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Herman Hoeksema (HH), the minister of the gospel whom Jesus Christ used to found the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC), is little recognized by the Reformed and Presbyterian community of churches or, with the rare exception, by prominent Reformed or Presbyterian theologians.

Indeed, there is a conspiracy of silence, to keep him hidden from view. He is the buried reformer.

There are reasons. Churches and theologians are unwilling to acknowledge the gross injustice of the prestigious Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) in its condemnation and discipline of this sound minister. In addition, they are determined to consign to oblivion the gospel truths that HH confessed and defended. Also, these churches and theologians desire to ignore in their own fellowships the presence of the grievous theological and ethical errors that are the consequences of rejecting the fundamental biblical, Reformed truths that HH proclaimed.

The deliberate burying of HH by the Reformed community is indication both of its embrace of false doctrine and of its bad conscience.

Briefly told, the history of HH is the following. The son of an immigrant Dutch mother, reared in the poverty and other hardships of a broken home (his father was an ungodly deserter of wife and family), HH became an extraordinarily able minister in the CRC. He soon became pastor of the largest congregation of the denomination. No doubt, his ability and prominence occasioned the envy of many of his colleagues, ministers being as guilty of the “green-eyed monster” as others. But the cause of the controversy that resulted in the expulsion of HH from the CRC was doctrinal—HH’s confession of the gospel of grace.

In reaction to HH’s uncompromising proclamation of salvation by sovereign, particular grace, including vehement, uncompromising condemnation of the Arminian heresy of universal grace dependent upon the will of the sinner, the CRC adopted a novel, unbiblical, anti-creedal doctrine of “common grace.” In three points, this doctrine denies the gospel of grace as authoritatively confessed especially in the Canons of Dordt. It teaches that God has a saving grace, not for the elect alone, but for all humans: universal (ineffectual) saving grace. In this grace, God offers salvation to all with the sincere desire that all accept the offer and be saved (the well-meant offer, which is the CRC’s own description of the preaching of the gospel). This first point is the denial of election; of particular, or limited, atonement; and of irresistible, or efficacious, grace.

Second, fallen, unsaved sinners retain some good and ability for good after the fall of Adam, by virtue of God’s alleged common grace. This is the denial of total depravity. This remaining goodness permits, if it does not require, fellowship of Christians with the ungodly, especially in the form of cooperation to create a good, Christian society and culture. Thus, the vitally important reality of the antithesis is compromised. The antithesis is the spiritual separation and warfare between the church and the world.

Third, God’s common grace enables unbelievers to perform works that are good—good   in the estimation of God. The CRC and all other churches that hold to common grace deny that all the works of the unregenerate are sinful. This plainly is the repudiation of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. Invariably, the denial of total depravity, especially in connection with the well-meant offer, takes form as the teaching of free will, the ability of the sinner to accept the well-meant offer of God and thus save himself. And this is the full-blown heresy of Arminianism and Pelagianism.

For his refusal to subscribe to the doctrine of common grace in these three points, HH was disciplined by the CRC in 1924. It stripped him of his office in the CRC and expelled him from the fellowship of this denomination. For rejecting the three points of common grace!  For defending the gospel of grace as confessed by the Canons of Dordt! In various ways, the other reputedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches honored this ecclesiastical murder of HH and treated this orthodox, godly man as a pariah. And they do still!

Thereupon, HH was used of Jesus Christ to form a new denomination of Reformed churches—the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC).

For the next forty years, until his death in 1965, the man—an indefatigable worker—was pastor of a huge congregation, preaching every Sunday; editor of the Standard Bearer magazine; professor of theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary; author of many books; and frequent lecturer on many doctrinal subjects.

He was my professor for the three years of my seminary training, from 1960–1963. Stories of my experiences with this remarkable man of God, I have related in a series of articles in the Beacon Lights under the heading, “I Remember Herman Hoeksema” (October 2008–December 2009). The articles are available from the Beacon Lights.

Through HH, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, gave the PRC especially two magnificent doctrines of the Reformed faith and a vitally important ethical truth (a doctrine concerning the Reformed, Christian life). The doctrines are particular, sovereign grace and the truth of the covenant of grace as intimate fellowship of God and his elect people, including the children of believing parents. Fundamental to this doctrine of the covenant is that the covenant and its salvation have their source and governance in election. In the covenant, as in missions, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). God has made his covenant, not with all humans and not with individuals apart from Jesus Christ, but with the Seed of the woman, who is Jesus, and all those who believe in him by divine election (Gal. 3). Covenant (saving) grace is unconditional, as is saving grace in missions and evangelism. Grace is unconditional. For it is grace. A grace that is conditional, that is, dependent upon the will and works of the sinner, simply is not grace. A conditional grace is a new form of works.

The ethical teaching that Jesus has entrusted to the PRC is marriage as the lifelong, unbreakable bond between one man and one woman (Matt. 5:31–32; 19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:1–3; 1 Cor. 7). It is one of church history’s surprises that the son of a broken home powerfully sounded and developed the truth of the unbreakable bond of marriage. Perhaps this is no surprise at all. Who more than a child raised in a broken home realizes experientially the blessedness of marriage?

The importance of these truths is writ large on the pages of holy scripture.

How these truths expose prevalent errors of theology and life in Reformed Christianity today, and preserve the PRC in the truth and holy life of the gospel, is evident to all.

I mention only two instances. First, much of supposedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian Christianity in North America today is bedeviled by the heresy of the federal vision (FV). The FV blatantly denies all the five points of Calvinism, as well as justification by faith alone (see my Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root). The source of the heresy is the theory of a conditional covenant, conceived as a conditional contract between God and all who come under the preaching of the word, especially all the baptized children. This theory reigns in the churches in which the FV now appears. The churches cannot resist the heresy because of this erroneous doctrine of a conditional covenant, which they share with the FV.

