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Dear Schuyler,

 

I must disagree with the September 2013 answer that hell is eternal.  God’s decrees are an eternal word.  God’s decree of reprobation is eternal.  God’s decree of election is eternal.  God’s counsel, the collection of his decrees and words, is eternal.  However, just as Satan is, and likewise just as I am not eternal, so also is hell not eternal.

Hell is a created reality, created by God, just as in contrast heaven is another of God’s wondrous acts of created reality.  Things tangible, whether spiritual or physical, are not eternal in and of themselves.  They all had a starting date within creation week.  They were designed as a means to glorify God and to help develop the faith of his created beings, angels as well as men.

According to Genesis 1:1, not only was our sky created in some form or fashion on day one of the creation week, but so also was heaven as the home for God’s angels.  This means that I do not believe that heaven was eternal.  Heaven will be re-created at the end of earthly time (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13).  If heaven will be re-created, then it also was created.

The question that naturally arises is, where did God live in eternity?  In eternity God simply was, or is.  God does not need an environment in which to live as humans or as fish do.  We are so limited by our senses we cannot fully comprehend a being, Jehovah God, who does not need a place. This is the definition of invisibility and spirituality.  The triune God had himself with whom to fellowship covenantally.  A place was/is not needed.

I would tell my own biological and school children that God created hell and heaven so as to leave the angels and man without excuse in their sin.  Satan knew of hell before his fall.  This is why Genesis 1 and 2 repeat the phrase “And God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good.”  The verses do not say “There was no death.”  The plants in creation died in some form or fashion so as to feed Adam, Eve, and the animals.  Creation was good because it worked exactly as God had formed it.  Hell, as a logical development of this idea, was a place of death, present during creation week and present before the fall.  No sin was present in hell, since hell was the perfect expression of God’s anger.  Hell is the bower for the second death.   Hell is bad enough now, and it will only get worse after the final judgment for those who are its citizens.  Hell is a reality where the reprobate will experience a second death everlastingly.

In contrast, heaven is a reality, where we will be given spiritual bodies so as to live everlastingly. To give us something to anticipate in hope, with a view to strengthening our weak faith, God created heaven—an act of mercy, grace, love, etc.  Also, to stop our stubborn pride of sin, God warns us about the consequences of sin by creating hell—the result of “for in the day thou east thereof, dying, thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:6).  God could not talk of death outside of Christ unless hell was present.  I have no firm idea of when hell was created, though I would tend toward the first day, the same time as when you rightly point out (Job 38:6–7) that angels and heaven were created.

To say that heaven and hell as places are eternal not only detracts from God’s powers during the creation week, but also unintentionally lessens him.  The Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit are no longer the only eternal persons.  God is no longer the only eternal essence.  God alone must remain sovereign.  All places started during creation week.

The usual New Testament word for eternal is literally in English eons, and can mean eternal, everlasting, or ages.  This is the meaning of John 6:54: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  In this passage and in over 150 others with this word, the word eons is more representative of the quality of life rather than the time aspect.  It emphasizes timelessness.  This word is used as a contrast to time-limited man, who always knows how old he is and in the back of his mind always has thought of how many years he has left of his four score years, if strength be great.  The KJV translates the word eons half the time as “eternal” and the other half as “everlasting.”  For God’s elect to live unto everlasting in heaven is the same as eternity in our minds.  We will live unto forever, but we are not divinely eternal.

A different Greek word for eternal shows up in Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”  God alone is truly eternal.

 

With fondest appreciation for this feature, the editors, and the magazine,

 

Bruce J. Koole

Loveland, CO

 

I appreciate the brother’s “fondest appreciation” for the Beacon Lights. I also appreciate his willingness to submit his query and, indeed, his readiness to correct a perceived error. All of us should have the humility of mind to consider the corrections of our fellow saints. Nevertheless, I am puzzled by the brother’s response. The brother writes to express disagreement, but I do not perceive that any disagreement exists.

The main reason for his supposed disagreement is the question of the eternality of hell. Twice the brother accuses me of teaching that hell is eternal (“I must disagree with the September 2013 answer that hell is eternal.” “To say that heaven and hell as places are eternal not only detracts from God’s powers during the creation week, but also unintentionally lessens him”).

However, I did not write that “hell is eternal.” What I wrote was this: “Therefore God created hell as a place of eternal punishment before he created the angels and men who would later fall in his eternal decree” (italics added for emphasis).

Therefore, I agree entirely with what the brother writes concerning the eternal being and decrees of God. I also agree that neither the place heaven nor the place hell are eternal in the sense that both have a beginning, although as the brother rightly points out, both are without (future) ending. In that sense, we might call both heaven and hell “everlasting” (Matt. 25:46). We agree on the orthodox doctrine of the everlasting punishment of the wicked.

I pinpointed the date of hell’s creation as “before God created the angels and men,” that is, before the sixth day of creation. Brother Koole suggests that hell existed “during the creation week and before the fall” and adds, “I have no firm idea of when hell was created, though I would tend toward the first day.”  I did not opt for any particular day in the creation week in my contribution, because the Bible does not tell us, but I do not disagree that the first day is a possibility. About that none of us can be sure.

Cordially,

Schuyler

When a columnist from a secular newspaper advocates studying the teachings of an important Christian preacher, i.e., reading his books, a man tends to sit up in his easy chair and take notice. In the November 30, 2005 edition of the New York Times (page A1), Columnist David Brooks explains that John R. Stott, as opposed to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or Al Sharpton, is the representative of Evangelical Christianity. Brooks is quite blunt and calls Falwell and Sharpton “bozos.”

By way of information, John R. Stott is a very excellent Scripture exegete and it would be worth your while to purchase some of his commentaries. Stott wrote some 40 books and a tome I once used for a Beacon Lights article was his excellent commentary on Revelation 1–3 entitled, “What Christ Thinks of the Church: An Exposition of Revelation 1–3.”

Brooks begins by describing Sharpton and Falwell’s appearance on Tim Russert’s TV show, “Meet The Press,” in the following manner: “naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.” For the record, “Meet the Press” is a TV show that violates the 4th Commandment.

Sadly, Brook’s chief disagreement with Falwell is not that this Baptist minister contradicts John 3 by placing faith prior to narrow regeneration in the order of salvation. Brooks, rather, expresses disgust at the ways by which Falwell-Sharpton manage to make the honorable doctrines of Christianity part of an immature tantrum.

Brooks’ favorite quote of Stott is:

It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God’s revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.

This quote does not quite demonstrate that salvation is by Christ-crucified alone, but the fact that Brooks unflinchingly quotes Stott is a very good start.

