Every child of God has struggled at one time or another to answer the question, what is my Father’s will for me? Whether this is asked when it comes to deciding on a career path, whom to marry, or even whether or not we ought to purchase a certain thing, this question is of utmost importance, and it is good when God’s children seek the answer to it. However, God does not come to us in visions or address us by name on the pages of scripture in order to reveal his will to us in these matters. In fact, there are many situations in our everyday lives that require godly decisions, yet God does not specifically address them in his word. How then may God’s children know his will concerning such important matters? Although God does not give us a personal revelation regarding every situation we face, we may still discern what he would have us to do by studying the principles of his word, praying for wisdom to apply these principles, and by considering the earthly circumstances in which he sovereignly places us.
God’s word gives us principles for our lives. Some of the most basic of these principles are found in God’s law. In one way or another, everything we do, say, or think relates to the law of God. If we are perplexed about a certain choice or decision we have to make, looking at this in the light of God’s law may clear things up. Especially will this be true if we view it through the lens of the summary of the law given by our Lord himself. In that summary, Jesus teaches us that God’s law has two parts. The first deals with our relationship between ourselves and God. The second has to do with the duties we owe to our neighbor. Love for God and the neighbor are all-encompassing. If we are faced with a momentous decision, one thing we ought to consider is whether choosing one way over another might demonstrate hatred against God or the neighbor. If so, we can know with certainty what we are called to do. With David we must pray, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
Nevertheless, God’s law does not give specific instructions for everything. It certainly lays the groundwork, but it does not tell us whom to marry, what career path to choose, or how to manage our money. Yet there are other places in scripture that give principles on these matters. Concerning marriage, for example, we read that it is honorable (Heb. 13:4), and that it should be between a God-fearing man and woman (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 6:14). This means that when the young people of the church earnestly seek a godly spouse, they are doing a very noble thing and are living in obedience to the command of God. With respect to finances, we are told that we should not love (worship) money (2 Tim. 6:10), and that we are to be faithful stewards of all that God gives us. In other words, we should not labor to be rich, but we must work in order to support our families and the church. With respect to careers, we are called to serve God according to the gifts that he has given us (1 Cor. 7:7). Therefore we must see ourselves as servants of the Most High and use what he gives us for his glory, not for self-promotion.
It is not enough, however, that we merely are able to find these principles in God’s word. We must also be able to apply these principles to our own lives and circumstances. We are utterly incapable of doing this by ourselves. Therefore we must ask God for wisdom to apply these principles. This is all-important. We do not come into this world fully equipped with the wisdom needed for every situation we face. Indeed, we come into this world worse than fools, for we are born dead in trespasses and sins. Apart from Jesus Christ, who is wisdom personified (Prov. 8), our noblest efforts at knowing anything at all are the worst kind of folly, for then we rely upon ourselves instead of God. It is simply a must that we pray for wisdom. When we do, we acknowledge that we are utterly helpless apart from God, that he is the source of all wisdom, and that he alone can supply our needs. We may be confident that God will give us this wisdom when we ask it of him: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
What is this wisdom that we are to pray for? Quite simply, to have wisdom is to have the mind of Christ. To have the mind of Christ is to be humble and to seek the glory of God in all things. It is to desire to do the will of God rather than our own. When this is our goal and attitude, then we can combine this with the principles of God’s word in order to address some of the practical choices and decisions that we face in our own lives. We may begin to answer questions for ourselves such as, “Will this entertainment I am seeking promote the glory of God, or is it designed to satisfy my carnal lusts?” “Will purchasing this item help me serve God better, or will it take away from the time I spend studying his word?” “Would this person make a godly spouse, or do I only want to marry him or her for money and good looks?” These are just a few of the many situations we will be able to address better by following the way of wisdom.
Being familiar with our earthly circumstances is also important. We must be able to use the wisdom God gives us to analyze these circumstances, for God speaks to us through them. God puts us in certain places and situations. He makes some things possible for us, but other things he withholds. This is an important factor for a young person to consider when he is pondering a vocation or career path. To every one of us God gives gifts, and the gifts we have or don’t have will serve as an indicator of what God would have us to do. If, for example, a young man aspires to the ministry of the gospel, but lacks the ability to master the original languages of scripture, he may be sure that the Lord is not calling him to be a minister. Yet, if the same young man enjoys working with his hands and is good at putting things together, he will be wise to pursue a career that involves such things.
