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Robert G. den Dulk

Author
Category Articles
Date September 7, 2007

On Monday July 2nd Iola and I drove out east from Grand Rapids twenty miles to a lovely house in the woods overlooking Murray Lake on Red Oak Drive, Lowell to visit Bob den Dulk.

Bob and I had begun our studies at Westminster Seminary together in 1961 and we graduated three years later (along with John Frame) in 1964. Bob was a year older than me. He had married Nellie while in Calvin College and had arrived at the Seminary with a child in tow soon to be joined by a second. He was drawn to Westminster by Cornelius Van Til. The den Dulks lived off campus and so our only contact was going back and fore to lectures. We never did anything together as students; he returned to his wife and family just like Walt Chantry would. We bachelors led our own lives rather envious of those men and their godly partners.

When we arrived there in 1961 Palmer Robertson was student president welcoming us with that wonderful Mississippi accent to the first students’ gathering, to be followed the next year by A. Donald Macleod, and then by Bob den Dulk. He was a natural leader, transparent in his life, God-loving and interested in others.

Bob was born in Ripon, California, attended its Christian schools and from there went to Calvin Seminary and Westminster. When I sailed home the day after graduation Bob was retained and immediately employed by the Seminary in the area of business, recruiting, and development. He did this work for fifteen years and became a confidant of Ed Clowney and members of staff. He loved John Murray. He said to me that July morning that we had been two privileged men, as those three years at Westminster were the best period in its history. He was there during the division over Norman Shepherd’s views of works and grace and justification. His family were friends with Cornelius Van Til and often on Sunday afternoons Dr Van Til would write a letter to Bob’s mother. Bob wrote for the Banner of Truth website March 1st 2001 a splendid article on Dr Van Til which summed up the impact of the whole man; the best thing ever written on Van Til.1 There Bob wrote the following:

In the winter of 1951 my parents were in Grand Rapids, Michigan and through a mutual friend, met Dr. Van Til. While they were together, they struck up a friendship and my parents invited Dr. Van Til to come and spend some time in our home in California. Dr. Van Til accepted the invitation and planned to come for a whole month. That summer of 1951 Dr. Van Til took his wife back to her family in Munster, Indiana and then boarded a train for Sacramento. There my parents met the train and brought Dr. Van Til to Ripon California. I had just graduated from the 8th grade the first time Dr. Van Til came to our home.

My Mother was very concerned about having such a great man be with us for several weeks. What would he be like and what would his demands be? That question was answered the first morning after breakfast when Oome Kees (Uncle Cornelius) got up from the table and picked up the dishes, walked into the kitchen, put on my Mother’s apron and began washing up. This we later learned was a task he joyfully did in his own home, chattering as he worked. My Mother knew then, Oome Kees was a very down to earth person and would fit into the family well.

Oome Kees developed a great love for my Mother. He saw her as a very spiritual person and one who had a heart for people. It was my Mother who gave me the insight into much biblical truth. It was she who six months before her death gave me all the Puritan writings then published by Sovereign Grace Publishers which came into existence at approximately the same time as the Banner of Truth Trust. Dr. Van Til came to our house every summer for a month for almost ten years until my Mother died in 1960, six months before I went to Westminster as a student.

In a letter to an uncle and aunt, he wrote of my Mother, ‘I am happy you recall your last visit with Gilbert and Jessie in Heidelberg, Germany. I have never known a person whom I think had a nobler Christian character than she. She was very much like her father. She had genuine piety, good humor, and a deep conviction of the truth with a determination not to compromise it.’

And to us in a card he wrote: ‘How deeply you must feel the loss of your Mother. Our prayers are with you in your sorrow. May the God of all comfort in whom she trusted so completely, sustain you.’ Following her death in April, 1960 he only returned to Ripon the summer after she died and maybe on one other occasion. Two years later he published his book,Christianity and Barthianism and on a single page are the words, ‘In memory of Jessie den Dulk.’