A Reformed believer finds it heartening that a New York Times employee is even aware of John R. Stott, let alone willing to read, enjoy, and promote Stott’s doctrines. Now, if they knew about a pipe-smoking Dutchman, Herman Hoeksema…

Another problem with the article is that Brooks quotes some public-policy guru in order to hyperbolize, “if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose.” For an audience unaware of the doctrine of Christ-as-head-of-the-church, it is possible that Brooks’ statement linking Stott’s importance to the Pope’s fame could help them understand Stott’s contributions to Christianity. Truthfully, though, when evangelicals write on the Pope, i.e., Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their religious descendants, they do have a tendency to call this man the Anti-Christ, or reveal him and his church to be that of Q&A 80 from the Heidelberg Catechism.

Brooks also mentions Stott’s musings on paradox. Brooks writes, “In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.” Paradox is a dastardly word introduced into religious terminology by neo-liberal, and Swiss-German theologian, Karl Barth (1886–1968). Barth commendably authored the Barmen declaration (1933), which was six articles defining Christian opposition to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist ideology and practice. Barth also commendably described liberal theologians this way, “They think they are saying ‘God,’ when all they are really saying is ‘man’ very loudly.”

Yet, the doctrine of paradox has given too many Reformed preachers the license to advocate in the same sermon that even though God certainly saves whomsoever he will by the power of sovereign, free, double predestination, you need to save yourself by accepting Christ into your heart as your Saviour. Here the error of placing faith prior to regeneration makes itself very clear. Your act of acceptance is the power that saves you, not regeneration because of Christ’s death on the Cross alone. Man, not the cross, is the way to salvation.

I also find it difficult to accept that Stott uses the Barthian method to exegete Scripture. That would be grievous.

Brooks might not be Reformed, and neither might Stott in all his books, but Brooks has made a very good start by introducing Stott to you and the generally spiritually blind readers of the New York Times. Go to your local library. Read the article. Brooks is usually good stuff. Go to a bookstore. Buy Stott, or some of his books.

At college or public high schools, students will soon need to confront the abortion industry and take a stand for the sanctity of all types of human life. They will be called simpletons and worse, but a witness for God’s sake needs to be made. As a product of this debate, the need for Protestant Reformed Christian schools and high schools could never be the more pressing.

Without further introduction, we quote almost verbatim the following editorial from the “The Week” feature in the April 11, 2005 edition of National Review magazine (a bi-monthly),

The [so-called] Rev. Joanna Jepson, [a female] Anglican curate, asked the courts to investigate the 2001 abortion of a 28-week-old fetus with a cleft lip and palate. English law permits abortion after the 24th week only in case of children with a “serious handicap.” Two doctors decided that the condition was serious, but the Reverend Jepson has reason to disagree. She was born with a jaw defect, and her brother has Down syndrome, yet both of them, she believes, have led full and satisfying lives. “The baby in this case did not have this opportunity.” The courts have now dismissed…Jepson’s complaint, recalling another Anglican, C. S. Lewis, who argued that mankind’s power over nature, if it were ever achieved, would mean the power of one generation over all who followed.

That the Anglican Church installs, and National Review approves of, female office bearers is a sad testament to their unbiblical stands. It is also disappointing that only one person stood up to protest the action.

Lest you think that such an event is an isolated case, be assured that your children will confront these ideas in their public high schools and universities. One example is revealed in the column of Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez’ “Mercy!” column, a March 30, 2005 National Review Online article at http://www.nationalreview.com/lopez/lopez200503300755.asp. In the article she rebukes tenured bioethics professor Peter Singer of Princeton University for promoting infant euthanasia through his book Practical Ethics. Singer writes,

killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all…Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time.

After pointing out that we are talking about “out-of-the-womb, mom-has-delivered, right-here-with-you-and-me babies” Lopez chastises the administrators of P.U. (pun intended) for having hired Singer, since they knew at the time of initial employment of what his stand consisted.

Lopez points out that in Europe such ideas have taken hold with deadly consequence. For example, reports out of France indicate that 73% of doctors have “admitted to using drugs to end an infant’s life,” while Associated Press dispatches state that in the Netherlands “at least five newborn mercy killings occur for every one reported.” She summarizes the attitude of many Dutch doctors in the following section:

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors from the University Medical Center, Groningen in the Netherlands confessed that “it is difficult to define” who, among infants, can or should be eliminated. Babies, obviously, can’t tell you their pain is unbearable, so it becomes incumbent on “parents and medical experts” to determine what “hopeless” means.

With tongue-in-cheek Lopez points out that Dutch Law makes the mercy killing of babies illegal.

Lopez next examines Australian Resident Philip Nitschke, president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Research Foundation in Australia, who urged euthanasia “for anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, [and] the troubled teen.” Nitschke also planned in 2001 a “euthanasia boat”—in the model of the ‘abortion boat’ that sails international waters to provide abortion to those women who live in countries where the procedure is illegal. He has rightfully been given the nickname “Dr. Death.”

She ends in the USA. Way back in 1915, Chicago, Illinois doctor Harry J. Haiselden allowed the Bollinger baby, who would have lived with surgery, to die. It gets worse. Haiselden later admitted that he had refused operation for many other ‘defective babies,’ thereby killing them too. His swan song was the propaganda film, The Black Stork, which attempted to popularize euthanasia and infant euthanasia.

Ninety years later he seems to have succeeded to a measurable degree as more than 42,000,000 babies have been aborted during the 32 years since SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) ruled in favor of abortions. The year was 1973, the case was Roe v. Wade, and a majority of the justices ruled that the American Constitution allowed for abortions. Jane Roe has repented of her actions. America has not. Pat Buchanan shows in “The Execution of Terry Schavio,” his April 4, 2005 WorldNetDaily column http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp? ARTICLE_ID=43626.

In America, 3 in 10 in the dawn of life never see the light of day. They are destroyed in the womb because their existence embarrasses or would encumber their parents. In the twilight of life, we have begun to provide our elderly ill with the means of assisted suicide. In Europe, euthanasia has become involuntary in some nursing homes. In the shadows of life—the sick, the needy, the handicapped—there is now in this land once called “God’s country” a chance the state will put you to death…. We have turned a sad page in the history of America’s decline.

Unintended children are an embarrassment with the aged and dying being unwanted. Such are the tender mercies of the wicked. As a brief side note, more will be written on Mrs. Schavio in some future column.

One scriptural passage having application here is Matthew 18:6, wherein Christ instructs his disciples,

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus will come and judge those who do not repent for killing the innocent. One can safely utter to such unrepentant monsters, “Maranatha,” which being interpreted is “The LORD is coming.” The question is, will the youth speak out at their public universities and high schools to witness that abortion is murder, (one could use Jane Roe for an example)? God’s honor demands it.