This principle applies to other parts of our lives as well. One of the most obvious is the activity of seeking a husband or wife. There are many godly young people in the church, so how can one be sure which person to marry? The Lord will make his will plain to us through circumstances. If in the process of dating someone we find that we enjoy their company and that we are able to discuss many subjects of common interest, then we may know that this person will be a suitable spouse. But if we find that there is nothing to talk about with that person, no matter how godly they may be, then we may know that this is not someone that the Lord would have us to be with. This is the practical side of knowing God’s will for us. If something is working for us and is not causing us to sin against God’s law, in all likelihood we are following the way God wants us to go.
In all these things we should not neglect to hear the wisdom of others (especially older members) in the body of Christ. We must be open to their advice, admonishments, and encouragements. The Lord is often pleased to lead his children in a certain way through the influence of fellow believers. For example, the young men of the church should listen when their parents, teachers, and elders tell them to consider the ministry. Usually these encouragements are given because a young man displays certain gifts requisite for preaching and teaching. When others point these gifts out, let young men consider the call all the more seriously, for it may be the means that the Lord is using to impress the call upon him. The Lord may also use rebukes to turn his children from one path and to choose another. Perhaps a young person of the church wants to pursue a certain career because it pays well. His pastor may warn him not to pursue a career for money, for the love of it is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). The Lord may use such circumstances to turn his children from ways of selfishness to ways of service in his kingdom. Again, this requires much humility, but the same God who gives wisdom to those who ask it of him will also give his children the grace to be humble, even in the face of rebuke.
Whether it is the call to the ministry, a question of whom to date, or something of seemingly much less importance, let the youths not be afraid to ask the older and wiser members of the church for advice. All the advice found in magazines and on the internet cannot compare to the godly wisdom of the saints of the church, especially those who are at the end of their earthly pilgrimage. They are qualified above all others to give advice concerning everyday choices and decisions, for they have walked the same pilgrim way and have faced many of the same challenges throughout their lives. They will be glad to help, and will rejoice that the youths even come to ask them about these things. Anyone who goes to an older saint for advice and comes away with godly wisdom will not be sorry.
The life of the Christian is a pilgrimage, that is, a long journey to our heavenly home that is filled with obstacles. Many of these obstacles take the form of choices and decisions that we face every day, but which God’s word does not specifically address. In his sovereignty God has ordained that it should be so. He wants us to work hard in our efforts to learn his will, because in this way we are sanctified and made ready for our eternal home. The Lord uses means to bring us there. He makes us pray for wisdom, he causes us study his word for the principles to follow, and he even leads us to consider our earthly circumstances and talk to our fellow pilgrims about it. Through it all we confess his absolute sovereignty, as well as our love for him, “For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide, even unto death” (Ps. 48:14).
Dykstra, Russell. “Getting the Principal Thing,” sermon on Proverbs 4:7, September 1,
Hanko, Cornelius. Leaving Father and Mother: Biblical Courtship and Marriage.
Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2001.
The Holy Bible, King James Version.
 I am indebted for these insights to Prof. Russell Dykstra, who addressed them in a sermon: “Getting the Principal Thing” based on Proverbs 4:7, preached on September 1, 2013, and accessed from prca.org on May 27, 2014.
 Cornelius Hanko, Leaving Father and Mother: Biblical Courtship and Marriage (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2001), 12.
The year 2012 marks an important anniversary for the Protestant Reformed Churches. This year, the songbook which we use in our worship services, in our homes, and in our good Christian schools, The Psalter, turns 100. That this book is still used among us today is significant, since most Reformed and Presbyterian denominations no longer give the Psalms pride of place in their worship, or have discarded the singing of them altogether. It is therefore imperative that we treasure the heritage given to us in our Psalter, thank God for the blessings it brings, and also, where necessary, fortify its weaknesses, so that it might better reflect our commitment to singing that which is found in Scripture alone.