One implication of this doctrine of the covenant is the rejection of the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of saints. According to the theology of a conditional covenant, many with whom God originally established his covenant and thus in whom he began the work of salvation fail to keep the conditions of the covenant and go lost. Some sheep do not hear and heed the Shepherd’s voice, wander off, lose their salvation, and perish eternally! (See, to the contrary, John 10.)

Second, the Presbyterian and Reformed churches in North America are plagued with a veritable flood of divorces and remarriages. Openly, these churches now excuse, permit, and justify even the remarriages of the guilty parties (those who committed adultery) in the preceding divorces. There is no stemming of the flood. There is no effort to stem the flood. The cause is the refusal to accept the teaching of the Bible that marriage is an unbreakable bond for life. The result is indescribable misery for many godly husbands and wives, to say nothing of deserted baptized, covenant children. The worst is the shame that it brings upon God. His name as “Faithful One” is etched upon the marriages of those who confess him as their God.

HH’s teachings and warnings are validated today by Jesus Christ in the evils that result from the rejection of them. And the evils are great. They are devastating, divine judgments upon the disobedient, who condemned and executed a faithful prophet of God and servant of Jesus Christ, or who connived at the condemnation. Reformed theologians and churches cannot but notice the evils in their own communions. One cannot but notice a destructive plague. But they remain silent. Having killed the prophet (ecclesiastically) and his prophecies in 1924, they bury him and his teachings today.

Some Reformed theologians are burying HH today in another way, which is also shameful. They have come to realize that the covenant is not a cold contract, but a warm bond of fellowship between God and his believing people, symbolized by marriage. They burst on the scene with this truth as though they themselves discovered it, without so much as a word acknowledging that HH taught this one hundred years ago, as they well know. It is as though a contemporary scientist announced to the scientific world that he had recently discovered that the earth rotates about the sun, without any mention of Copernicus. They too bury HH in their own scandalous way.

The PRC and the churches with whom they are in fellowship honor the prophet—and benefit from his prophesying.

Not because of him, but because of his Master!

Not because they were his doctrines, but because they are the gospel of his Lord!

 

Originally published November 2020, Vol 79 No 11

Introduction

            The question is not, “Who makes a church Reformed?” The answer to this question would be, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” By his Spirit, Jesus Christ himself, who is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23), creates a group of believers and their children as his body in a certain place at a certain time in connection with qualified men as elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3). As the creation of Jesus himself, this congregation preaches the pure gospel of holy scripture, administers the sacraments rightly, and exercises Christian discipline upon the unfaithful, the disobedient, and the impenitently unholy (Belgic Confession, Article 29).

But the question is, “What makes a church Reformed?” The sense of the question is, “What are the characteristics of a church that is truly Reformed, especially in view of the sad fact that there are many churches that call themselves ‘Reformed’ (or Presbyterian) that are not, in fact, Reformed at all, or that are departing from those truths, or losing those characteristics, that make a church truly Reformed?” The question has enormous practical importance in light of the fact that the young readers of this magazine, like many others, have the calling from God to be members of a Reformed church.

The question that is the title of this article, and therefore this article, are of urgent practical significance because there are such churches—many of them—and there are such developments—many of them—in our day. One result is that members of these churches, especially the young people, are being deceived. They suppose that they are members of a Reformed church when, in fact, they are not. Members of churches where these developments are taking place ignore the falling away of these churches from that which makes them Reformed simply because these churches continue to carry the name “Reformed.”

Doctrinal According to the Confessions

What makes a church Reformed, first and foremost, is that it faithfully preaches and teaches (including the content of its writings) the truths of the Bible as these truths are expressed and summarized in the three confessions: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt (or, for Presbyterians, the Westminster Standards). So vitally important is faithfulness to the confessions in a church’s teaching for making and keeping a church Reformed that the Reformed churches bind all their officebearers by a solemn oath to embrace the creeds, and never to teach contrary to them. The young people who read this article ought to take this opportunity carefully to read the document that binds ministers, elders, and deacons to the creeds: the Formula of Subscription in the back of the Psalter.

But it is also possible, and, in fact, is a reality today, that a church has its officebearers sign the Formula of Subscription without enforcing its requirements. In this case, the minister is allowed to preach (and write) contrary to the confessions. The elders and the entire congregation (which also is responsible for the preaching and writing) do not discipline the minister for his heretical preaching and writing. In view of the heavy emphasis of the confessions on the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone, without the will and works of the sinner, an important example of this departure (apostasy) of a church that has the name “Reformed,” indeed the most important example that I could adduce, is that ministers teach that salvation is conditional, that is, dependent upon the sinner; or that God is gracious in Jesus Christ to everyone and offers salvation to everyone in the sincere desire to save all humans (which necessarily implies that the salvation of a sinner is the act of the sinner himself); or that justification is by faith and by the sinner’s own works.

A church that teaches that salvation is partly the work of the sinner himself, or that salvation depends in part on the sinner, and a church in which the elders and congregation permit such teaching, is no Reformed church at all, regardless of the name on the bulletin. It is Arminian (see the Canons of Dordt 2, error and rejection 3).

When a young person is deciding his or her church membership, he or she must decide on the basis of the church’s proclaiming and confessing the doctrines of the gospel of grace. Only then is the church a Reformed church, and only then will the person be Reformed in membership.

Doctrinal, Period!

There is still another criterion in regard to sound doctrine. This is that a church preaches and teaches sound doctrine at all, and condemns false doctrine as she does so. It is possible that, although a church does not teach false doctrine, it nevertheless fails to teach sound doctrine. The minister declines to teach doctrine in his sermons. All his sermons are “practical”:  how to live, especially how to live in love for the neighbor. The minister has made up his mind that he will not be a doctrinal, but a “practical,” preacher.