The White Horse rides today in Beijing, China. The Gospel spreads. Persecution, famine, and death follow soon thereafter. Such events, while not physically occurring with great frequency here in the United States of America, do happen today in such seemingly faraway places as the mist-enshrouded Orient. Come, let us turn now to the Red Dragon of the East, the land of Geisha girls, yin & yang, Communism, and Buddhism.

While in the East, let us penetrate the cool, morning fog, and travel to Beijing, China. Here a little rest is required whilst a brief consideration of its size takes place. This bustling city has a population of 14,560,000 living in an area of 6,490 mi2. By way of contrast the city proper of Grand Rapids, MI (USA) has a population of 197,800 and these people are spread over an area of 47.3 mi2. (not counting the suburbs). Beijing is, then, not small at all.

But, enough of geography, there are schools for such things. Let us analyze the spiritual nature of affairs in China. In the January 31, 2005 edition of National Review Magazine (a semi-monthly), Jason Lee Steorts, a free-lance writer, reports on the persecution currently being experienced by the 80 million Chinese Christians. The four-column article serves to remind the Christian of the blessings he experiences here in the USA.

Steorts begins by meeting two Chinese women, Qiu Yue and Yang Jie, at an unremarkable diner in Beijing. The restaurant was mundane, the names are pseudonyms, and they e-mailed in code: ‘B’ for Bible and ‘C’ for Christian for the reason that if careless, both Qiu and Yang could be caught, persecuted, and killed. Turning to their religion, Steorts notes that they are members of house churches, which are Protestant Christian assemblies that have refused to register with the government and join the Communist Party’s Umbrella Protestant Organization, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). There is also the Communist Party’s Roman Catholic organization, the Patriotic Catholic Organization, which does not recognize the Pope’s authority. Who knew the Communists could actually do something right?

Turning to the doctrines of the TSPM, Qiu explains that TSPM denies the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ (he had an earthly father), and the Second Coming. TSPM also lionizes Lei Feng, a Chinese peasant made into a national hero by Mao Tse Tung. Lei Feng, a legend now believed to be a lie, did no great deeds by which he was remembered, but taught the people how to be happy with what they had, obey the Communist Party, and let the Central Committee, or better still, Mao himself, do their thinking for them.

Mao is China’s equivalent of George Washington, the difference being that from the Glorious Revolution of 1949, the year the Communists took power and swept out Chiang Kai Shek, unto Mao’s death, the Chinese Communist Party killed some 30 million citizens. These people, murdered at Mao’s behest, were killed for disagreeing with him about political philosophy and religious doctrines. Mao’s ‘moderate’ successor, Deng Xiaoping, murdered a piddling 8–9 million. Mao’s gospel is that, like Feng, the Chinese will go to heaven only by serving the government or die.

What does happen to those Chinese Christians who believe in salvation by Christ-crucified alone? The response varies, but finds its best description in Moses’ burning bush. The Chinese Christians are injured but not consumed. While Qiu reports that she has witnessed about her beliefs to the public school children that she teaches, she counsels against preaching out loudly in Tiananmen Square. Then, the governmental policy of benign neglect will become a raging inferno of oppression.

However, not all are so physically well off. Yang’s house preacher Cai Zhuohua (his real name), his family, and some other printing-press associates were arrested by China’s Security Bureau for distributing Bibles and tracts. The government has charged them with being “counter-revolutionaries.” Contact with any of them since their arrest is nil.

This persecution is but the tip of the iceberg since the government carries out many more arrests, persecutions, and deaths. Yang’s response to the whole oppression is “That we are able to continue under the circumstances shows that God is with us.” Qiu adds “At my work, they told me, ‘Don’t speak about Christian ideas to the students; it will be dangerous.’ …But God has given me courage to speak.” The other response is that 3–4 new members per week receive the Baptismal Sacrament. Steorts concludes that “Christianity’s history demonstrates that it is able to flourish even under the most extreme forms of persecution.”

What ought your response to be, in addition to praying for those persecuted? Spread the truth. Help distribute and garner new subscriptions for this magazine and the Standard Bearer. Currently the Beacon Lights has less than 1000 paid subscribers and it makes for an excellent birthday, graduation, or confession-of-faith gift. The price is very reasonable and the material, timeless. Subscribe also to the Voice of Martyr’s (VOM) magazine for another at www.persecution.com. It is free and is a 21st Century version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It is a magazine dedicated to showing the persecution of saints with pictures more than words.

Finally, be aware that the Jesus is coming and rapidly at that. While it is still day let us pray and be earnest in our work, ere night fall…

Rajin, North Korea: From the Times Newspaper of London in the January 30, 2005 edition, Michael Sheradin reports on the current strife between the United States, China, and North Korea.

The four-page article reminds the Christian not only of the end times, but also of Christ Jesus’ instruction unto his disciples, when he sent them out two-by-two to preach the gospel and perform miracles. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus directed his earthly-minded disciples unto heaven by informing them about what would be the results of their preaching. He told them, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” One product of their, and all, preaching, then, is that nations fight against each other, so as to focus their power on destroying the other, rather than the church.

In the article entitled “Chairman Kim’s dissolving kingdom”, Sherdin begins with the following:

Far across the frozen river two figures hurried from the North Korean shore, slip-sliding on the ice as they made a break for the Chinese riverbank to escape a regime that, by many accounts, is now entering its death throes.

It was a desperate risk to run in the stark glare of the winter sunshine. We had just seen a patrol of Chinese soldiers in fur-lined uniforms tramping along the snowy bank, their automatic rifles slung ready for action.

Police cars swept up and down the road every 10 or 15 minutes, on the look-out for refugees. A small group of Chinese travelers in our minibus, some of whom turned out to have good reasons to be discreet, pretended not to notice.

Telling us that the people’s ‘Dear Leader’, Kim Jong-il is losing control of his border, country, and corrupt secret police, Sheridan gets to the spiritual meat of his article on the second page. Unintentionally proving that all nations, tribes, and tongues shall hear the gospel before the Savior returns, Sheridan writes,

Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape…

The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back. “Everybody knows there is a way out,” said a woman, who for obvious reasons cannot be identified, but who spoke in front of several witnesses.

“They know there is a Christian network to put them in contact with the underground, to break into embassies in Beijing or to get into Vietnam. They know, but you have to pay a lot of money to middlemen who have the Christian contacts.”

Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

Seemingly squeezed without an earthly friend between the Chi-coms in the North and the South Korean/Americans in the South, the citizens of North Korea seek help, and receive it, from Christians and their churches. Although poverty, starvation, and Communist indoctrination are the rule of the day, not even this hot spot of warfare and death can quench the light of the gospel. It is strange to our human reasoning why the Christians would risk torture, dismemberment, and death to help just one member cross the border, but Scripture informs us otherwise in Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Out of love for Jesus, we love our neighbor as ourself.