Our Psalter is sometimes called the 1912 Psalter because that is the year in which it was first published, although its origins go back to 1893. There were a total of nine denominations that participated in the making of this songbook, including the Christian Reformed Church, but the project was initiated by the United Presbyterian Church in North America. The first draft of the Psalter was presented in 1905, with a second appearing in 1909. In 1912, a final committee meeting was held in Pittsburgh and the finishing touches were put on the new songbook, which was published the same year.
In 1914, our mother denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, adopted the new Psalter for the English-speaking congregations of the denomination. When the Protestant Reformed Churches began, we also made use of this Psalter, and continue to do so down to the present day. Actually, our own churches originally adopted the 1922 edition of this Psalter, and have since published our own special editions which include our doctrinal standards and liturgy, church order, and the ecumenical creeds. Other denominations that use the 1912 Psalter include the Free Reformed Churches in North America and the Netherlands Reformed Congregations.
The Blessings of our Psalter
The 1912 Psalter has been and continues to be a great blessing to our churches. This is true from several perspectives. In the first place, the songs of our Psalter are the songs of Scripture, in which our lives are rooted. It is in the Scriptures that we read of our total depravity and guilt of sin. It is in the Scriptures that we learn of God’s grace in delivering us out of our spiritually dead state. And it is from Scripture that we derive the proper attitude of thanksgiving to God in our whole life for the wonderful salvation he has wrought for us. Hence, it is appropriate that we sing about all these things, inasmuch as they are found in the Psalms.
These very same Scriptures also bring us words of comfort in our many afflictions and sorrows, especially in the face of death. The Psalms are particularly comforting to God’s people as they face the last enemy. It is no secret that dying saints love to hear, read, and sing the Psalms, for they so wonderfully describe the pilgrimage of the child of God, and above all give solace concerning the end of that earthly journey. The rest of us too, whether facing the death of a dear one or some other personal affliction, undoubtedly find great consolation in singing the Psalms.
Indeed, we must appreciate the fact that the songs of the Psalter are taken specifically from the Psalms. There is great blessing in singing the Psalms because they are the very words which God has given to his church to sing, a fact which she has recognized for centuries. Rev. Jason Kortering, in his excellent pamphlet on Psalm-singing, tells us that in the apostolic and post-apostolic periods, the church sang only the Psalms, and the best of the church fathers strongly advocated the singing of them. Also, at the time of the Reformation, the Reformers revived the singing of the Psalms which the Romish church had abandoned almost entirely, thus making Psalm-singing a glorious heritage of Reformed and Presbyterian churches.
Therefore, it is also a great blessing that our Psalter incorporates many of the same songs sung by the church of the past. For example, there are songs from the Genevan Psalter, the very songbook used in John Calvin’s day for the worship of Jehovah when those of Reformed persuasion risked their lives in confessing the true gospel over against the errors of Rome. Who can forget the stirring words of Psalter 353: “Now Israel may say and that in truth…”? There are also songs from the Scottish Psalter of 1650, sung by the Presbyterians on the moors of Scotland during the awful “killing times.” One such song is known even to the little children: “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Psalter 53). Even the Chorale section, though not originally part of the 1912 Psalter, is included in this heritage. It contains some of the favorite songs of our fathers in the Netherlands (also originally from the Genevan Psalter) which they sang with gusto even as they were persecuted by the apostatizing state church and arrested and fined by the oppressive government.
There is blessing also in that the Psalter we use is the universal songbook of our denomination. One of the many fruits of this denominational commitment to a common songbook can be seen at the pre-Synodical service each year, when so many strong singers from our various congregations come together and raise their voices with the words of the same Psalter they all know and love. This love of the Psalter arises not only out of familiarity with its contents, but also and especially out of a deep appreciation for its confession of the truth of God’s Word.
What is more, the members of our churches make this confession of the Psalter their very own, over against the lies of heretical hymns. Whereas hymns, written by sinful men, are prone to doctrinal error, the Psalms are the timeless and infallible words of the Holy Spirit, given to the church as a gift to be used for as long as she is upon earth. The introduction of hymns into the church services tends to the obliterating of the Psalms, and becomes an open door for heresy to creep in by means of song. Not so with the Psalms. They are secure, and ascribe all glory to God, for God is the author of them. This is not to say that we are forbidden to sing the good hymns. Rather, it means that we must guard our worship services so that the Psalms are maintained as the primary songs of praise to God.