A church is Reformed only if the preaching is doctrinal. If the preaching is only “practical,” Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, that church is not Reformed. The gospel of Jesus Christ, as rightly proclaimed by a Reformed church, is doctrinal. Because it is doctrinal, it also necessarily is polemical, that is, it exposes, condemns, and warns against false doctrines, especially those that threaten the church at the present time. Refusal to be polemical is not the manifestation of love on the part of a peace-loving minister. It is the symptom of the despising of the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My seminary professor, Herman Hoeksema, once exclaimed, “What the church needs, in the first place, is doctrine; what it needs, in the second place, is more doctrine; what it needs, in the third place, is still more doctrine.” Although he was referring explicitly to the church that deposed him for defending the gospel of grace, what he said applies to all churches always: the church needs, the church is founded upon, the church lives by doctrine. And without doctrine, the genuine practice of the members of the church withers away and dies. At best, it becomes mere morality, a kind of Pharisaical outward show.

The church needs sound doctrine in the catechism classes. You young people must be thoroughly taught doctrine especially in the class of “Essentials of Reformed Doctrine.” Such teaching makes a church Reformed in the future. By her minister, the church must apply herself to the teaching of doctrine in this class, both by his thorough preparation and by his lively teaching. The young people must attend this class as though their life and the life of the church depended on it. They do.

Machen on the Doctrinal Church

In his classic book, Christianity & Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen demonstrated that the fundamental difference between Christianity—not simply Reformed, or Presbyterian, Christianity, but Christianity—and unbelieving liberalism is that Christianity is doctrinal, whereas liberalism is practical—all about “Christian living.” “Christianity is…life, not a doctrine,” says the liberal. Responds the Christian: “Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith.”

In a new biography of another orthodox theologian who, with Machen, opposed the unchristian liberalism in the Presbyterian church in the early 1900s, the author describes the main thinking of the liberals this way:  “Christianity [is] a life and not a doctrine” (Geerhardus Vos, by Danny Olinger, 2018, 238).  Liberals in the church despise and oppose sound doctrine because they are enemies of Christianity.

The liberal theologian preaches “the modern exaltation of ‘life’” at the expense of “doctrine.” He is fond of attacking emphasis on doctrine as “dead orthodoxy.”

“[This non-doctrinal] liberalism is not Christianity.” This is a warning that all “conservative” Reformed churches need to hear as much today as they did in the early 20th century.

In defending Christianity as doctrinal, Machen argued that Christianity is also necessarily “polemical”—something that liberalism despises, denies, and opposes with a passion. “Truth cannot be stated clearly at all without being set over against error…A large part of the New Testament is polemic.”

Discipline

As I have already suggested, what makes a church Reformed is also church discipline. This is the excommunication in various stages of those who teach false doctrine and who fail to live the holy life that sound doctrine produces.

If a church tolerates heretics or young people who openly, impenitently fornicate (by “shacking up”), this church is not Reformed, even though it excuses itself by appealing to its love for the minister or for the young people who are living together outside of marriage. The obvious truth about such a church is that it does not love God. Does it need to be said? A church that does not love God is not Reformed.

With reference once again to the life and history of Machen, the “liberal” church does not refuse to exercise discipline altogether. It does discipline. It disciplines J. Gresham Machen and those who like him uncompromisingly confess the truth of the gospel, condemning false doctrine, and who expose the liberal church’s other evils.

Observance of the Sacraments

A Reformed church has the highest regard for Christ’s two sacraments: baptism, by which those (elect) who are baptized are united to Christ, and the Lord’s supper, by which believers feed on Jesus Christ.

One aspect of a Reformed church’s high regard for baptism is its urgent calling of the parents to rear their baptized children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4). This includes the church’s preaching and the elders’ exhorting the Christian school according to Article 21 of the Reformed Church Order of Dordt: “The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.” A Reformed church is covenantal in that it confesses and holds dear the establishment of the covenant with the children of believers. The extension of the covenant with the children carries with it the calling of a distinctive, Christian upbringing of the children in “good Christian schools.”

An aspect of the Reformed church’s high regard for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is the church’s opening up the sacrament to her young people, or converts for the matter of that, only by way of a credible (doctrinal!) confession of faith. In regard to confession of faith also, there can be weakness today on the part of consistories. The minister and elders concentrate on the young person’s life and conduct, minimizing his or her knowledge of and commitment to sound doctrine. But confession of faith is confession of faith. Doctrine is primary. A Christian life is important, but as the fruit of a faith that is doctrinal.

A Reformed church bars from the Supper any member who publicly lives an ungodly life (see Article 76 of the Church Order of Dordt). This is the exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (see the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 31). A church that refuses, or neglects, to discipline members who go on impenitently in public sin, but allows them to partake of the Supper, thus corrupting the holy Supper of the Lord, is no Reformed church, regardless of its name and reputation. On the contrary, it has every reason to doubt whether it is a true church of Jesus Christ.

This is the description, however brief, of a Reformed church. These qualities make a church Reformed in reality.

Young person, if your congregation shows these spiritual characteristics, you may not leave it.

If your church lacks these marks, you may not remain in it.

 

Originally published June 2020, Vol 79 No 6

 

Great events in the history of the church are bolts of lightning from heaven.  But they do not strike out of a clear, blue sky on a sunny day.  They flash from storm clouds and are forecast by a darkening day. 

Such was the case with the writing, and adoption as a Reformed creed, of the Belgic Confession of Faith.  It was a lightning bolt of truth from heaven, accompanied by a peal of the thunder of judgment that shook the false church to its foundation and resounded throughout the entire, then-known world.  The reverberations of the thunder of judgment are heard and felt still today in North America, Europe, South Africa, and other places wherever churches that are Reformed in name and that once were sound, and probably still have the Belgic Confession as their creed formally, have fallen away from the Reformed faith of the creed.   

Out of skies that had been darkening for years and that were filled with ominous thunderheads flashed the lightning bolt that is the Belgic Confession.   