Sadly, there is still tragedy, torture, and death in Kim’s realm, but hope springs eternal. Sheradin continues,

The regime is fighting to save itself from subversion. Its agents kidnapped Kim Dong-shik, a South Korean missionary, from the turbulent Chinese border town of Yanji in 2000. Last week the South Koreans demanded a new investigation: the clergyman has never been seen again.

The secret police cannot staunch the word of the gospel. Two of our party [on the minibus] turned out to be Christian businessmen who had come from China carrying wads of cash. Korean-language Bibles have been smuggled in by the hundreds…

Paranoia and brainwashing remain the regime’s most effective tools. Yet even as it tries to fight off God it has made its peace with Mammon… Only a casino is open.

Reread that phrase, “The secret police cannot staunch the word of the gospel.” There is hope in those words. There is happiness in that phrase, and there is thanksgiving to the King. What Jesus promised to his disciples about the sparrow and man, oh so long ago, He still fulfills. Using Christian businessmen hiding large amounts of cash or Bibles camouflaged in carts, Christ brings the peace that passes all understanding. Pray for the North Koreans.

The rising and falling of Kim’s nation, we leave to the newspaper reporter, radio commentator, and news camera. A Christian concerns himself with the spiritual nature of things and events. The history books will remember the result of Kim’s choices, but here on this page, we take note of the spiritual implications. Jesus is coming and we must be urgent in our use the day, ere night fall and…

The entire 1/30/2005 Times of London article is available at the following web address: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1462207_1,00.html.

William Gerrit Van de Hulst. William of Orange: The Silent Prince. Translated by Alice Veenendaal. 8085 Kraft Ave S.E., Caledona, MI: Inheritance Publications: 1992. 142 pp. (ages 5-25)

William of Orange: The Silent Prince is a soft-cover biography, (with illustrations!) translated from the Dutch for a younger audience! This young adult’s book recounts the exciting and scary life of Count William of Nassau (1533-1584).

The book informs the reader that this firstborn son’s mother was the pious Juliana of Stolberg (1506-1580). His father was the mighty Prince William, ruler of the earldom of Nassau/Orange. As a powerful man he attended the 1521 Diet of Worms with Martin Luther (Here I stand…)! Read also about William, Jr.’s large family: he had four brothers and seven sisters. As firstborn, Jr. would inherit Dillenberg Castle. (Note: in 1713 King Lous XIV annexed the realm of Orange and made it a province of France.)

This privileged child of royalty attended school and lived in Brussels, Belgium within the courts of the most powerful man of Europe: the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain. Turn the pages to learn why William of Orange received the name “The Silent Prince” (31-37). Watch a wiser Prince win the hearts and minds of the Dutch folk, when he chose to suffer affliction for a season with his comrades by fighting with them against the Spanish persecution!

See his courage when he refused to let the two wicked Spaniards, King Philip of Spain and Duke Alvarez de Toledo of Alva, kill him. Watch him write personal letters of encouragement to the citizens, people just like you and me! Ache with him when he comforts his mother, when her sons and his brothers die in battle against the murderous Roman Catholics. Follow him as he bravely leads armies into battle against the imperial Spanish army! Discover how his faith withstood the trials of battle and doubt. Experience with him the love of the people. Hear and see as an assassin tries to kill him! Does he survive?

Learn about his tragic death at the young age of 51. Weep with the whole nation. They buried him with honors in the “New Church at Delft,” in the province of South Holland. Thus did William of Orange become the spiritual and political Father of the Netherlands.

Today the Netherlands’ national anthem is sung in his memory, in which each stanza’s first letter forms “William of Nassau.” Find out about the vivid reminder of his death still present in the walls at Prisenhof, Delft, South Holland (118-129, 131).

Sadly, though, at two points in this book, the author revises and distorts the history, by claiming that the merciful William was a religious pluralist. In truth the Prince really wished to free the Reformed congregations from the Roman Catholic murderers, so that the kliene leiden (little people) would not be tortured for believing in justification by faith alone and Christ’s spiritual presence at the table of the Lord’s Supper.

Highly recommended for all ages.

The following essay was written in response to a scholarship offer made by the History Department of Grand Valley State University in Ottawa County, Allendale, Michigan. The scholarship demanded that in 2000 words or less, the student must explain what his or her favorite history book is. Owing to the fact that I did not win the scholarship, I have edited the content contained herein.

My favorite book is John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion. The reasons why this book and its numerous editions have become my favorite are threefold: first, for its helping in the development of my worldview and historical method; second, for its teaching and doctrines whereby it has served to edify the church and true religion; and, third, for its impact upon Western Michigan.

Regarding the first ground, I discovered upon reading Henry Beveridge’s translation of Calvin’s Institutes a kinship of belief, finding that many of the author’s beliefs and doctrines agree with my own, particularly in regard to his systematic explanation of the Reformation’s Five Solas: Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the Glory), Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratie (Grace Alone), Sola Xristos (Christ Alone). However, only after I examine the different editions of Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries, sermons, tracts, treatises, and letters do I define the doctrines of Calvin and relate the narrative of his life.

I view history through the spectacles of church vs. world conflict. By world I understand as those atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers who seek to harm the church through whatever possible means, be they persecution, false doctrine, or temptation via avarice licentiousness. Be hence, via St. Augustine the rise and fall of nation-states remains the handmaiden of the Reformed Christian Church’s structural and doctrinal progress.

Therefore, I apply the historical method as gained from faith’s reasonable knowledge and hope, taking my start from I Peter 3:15, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”1 This aim, based on Scripture, necessitates no forsaking of the historical method as first posited by Thucydides, the father of historical method, who described it thus:

And with regard to my factual reporting of the events of the [Peloponesian] War [which took place between Sparta and Athens in 431–404 BC, and his beloved Athens lost], I have made it a principle not to write down the first story that came my way, and not even to be guided by my own general impressions; either I was present myself at the events which I have described or else I heard of them from eye-witnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible.2

Just as Thucydides, I remain interested in finding more than one viewpoint on certain issues.

With regard to the aforementioned second ground, the treatment of the book itself commences. Calvin’s development of thought contains an eminent traceability from his first edition of the Institutes, published in 1536, unto the final edition of the Institutes published in 1559.3As Dutch Reformed Theologian Herman Bavinck states

Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536). There is expansion and development but not change.4

A historian can compare the deliberate development among the editions and see how the teachings impacted or were impacted by the various events in his life. Further, a study of each successive edition yields important details necessary to the telling of the Reformation narrative.

In Book I, Chapter 1, Calvin treats “The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves are Connected: How They Are Interrelated.” The interrelation adheres to the manner, Soli Deo Gloria. God requires from us a knowledge concerning Himself and ourselves “by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what in short, is befitting to know concerning him” (I.ii.1). One of Calvin’s main themes is, then, know yourself and know God.

