A Letter to His Son
Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, D. D.
Founder of Holland, Michigan
Remembering that you have reached your thirtieth year, and Albertus is already thirty-eight, various thoughts are stirred within me. It becomes clear to me that the evening of my life draws nigh and the translation is at hand; that I shall not gather much wisdom here, nor awaken many more influences to leave behind. But nothing is more clear than this, that my thoughts and hopes concentrate upon my children, who still enjoy the strength of life. Far be it from me to declare that, if I could begin life over, I should use it more wisely, even if I could profit by my experience; nevertheless, having that experience behind us, we should like to use it in the service of those we love. That is why I am eager to tell you what I have learned, namely that man cannot attain happiness in the making of pleasure and in the accumulation of money, though they may be good in their place and within proper limits, because his happiness depends wholly upon living a life in the service of God, having the aim and purpose of glorifying Him. To please God, to seek His grace, to work with Him in His great plan of creation and salvation, these mold heart and life and cause us to see everything with other eyes. In a word, being busy in the world, working only the things visible and tangible, one is left with an empty soul; so doing we build upon a morass, which will sink from under one's feet tonight or tomorrow . Nor does that fill the craving of human-kind. All is of the earth is merely shell, the external wrappings of humanity. The spiritual and moral and religion nature of man needs knowledge, a realization of God; needs His grace, His strength, and fellowship with the Eternal. When these do not give direction, color, and tone to our lives, we miss our chief support, fail to attain satisfaction, and life is a purposeless struggle.
When, I used to hear Mother sing as she worked, I was glad: for I knew that then the work would be easier, and more satisfying. For then she was near her God and heavenly things were in her heart. At the close of her life one thought filled her with thanksgiving - that God had granted her so much to sweeten the path of life, so unspeakably much upon her difficult path. She was grateful, as life drew to a close, for the abundance she had enjoyed through the preaching of the Word and other means of grace.
I have heard that D'Israeli, former Premier of England and now an opponent of Gladstone and perhaps destined to be at the helm again, described life as follows in one of his speeches: "Youth is a blunder, manhood is a wrestling, old age is a disappointment." Why is there so much truth in his words? Because our spiritual nature was not intended to be a slave of that which is visible and tangible, but as children of God His vicegerents and image bearers, we were intended to have dominion over nature. All of nature lay at man's feet as long as he did not tear himself from his originator. Forgetting his origin and purpose, losing sight of his God and Maker and banishing Him from his heart, he acquired another purpose - instead of God, he put self upon the throne of his heart; he dedicated to himself the God-given dominion over the earth. That is why youth is a blunder. If youth does not know and acknowledge God, it becomes infatuated with ignorance and the glittering display of the world. Quite different is the case when one awakens to the joys of the Lord in youth. And being awake to the truth in manhood, we expect to gather our bread from among thorns and thistles, according to the Scriptures: we do not expect otherwise; and we recognize the justice of the situation, because of sin.
Most surely old age is a disappointment if we have clung to this world as our highest good; for life is short, all flesh is as grass, all glory of man as the flower. But if we have sought God for our heart, we have not lived in vain; we have the pearl of great price - peace with God, susceptibility to God, which we do not lose in death. Thus youth, manhood and old age can, in spite of all our sin and our sinful nature and the bitter fruits of sin, be full of joy, blessing, thanksgiving and hope, if we return to God in the way provided by Him.
All this must seem strange to you in a letter intended for your birthday. I only wished to cry out to you: Dirk! Do not halt between two opinions! I trust that you are seeking the Lord in secret, but open your heart's door wider to the tender influences of God's Spirit....
As for your temporal welfare, my child, serve and please the Lord in your daily work and interests. Do not imagine that you have matters in your own hand. You will observe that, although God usually permits success to follow upon the best efforts and blesses the diligent, yet He also gives many a lesson to the man who puts his trust in himself, in his own gifts, in the means he employs; teaching him that, after all, he is wholly dependent upon the blessing of God.... Consider! You are here upon earth not for your own sake; you have been placed here to the Glory of God, that you might serve your Maker, love Him, enjoying and praising Him here and hereafter, forever....
Above all, learn to give thanks. Your Grandfather was an example to me in this, and I still love him for it. In everything, even the enjoyment of a glass of cold water I could sense his spirit of thanksgiving. He was always deeply aware of his unworthiness. Therefore he lived much of his life in joyous gratitude, for he saw the love of a merciful heavenly Father beaming upon him always - so that even the dark clouds of life were to him evidence of the love and labor of God, Who chastised in love or administered bitter medicine in order to rescue him from a more bitter evil, namely sin. The measure of our gratitude to God is the measure of our happiness upon earth.
Perhaps you find the lack of money in Holland a stumbling block. And if I look at the matter from the viewpoint of a worldling thinking only of money making, I can readily agree with you and say, "Yes, go where money is plentiful"; and you would see me, too, go to New Orleans, perhaps, or Australia, where, so they say, one can make a fortune and money flows freely. But I believe that there is little happiness and much detriment to be found upon such a pathway. A quiet contented home life, where there is a desire to make the home attractive, and an effort to make life pleasant for one another, where one does not have to seek pleasure outside of the home, where the service of God and love of His truth is an antidote for our faults and failures, there is the greatest joy of life that one can ever have upon earth. And this can be had without luxury and without riches. When we have, along with such a home life, the feast of the Sabbath services which satisfies the soul, and our social life is also so permeated therewith, then I know of no better lot upon earth. For truly, as Jesus said, man does not live of his abundance. In order to be happy, man must have something for his mind and his heart. But in addition to that, if life is to be really satisfactory, it must be related to its purpose....
It is natural for a young person to desire a home of his own, and nothing would please me more than to see you as husband and father with a good and God fearing wife. Praying God for such a wife, you may expect His blessing. Only let it not be to make a show in the world, but in order to raise a family for the Kingdom of God. In the latter you will become honorable and princely, and find joy. In the former you will reap scorn, envy, bitterness and unrest. I have at times heard you complain because you have not enough income. . . . I believe that every young couple, united in the fear of the Lord, will experience that God blesses their labor according to their needs.... Consider the birds of the heavens and the lilies of the field, from which Jesus would have us learn to trust our Father's care.... With all your weighing and considering, do take God and His Word into account; for all our care, wisdom, strength, and planning cannot help us through. In the light of truth I say that to acknowledge God and trust Him does not make us fools. Therefore, instead of giving heed to the common wisdom of the world, which caricatures faith and laughs at it, shake off such things as sparks from the fires of hell. He who makes a hobby-horse of worldly wisdom here below and thinks himself clever in so doing, shall find the mockery imbedded in his very soul when, in the light of eternity, he shall stand revealed as a fool....
Such were the ideals which Van Raalte sought to teach his children - whole-hearted service of God and of our fellow men.