As its name indicates, the Belgic, or Netherlands, Confession was written in that part of Europe that is now called Belgium.  In those days, Belgium and the Netherlands were one country.  The country was known simply as the “Lowlands,” or “Netherlands.”  Soon after the Belgic Confession was written, the Lowlands became two distinct nations, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Despite the Belgic Confession, and mainly due to fierce persecution of the Reformed churches and believers, Belgium remained overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.  The Netherlands, to the north, was chiefly Protestant and Reformed.  In the Netherlands, the Belgic Confession was honored, indeed officially adopted as the creed of the churches. 

Indicating the force and extent of the great apostasy of these last days, the vast majority of Reformed churches in the Netherlands today openly criticize and reject the Belgic Confession and the truths of the gospel that it teaches.  Of the few others that still profess to maintain the Confession, some fail vehemently to defend the creed and its doctrines.   

In the years leading up to the writing of the Belgic Confession, the Lowlands was Roman Catholic in religion.  The rulers were Roman Catholic.  The Spanish empire dominated.  Spain was vehemently and viciously Roman Catholic.  The large nation of France, which bordered the Lowlands and exercised powerful influence upon the Lowlands was Roman Catholic.  All Roman Catholic governments persecuted the Protestants, especially the Reformed Protestants.  Reformed churches were outlawed.  Reformed preachers were jailed, tortured, and killed.  Cities populated by the Reformed were razed.  The great history of the Netherlands by John Lothrop Motley estimates that the number of Protestants in the Netherlands who were killed at that time by the Roman Catholic powers were some 100, 000—men, women, and children.   

This history of persecution confronts each of us with the question, “Do I honor and love the Belgic Confession so, that I would shed my life’s blood for my confession of it?”  This is to ask whether we truly honor and love the gospel of grace. 

In this historical setting, God caused the writing of the Belgic Confession.  Out of such storm clouds, the lightning of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ flashed.   

It pleased God then, as always throughout the history of the church, to flash his bolt by means of a man, fundamentally by one man (which is also God’s usual way).  The man was Guido de Bres (pronounced Geedo de Bray).  He was one of the truly great men of God in the history of the church.  He ranks with Luther and Calvin—a German, a Frenchman, and a Netherlander.  de Bres was the son of ardent Roman Catholics in what is now Belgium.  God converted him from the Roman Catholicism in which he was reared by the reading of the Bible and the reading of Reformed books and pamphlets that were being distributed throughout Europe (contrary to the edicts of the authorities, who would kill the pamphleteers if they would catch them).   

This aspect of the history of the Belgic Confession ought to encourage the Beacon Lights and the RFPA to be zealous in writing and spreading abroad their publications, as also to be distinctive and antithetical in the content of the writings.  de Bres was not won to the Reformed faith by writings that downplayed the difference with Rome and that were compromised by a desire for ecumenical relations with the false church.  In those days, the faithful defenders of the faith were polemical, that is, fighting, contenders for the faith.  The lightning bolt of truth was not a piddling discharge, but a glorious, even awesome, flash. 

Called and qualified by the Spirit of truth in a special way (that time was an extraordinary coming of the kingdom of God), de Bres began preaching the gospel of grace as confessed by the Reformed faith.  Immediately, he became the object of the hatred of the Roman authorities, who determined to murder this man of God.  More than once, he had to flee his home and homeland to escape his foes.  On one occasion, his persecutors burned de Bres’ home and library (his library!), and de Bres himself in effigy, he barely escaping with his life.  He spent about two years with Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland.  During this time, he studied under Prof. Calvin in a kind of seminary training.  This helped de Bres become a better preacher.  It would serve also to prepare de Bres to express the Reformed faith in the Belgic Confession.  In the Belgic Confession, we owe much, indirectly, to John Calvin.   

Again and again, at the risk of his life, de Bres would return to the Lowlands, to preach to thousands who had been converted to Reformed Christianity and who wanted, more than anything else, Reformed preaching. 

On one of his stays in Belgium, in 1561, de Bres wrote the Confession.  He wrote it in French.  Almost at once, it was translated into Dutch.  Soon thereafter, it was translated into German.  Later, it was also translated into Latin, the language of the theologians of the world.     Thus, the creed spread over all the world and among all Christian churches.  An English translation was published in 1689.  This is basically the translation used in the Protestant Reformed Churches.   

A Reformed synod adopted the Confession as the official creed of Reformed Christianity in the Lowlands as early as 1566.  The international synod of Dordt (16181619) made it the authoritative creed of Reformed churches worldwide.   It is today one of the three confessions of the faith of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as also of other Reformed churches, worldwide.  Every officebearer is bound by it.  Every member should know it, learn from it, and confess the truths contained in it.  The Reformed churches recognize the Belgic Confession as the work of the Spirit of truth in a special way, the way of guiding the church into all truth (John 16:13).     

A response to this special issue of the Beacon Lights ought to be that every young person reads the Belgic Confession.  Let him or her keep in mind as he or she reads that the Confession was written in blood.   

Not long after writing the Belgic Confession, in 1567, de Bres was captured, tortured, and killed by the Roman Catholic enemies of himself and of the gospel that de Bres confessed.  He was only 45.  He left behind a young widow (to whom he could be married for only seven years and whom he warned beforehand of the likelihood of his martyrdom at a young age when they married) and five young orphans.  His letters from prison to his soon-to-be-widowed young wife and to his mother, just before his death, at first moves even the most stoical reader to tears and then lifts his soul up to the portal of heaven.  I have translated the letters into English in the first volume of my commentary on the Confession.     

The heavens were dark with storm clouds when the Belgic Confession was written. 

From these clouds, the lightning bolt of truth flashed brightly.   

The Belgic bolt flashes still today in those Reformed churches that have the Belgic Confession as their creed—and that faithfully confess and teach it. 

Still in a darkening day, out of ominous storm clouds.  

And still accompanied by the frightening roar of the thunder of judgment.      