During his years at the Seminary in Philadelphia the big debate took place concerning opening another Westminster Seminary on the west coast of America. Some members of staff, notably Paul Woolley the professor of church history, were quite opposed to this development, but with growing numbers of students applying to the Philadelphia campus, and the almost 3000 miles distance to California, the decision was taken to begin a second campus. Bob was appointed to lead its development and then became a surprising, but with second thoughts, a natural and brilliant president of Westminster Seminary, Escondido from 1989 to 1994 when he was followed by Robert B. Strimple and then Robert Godfrey – three men named Robert. He remained working at the Seminary in a part time capacity until the end of his days. In 2003 he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.

Bob was involved in a number of ministries: Ligonier, the Presbyterian and Reformed publishing company, Arab World Ministries, Covenant College, and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. He was a founding member of the Barnabas Foundation and Founder and President of the Den Dulk Christian Foundation. He brought Ernest Reisinger onto the board and they worked for years together in the closest fellowship. The big free books which all the members of the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conferences in America were given were initially gifts of that Foundation. The Banner of Truth was also generous. He served on various school boards and church councils and worked bringing the gospel to prisoners in American jails, supporting men involved in prison visitation, some of them converted convicts, and in sending literature to jails throughout California. He himself visited prisons and preached at chapel services. He loved and supported experiential Calvinism, the books of the Banner of Truth, the preaching of Al Martin and he used his considerable resources to promote it in every way.

Nellie was his right arm; there could not have been a more devoted and happy couple working to spread the gospel. His three sons are all in agri-business and Bob had sixteen grandchildren with one, Robert Wyatt, predeceasing him. They were all members of the Trinity Christian Reformed Church pastored by his cousin C. J. Den Dulk. How concerned he was for the future of that denomination especially since in the synod of 2007 the ordination of women was accepted with scarcely a murmur.

We had gone to visit him on July 2nd because of his long illness with cancer. His friends were surprised that he had lived as long as he had, and when we saw him the debilitating effects of the disease were evident, but how vital and contented he and Nellie were. Bob was reading Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon,2 not for the first time. The four of us had a golden hour together. While we were there the cell phone rang; his doctor was calling from his car in California wanting to know how he was; one of his daughters-in-law also called for an affectionate chat with her adored father-in-law. I left him with the closing farewell of Dr. Van Til, ‘We shall soon meet at Jesus’ feet.’ What an honour to be with him. The only sadness he expressed was never having visited Wales …

Bob wrote wonderful letters to his family and friends during his illness, savoured by all who received them. I printed them out month by month for our congregation in our mid-week meeting for them to see how a godly man prepares for death. In the final, sixteenth letter he wrote,

This past Monday we had a visit from one of my seminary classmates – Geoff Thomas – who has preached for over 40 years in Wales. He read Psalm 116 with us. Tuesday evening Nellie and I read Psalm 116 together again. I won’t quote it all here but let me call your attention to a few of the verses. Read for yourself verses 1 & 2, 4-7. But I want to call your attention to vs. 12-14: What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

This afternoon when the news came that things weren’t as good as we had hoped, the words of these verses came to me in the night. The news was not good, but still God has showered me with the riches of his grace, his goodness, his forbearance, salvation without money, without price, a wonderful life of service for him, faith given by the Holy Spirit to trust him without one of my works. I could go on and on describing his benefits but you get the picture. In spite of the hardship of illness we look not at the hardship but at his benefits to me.

And in my sickness I pay my vows to the Lord by declaring what God has done for me. May my life be a testimony of God’s grace rather the suffering I am asked to endure. It is a matter of God’s good acts that must be declared. May we be the instruments in his hand to do that.

We said last month we would pray for those who share their special needs with us since we have time to pray. We call it our ‘Internet Prayer List.’ We just want to assure you that it is being done.

The final letter came from Nellie; Bob had died a month to the day we had visited him.