Book Two explains that true self-knowledge originates by admitting to being dead in trespasses and sins owing to Adam’s original sin. Calvin defines total depravity as “a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh” (II. i.8). Then in II. ii.10 Calvin writes “he who is most deeply abased and alarmed, by the consciousness of his disgrace, nakedness, want, and misery has made the greatest progress in the knowledge of himself.” In II. ii.25 Calvin approvingly quotes Augustine, “Of our own we have nothing but sin.”

Mankind will find his only path to salvation from deserving destruction in the steps of Christ’s self-humiliation and glorification, or sola Xristos. His humiliation is his incarnation, the unjust trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and descent to hell. His glorification is His resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting and ruling at the right hand of the Father, and his return to judgment (II. xvi.5-17). The result of Christ being our redeemer alone is “we see that whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, is comprehended in Christ” (II. xvi.19).

In the momentous third book Calvin defines and explains that great Reformation truth developed from the very onset by Luther, justification by faith alone, or sola fide. Calvin’s doctrine of justification by faith alone is “a man excluded from the righteousness of works…by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous” (III. xi.2).

Also contained in the important third book is the theological doctrine for which Calvin has achieved a thankful supremacy in conservative circles and pariah status in liberal circles: double predestination as revealed in election and reprobation. More than Luther, Zwingli, Menno Simmons, or any other reformer Calvin expounded the doctrine of double predestination. Since Calvin defines election as the predestination of some to salvation, he conversely defines reprobation as the predestination of the rest to damnation (III. xxi.1).

He defines predestination as

the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation (III. xxi.5).

Calvin’s spiritual disciples, in response to the Arminian controversy in the Netherlands, codified his development of predestination at the Great Synod of Dordrecht, 1618–1619, in five Canons, These Canons achieved mnemonic status for the five points of Calvinism, i.e, TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and, Perseverance of the Saints.

In Book Four, Calvin concatenates the nature of the Sacraments. Upon consulting both the 1536 edition and the 1559 edition, to which Calvin gave his imprimatur as the “official” edition, he reveals a progress in his understanding of the Sacraments. In the 1536 Institutes, chapter four, section one, Calvin defines a Sacrament as “an outward sign by which the Lord represents and attests to us his good will toward us to sustain the weakness of our faith… [or] a testimony of God’s grace declared to us by an outward sign.”5By the time of the 1559 Institutes Calvin had resided for about three years (1538–1541) in Strassbourg with the eminent Sacramental Reformer, Martin Bucer, and thereby amended his former definition. The 1559 Institutes define a Sacrament as

an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences, his promises of good will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself and before angels as well as men (IV. xiv.1) 6

With regards to the final, aforementioned ground the effect of Calvin’s book upon Western Michigan surpasses that brief description of Ottawa County by the Reader’s Digest magazine. That magazine relates that the Ottawa County planning department made a scratch-and-sniff patch of manure odor in order that city slickers might preview the pungent smell emitted by some Ottawa County farms.7

The Institutes’ impact can be traced back not only to Rev. Albertus. C. Van Raalte’s 1849 immigration to Holland, Michigan, but also further back to the 1831 conversion of his Van Raalte’s spiritual mentor, the Dominee Hendrick De Cock, minister in Ulrum, Gronigen, The Netherlands. Hendrick’s son, Helenius, later wrote a history of the Afscheiding,8wherein he began with a brief biography of his father, and described his father’s conversion via Calvin thus:

[Father] first learned with understanding of the Institutes of Calvin in the year 1831. It was by Dominee Wormnest in the city of Warfhuizen. At his house there were speeches about the doctrines of faith, and while father and Mr. Wormnest had differences of meaning, the latter said this: “Let us at once consult father Calvin about this.” This occurred and there at the student-cabinet of Mr. Wormnest father was acquainted for the first time with the work of this great man. Immediately he found so much agreement with Calvin that he begged Mr. Wormnest to be allowed to take along this work. The Institutes of Calvin was that which he then diligently and prayerfully examined, and in the midst thereof his eyes were opened. Then, he learned with understanding that man is dead in sins and offenses; that salvation occurs alone out of grace without any merit from the side of man; that faith alone can make one righteous before God, and that Kuipenga had formerly spoken the truth, when he said: “If I too must impart but one sigh for my salvation, then it is lost for eternity.”

From this time on, the teaching of the truth was cherished by him…This had a discernable influence upon his preaching. The truth, which had certainly been proclaimed for himself, he also began unmasking equally to the Ulrum district.9

Thus, Calvin’s Institutes were the means through which Dominee De Cock was converted and came to believe in those Reformation truths summarized by the five Solas and Kuipenga’s sigh. Then, taking those Reformation doctrines, he transformed his preaching, emphasizing not man but God’s all-sufficiency in salvation. Eventually, his teaching conflicted with the doctrines of the officially sanctioned State Reformed Church (De Hervormde Kerk) and he submitted to abuse, slander, and a nearly year-long banishment from his pulpit.10

On October 13, 1834 two elders, three deacons, and Hendrick De Cock signed the Act of Secession,11by which the above and some 268 other members separated themselves from the apostatizing State Reformed Church. They named themselves the Afscheiding. One year later in December 1835, Candidate Van Raalte seceded, and in 1836 the fledgling group of Afscheiding churches admitted him into the gospel ministry.12Ten years later, in 1846, Van Raalte departed from the Netherlands leading a sizable portion of immigrants to the shores of Black Lake, now known as Lake Macatawa.

After the immigrants settled down, Calvin’s Institutes continued to influence the immigrant’s daily lives. Classis Holland, meeting at Zeeland on October 7, 1856, made a two-fold resolution in Article 23 concerning the denomination-wide promotion of a new printing of Calvin’s works. They resolved, first, that each consistory had the freedom to promote the books in whatsoever manner they deemed, and, second, via the local newspaper Rev Van Der Meulen would exhort the local populace to purchase the materials.13Just over two months later, December 17th, at the examination of Rev. John Van Vleck, Rev. Kershow, as written in Article 10, orally examined him in Systematic and Polemic Theology, “and especially in the Five Points [of Calvinism] against the Remonstrants.”14

After a few years passed (1857) there arose out of these Dutch Calvinists the denomination of the Christian Reformed Church, their college, Calvin College; and out of the CRC, the Protestant Reformed Churches, my denominational home. Thus, a direct link exists between Calvin’s Institutes, from its doctrines converting one man, unto many of the current Western Michigan citizens and churches of Kent and Ottawa Counties and me.

In the end Calvin’s Institutes is my favorite book because it has shaped my historical method such that I view history through the eyes of church world conflict. I also treasure the book for the edifying doctrines contained therein. Last, the book was part of the origin from whence many of the Dutch Reformed immigrants settled into the Western Michigan area.