Originally published in: Vol. 78 No. 10 

By dating, I understand a special relationship of fellowship between an unmarried young man and an unmarried young woman, the nature and purpose of which is the possibility of marriage.
There is some biblical defense of dating. Jacob dated Rachel seven years with a view to marrying her (Gen. 29:20). In the New Testament, there was the peculiar practice in the covenant community of “espousal.” Joseph was espoused to Mary (Matt. 1:18). Espousal was not the same as present-day dating. It was more solemn and binding. Nevertheless, it was a relation between a man and a woman that preceded and had as its purpose the full reality of marriage. It was a special relation of a man and a woman that did not include the sexual relation (Matt. 1:18). It was a relation that could be broken off, as marriage cannot be, and could be broken off privately (Matt. 1:19).
Dating can also be defended practically, and this is the defense I offer, and commend, to the young people, in this article.
The purpose of dating is not to play sexual games, that is, to play with fire. This is the threat always to dating. Dating is not marriage, and marriage alone permits, indeed requires, sexual intimacy.
But the purpose of dating is to be assured that this man or this woman is the one chosen for you, and given to you, as your mate for life.
“Mate for life” underscores the seriousness of dating. A mistake in marrying has life-long consequences. One is bound to a disagreeable man or to a shrewish woman for all of his or her life. Then the unique intimacy of marriage becomes the most intense misery—for life. The poet gave expression to the consequences of a hasty, careless decision to marry: “Sin in haste, repent at leisure.”
Even then, although the married person laments, “I made a mistake,” God, who rules over miserable marriages also, did not make a mistake. Although the miserable husband or wife repents of his or her decision to marry, the will of God constrains him or her to live as best he or she can with the miserable mate his or her life-long. God’s grace will enable him or her to do so. But the marriage will be a lifelong burden, rather than a lifelong delight.
What is preferable, what is wiser, what is far more enjoyable is that the young men and young women marry one about whom they are as sure as they can be in this world of woe that the one whom they marry is one with whom they will be able to live happily, one who will prove to be, not sinless, but godly, one who will show himself or herself to be, not perfect, but fundamentally loving, one who will not seek himself or herself with a cold, callous, cruel selfishness, but who will seek the other, putting the other first, before himself or herself. At least, the mate will take the other into consideration!
Essential is that the other is a genuine, sound, practicing Christian—a brother or sister in Jesus Christ. Without this, the marriage of a Christian is the severest misery. The Dutch have a rhyming saying about a “mixed marriage,” and its built-in misery: “Twee gelooven op een kussen; daar slaapt de duivel tusschen,” that is, “Two faiths on one pillow; there, the devil sleeps in-between.”
Such a marriage is a real marriage, unbreakable until death parts the two (the Christian thinking in such a marriage is, “unfortunately”), but such a marriage is fraught with sorrows and sometimes insuperable problems. “Will he allow me to attend church?” “Must I go with him or her to the ungodly parties he or she insists on attending?” “Will he or she allow me to have the children baptized, and then reared in the church?” “What about the Christian school and its tuition?” “Who will control the children’s upbringing in the home, with its effects for time and eternity upon my own dear children?” “Will his or her hatred of God soon become hatred of me?” And many more such distressing questions. Many more!
It is also important for dating that the young man or young woman worships God according to the gospel of grace in a true church. This consideration directs a Protestant Reformed young person to another Protestant Reformed young person. “Date and marry in the churches” is good parental counsel to their young people.
But dating in the churches is not the end of the matter. For one thing, not all members of the Protestant Reformed Churches are necessarily true believers and saved children of God. There are hypocrites, tares in the wheat field, sowed by Satan (see Matt. 13:24–30). The unique activity of dating can reveal that the young person whom the Christian young man or woman is dating is unspiritual and unsaved. The Christian young person may have another calling with regard to this member of the church as well. But one thing he or she must do is break off the relation of dating with the prospect of marrying.
For another thing, a young person in the Protestant Reformed Churches, although a Christian, may have traits that make him or her a very poor choice as a husband or wife.
The girl may be intensely selfish, concerned mainly, if not only, about herself. The will and happiness of her boyfriend mean absolutely nothing to her. She has no intention of living for him, as a help to him. In her thinking, he is for her sake. She wants a husband, merely because all girls have husbands. In addition, she likes to have children, for her own sake, not for God’s sake or her husband’s sake. If he displeases her in any way, she is immediately as cold as an iceberg. While they are dating, she shows these ugly, unchristian traits. If the young man sees these wretched characteristics, he must run from her—fast and far. She will make his entire married life miserable. Dating has a purpose in this regard.
Or, the young man may have and yield to, a sinful nature consisting, in part, of abusiveness. Even though he is Protestant Reformed! He too is self-centered. He regards the young woman as someone he can use, unlovingly, even brutally. He does not intend to guide, as the head in marriage. But he intends to dominate, like a slave-owner. The girl, and later the wife, exists for him. To enforce his abusive thinking, he uses degrading language, language that will reduce her to nothing in her own estimation. Already while dating, he will use or threaten physical force upon her. Or, he will deliberately ignore her, especially in public, in order to impress upon her that she is nothing to him, and worthless. The biblical truth of loving, honoring, and serving the wife as Christ loved, honored, and served his beloved church (see Eph. 5) does not so much as enter his warped mind. He may be a Christian, although his abuse of his girlfriend, and later his wife, makes this questionable. But he will not behave as a Christian husband. Dating is likely to expose all this to the young woman. Seeing the signs of her impending cruel, destructive slavery, should she marry him, she ought to end the relationship, quickly, and run for her marital life.
A godly young man, who will make a delightful husband in a joyful Christian family, woos the young woman, showing himself attentive to her and her welfare. He does not force, demean, threaten, or generally leave the distinct impression that he is her self-seeking master.
Dating serves these good purposes.
I do not know of an alternative, other than the unsatisfactory imposition of a mate upon the young man or the young woman by the parents.
Young people, date! Date with these right purposes!
There is also legitimate pleasure in dating. One enjoys the companionship, pure and innocent, of one of the other sex.
But the purpose, ultimately, is marriage.
Marriage to one about whom you are sure, as sure as is possible, by accompanying prayer, that he or she will be the husband or wife with whom you can live a godly and happy life until death parts you—perhaps 50 or 60 years!
Marriage to one at whose funeral, you will weep naturally, as at the loss of one who has become half of yourself—the better half—rather than faking sorrow while secretly thinking, “Thank God, I am finally delivered.”