Capacity for Improvement
Although our Psalter is indeed wonderful and a great blessing to our churches, it is by no means perfect. In fact, there are some aspects of it which should be altered. For example, some of the song titles are inaccurate, such as, “God in Nature” (171), or “Responsibility of Civil Officers” (223). Although the titles are not as important as the songs themselves, they nevertheless are meant to accurately reflect the content of the songs. Therefore, using an inappropriate title may very well lead to a wrong understanding of the words of the song itself.
There are also selections in our Psalter which leave out whole phrases and verses of the original Psalm. One example of this is in the two versifications of Psalm 137, both of which fail to explicitly mention the dashing of Babylon’s little ones against the stones. Although this is certainly very graphic language, it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and perhaps ought to be included in future editions.
In at least one instance in our Psalter, there is a song which contains lyrics which are questionable at best and heretical at worst. The song is Psalter 255, stanza 4, which begins this way: “While he proffers peace and pardon, let us hear his voice today.” Although some might argue that these words can be understood in a Reformed sense, they nevertheless have strong overtones of the well-meant offer, so much so, that this stanza is rarely if ever sung in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Thus, these words should be altered, so that we might in good conscience sing the fourth stanza of this song without subscribing to common grace.
Other songs of our Psalter, while not heretical, are rather loose renderings of the words of the Psalm on which they are based. An outstanding example of this is Psalter number 247, a versification of Psalm 90 arranged by the Unitarian composer Isaac Watts. While this and other such selections do not necessarily need to be removed from our Psalter, we do need to be aware of what the Psalms say, and in the singing of them we may not stray so far from the original text that the meaning is entirely lost.
Improvements to our Psalter may indeed be forthcoming. Synod 2011 instructed the contact committee of our churches to correspond with the Free Reformed Churches in response to a letter and survey sent by that denomination regarding the possibility of updating the Psalter. Included in this survey are a number of potential revisions, including a “review of the accuracy of Psalter selections wording.”
Whatever may come of this correspondence, let us always seek the Lord’s guidance concerning this important matter of updating the Psalter. If changes are to be made, let us see to it that they are made to better praise our God in song, and not to cater to the lusts of our flesh or make the Psalter look better in the eyes of the broader church world. May our chief purpose with the singing of the Psalms be to glorify our covenant God, thanking him for the miracle of the salvation he has wrought in Jesus Christ:
Now with joyful exultation
let us sing Jehovah’s praise,
To the Rock of our salvation
loud hosannas let us raise;
Thankful tribute gladly bringing,
let us come before Him now,
And, with psalms His praises singing,
joyful in His presence bow.
In every Reformation of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are capable men chosen of God to lead his people back to the truth. God raises up men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli just when it seems that the church is about to disappear. These men are rightly remembered by us today, for without God’s use of them, we would still be lost in the superstition of Rome.
The Reformation of God’s church in the Netherlands in 1834 likewise brings to mind the names of those who arose as leaders in that movement. Hendrik De Cock, Albertus Van Raalte, and Hendrik Scholte are usually celebrated as some of the great men of the Secession of 1834. Often overlooked, however (especially by those who despise his theology) is the life and work of a man who fought more valiantly than any other to return the church to the doctrines of sovereign, irresistible grace, especially as they are taught in the Canons of Dordt. His name is Simon Van Velzen. It is his story that we recount here.
Early Life and Education
Simon Van Velzen was born on either the 14th or 25th of December, 1809 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. His father, also named Simon, was a boarding school keeper, and his mother’s name was Neeltje Johanna Geselschap. The family had their ecclesiastical membership in the apostate State church.
Van Velzen’s childhood education was undoubtedly steeped in the humanistic philosophies of the Enlightenment, which had permeated the schools of the 19th century Netherlands. He likely never heard about sin or the cross of Christ, and instead was taught the importance of living a virtuous life. If the young Van Velzen knew anything of the Bible or the Reformed faith, he probably heard it in only bits and pieces from what little his parents knew. Somehow, though, God worked in Van Velzen’s heart, so that by the time he entered his university studies, he began to understand and appreciate the Reformed faith.