Bibliography

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Prologomena. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. Translated by John Vriend, & edited by John Bolt. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: 2003.

Calvin, John. 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated and Annotated by Ford Lewis Battles. The HH Meeter Center for Calvin Studies: Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

———— 1559Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 Vol. translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966.

———— 1559 Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 Vol. Library of Christian Classics: Volume XX & XXI, translated by Ford Lewis Battles & edited by John McNeill. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967.

Classis Holland: Minutes 1848 – 1858. Translated by a Joint Committee of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.: 1950.

De Cock, Helenius. Hendrik de Cock: First Afscheiding Preacher in Netherlands: Considered in Life and Activity. Untranslated. Delfzijl: Jan Haan: 1886.

Hanko, Herman. For Thy Truth’s Sake: A Doctrinal History of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association: 2000.

“That Sweet Country Smell.” Readers Digest: Only in America, November 2003, 25.

The Faculty of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. The Reformation of 1834: Essays in Commemoration of the Act of Secession and Return. Edited by Peter Y. De Jong and Nelson D. Kloosterman. Orange City, IA: Pluim Publishing, Inc.: 1984.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. London: Penguin Books: 1972.

Endnotes

1King James Version.

2Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. (London: Penguin Books: 1972.), 48.

3Editions differing by content were published in 1536, 1539, 1543, 1545, 1550, 1553, 1554, and 1559.

4Herman Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics: Prologomena. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. translated by John Vriend, & edited by John Bolt. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: 2003), 178.

5John Calvin, John. 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated and Annotated by Ford Lewis Battles. (The HH Meeter Center for Calvin Studies: Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.), 87.

6All quotes taken from Beveridge’s translation.

7“That Sweet Country Smell.” Readers Digest: Only in America, November 2003, 25.

Journey through the Night, by Anne Devries. First published in Dutch as Reis door de Nacht. Translated by Harry der Nederlanden. Paideia Press: St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada: 1978. For Ages 5–105.

Journey through the Night is a fictional novel divided into four breath-taking volumes. Each exciting volume vividly recounts the spirit and tormented agony of those five harrowing years during which the evil German Nazis occupied the Netherlands and Hitler built his fortress—Europe. All ages, young as well as old and parents as well as children would spiritually profit from absorbing this book. The volume titles are:

  1. Into the Darkness (In het Duisternis)
  2. The Darkness Deepens (de Duisternis verdikken)
  3. Dawn’s Early Light (‘t Vroege Licht der Aurora)
  4. A New Day (Een Nieuwe Dag)

The main protagonists of this book are the DeBoer Family: Uncle Gerrit, Father Everett, Mother, John, Tricia, Fritz, Hanneke, and Trudie. Although the Deboers are Reformed Christians, DeVries does not specify their denomination. A recurring theme is “Even if Germany defeats every other country in the world, Adolf Hitler’s Reich will collapse because of its own God-denying principles.” (Vol 1, 133). A second theme is VICTORY as communicated through the slogans OSO, Orange Shall Overcome, and a ‘V’. The Dutch communicated the ‘V’ to each other by knocking, tapping, ringing, or using Morse Code this way: 3 shorts and 1 long, echoing the first few bars of the Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. (Learn Dutch!)

Volume 1 begins on a sunny Friday morning in May at the new DeBoer farmhouse, located in the province of Drenthe, somewhere southwest of the city of Assen. That day, Germany attacks the Netherlands and the family enters into the darkness. Desperately, the family drives near Rotterdam to the cities of Scheveningen and Hillegersberg (in the province of South Holland) to retrieve the three youngest children, who stayed with relatives during the move. While they rest in Scheveningen, Queen Wilhelmina flees to England. Even though life seems dark, God strengthens their faith in Him. Soon, they return to their Drenthe farmhouse, and initiate their involvement in the Resistance by hiding Jews. The volume ends after the Nazi sympathizer, Schram, betrays Ev for thwacking a Kraut with a large monkey wrench.

Volume 2 starts when Fritz receives a one week suspension from school for stating that the teacher, Mr. Biemolt, who was lecturing about the Synod of Dordt, is unsound for detesting the English and not being vocally pro-Dutch. Things make sense when Fritz learns that Biemolt was a Boer who lived in an English concentration camp and watched two of his siblings die during the 1902 English-Boer war. As the darkness of Hitler’s Reich seems to grow stronger, the family responds by involving themselves in the Resistance movement. They distribute the underground newspaper, Free Holland, hide divers, take in English fliers, and care for more Jews. The volume concludes after the Gerries assault the farm, because dense neighbor Wallinga betrays them over spilt milk. (Learn Dutch, the language of your forebearers and ancestors!)

Volume 3 commences with a split-up family. John leads a boring life with Uncle Herman and Aunt Haddie in Amsterdam until a former Deboer driver, William, convinces John to join a local Resistance cell. Next, a mesmerizing reunion occurs between John and Father. Then bad things, which further depress the family’s faith, happen both to Father and John. While John considers the darkness of his situation, the daylight dawns when he learns of the D-Day invasion. The volume terminates with the Germans shipping John off to an anonymous forest, where they plan to execute him and others by sub-machineguns. Yet, hope springs eternal! (Learn Dutch, the language of your Dutch Reformed Heritage!)

However, you will have to read all 4 volumes to discover what happens to the family, Father, Schram, svelte Sylvia, the salesman Vos, the young nurse Rita, the BBC, and the liberation of the Netherlands. I recommend that since these four books accurately portray war, parents should acquaint themselves with the contents contained therein or read the book to their children!

Bruce is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church. This article was written for the 2002 Protestant Reformed Scholarship.

Laodicea was a city of great economic importance in the days of the Apostles Paul and John. It would never need any economic assistance from any other churches, thus financially speaking it was secure. However, their spiritual condition was so appalling to the Holy Spirit, that he twice writes about their great want in the epistle of Paul to the Colossians and in the last book of John (Revelation). Our Lord Jesus Christ does not look at any outward show of religion for the sign of faithfulness to His Word but he looks at the inward condition and when he did, his diagnosis was spiritual bankruptcy for the church of Laodicea. However, they were not as of yet lost to our Lord Christ Jesus but they could remedy their errors through repentance from their sin.

Geographically and monetarily speaking, Laodicea had everything going for it and may have been if not the richest church of ancient period, then one of the top churches, as far as terms of opulence go. It was chief city of the three cities located near the center of a fertile valley made by the ever-flowing river Lycus. The river Lycus, with its three cities of Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colassae, was located 40 miles southeast of the city of Philadelphia. Hierapolis was on the northwestern bank of the river Lycus. Laodicea was on the southeast side of the river Lycus about 150 to 200 miles due east of Ephesus and not more than 10 miles distant from the city of Colossae.

