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Greatest Preachers

Martin R. DeHaan

Martin R. DeHaan

1891 - 1965

M. R. De Haan was born in Zeeland, Michigan, the son of a cobbler who had emigrated from the Netherlands. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The founder of Radio Bible Class discovered new purpose for living while close to death. On a hospital bed he examined the course of his life and decided to head in a new direction. His decision transformed him from a doctor of the body to a physician of the soul. --by James R. Adair

It is well known that when some people face death they see their past deeds flash before them. There's no written record of what transpired in the mind of 30-year-old Martin R. De Haan, M.D., as he struggled for his life in October 1921 in a Grand Rapids hospital. But it is known that he did considerable thinking about his past--and about his future.

For all of his 30 years he had been identified with the church. As a boy he had attended regularly and was even faithful while in medical school. But his life hadn't been counting for God as it should have. God's finger was pointing at certain sins in his life. He felt condemned, though as a 12-year-old boy he had presumably settled his relationship with God.

Nurses passed silently in the hallway outside his room as a transaction took place in the heart and life of the patient from Byron Center. He never made a point in telling and retelling the experience. But in 1929 he wrote, "I was born in 1891 of the flesh, 'a child of wrath even as others.' After a life of sin for 30 years I was born again of the Spirit in October 1921. Since then, my only hope and aim is to exalt Him, to whom be all glory forever and ever (Eph. 1:7)."

Dr. De Haan's wife Priscilla, who learned of his spiritual experience when she talked with him shortly after it happened, recalled that as he talked about it afterward he mentioned that he questioned whether or not he had met God at age 12. The hospital experience was a spiritual struggle not unlike Jacob's, who wrestled with God until dawn before he received a new touch and blessing from the divine hand. "Spare my life and I'll serve You," Dr. De Haan pleaded with God. And evidently he meant it with all his heart.

As the weeks passed, he talked with his wife--and with God--about the kind of Christian service he should do. Preach? Become a missionary? He wasn't sure. He talked about going abroad as a missionary, but friends pointed out that he could continue his practice, be God's man on the job, and at the same time support a missionary. For a time he thought perhaps this was the answer.

The matter continued to burden him increasingly, until finally, one day in early spring of 1922, he came in from house calls and said, "I can't go on any longer." In an act of finality, he slid his medical bag across the kitchen floor and said, "This is it!" After selling his practice, his home, and his office equipment, the young doctor made plans to enter nearby Western Theological Seminary.

The transformation that had occurred in his life continued to amaze Dr. De Haan to no end. As he read and studied his Bible, he was overwhelmed with God's grace. In later years he was to make a careful study of the grace of God, and pen these words:

"Like electricity, light, and life, we know only what it [grace] does, rather than what it is. Why God should choose the meanest, basest, most unworthy individuals with absolutely nothing to commend them at all to God, except their miserable, lost condition, and then exalt them to become the sons of God, members of the divine family, and use them for His glory, is beyond all reason and human understanding. Yet that is grace."

That he saw himself as the object of God's grace is illustrated in an incident that he related:

"Some time ago on my way to Colorado, I stopped off to visit my son Marvin on Chicago's North Side. After parking my car, I took a shortcut to the apartment through an alley. There, amid the dust, the refuse, the filth, and the rats, I encountered one of the most pathetic sights I have ever beheld.

"There, beside a leaking barrel filled with garbage and black with flies, stood one of society's outcasts, a man about 65 years old. Only the rim of his tattered hat was left. His shoes were tied on with rope. His coat was in shreds. His trousers were in tatters. His hands were black with filth. His hair was matted together, and his beard even worse. I watched him as he pawed about in the garbage. Finding a whiskey bottle with only a teaspoon of its poison left, he lifted it to his lips. He found another drop or two in another bottle, and then he fished out a crust of garbage-sodden bread and placed it in his mouth with his filthy hands. As I stood there, I. . . said to myself, 'O God, O God! That's me! That's me, apart from Thy wonderful grace.' . . . Under similar circumstances of birth, environment, and opportunity, I would have been no different, and no better. What a humbling truth grace is!"

In experiencing God's grace, M. R. De Haan had been born from above. He found himself not merely a sinner redeemed from hell and on the way to heaven, but he began to discover that God had imparted His very own life deep within. Yet, he was still as human as ever, and subject to temptations as before. But his new God-implanted life made a world of difference. He had a ready source of victory: the indwelling Holy Spirit, a mighty Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ, and an omnipotent heavenly Father.

In a real sense, 2 Corinthians 5:17 was being worked out in his experience: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."Excuse me, but your purpose is showing. That's right. The way you live reveals your real reason for living. Actions do speak louder than words.

Test yourself. Look at the following list of goals for life that we have discussed in this booklet. Take a long hard look at your life and evaluate where your energies are being spent. Are you trying to:

Get smart.
Work hard.
Have fun.
Love people.
Please God.

Do your responses to the following questions support your answer above? How do you spend your time? Do you know God's Word so you know how to obey? Can you honestly say that you are living in full obedience to the Lord? If not, why not? Do you enjoy life? What are your greatest frustrations in life? To what are you looking for satisfaction? What are you doing that has eternal benefits? If these questions make you uncomfortable, maybe you need to see, as Solomon did, the waste of living for anything less than God's intended purpose.

If you've never taken the first crucial step of trusting Christ to rescue you from God's judgment against disobedience, accept His offer of forgiveness right now. He will forgive, and He will give you new purpose and power for living (John 3:16; Rom. 5--8). Ask Him to help you to make the most of the new life He's given to you. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).


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