Van Velzen received his ministerial training at the University of Leiden. It was here that he joined the Scholte Club, a small group of theology students who were unhappy with the condition of the State Church and the education they were receiving. These students, led by future Secessionist minister Hendrik Scholte, often met at the home of a certain Johannes le Febure, an aged grain merchant, who taught them the Reformed faith that their Leiden professors denied.
After graduating from Leiden, Van Velzen married Johanna Wilhelmina De Moen on August 16, 1834. Sadly, she died in 1837 after only three years of marriage, and having given birth to one son, named Simon. Although Van Velzen married again the next year, his second wife, Hattum Johanna Alijda Lucia Van Vos, also died suddenly. On September 1, 1841, Van Velzen married his third wife, Zwaantje Stratingh, who gave birth to three daughters. God no doubt used these early trials in Van Velzen’s life to prepare him for the difficulties that lay ahead.
A Ministry of Controversy
Van Velzen’s first charge was at the Reformed Church of Drogeham. His pastorate here did not last long, however. When Hendrik De Cock and his consistory seceded from the State Church on October 13, 1834, thus forming the Afscheiding(Separation), Van Velzen quickly adopted a sympathetic view toward them. Having also developed a strong personal conviction that the State Church was apostate, Van Velzen submitted an appeal to the General Synod of 1835, requesting that Synod declare its support for the Three Forms of Unity, bar the pulpit to ministers who refused to submit to these standards, and tolerate those ministers who preached the orthodox doctrine. Synod rejected this appeal, and the following January Van Velzen was deposed for refusing to withdraw it.
Having been removed from his office and congregation, Van Velzen quickly joined the Afscheiding. Although he was now out of the apostate State Church, Van Velzen still experienced sorrow. For one thing, he and other Secessionists had to endure the persecution of the State Church and the government, which made it illegal for them to hold their own worship services. Ministers who were caught leading these services were severely fined and even jailed.
But for Van Velzen, there was added grief because of opposition from his fellow Separated ministers. Most of the ministers of the Afscheiding had Arminian tendencies and proclaimed that God sincerely offered his salvation to all who heard the preaching of the Gospel. This stood in stark contrast to Van Velzen, who preached salvation by God’s sovereign grace, to the exclusion of willing and working man. Concerning man’s part in salvation, Van Velzen declared, “Man can do nothing, yea, may not do anything, because this would be one’s own work, and that such work is condemned before God.” Statements such as this angered Rev. Scholte, who in 1840 was deposed for slanderously criticizing Van Velzen’s theology.
As time went on, the differences between Van Velzen and the other Seceders became more apparent. While Van Velzen, along with Hendrik De Cock, wanted to return the Church to the doctrines of grace found in the Canons of Dordt, men like Albertus Van Raalte and Anthony Brummelkamp wanted a more experiential theology. Ultimately, these divisions became geographical, as Secessionists of the northern Netherlands tended to follow De Cock and Van Velzen, while those in the South favored Van Raalte and Brummelkamp.
Nevertheless, Van Velzen continued to preach the truths of sovereign grace, pastoring churches at Leeuwarden and Amsterdam, among other places. Especially after De Cock’s untimely death in 1842 and Van Raalte’s migration to America in 1846, Van Velzen was recognized as a leader in theAfscheiding. In 1854, he became a professor at the denominational seminary in Kampen, a position he held until 1890. If Van Velzen experienced any peace during this time, it did not last long, for just seven years into his professorship, another controversy was brewing.
The year was 1861. Two Secessionist ministers, Revs. K. J. Pieters and J. R. Kreulen introduced into the churches the doctrine of a conditional covenant, teaching that God is gracious to all baptized children of believers. They added that the fulfillment of the covenant depended on the faith of these baptized children, thus allowing for the possibility that these children could fall away from Christ and lose their salvation if they did not believe.