This article is the shortened version of the recently published booklet by me under the same title. This abridgment necessarily omits much of the booklet, including elements that I consider to be of great importance both to the subject and to the thinking of Reformed persons concerning church membership. I urge the young person to obtain the booklet, which is distributed free of charge, from the consistory or evangelism committee of his church, or, failing this, from the Reformed Witness Committee of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, MI (hoperwc@gmail.com).
Introduction
No one can escape the life-or-death, spiritual force of the subject of this article. Church membership is a life-or-death matter. Outside the church—a true church—is no salvation. The true church identifies herself by distinct, unmistakable marks.
There are false churches, which also are clearly recognizable.
There are also churches that are gradually losing the marks of the true church and taking on the marks of the false church.
The subject, therefore, is urgent for everyone who is called a Christian and who values his or her salvation.
The Necessary Membership
John Calvin wrote that whoever has God for his Father has the church for his mother. He was referring to the local, instituted congregation of believers and their children.
Membership in a true church is necessary, as necessary as it is for a child to have a mother. I know this by experience. I look back over my life and ask, “Where would I, my wife, our children, and our grandchildren be apart from membership in true churches of God? What would be the condition of our spiritual lives? How would it have gone with our family life? Outside of true churches of God, what would even our physical lives be?”
But the necessity of membership in a true church is not only, or even mainly, a matter of experience. It is the clear teaching of the Reformed creeds and of scripture, as will be demonstrated.
What is necessary is membership in a visible, instituted church, a congregation that can be seen, especially as a gathering for worship on Sunday, a congregation that is properly organized, or instituted. No one may evade the admonition to church membership by responding, “I belong to the invisible, holy, catholic church of Jesus Christ, even though I am not a member of a visible institute, or organization—a local congregation.” The church is certainly this universal body of Christ (Matthew 16:18). But this presently invisible body of Christ takes form in true, visible institutes, or congregations (see the Belgic Confession, Articles 27, 28). Therefore, let no one claim to be a member of the universal, invisible body of Christ who holds in contempt membership in this church’s manifestation in the visible church. He is not a member of the universal church of Christ! On the contrary, he despises the universal body of Christ.
Membership in the instituted church—the organized assembly of believers and their children, that is visible and exists in a certain place at a certain time—is necessary. Emphasizing this becomes more necessary than ever with the rising in our day of the so-called “house church” movement. The church institute is formed by God’s appointment of men (not women) to occupy and exercise three offices, or official positions, in the body of believers and their children. These offices are minister of the word, or teaching elder; ruling elder; and deacon (1 Timothy 3; 1 Timothy 5:17). By these offices, Jesus Christ himself performs the work that blesses and saves the members of the church.
Without these offices, there is no instituted church, that is, no church at all. Neither is there the presence and saving work of Jesus Christ. So much for the “house church” movement!
Of the visible church that is instituted in these three offices, it is necessary to be a member.
If and only if this institute is a true church!
The Marks of a True Church
It is not enough to be member of some instituted church or other. There are true churches and false churches. There are churches that once were true, but are now becoming false. What is necessary is membership in a true church.
Because of the necessity of membership in a true church, God identifies true churches with marks. These marks are unmistakably clear. They are three. First and most importantly, the mark of the true church is “the pure doctrine of the gospel” (1 Timothy 3:15, 16). Second, a mark is “the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ.” The third mark is the exercise of “church discipline” in dealing with public sin as it appears in the church (see Article 29 of the Belgic Confession). The marks are not size; a friendly minister; opportunity for the use of the members’ gifts; or enthusiasm for evangelism and missions.
Where these marks are, there is a true church of God, and there must I be a member, and remain a member. Where these marks are lacking, there is a false church, and there I may not be a member.
Since there are false churches, and since membership in a false church is both contrary to the will of God, and damning, there must also be clear, identifying marks of the false church, and there are. The marks of a false church are not only the lack of the marks of the true church. But they are also the perversion of the marks of a true church. The false church preaches, but it preaches a lie, for example, that justification is by faith and by works. It celebrates the sacraments, but it falsifies them, for example, by adding to the two instituted by Christ five more of its own choosing. It exercises discipline, but not upon the wicked. Rather, it punishes the godly, for example, one who objects to the false doctrine or wicked discipline of the church. Membership in such a church is forbidden to the believer. The believer must leave the false church, or a church that is becoming false. Yesterday!
The Necessity of Membership in a True Church
Membership in a true church is necessary. It is not merely recommended, if convenient, but necessary. Since it is necessary, it must be carried out regardless of the cost and consequences.
Outside the true church, that is, apart from membership in a true institute, is no salvation!
At this point, confessing Christians raise furious objection: “Certainly, church membership is not as serious as salvation!”
But it is this serious.
This is the seriousness of church membership on which the Belgic Confession insists, in Article 28: “Out of it [the true instituted church] there is no salvation” (see also the Heidelberg Catechism, Q and A 85). The explanation of this necessity is that the church is the body of Christ. To be separated from the church is to be separated from the head of this body, who is Jesus Christ. In separation from Christ is no salvation. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the instituted church “the house of God.” In it God dwells. As the Psalter sings, “To live apart from God is death.”
The Calling of the Believer
Obviously, every believer is called by God himself to be and to remain a member of a church that shows itself true by the unmistakable marks. He may not leave for a church that lacks the marks for any reason, including having a wife or a husband. If one finds himself in a church that is departing from the pure word of the gospel, corrupting the sacraments, and failing to use, or abusing, discipline, he must leave for a true church, even though joining a true church may be costly and difficult.
John Calvin confronted a group of Reformed believers in France with this calling. Persecution made membership in a true church impossible in France. Calvin called these French believers to leave everything and move to a country where membership in a true church would be possible. Obviously, this would be costly and very difficult. Imagine that citizens of the United States or of some other country would have to move to Canada, leaving home, job, and relatives behind, in order to worship God rightly in a true church. These French believers, whom Calvin called “Nicodemites,” objected. Because carrying out Calvin’s admonition would likely mean moving to Geneva, Switzerland, where Calvin was preaching and teaching, some of these French mocked Calvin and his admonition by charging that Calvin thought that “the road to heaven led through Geneva.” Likewise today, when we call Reformed Christians in departing churches to join a true church, they respond with the mockery that we think that only members of our denomination are going to heaven. But Calvin continued to insist that membership in a true church is necessary. So do the Protestant Reformed Churches! So do all whose confession is Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith!
2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns that in the last days, in which we are now living, there will be a “falling away” (Greek: apostasy) of churches that once were true churches of Christ. All believers in all churches, including those on behalf of whose members this magazine is published, must be vigilant—concerning doctrine, sacraments, and discipline. Complacency is fatal.
Membership in a true church is necessary!

