Making Choices

“Alternatives confront us, and between them we are obliged to choose; either God governs, or He is governed; either God rules or He is ruled; either God has His way, or men have theirs. And is our choice between these alternatives hard to make?” —A.W. Pink

A God-fearing Father (IX)

This post is the last in a series of blogs sharing my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993). In this part of the series I have been sharing lessons learned from his example.

(8) The brevity of life and the certainty of judgment. Our father often prayed: “Lord, prepare us for eternity, for our lives are like a brittle thread which can be cut at any moment.”

Our father’s death plunged us into sorrow, yet “the memory of the just is blessed” (Prov. 10:7a). It is our prayer that our father’s sudden death may serve to the glory of God, stimulating holy jealousy in the hearts of His people, causing the unsaved to pause and consider the solemn realities of eternity, and serving to the cause of peace and unity of our denomination which he loved with all his heart. Oh, that our father, like Samson, might have been given to be more fruitful in his death than in his life!

Finally, do not cast away the solemn warning in our father’s death. Remember the well-known saying of J. C. Ryle, “The saddest road to hell is that which runs under the pulpit, past the Bible, and through the midst of warnings and invitations.”

In the day of judgment, Revelation 22:11 will be fulfilled, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Then there will be no unbelievers, but then it will be too late to seek the Lord. The market of free grace will be closed.

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. . . . Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:42-44).

A God-fearing Father (VIII)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993). In this part of the series I am sharing lessons learned from his example.

(6) The beauty and loveliness of Christ. Especially in the last years of our father’s life, he sought to make Christ lovely. The more ministers were given to preach Christ from the pulpit, the more he wept in the pew. As family, no one needed to tell us; we knew he was living out of Christ. Especially his prayers betrayed him that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). And yet, he always longed for more of Christ. How many hundreds of times we heard him pray, “Lord, that we may be given to see the King in His beauty!”

Oh, may God grant more missing-yet-possessing people in our midst in the dark and sinful days in which we live (2 Cor. 6:8-10)! “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men” (Psa. 12:1).

(7) The need for self-examination. For our father, the loveliness of Christ, the need for self-examination and the fear of presumption rode in tandem with each other. He often prayed, “Lord, what a wonder it will be if, when we come to the end of our life, we do not find a covering too short or a bed too narrow.” And he often quoted the well-known saying of John Trapp, repeated by many others over the centuries, about a threefold wonder on the coming day of judgment: “first, I will be surprised to see some in heaven, whom I never expected to meet there; second, I will be surprised to miss some there, whom I expected to see; and third, the greatest wonder of all will be when I myself may enter into glory.”

A God-fearing Father (VII)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993). In this part of the series I am sharing lessons learned from his example.

(4) Holy earnestness. Our father was earnest. He often taught us at home and in church with tears about the dangers of sin and the necessity of coming before God as a hell-worthy sinner. With tears he instructed us about the only way of escape in Christ Jesus. He taught us with great conviction. Often he said to us: “Oh, that I could write these great truths of eternity upon your hearts with an iron pen!”

Dear parents, never forget that the church and the school cannot replace your foundational task. The church and school are designed to assist you, but the primary task of child-rearing, also in the area of true religion, rests with you. Can your children witness in your life a holy earnestness for the welfare of their never-dying souls?

(5) Wise, practical instructions. Our father often had golden nuggets of wisdom to impart to us. How well I remember one occasion when he said to me, “There are two things I don’t ever want you to forget if you become a minister some day: first, remember that J. C. Philpot was right when he said that though Satan cannot keep a child of God out of heaven, he can successfully keep heaven out of a child of God during this life when that child of God cooperates with him. And second, remember that you will need more wisdom to lead individual souls in a flock than to preach to the entire flock.”

To mention only one more example, he often said to us: “For a child of God a divine instruction is more than a divine comfort. A comfort is precious, but is usually of short duration; an instruction may not seem as great as a comfort at first, but an instruction will last an entire lifetime.”

A God-fearing Father (VI)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993). In this part of the series I am sharing lessons learned from his example.

