Henry de Fluiter
1872 - 1970
Henry (Hendricus) de Fluiter was one of the most prolific writers of gospel music in the Seventh-day Adventist church in the early years of the 20th century, writing over 200 songs. In a limited way he was continuing the work of Franklin E. Belden, who had written numerous hymns and gospel songs in the beginning years of the church. While 22 of Belden's hymn tunes were included in the 1941 Church Hymnal and sixteen in the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, only two of de Fluiter's were included in each of those publications.
Although Henry was born in Holland, his parents emigrated to the U.S. when he was nine. He joined the Adventist church in 1899 and immediately began leading the music in crusades, working with several prominent evangelists. His association with H.M.S. Richards and his crusades and eventual radio broadcasts in California started when de Fluiter was in his fifties and would continue for twelve years, leading to greater recognition for his musical leadership and song writing.
He served as a pastor in California churches for 68 years. He and his wife, Elsie Huffaker, married in 1899 and had four children. He was living in Azusa, California, at the time of his death at 97.
Sources: Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Volume 10, Revised Edition, 1976, (Review and Herald Publishing Association) 385; Obituary, Review and Herald, 7 May 1970, Source: Wayne H. Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 1988, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 249-50; 1880, 1900, 1910 U.S. Federal Census Records; Kezia Jane Hallmark Family trees, Ancestory.com.
Henry de Fluiter
Dorothy Minchin Comm
On a Sunday afternoon in 1882 Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey walked out onto the stage of Doan's Tabernacle and Music Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. As Mr. Sankey sat down at the great theater organ, he unknowingly initiated a process which would change the life of one round-faced, ten-year-old boy in the audience.
Great swells of music rolled up into the first balcony and then the second. Then Sankey asked the people to join him in singing the old favorite, Bringing in the Sheaves. The verses, in unison and then harmony, leaped from one balcony to another and crested in a grand chorus that "consumed" the whole auditorium and every person in it.
Eyes round with wonder, Henry de Fluiter stood tall beside his father, his boyish soprano blending into the throng of voices around and above him. "And that is when I decided," he was to say in later life. "I decided that I wanted to make people sing beautiful gospel music, just like Mr. Sankey did that day."
Since there were no other musicians in the family, however, Henry kept his thrilling secret for several weeks. Finally, he confided in his father. "When I grow up, I want to be a singing evangelist, just like Mr. Sankey."
His father stared down at him. "You - a singer?" He smiled patronizingly. "No, you'll never be a singer, Henry. But your brother John - now he will sing." (Later Henry would recall that John couldn't even carry a tune.)
At first utterly demoralized, young Henry rallied and promised himself that he would indeed lead people to God through gospel music.
A year earlier, in 1881, Henry de Fluiter's parents had emigrated to the United States from Hilversun, Holland, and his father went to work in a Cleveland factory. Devoutly religious members of the Dutch Reformed Church, they had often, while still in the old country, invited friends in for Bible study on Sundays. Henry remembered how often the adults talked about the Second Coming of Christ. Later he would make this the dominant theme of his 68-year-long ministry to the Seventh-day Adventist church.
In time, attracted by a better job offer, the de Fluiters moved south to the small town of Ravenna, Ohio. But Henry had already formed his city connections and elected to stay in Cleveland. He rented a room from the Martins, Methodist neighbors. Mr. Martin was a sign painter by trade. Fascinated by the brilliant colors and being attracted to the musical interests of the family, Henry decided to become a sign painter also.
One evening Willard H. Saxby, minister of the local Seventh-day Adventist church, visited the Martin home. Fortunately he was a better visiting pastor than a public speaker. He launched into several weeks of Bible studies. The Martins could not be reconciled to the Sabbath doctrine, but Henry accepted all of the new teachings.
Full of zeal, he set off on his bicycle, travelling the 25 miles to tell his parents about what he had learned. It turned out to be a happy family reunion instead of a confrontation. Having been visited by a Seventh-day Adventist colporteur, the elder de Fluiters had just made the same decision for themselves.
In 1899 Henry was baptized in Lake Erie and joined the struggling little Cleveland church. As yet he had had no musical training. Throughout his teen years, however, he had conducted the choir for the Epworth League in a large, local Methodist Church and had also experimented with a few songs - for special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
His eyes were still fixed on a ministry like that of lra D. Sankey, so Henry applied to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. There he had the choice of just two courses: Bible-Music (for ministers) and Music-Bible (for song leaders). He chose the latter and stayed for one term. Still, he'd had no formal music education. Moreover, because of a severe laceration of one of his thumbs, he was never even able to play the piano.
Upon leaving Chicago, Henry returned to Cleveland to resume his sign-painting vocation and to wait for his horizons to broaden. His first opportunity came in the form of the new pastor of the Cleveland church, Elder D. E. Lindsey. Descended from a long line of Methodist pastors, Lindsey looked like Dwight Moody, loved to sing, and enthusiastically carried on public evangelism.
