unceasingly in my soul. When I was inwardly working these things over, and asking to be excused, I finally came to the point where I said, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” Then it was by Acts 13:2 that the Holy Spirit said: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

In the beginning of 1868 I was joined in marriage with Miss Hilkea Ammermann. Now I had made it impossible to go to the School. Even so, the urge remained and became stronger than ever before. I said, “Lord, I haven‘t the means to study; if Thou wilt give me the means, then I will obey they will.” In one year the streams of blessing were our portion, so that we had received means sufficient and overflowing. Then, unceasingly a prompting in my soul said “Set apart for me,” and it became clear as the sun, that I belonged to those separated ones who had been set apart by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. I got busy, did much investigating, began to study by myself, and went once a week, or every two weeks, to Rev. H. Frieling, who was at Ridott at the time.

In the summer of 1874 I went through a great struggle. Finally, in the night watches, I gave my hand to my King, under this condition, that He also had to manipulate the heart of my spouse to be willing. The next day I presented the matter to my wife, that for the Lord‘s sake we had to leave everything, whereupon she said: “All that the Lord has said to you, do it; I am willing to follow you, for the sake of the Lord and His Church.” Then, by way of renewal, I said, “Thou, My Lord, hast overpowered me, and art become too strong for me.” We disposed of everything and left in the beginning of October 1874, to take studies from Rev. D. J. Van der Werp at Muskegon, with the brothers G. Broene and J. Van der Werp. Later, Prof. G. E. Boer became our teacher and Grand Rapids our home.

On June 13, 1879 I graduated and was declared eligible for a call. Thereupon, 1 immediately received two calls, namely from Vogel Center and Niekerk, Michigan. After serious consideration, I accepted the one from Niekerk. On August 12, 1 was examined by classis at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sunday August 17, 1879 in the morning service, 1 was ordained by Professor Boer. In the afternoon I preached my inaugural sermon. Text: I Corinthians 2:2. Seven years and almost eight months I served the congregation with joy and blessing.

I had many calls from other places in that time. The eighth which I received, a call to Harrison, South Dakota, I accepted. Farewell text: Deuteronomy 30:19. On the third of April, 1887, I was installed at Harrison, South Dakota by Rev. H. Tempel; in the afternoon I began my ministry there with a sermon on Romans 1:16a. Here I labored only three years and ten months. That the work was not without blessing will be revealed by the great eternity. Many came to the boldness of the faith; some of them rejoice already, we trust, before the throne of God. Then came the call from Ackley, Iowa, which after much struggle, I accepted. The Farewell text at Harrison was Acts 20:26, 27. It was the last Sunday in February 1891.

The following Sabbath morning I was installed by our beloved and now late brother, Rev. H. Bode. In the afternoon, J held my initial sermon. Text: I Thessalonians 5:25: “Brothers! pray for us.” Here I remained twelve years and three months. Also here the work was not without blessing. We enjoyed much good from the Lord, namely, that two of our sons became ministers. The Lord, who had given us (our sons and three daughters, has in his sovereignty taken our youngest daughter, Talea, by death. It was December 9, 1893, that she passed away. Shortly before her parting she said, “I am going to heaven; I am going to Jesus.” This was and is a great comfort for us as parents.

In the beginning of 1903, I received a call from Kanawha, Iowa. After much wrestling and much struggling I accepted the call because Kanawha had to be helped. The parting message at Ackley was based on Acts 20:32. That was Sunday April 26, 1903. I was installed Wednesday, April 29, by my son, Rev. W. Bode, assisted by Rev. H. Van Wesep. On Sunday May 3, I held my initial sermon. Text: Psalm 122:8, 9.

And now it is 25 years that 1 have proclaimed the blessed gospel. In all that time there was only one Sunday that I couldn’t preach on account of illness. On the 31st of this past July, I still preached twice, and rode 48 miles besides. During the period of my ministry, by the good hand of our God, I believe that my labors have not been entirely fruitless. Six congregations were organized by us entirely alone, because distances made this necessary, and eight were organized with the help of other brethren. We have not reckoned here with congregations which later disappeared through moving, such as Pipestone, Minnesota, Harvey, Iowa, etc. etc.

Looking back on the way I have come, my Great Sender has confirmed His promise made to me in the night watches when I gave myself to Him. While I write this there is deeply impressed upon my soul the thought: “Do what you have to do; do it now; for tomorrow your time is no more. Work while it is day, for the night comes in which no one can work.”

Five times my life has been in deadly danger; once as a child of 8 years when my friend R. P. now at Lincoln Center, Iowa pulled me from under the water. “Ebenezer,” thus far has the Lord helped us. Soon I shall enter in the joy of my Lord, and witness; “Here am I, my King, and that people, which Thou hast given me, as a means in Thy hand.”

You who read this, and are preparing for the ministry of the Word, or in the ministry, must not think that everyone has to pass through the same way that I did in order to become a minister. In. a special way I was strongly and tightly wrapped up in earthly things. I thank Him from my whole heart that He has overpowered me, and called me, not only with a heavenly calling to salvation, but also with a special calling to proclaim to the lost the wonderful salvation which is in Jesus Christ.