(2) Laboring for souls in prayer. The second important lesson that impresses me is the great importance of fathers laboring for the souls of their children in prayer on a daily basis at the family table. How often our father prayed at the table, “Lord, have respect unto Thy covenant. Pass not one of our children or grandchildren by.” On the occasion of our parents’ fiftieth anniversary, he told us with tears that his one remaining desire was that he might meet “an undivided family in glory.” May the Lord graciously fulfill his desire.

Oh, the great blessing of parents who labor for the souls of their dear children in secret, but also in their children’s presence! Personally, I believe that one sincere prayer of a father weeping and begging earnestly and lovingly for the conversion of his children often makes more impression upon them than a whole series of harsh, unloving warnings.

(3) Exemplifying a life of service. Not explicitly, but by example our father taught us that a life of service to God and our neighbor is the only lifestyle worth living (John 12:26). By grace, his love for God’s truth, His house and people, and for the souls of the perishing was obvious to us children on a daily basis. In fact, it consumed his life. He had no time for other priorities. His life focused upon spiritual things. He lived simply, without luxury. The tent stakes were never put deeply into earthly soil.

Oh, that we may all take this lesson to heart! Life is so terribly short, dear friends. Let us seek grace to redeem the time, to live more in the light of eternity than in the shadows of time.

A God-fearing Father (V)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993).

When a God-fearing father passes away, the minds and hearts of his children will be flooded with numerous memories and lessons. Allow me to summarize them in the next few posts:

(1) Experiential religion. Perhaps most of all our father impressed upon us not only the need for, but also the reality of, a personal experiential knowledge of the marks and steps of grace—of saving conviction of sin, of God’s way of salvation in Christ, and of the fruits of gratitude and humility which flow out of an experienced deliverance. Often he spoke to us about the way the Lord leads His people—particularly on Sunday evenings, after family worship had been concluded (which usually consisted of Psalter-singing and numerous readings of The Pilgrim’s Progress—his favorite book). Many times as a teenager I could not go to bed after these hours of family worship, and we would stay up well past midnight speaking from heart to heart as I asked him further questions about God’s experiential leadings. These are precious, unforgettable memories.

I would wholeheartedly encourage all God-fearing fathers and mothers to foster spiritual conversation with your children. Particularly if your children show an interest for spiritual truths, let no impediment hinder you from speaking lovingly to their heart about the ways of God.

A God-fearing Father (IV)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993).

God’s timing is best. In the last period of his life our father longed to depart and be with Christ. In those months he told several family members and close friends, “I have such a longing to be done with sin and to be with Christ forever.” He was weary of sin and strife within and without.

Our father was never satisfied with himself. When the family circle commemorated our parents’ fiftieth anniversary three years ago, each of the children stated to our parents what we appreciated most about them. At the end, he arose, informed us that he would never receive a diploma for having been a good father, and confessed with tears, “few and evil have the days of the years of my life been” (Gen. 47:9b).

Like all of God’s people, our father had his faults and weaknesses. He was a man of like passions as we are (James 5:17). At home, he was passive and calm; in church life, he was deeply concerned and forthright in expressing his convictions. But oh, what a blessing that not one shortcoming of the saints is mentioned in Hebrews 11 where the heroes and heroines of faith are listed! Do you know why this is so? Because all their sins have been washed away by the blood of the precious Surety.

Our father would freely testify of his nearly forty years of service in the church that God could rightfully say, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation.” But those forty years, yes, his entire life, out of free, one-sided grace may now be without spot and wrinkle due to the justifying and sanctifying power of Christ and His blood-bought righteousness.

Blessed, blessed day when mortality puts on immortality, and corruption, incorruption! Oh, to be redeemed and placed before the throne of God without fear, with Christ in the midst of the throne (Rev. 7:17)! Eternal, unfathomable, sovereign, gracious wonder! Christ covenanted for this throne; He suffered and died for this throne. He died so that the throne of justice, on the grounds of fully satisfied justice, could be a throne of grace for all His people. It is that throne, having righteousness and judgment as its habitation (Ps. 97:2), which is Jehovah’s seat of mercy, having the blood of the Mediator sprinkled upon it.