The young reader of this article is encouraged to read first the 5th head of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt and to have it before him as he reads the article.
Introduction
Can one who has been saved go lost?
It often seems as though those who are saved for a while lose their salvation and perish in unbelief and wickedness of life.
Very likely, every young person who is reading this issue of Beacon Lights knows another young person who was baptized, grew up in a Christian home, made public confession of faith, and attended church faithfully for years, but who later left the church, renounced Christ and the Christian faith, and now lives a wicked life, without repentance. It seems as though one who once was saved has lost his or her salvation. In the language of 1 John 2:19, there are always those who “went out from us.”
It is not only a young person who struggles with the seeming falling away unto damnation of those who once were saved. It was a hard struggle of faith for me, though a minister, to hear once of the suicide of a very dear friend, for years a confessing Protestant Reformed Christian, and often an elder in the church.
These and other similar experiences in the church raise the question, “Can a saved child of God lose his salvation, and perish?”
Our own experience of our own spiritual weakness makes the question of perseverance a personal struggle. Such is the power of our temptations to sin and such is our own strong inclination to yield to the temptation, or, if we have yielded, the strong inclination to continue in the sin, that we wonder about ourselves, whom we know to have been saved, “Is it possible that I myself might fall away from Christ, abide in this falling away, and so perish finally in hell, forever separated from Jesus Christ?”
In confessing perseverance, in the 5th and last “head,” or chapter, the Canons of Dordt recognizes the temptation to doubt the perseverance of saints. “Error 7” of the rejection of errors section of Head 5 of the Canons refers to the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13, which teaches that there is a similarity between those who “believe for a time” and “true believers.” Canons, 5.8 acknowledges that so sinful and weak are true believers that “with regard to themselves” it “would undoubtedly happen” that they would backslide “and perish.”
What Perseverance is
This same article—Canons, 5.8—confesses that “it is utterly impossible” that saved children of God lose their salvation and perish in sin and damnation.
Head 5 of the Canons confesses “the perseverance of saints.” This is the heading of the last section of the Canons. This confession is a fundamental aspect of the Reformed faith. It is also the great comfort of the Reformed believer, young as well as old.
The gospel-truth of the perseverance of saints is that every one whom God saves by regenerating him and giving him faith in Jesus will continue in this salvation to the very end of life, so that he is saved forever. This activity of persevering is a struggle for the Christian. It is not easy. One “perseveres” against hardships and opposition. Continuing in faith and obedience and, thus, in salvation is not like “falling off a log.” In fact, so difficult is the struggle to continue in faith and in the Christian life that 1 Peter 4:18 declares that the “righteous [are] scarcely…saved.” They are saved, every one, but as it seems to us ourselves “scarcely.” We barely make it to the end. So difficult is persevering in the way of salvation for the righteous in this life!
The sole reason why all the righteous, that is, those who believe in Jesus with true faith, are saved is that God preserves them. The perseverance of saints is also the preservation of saints. Saints persevere because God preserves them. Having begun the work of salvation in them by his Holy Spirit, he preserves in them this salvation against all temptations from without and against all the power of sin within themselves.
Perseverance is like a little boy struggling to climb Long’s Peak in Colorado. The mountain is steep, and the pathway to the top is dangerous. But the lad keeps on going, up and up, until he comes safely, if exhausted, to the top. He perseveres. But the reason he perseveres is that his strong father has his arms around the boy, propelling him by the power of the father and guiding him on the narrow path so that he never falls over the precipices. The child perseveres because father preserves.
The Canons speaks of our “perseverance in the faith” (Art. 9). We victoriously continue to believe. The Canons also speak of God’s preservation of us, and attributes our persevering to God’s preservation: “God…powerfully preserves them [all those who are ‘converted’—DJE] therein [in ‘a state of grace’—DJE], even to the end” (Art. 3).
Our perseverance is the great benefit of God’s election of us, of Christ’s death for us, and of the Holy Spirit’s saving work within us. That is, this last grand, Reformed doctrine of salvation depends upon the preceding doctrines in the Canons. That perseverance is due to all the other gracious works of God confessed by the Canons is the confession of the Canons in Article 8: “…since his counsel [of election—DJE] cannot be changed,” etc.
But perseverance is the glorious purpose and goal of the other works of God in salvation. Without perseverance as their end, the other works of salvation would be illusory, senseless, and useless. What good is election, atonement, and the regenerating work of the Spirit if those elected, atoned for, and born again perish in hell? The purpose of God in electing, atoning, and regenerating is that the elect be saved in this life and everlastingly. Since God is not a God of nonsense and failure, every one whom he elects, redeems, and regenerates he also preserves unto everlasting life.
What Perseverance is Not
Perseverance is not that the saved child of God is perfectly delivered from sin in this life. On the contrary, every saved child of God retains a depraved nature and commits many sins. Perseverance is that sin does not govern the life of the child of God. Perseverance is that when he does sin, he repents (see Articles 1–3).
Perseverance is not that the saved child of God cannot fall into gross sin, sometimes very deeply. The life of David and the life of Peter prove otherwise. The Canons refers to “the lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints” (Art. 4). But perseverance is that even then the child of God does not lose the grace of his new birth and the indwelling Holy Spirit. And perseverance is that this sinning child of God will repent, and be forgiven (Art. 7).
