With my father’s death on June 7th and funeral yesterday I am much more conscious now than before of losing those precious ties to my Frisian heritage. All of my cousins and second cousins old enough to remember eventually asked the same question yesterday, “How’s your Frisian?” And we we’re not talking about black and white cows.
I grew up in northern New Jersey among Frisian immigrants from the Netherlands where the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker were all from the old country and spoke Frisian and played their native game Keatsen on July 4th. Vacations for us were always plans to return to Friesland and my father’s home village of Arum where my father in many significant ways in his heart, never really left.
A significant part of my family was the Reformed Church. We were split as a family between the two main branches: one the state reformed church, the other the more conservative independent reformed church. When we did make it home this difference hit me with full force as I was stunned to discover that I was not the only committed Christian in my family. Among my mother’s people family devotions after the evening meal were still in effect. I remember my uncle reading from the Scriptures and then a piece from Wilhelmus À Brakel, in stukje Brakel, he would announce. And would read a little paragraph of beloved “Father Brakel’s” The Christian’s Reasonable Service.
À Brakel was a Frisian. He was born in 1635 in Ljouwert, Leeuwarden to the rest of you, he studied theology at our university in Franeker and then at Utrecht and was particularly influenced by his mentor, Gisbertus Voetius. He served four congregations in Friesland before moving south to Rotterdam and a fruitful ministry of forty-nine years. He died in 1711 at the age of seventy-six. À Brakel represents the best of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie, or ‘Further Reformation’ underway at the same time the great Puritan pastors in Britain wrote their best and enduring works.
First published in 1700, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (De Redelijke Godsdienst) ran through twenty Dutch editions in the eighteenth century alone! The title is from Romans 12.1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (KJV)
Here is a sample from The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 3
There is no other way to heaven except by way of courageous warfare. This is the way ordained by God: “And I will put enmity” (Gen. 3:15). You have chosen this way when you entered into the kingdom of Christ and placed yourself under His banner. Or on the other hand: you must either sever yourself from the covenant, as a villain walk from this ensign, and relinquish God, heaven, and everything else; or you must courageously engage in battle in order thus to conquer the devil and his cohorts, the world and all that is in it, as well as sin and all its lusts.
The crown of glory must be worth so much to you; so precious must spiritual life and fellowship with God be to you, and such pleasure must you find in the will of God, that you will be willing to battle valiantly all the days of your life. Do not let this weigh heavily upon your heart, thinking, “Must I be in arms and engage in warfare my entire lifetime? That is indeed a distasteful way and there is no way whereby I will persevere.” Yes, heaven must be that precious to you; or else you must not relinquish it.
Be it known, however, that to battle courageously is not such a heavy task as you allow yourself to believe. To always battle and succumb, or always to be equally matched in force, causing the outcome of the battle to be in doubt, is indeed a heavy task. It is a joyous task, however, to conquer as you are fighting, to proceed while conquering one city after another, and to humiliate the enemy battle after battle. Such will be the case if you but conduct yourself courageously, commensurate with you strength—be it that you battle as a child, a young man, or a man. You are so fearful of the battle because you do not proceed courageously, instead, due to your laxity, carelessness and lack of seriousness you give the enemy the opportunity to get the advantage over you. This makes them more courageous and you become weaker. Therefore, lift yourself up in the ways of the Lord and courageously engage yourself. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (342-342)
This is a poignant piece for me to read as my father, after nearly forty years of prayer for his conversion, did indeed commit his life to our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in the closing weeks of his life.
The battle is won.
So in honor of my dad Jan Jansma and in thankfulness for his salvation and our heritage, I think I shall bring a volume of The Christian’s Reasonable Service up to the Adirondacks with me this year where I start all my “big reads”.
Time for in stukje Brakel.