Besides having fertile, farmland it also stood at the juncture of various trade routes and so it was a mercantile banking center. In fact, about 30 years prior to John’s writing of Revelation, in AD 60, an earthquake had devastated the entire region. Rather than appeal to the Roman Senate for a customary subsidy, as was the Mediterranean custom, the opulent citizenry paid out of their own pockets the money necessary for the rebuilding of the city. Many of the farmers raised sheep from which the merchants of Laodicea manufactured cloth, garments, and carpets, which were soft in texture and glossy black in color. In addition to these items it had a world famous medical school, which according to John R. Stott, “was connected with the temple of Aesculapius whose physicians prepared the Phrygian powder for the cure of ophthalmia, which was described by Aristotle.”1 Thus Laodicea by all earthly standards was not only wealthy but also very self-sufficient with its hospitals, universities, farms, banks, merchants, and factories.

This led the Laodiceans to even boast of their wealth as which chapter 3, verse 17 captures. They boasted “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Rather than edify their fellow church members and spread the gospel witness with an ardor and zeal they directed their energies to the procurement, enjoyment, and distribution of their wealth. Quite often, they were probably more than ready to help other churches in need but their inward heart was still nauseating to Christ Jesus. This is why Christ explains their good works as neither hot nor cold, but as lukewarm (3:15-16). Christ is using the metaphorical language of a drink of water here. Christ wishes rather that they would be either hot or cold to a man’s taste buds, not lukewarm. This is because on the one hand, a hot drink is pleasing to the taste and recuperating in its effect, while on the other hand a cold drink is refreshing and delicious. Lukewarm drinks, in contrast, turn the stomach of the swallower, disgusting him to the point of vomiting, which is the imagery used here by Christ Jesus when He states in verse 16, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

This use of lukewarm attitudes would also mean something more to the Laocieans because nearby in the city of Hierapolis, the lukewarm river Lycus had deposited a great amount of limestone, and by the hand of God it formed some impressive cliffs of limestone. Thus not only was Laodicea wealthy but it was surrounded by an impressive scenery. The luscious greenery of the valley was contrasted with the stark-white cliffs of limestone located off to the Northwest. The noises of the ever-bubbling and flowing river Lycus would relax the ears of a workman after a hard days work. The hills and mountains standing off in the distance would rise far above the valley and stand as silent citadels of power and serenity. No doubt they also helped form some beautiful sunsets with an intermixing of purple, pink, and orange hues, reflecting off both the mountains and clouds. Living in a valley plus being situated near the Mediterranean Sea resulted in a climate that probably felt like an eternal summer. There was always enough rain to water the crops and for the sheep herds. In short, the situation of Laodicea was as close to a heaven on earth as one could get.

So the Lord rebukes them and tells them that in his eyes they “are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” All their wealth, health, education, and beautiful scenery has only served to pull their eyes, minds, and hearts away from their one true teacher, Christ Jesus. His advice to them in verse 18 is “to buy gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” That is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will overcome the trials of the Lord, and the temptations of the devil, and since they will become as gold purified by fire they will be rich in the Lord.

He further advises them in verse 18 to be clothed “in the white raiment” of Christ crucified, not in the luscious black wool of their valley. When they clothe themselves in the cross they will be “clothed, and the shame of thy nakedness will not appear.” Rather their sin, which was a red as scarlet, will become as white as snow. To Christ, the shame of the sin of Adam and Eve will be permanently erased from the elect citizens of Laodicea and they will be clothed with right garments for the final wedding feast of the elect with Christ Jesus.

His final piece of advice is that they “anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou might see.” The problem of the Laodiceans was that they were wealthy beyond compare, they were blinded to the beauty of Christ Jesus. By the eye salve of Scripture, they would again clearly see Christ crucified. Thus their eyes would focus on Christ and not on earthly goods.

But there is hope for the church of Laodicea. As Christ states in verse 19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent.” Although the church was naked to the eyes of Christ, nauseating to his taste, and poor in spirit, Christ rebukes them because he loves them and so that they might repent of their sins. This imagery of rebuke and reproof is further enforced by verse 20 when Christ states “Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” According to verse 20, the church of Laodicea has thrown Christ outside of the door and they now sup their Lord’s Supper without him. Inside of the door and in the church are his elect sheep whom he will rebuke and chasten out of an unending love for them. Christ Jesus stands at the door and calls out to his regenerated sheep to come and open the door. Their hearts have been rejuvenated and now they must heed his calling by coming to open the door and give witness of their regeneration. For when they overcome, he will come and sit with them and partake with them in an eternal covenant communion. For now their supper is lacking. Although they have all the money of the world and the best of food and drink, the presence of Christ Jesus stays away from their table. But, hark, hear the knocking at the door. It is our Lord and Master Christ Jesus, come to seek and save his sinning sheep. He cries out, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Thus, although Laodicea has forgotten who gave them their wealth and health, He has not forgotten, nor will he forget them and because he will neither forget, nor forsake them, they will be rewarded with being able to sit on his throne unto eternity.

This is the situation in which the PRCA find themselves. They are wealthy beyond compare. They support about 15 grade schools and high schools, 27 churches, and Synod. They are still left with a great amount of money to spend on their own families. Yet despite all this wealth and support that we give to each other there is still a complacency, for each of us knows in his heart that we never have enough money to do what we really want. So we work longer and harder so that we might have the better vacation, the better house, the better clothes, and the better car. We think: all I need is a bit more money and I can do whatever I want. I can retire early and live like a king. Oh, we certainly do not forget the schools and churches but we do not feel the need to make sacrifices any more. We certainly give great amounts to the various collections and drives but rather than view ourselves as poor and wretched and naked we expect that the money will continue to just roll right on in and we glorify ourselves for how hard we work. We have forgotten how to sacrifice for the kingdom and rather give money like the rich man did, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We give so that our conscience might be calmed and not out of love. We would rather spend our money on all the earthly entertainment available to us. We like our beer cold, our cigarettes warm, and our women and cars fast. We want to date and lust after babes and hunks but not godly men and women. We like to sit in a quiet theatre or in the quiet of our own home and watch those filthy, vile products of Hollywood, those movies and videos. It matters little whether they are innocent, cutesy cartoons from Disney or R-rated movies, we justify it all in the spirit of Christian Liberty, but God forbid that I should sacrifice some earthly carnal pleasure for his kingdom or that someone else should point out my faults. Then we rise up and attack the messenger and ignore the truth of his message. Rather than admit to committing wrongdoing and repenting from it, we castigate and hurl accusations at the messenger pointing out that he is a sinner as well and he has no business judging us. Oh fellow Protestant Reformers, let us learn from the church of Laodicea and repent from our having grown complacent in our earthly lusts. By the grace of Christ crucified we shall.