He invited de Fluiter to be his song leader in a series of summer meetings he planned in a nearby rural Ohio community. Conference officials were shocked. You want us to pay someone just to help with the music? Who had ever heard of such a thing! Surely the preacher could do that for himself.
A man of force and independence, however, Lindsey took de Fluiter with him to northwest Ohio. Henry received $3.00 a week (from the people) for his services. Certainly not a lavish sum for a young married man soon to become a father. When the meetings ended, Henry, of course, had to go back to sign painting.
About 1902 he wrote his first Adventist song, inspired by Elder Lindsey's preaching on the prophecies of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. After writing Matthew Twenty-four, he had to rely on Lindsey's capable pianist to harmonize the tune for him. Its Premiere performance was at one of the evening meetings. From there, the song went on to become a long-standing evangelistic success.
A few years later, while working with the big camp meeting choir in Denver, Colorado, he attracted the attention of Charles T. Everson. The evangelist invited him to join him in New York City, a commission which lasted from 1914 to 1916. The New York meetings were held on a big scale, Sunday nights in large theaters and weeknights in halls. De Fluiter gathered together a huge choir, supported by an orchestra. (Amazingly, it happened that most of the workers at the Review & Herald Publishing Association branch in the city played musical instruments.)
In 1914 World War I had just begun, and the popular song “Over There” had captured public interest. Henry promptly offered his interpretation in his own soon-to-be-famous song, “Over Yonder.”
Now calls came from other evangelists wishing to have lively song services too. And the conferences began to give Henry "a little something" for each meeting. Maybe, they conjectured, a singing evangelist was not a bad investment after all. Between times, however, Henry always had to go back to his brushwork.
The real breakthrough came in 1926 at the Milwaukee General Conference session. H. M. S. Richards, a promising young evangelist, invited de Fluiter to join him for two weeks of meetings in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Richards' father, H. M. J. Richards, was the conference president there.) For the first time de Fluiter would be a song leader full time. The two men waited on the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and negotiated the rental of the Klan Tabernacle for their meetings.
After that series, Richards inquired, "Now we can go either to Florida or California. Which place would you prefer?" Henry opted for the West Coast, so the new team began work in Central California. First, they built a tarpapered tabernacle in Visalia - in just three days. Later came Bakersfield where Henry recruited a fine group of German singers from nearby Shafter for his 80-voice choir. Meetings convened nightly, except Mondays.
"I'm praying for 101 souls from these meetings," Henry told Richards.
"But why have you settled on 101?"
"Just to be sure it's over 100." The final count turned out to be 144.
Then the team worked Fresno for nine months. Next came Hanford and Merced. Crowds of 2000 and 3000 people were not uncommon. With no competition from radio and television, people liked to come out to public meetings. Meanwhile, de Fluiter painted all the posters and set up huge signs, thereby minimizing advertising expenses to cost only. Not once did he ever hide the Seventh-day Adventist identity of the meetings. Usually, after two or three weeks, the campaigns carried themselves by their own momentum without further advertising.
The series held in Long Beach channeled the ministry at last into radio. There the Voice of Prophecy officially began, though originally the broadcast was called Tabernacle of the Air. De Fluiter's choir and orchestra were now heard daily on the air.
For the next twelve years the team worked together. Richards' love of music shaped the program for decades - the music of the old "sawdust trails." The preaching of Richards repeatedly inspired the songs of de Fluiter. And never did Henry accept payment for the use of his songs by the Voice of Prophecy. Regular church pastoring augmented the steady flow of songs which he kept up all of his life.
Each song, of course, had its own origin and motivation. A member of Henry's Gardena, California, church suffered a heart-breaking experience. "Ah, Pastor," she sighed, "I'm just homesick for heaven now." Instantly Henry picked up the new theme. Within hours he had written, “Homesick for Heaven.”
His sister Anna returned from twenty-two years of mission service with her husband in India. She became so painfully arthritic that she had to be confined to a home in Shafter. "So," he said, "for her I wrote a song based on our 'love-word," 'maranatha."' (For himself, old age was more kind. At 89 he could say, "I haven't an ache or a pain.")
“Longing,” perhaps his most popular song, has been sung around the world in several languages. It arose out of his pain at seeing a rabbit accidentally stumble into the campfire during a hike with his Pathfinders in the Rocky Mountains. Suffering, human or otherwise, always made Henry cling all the more tenaciously to his hope of heaven.
Henry de Fluiter wrote between 200 and 225 gospel songs. Half of them were on the Second Coming of Christ. How could he find fresh approaches to the same theme, year after year? "The idea is always uppermost in my mind," he told his protege, Wayne Hooper. "I think of nothing else. And so it happens - the mouth speaks out of the fullness of the heart, you see."