Van Velzen, in an outstanding demonstration of his orthodoxy, refuted the abominable covenant doctrine of these two heretics. Writing in the church magazine, De Bazuin, Van Velzen spoke of an eternal covenant of redemption between God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ “concerning the elect.” He argued that this covenant is the “origin” and “ground” of the covenant of grace in history, so that this latter covenant is with the elect only. As Van Velzen declared: “By the power of this covenant, the Lord Jesus is the one who carries out the salvation of the elect.”
Moreover, Van Velzen condemned the grace of a conditional covenant as a “common and powerless grace,” because it made God’s word of no effect (Romans 9:6). This is significant! Van Velzen clearly saw that the doctrine of a conditional covenant is no less than Arminianism. Even more striking is the fact that he referred to the promise in this covenant as “common grace,” and condemned it!
The fires of this controversy produced a refined understanding of God’s covenant. The Lord was pleased to use Simon Van Velzen to defend the doctrine of an unconditional covenant, not only for that moment in church history, but also for the future, so that the seed he planted would sprout in the next century, when the covenant controversy raged once more. In 1953, God caused the seed of Van Velzen’s teachings to come to fruition in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Union with the Doleantie
As has been seen already, Van Velzen’s theology did not fit in with the theology of most of the ministers of the Afscheiding. Therefore, it is no surprise that, shortly after the formation of Abraham Kuyper’s Doleantie (Aggrieved) churches in 1886, Van Velzen sought ecclesiastical fellowship between them and his own denomination. Kuyper’s churches were much more doctrinally solid than the churches of the Afscheiding, especially in that they rejected the well-meant offer of the gospel and emphasized sovereign, particular grace. To this, Van Velzen was strongly attracted.
The inevitable marriage of the two denominations took place in 1892. Van Velzen was present at their first joint Synod as the last surviving father of the Secession. Since he was too old to speak, his son spoke on his behalf, expressing to all in attendance that this union was the “fulfillment of the great wish of [his father’s] heart,” for he desired that “all God’s children might be able to live together as brothers.”
In spite of this seemingly ideal union, it must be remembered that Van Velzen did not agree with Kuyper on everything, particularly Kuyper’s view of the role of government. It is also certain that Van Velzen wanted nothing to do with Kuyper’s cultural common grace. Van Velzen was a strong believer in the Antithesis—the spiritual separation of the church and the world. Kuyper, on the other hand, wanted to bridge this spiritual gap and engage the modern culture. In the end, Kuyper’s view won out, as Van Velzen’s age prevented him from exerting a significant influence in the new denomination.
Nevertheless, Van Velzen rejoiced. The cause of sovereign grace had prevailed. God had preserved him through a long and difficult life, giving him the strength to see this great day. Having been granted the wish of his heart, Van Velzen lived another four years before God called him home in April of 1896 at the age of eighty-six.
A Man of God
Simon Van Velzen has been criticized for his difficult and unbending personality in church affairs. While it cannot be denied that Van Velzen was often stubborn, his critics ought to remember that he was stubborn for a very righteous cause: the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and the covenant. Although Van Velzen certainly had weaknesses (as we all do), God was nevertheless pleased to use this weak and sinful man for the glory of his name. Van Velzen did not decide on his own to stand up for the truth—God worked it in him, even as he had ordained Van Velzen from all eternity for this purpose.
Van Velzen could defend God’s sovereign grace as he did because he knew himself to be a recipient of it. Just as every child of God does, he loathed his sinfulness, and detested the idea that any of his works, even the very best of them, could earn his salvation. He confessed that salvation is all of grace—and so do we.
In the back of our Psalter is found the Chorale Section, which consists of some of the best-loved Dutch Psalms translated into English. Van Velzen was surely familiar with these songs and must have held them very dear to his heart. In one of these Psalms, we sing of the wonder of God’s grace as Van Velzen confessed and defended it. It is the confession of every believer:
Thou, O Jehovah, in Thy sovereign grace, Hast saved my soul from death and woe appalling, Dried all my tears, secured my feet from falling. Lo, I shall live and walk before Thy face. (Psalter 426, stanza 5) Thanks be to God for this truth—and for raising up men like Simon Van Velzen to defend it!
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