That Christ is in the midst of the throne, Ralph Erskine wrote, speaks of the dignity of His Person, the height of His exaltation, the perfection and completeness of all His mediatorial work, His accessibility on every hand to sinners, and His centrality with regard to all the glory that surrounds and encompasses the throne of God. Christ is the express image of His Father and the brightness of His glory. From between the cherubim, He shines forth as the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 80:1). In Him, the throne of grace is a place of beauty, plenty, and triumph. There Christ shall feed His people with His eternal covenant-keeping faithfulness. He shall feed them powerfully, kindly, spiritually, and plentifully. With a soft cloth, says Rutherford, He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

A God-fearing Father (III)

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.

A God-fearing Father (II)

This series of blogs shares my remembrances of the life and death of my father, John Beeke (d. 1993).

On Wednesday, three days after my father died, we needed fresh strength to conduct the funeral. Early that morning our dear mother was given grace to surrender our father into the Lord’s hands. How strengthening it was to hear her say on a good foundation just before my ascending the pulpit, “I can no longer wish him back!” The funeral message was based on Revelation 7:15, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” Our major theme was “The Redeemed before the Throne of God.” We considered three thoughts: (1) who are before the throne of God—they who had come out of great tribulation, especially soul tribulation (Rev. 7:14); (2) why they are before the throne of God—”therefore,” that is, because out of sovereign grace their robes are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (v. 14); (3) what they experience before the throne of God—the Lamb in the midst of the throne and an eternal serving of Him in the heavenly temple (v. 15b; also vv. 16–17).

At the graveside, my two brothers led the committal service. Elder James Beeke (from Chilliwack) spoke on Psalm 103:13, “Like as a father pitieth His children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him.” Elder John R. Beeke (from St. Catharines) spoke some concluding words, thanked the friends for their support, and closed with prayer. The Lord gave help in the midst of sorrow.

As far as our dear father himself is concerned, he could not have asked for a better death. He died, as an elder said to me, “while in harness,” yes, while engaged in doing what was the love of his heart and his very life—the Lord’s cause and service. As a brother deacon in Kalamazoo said, “In his last prayer on earth he asked for a crumb, and received a crown.” He is above all strife.

A God-fearing Father (I)

I received so many responses from my posts about my late mother that it seems good for me to share also about my father. The following posts are adapted from what I wrote as a pastoral letter for my congregation the week after the sudden passing away of our dear father, John Beeke, while he was leading the Sunday morning worship in Kalamazoo, Michigan on March 14, 1993. It was not easy to write this, but I felt compelled to do so, and I pray that even now many years later God would bless many through it.

I do not write about memories of and lessons from our deceased father in any way to exalt him; rather, my desire is that God may be glorified and that we may all learn from the experiences and examples of God’s people. 

On Sunday morning, March 14, 1993, a brother deacon handed me the following note a few minutes before the end of the sermon: “While reading a sermon this morning your father had a heart attack.  He is on his way to the hospital now.  He is not so good.”

I felt immediately that this was my dear father’s hour of translation from the church militant to the church triumphant.  Thus, we were not surprised when we arrived in the emergency room an hour later in Kalamazoo to hear our dear mother say through tears, “He’s gone.”

And yet . . . we are never ready for death.  We cling to the smallest remnant of hope—especially when it is one of our loved ones.  Oh, the awesome, unnatural finality of death!  Death always arrives sooner than we reckon.  It always comes as a shock.  Death hits us hard and heavily.  We confess, “Thou hast showed Thy people hard things: Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment” (Psa. 60:3).

You can understand that we wept many tears in those hours.  We lost a teaching prophet, praying priest, and guiding king in our family circle.  We lost a loving father, a spiritual companion, a bosom friend.  Late that afternoon, the Lord gave some encouragement by directing us to Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”  We may believe that He also provided strength to preach from these words that same evening to the mourning consistory and flock of Kalamazoo who were all live witnesses of their elder’s death on the pulpit.

The following Monday and Tuesday evenings in the funeral home were unforgettable.  After we heard numerous testimonies from those who were blessed by our father’s teaching and visits, these encouraging words of Paul kept pressing themselves upon our soul: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).  God’s Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish His good pleasure (Is. 55:11).

In future posts, I will share more about my father’s life and death.