He took no interest in doctrinal or theological controversies. He simply fixed his eyes continuously on the final event. "Wayne," he used to say, "I'm going to be alive when Jesus comes!"
After waiting [almost] 98 years, however, he died on March 5, 1970, the hope as bright within him as ever it had been. Like most creative artists, de Fluiter's favorite song was always the most recent one he'd written. Fittingly, his last one was “That Day Must be Near.”
De Fluiter and Richards were both men to be reckoned with - the stuff that pioneers are made of. At a testimony meeting once, with some 1,000 persons ready to speak, Richards curbed the effusions of one garrulous old saint who was taking up too much time. On the signal, de Fluiter brought on the choir, in full chorus. When the man tried to start up his preachments again, de Fluiter's choir "sang him down" a second time.
In his enthusiasm, Henry would sometimes beat time with his feet as well as his hands. Music simply possessed him. Even when he broke his foot, he couldn't stop thumping his cast on the floor.
When the two old troupers met together for the last, time in public at the Vallejo Drive Church, Glendale, California, in 1964, Richards reminisced wistfully. "Al, my brother, we could still pitch a tent, even now . . . ."
Dorothy Belle Minchin Comm (1929 - ), professor in English at La Sierra University when this article was written, was editor of Adventist Heritage. A prolific writer, she has written over ten books and numerous articles. Minchin-Comm is a professor emeritus at LSU.
Reprinted from the Spring 1991 issue of Adventist Heritage with permission from La Sierra University.
Henry de Fluiter Songs
A partial listing
Compiled by DMC
A A Call Out of Glory, A Pilgrim, A Prisoner of Hope, A Strong, Mighty Tower, Abiding, Able to Serve, All in All to Me, All Things, All Things are Possible, Always, Always Pray, America, My Country, "And Forever", Angels of God
B Blessed Jesus, By and By He's Coming
C Calvary's Tide, Christ is the Answer, Closer to Thy Side, Come Quickly, "Come Unto Me", Crown Him King
D Dearest Lord, Dearest of All, Deep in My Heart, Do It Now
F Faith, Hope and Love, Filled with His Life, For Me, Forgiven, Fully Determined, Fullness of Joy
G Garden of Gethsemane, Glad Day, Speed On, God Bless and Keep Thee, God Watches over Me, Grace More Abounding
H Hail Him, the King of Glory, Happy in Him, Has Any One Ever Told You, Have Faith in God, Have Faith to Believe, He Canceled My Sin, Height and Depth of Love, He'll Never Forsake, He's Nearer, His Cross and Mine, Holy Sabbath Rest, Home, Homesick for Heaven, Hope of Glory, How Can I But Love Him, How Dear to My Heart, How Precious is Jesus
I I Am Not My Own, I Could Not Live Without Jesus, I Follow On, "I Will not Forget Thee", I'm In the Service, "In a Moment", In Clouds of Glory, In His Love Alone, In the Depth of the Sea, Into Your Heart, Is It in the Bible?, Isaiah Fifty-three, It was Love for Me, It's Real
J Jesus Alone, Jesus, My Friend, Jesus Now is Calling You, John Three, Sixteen, Joy of Full Salvation, Joy Unspeakable, Just a Few More Days, Just for Today, Just Waiting
K Keep It Shining for Him
L Lo! He Comes, Longing, Lord, Keep Us Faithful, Lord, Send the Showers, Lovely Jesus
M Matthew Twenty-four, My Only Glory, My Refuge, My Wayward Heart,
N No Condemnation, No Cross, No Crown, No One Like Jesus, No Tears
O O, How Precious, O, What a Saviour, O, What Joy, On to Victory, One Thousand Years, Only One Way, Open the Windows of Heaven, Out of the Night, Over There Bye and Bye, Over Yonder
P Praise the Lord, Pray On, Hold On
Q Quit You Like Men
R Radiant Glory, Ride On, King Jesus, Rose of Sharon
S Sailing for Home, See the Day Now Breaking, Sing and Rejoice, Sing Your Troubles Away, Some Day You Will Need Him, Stand to Arms, Stir Me, Lord!, Strong to Deliver, Sunshine Smiles
T Take Heart, That Day Must Be Near, That's Where My Heart Is, The Children's Song, The Day Is at Hand, The Golden City, The Land of "Tomorrow", The Last Mile, The Prodigal, The Wonderful Name, Then Sing for Joy, There is a Land, There is a Way, There's a Hiding Place, This Same Jesus, 'Tis Canaan Land, "To Walk With Jesus", Today is the Day, Trust Him Forever
U Unto Him That Overcometh, Up in the Glory Land
V Volunteers for Jesus
W Welcome Home, What Will It Be?, "What Would Jesus Do?", When God Forgets, When the Day Dawns, When We See Him, Wonder of Wonders, Wonderful Heavenly Peace, Wonderful Is He, Wonderful Love for Me, "Worthy the Lamb"
Y Yielding My All