Early this morning, August 2, our gracious God and Savior called Bob den Dulk to Himself in glory. Bob was so blessed to die with a triumphant faith, assured that he belonged body and soul, to His faithful Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord in His most kind and gracious ways, blessed Bob with a wonderful time of worship and praise on Sunday with his wife Nellie, three sons and their wives, together with their 16 grandchildren.

As you know from Bob’s life and his letters, his desire was that God’s good and gracious deeds would be declared. Bob simply and sincerely desired to be an instrument in God’s hand to promote the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Bob was working on Psalm 23 as he anticipated his next letter to all of you. It is our prayer that each one of you will know the love and care of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:11, 27-30), and that you too will be assured that His goodness and mercy pursue you all the days of your life as you thankfully serve Him.

The den Dulk family would like to thank all of you for your many heartfelt prayers, kind and loving gestures, and Christian care for Bob and his family. Be assured that your prayers for Bob and his family were so appreciated and answered. We all prayed to a mighty God whom we serve, and God did more than we could have asked or imagined. God blessed the excellent care of doctors that gave Bob quality of life as well as more months than we humanly expected. Bob was also able to bless us with such inspiring letters and testimonies of God’s goodness and love. Most of all, Bob was able, by the Holy Spirit’s help, to glorify God in life and in his homecoming.

A private burial was held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday August 6. The memorial service was at 1 p.m. at the Trinity Christian Reformed Church, 600 S. State Street, Sparta, MI 49345. Robert Godfrey took part with C. J. Huttinga and C. J. den Dulk. Joel Nederhood presided at the family burial. On Thursday, August 9, at 2 p.m. a memorial service was held at the Escondido United Reformed Church, 1864 N. Broadway, Escondido, CA 92026. Bob den Dulk had the highest admiration of Hywel Jones and the contribution he had made to Westminster Seminary, Escondido.

Bob’s life and death say to us, in the words of his beloved J. C. Ryle, (from Holiness,3 Chapter 9) ‘Do not linger!’

Would you be found ready for Christ at His second appearing – your loins girded, your lamp burning, yourself bold, and prepared to meet Him? Then do not linger!

Would you enjoy much sensible comfort in your religion – feel the witness of the Spirit within you, know whom you have believed, and not be a gloomy, complaining, sour, downcast, and melancholy Christian? Then do not linger!

Would you enjoy strong assurance of your own salvation, in the day of sickness, and on the bed of death? Would you see with the eye of faith heaven opening and Jesus rising to receive you? Then do not linger!

Would you leave great broad evidences behind you when you are gone? Would you like us to lay you in the grave with comfortable hope, and talk of your state after death without a doubt? Then do not linger!

Would you be useful to the world in your day and generation? Would you draw men from sin to Christ, adorn your doctrine, and make your Master’s cause beautiful and attractive in their eyes? Then do not linger!

Would you help your children and relatives towards heaven, and make them say, ‘We will go with you’? – and not make them infidels and despisers of all religion? Then do not linger!

Would you have a great crown in the day of Christ’s appearing, and not be the least and smallest star in glory, and not find yourself the last and lowest in the kingdom of God? Then do not linger!

Oh, let not one of us linger! Time does not – death does not – judgment does not – the devil does not – the world does not. Neither let the children of God linger.

Notes

  1. Cornelius Van Til by Robert den Dulk.
    • Forgotten Spurgeon
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      On Monday July 2nd Iola and I drove out east from Grand Rapids twenty miles to a lovely house in the woods overlooking Murray Lake on Red Oak Drive, Lowell to visit Bob den Dulk. Bob and I had begun our studies at Westminster Seminary together in 1961 and we graduated three years later (along […]

    • Holiness

      Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots

      by J. C. Ryle


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      On Monday July 2nd Iola and I drove out east from Grand Rapids twenty miles to a lovely house in the woods overlooking Murray Lake on Red Oak Drive, Lowell to visit Bob den Dulk. Bob and I had begun our studies at Westminster Seminary together in 1961 and we graduated three years later (along […]

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