This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993).
We cannot enter heaven because we are office-bearers in the church, but we must die bearing office—bearing the office of the priesthood of all believers. When matters are right in the life of office-bearers, they may serve the church out of the deeply rooted reality of a personal, saving relationship with the Lord.
By grace, this became visible in our father’s life. Born in Krabbendijke, the Netherlands, his family emigrated to America when he was seven years old, and settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He married Johanna VanStrien at the age of nineteen; they were blessed with fifty-three years of marriage. He was brought under saving convictions at the age of twenty-seven when the Lord blessed to his soul a loaned volume by Rev. G. VanReenen, De Woestijnreis der Kinderen Israels (now available in English as Israel’s Wilderness Journey). All his life he loved to read this godly minister’s writings; it is remarkable that his earthly pilgrimage also ended while reading one of his sermons, based on Luke 22:44.
During his late twenties and early thirties the conviction that he was without God, Christ, and hope in the world intensified. He was led more deeply into a knowledge of his actual sins in thoughts, words, and deeds. At the age of thirty-three he was elected deacon. This caused him much strife, as he had not yet been brought into spiritual liberty in Christ Jesus. The task was impossible and he felt he had to decline, but in the end the Lord inclined his heart to give himself for the work through a personal application of Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”
Sometime during 1953, the only year he would serve as deacon, he felt called to the ministry. Several months later, he was placed as a candidate for the eldership. I still remember the time when he showed me in the hallway of our old home where the Lord revealed to him that his calling was not for the ministry, but to be an elder. He was installed in January of 1954, and was serving in his thirty-ninth year as elder when he passed away.
The year after he was installed as elder was a difficult one for my father as he still knew very little of Christ experimentally. In fact, after he prayed on one occasion from the pulpit an older brother elder asked him, “Did you ever see a baby in a buggy with a beard?” He then instructed my father that he could tell from his prayers that he still needed to be led into a personal acquaintance with original sin. In plain words, he was praying further than he was led. It pleased the Lord to bless this instruction and to lead him more deeply into his original sin later that year through reading Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State—especially applying that part where Boston reveals how every single commandment was broken in our deep fall in Paradise. Then the fall became his fall; he became, spiritually speaking, “Adam” before God. The spirituality of the law became real; he was cut off from his own righteousness, and signed his death sentence that the holy and just God was righteous to cast him away forever.
Then he experienced, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The Lord revealed Christ to his soul as the only and all-sufficient Savior for poor sinners. He was driving home at the time; he pulled off the road and wept profusely as the Lord opened to him the active and passive obedience of His dear Son for the greatest of transgressors.
It was not until the last decade of his life, however, that he was brought into considerable and more consistent evangelical liberty in Christ for his own soul. This evidenced itself in a more solid assurance and a daily, closer walk with the Master. During these final years, he could not hear Christ preached fully enough, freely enough. Christ became exceedingly precious and beautiful; he saw everything in Him, and in and through Him, in the triune God. He relished hearing the rich invitations of the gospel and the free, unconditional offer of grace. The whole counsel of God as experienced through death in Adam and life in Christ became more indispensable than ever before. In these last years it became obvious to all who knew him well that Christ was increasing and he was decreasing. The Lord was making him ripe for glory.