Endnote

1 Stott, John R. What Christ Thinks of the Church. (Harold Shaw Publishers: Wheaton, 111:1990). 118.

Bruce is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church and is a second-year student at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This is a Protestant Reformed Scholarship Essay.

Baptism Form, Question 3: Do you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness), instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?

If you were asked why you believe in spanking children as means of discipline, how would you answer? Generally a man tends to observe that Christians and conservative going church members tend to spank their children much more than secular parents do. This is no hard and fast rule but if surveys were done one would see that those who go to church more often will tend to spank their children more often, and those who go to church less often will spank their children less often. The general response of both spankers and nonspankers is “I love my children and I never wish to see them harmed.” It goes without saying that the Reformed Christian’s perspective on discipline always differentiates between harm and a stinging backside. My response to the Doubting-Thomas’s of spanking is that all men and Reformed Christians, especially, must believe in spanking as a means of discipline because God says so. Thus, I call your attention to the theme: The Right and Godly View of Discipline. Let us consider this theme under the three headings: 1) An example, 2) The responses, and 3) The public opinion.

The example

Early morning dawns bright and glorious in the little farm town of Anywheresville, USA. It’s almost perfect. It’s not too hot and not too cold. The morning sun has just peeked over the horizon and is now warming the front room of the Jones’ house while one sunbeam manages to slowly creep its way toward the kitchen. One hears only chiming birds, crowing roosters, and somewhere in another county a methodically powerful chug-chug-chug of a John Deere tractor as it continuously turns over the Lord’s great and beautiful brown earth. But one imperfection remains because Little Johnny refuses to drink his orange juice which he just threw a tantrum for and this was in front of the Jones’ company. Ma had hoped to thank her guests for staying the night with a good hearty farmer’s breakfast but Little Johnny’s pouting has ruined that and now Ma sets out to correct this disobedience of Little Johnny. Let’s listen in and watch a covenant parent as she rightly corrects Little Johnny.

“Johnny, Drink your orange juice.”

“JOHNNY, DRINK your orange juice.”

“NO!”

“JOHNNY, If you don’t drink your orange juice, your father will spank you. Now, DRINK.” “NO.” So Father hauls Little Johnny off to the next room and spank, spank, spank. Five minutes later Father brings a red-eyed Little Johnny back to the table.

“Now Johnny, Drink your orange juice.”

“NO!! I don’t wanna.”

“Johnny, if you don’t drink, I will spank you again. You wanted this orange juice now drink it.”

“NO!! I want water.” So Father hauls Little Johnny into the next room and SPANK, SPANK, SPANK. Once again Father and a red-eyed Little Johnny re-enter the kitchen. This scene repeats itself once more and then Little Johnny is sent to his room with the warning that he will eat no breakfast until he drinks his orange juice and learns to listen and love Father and Mother.

The biblical responses to the Little Johnny example

Now we will not overanalyze the parents’ motivations and actions in this example since this is a fictional story and the characters are fictional as well. It is sufficient to say that Ma and Father live under the doctrine of the covenant followed the way of Proverbs 29:16 “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

But, an objector might ask, was it really necessary to spank Little Johnny three times? Surely one spanking would have served Father and Ma’s purposes as equally as three. The parents could have had their company drink their orange juice and then give the company their breakfast thus showing Little Johnny the positive benefits of drinking orange juice plus it would have shown that more people than just the parents drink orange juice. All Little Johnny was trying to do was developing his own independent persona. Because his uncool parents said yes to orange juice, he decided that he needed to say no. But now that the cool guests and the uncool parents drink orange juice perhaps Ma and Father are cool and orange juice is worthy drink for Little Johnny to consume. After all, is it not true that “a reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool?” (Proverbs 17:10). Three spankings from Father is too much for Little Johnny to endure. Perhaps Father has forgotten about Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged”.

I would reply, first, that the previous story is not a fully developed allegory such that every line, every character, and every action fully and completely flows together and that in the story a multiplicity of meanings has been wound together such that a man could spend a lifetime reading the story and never fully understand all the subtle nuances of the story. If a man searches for a well-developed allegory, let him read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Secondly, Little Johnny is a child, not a wise man. If Little Johnny were a wise man, then the author of the preceding story would have named him Jonathan not Little Johnny. Plus Little Johnny has not come yet to his “years of discretion” and as such he acts upon impulse and not on well developed principles.

Finally, only after a man has read and applied Colossians 3:20 can he read and apply Colossians 3:21. Colossians 3:20 reads, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord”. Let him who wrongfully and wantonly uses Colossians 3:20 also read Proverbs 13:24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.”

Now, sadly, the public might not agree with using so much Scripture to support spanking as discipline. Truthfully, a man can never have enough Scripture but let us consider then those who have influenced and shaped the public opinion on child discipline.

Those who have influenced the public opinion on spanking as discipline

In the USA since 1945, the two most familiar names in the public conscience associated with raising up children are Dr. Benjamin Spock, M.D, and Dr. James Dobson, President of Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson agrees with the Reformed Perspective on Spanking. In the The New Dare to Discipline, Dr. Dobson writes “Children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love, undergirded by reasonable, consistent discipline… When properly applied, loving discipline works! … It allows the God of our ancestors to be introduced to our beloved children… As might be expected, there is a price tag on these benefits: they require courage, consistency, conviction, diligence, and enthusiastic effort” (Dobson, 7). Though he mentions love, discipline, and diligence in his introduction, he does not mention spanking as a means of discipline. He does mention it later, though, when he states, “I would suggest that most corporal punishment be finished prior to the first grade (six years old). It should taper off from there and stop when the child is between the ages of ten and twelve” (Dobson, 65).

In Dr. Spock on Parenting, Dr. Benjamin Spock summarizes his own position on discipline with this paragraph, “I keep mentioning the serious and quiet manner of speaking to emphasize that when parents just shout or scold or slap a child they give up their position as mature moral guides. They descend to the angry child’s level.” (Spock, 148).

In the end spanking is necessary quite simply because the Bible says so. Spare the rod, spoil the child. Do not be afraid to use it to end Little Johnny’s disobedience. Use it with love and with prayer. Spock does not speak of it, but Dobson does speaks of a righteous man’s prayer availing much and the sooner a man begins to pray for guidance in child-rearing the more God-glorifying he and his family will be. Let us remember finally Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” But no matter how much we do, only a sovereign electing God will save us and our children in our foolishness.

Bibliography

Dobson, Dr. James. The New Dare to Discipline. 1992, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL.

Key, Rev. Steven. The Rod and Reproof: The Loving Discipline of Covenant Children.

Spock, Benjamin, M.D. Dr. Spock on Parenting. 1988, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.

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