But neither is perseverance simply the truth that all the elect will finally be saved. The 5th of the great doctrines of the Reformed faith in the Canons is not “the perseverance of the elect,” but the perseverance “of saints,” that is, holy ones. It is the continuing in the spiritual condition of believing and of living a holy life on the part of those in whom God has begun the work of salvation.
Persevering, therefore, is certainly not, as the enemies like to present it, that one will be saved regardless how he lives, as though one can live wickedly, continue in this wickedness without repentance and conversion, and still expect to go to heaven (see the “Conclusion” of the Canons: “…that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please…”). On the contrary, perseverance is that one continues in faith and holiness of life, to the very end.
The False Doctrine Opposed
In its confession of perseverance, the Canons contends with the false doctrine that teaches that one may enjoy the beginning of God’s work of salvation, but lose this salvation and perish forever in hell. One may be saved today, but go lost tomorrow, and forever. The reason for this God-dishonoring and terrifying doctrine is that it makes perseverance the work of the sinner himself. It is a human perseverance without divine preservation. God does not preserve the saved sinner; he must preserve himself. In fact, this heresy teaches that the perseverance of saints is “a condition of the new covenant” (error 1 of the rejection of errors).
At the time that the Canons was adopted by the universal synod of the Reformed churches, those who taught this conditional, losable salvation were a definite party in the churches who were known as Arminians. Today, a majority of professing Christians in all the world believe and teach the heresy that the Canons condemn in the 5th head.
Today, despite their confession as Reformed churches, also many Reformed churches teach conditional perseverance. Like the old Arminians at Dordt, they teach that perseverance is “a condition of the new covenant,” so that many who are regenerated and believing saints can and do lose their salvation and perish forever. Among these unfaithful churches and theologians, who rebel against the 5th head of doctrine of the Canons, and thus against the gospel of grace, are all those who teach what they call the “federal [covenant] vision.” Just as did the old Arminians, these heretics teach that perseverance is not a gracious work of God, but a “condition of the new covenant.” According to them, many baptized children of believers are born again and receive the beginnings of the new life of Christ, but refuse to persevere, with the result that they lose their salvation and are damned. The 5th head of doctrine of the Canons condemns their false doctrine and warns the Reformed churches against their heresy.
Biblical Basis
The biblical basis of the doctrine of perseverance is abundant and clear. Most of the passages to which the Canons explicitly refers are in the rejection of errors section at the end of the 5th head. More than a dozen passages, many of them long, are quoted. The young person reading this article is urged to read the biblical passages in this section of the Canons. One of these passages is Romans 8:39: “No creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Assurance of Persevering
Perseverance is a truth of the greatest comfort to the believer. Who can sufficiently praise, or be thankful for, one’s being certain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that he will continue in the salvation God has begun in him, so as certainly to be saved eternally in the new world that is coming?
Who can do justice to the horror of the terror of living in fear that one may fall away from Christ to the devil so that his eternal future will be the damnation of hell?
Not only does God preserve his elect, saved, believing children, but also he gives them assurance of his preservation of them. He does not merely assure them that all saints are preserved. Of what good is this, if one does not know the preservation of himself personally? He assures them that they themselves, as saints, will persevere.
The Canons teaches this personal assurance of persevering: “Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance…” (Art. 9). Not as though believers never “struggle with various carnal doubts” (Art. 11), which doubts are always “carnal,” that is, wicked, and from which doubts they are always delivered: “the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering” (Art. 11).
This assurance does not come from “any peculiar revelation…independent of the Word of God but springs from faith in God’s promises…in His Word” (Art. 10). The faith by which we are saved is assurance of continuing and everlasting salvation. It is assurance, not by receiving mysterious signs and having mystical experiences (the Canons’ “peculiar revelation”), but by resting on the promises of the word of God.
As the Canons state, this assurance is “solid comfort” in life and in death. Without this assurance, which is only a reality in the gospel confessed by the Canons of Dordt, we would be “of all men most miserable” (Art. 10).
One who is saved cannot go lost! Those who “went out from us,” according to 1 John 2:19, “were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
I who am saved by faith am assured that I cannot go lost! “Not in consequence of [my] own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy” (Art. 8).

*This article was originally published in the December 1961 issue.

At no other time of the year does the behavior of the American people as closely approach insanity as at Christmas. One glance at a red-colored date, five sixths of the way through the December calendar, and an entire nation lurches into incredible activity. Like the fabled hordes of the Ghengis Khan, its people descend upon welcoming stores. Every available mail pouch bulges with every kind of greeting card. Forests of evergreens disappear overnight. There is a spontaneous generation of several million red-coated, white-bearded imbeciles who roam street and store for weeks, with no other function than a periodic bellow of inane and un-nerving laughter. The people eat and people drink – furiously. They laugh and they talk – with a vengeance. They are incomparably, indescribably, unimaginably and absolutely violently happy.

When the child of God disentangles himself from this rampaging madness, he ponders a sober “Why?” Who or what can be responsible for this universal fervor? Approaching a typical specimen on the Eve of Christmas, he may ask, “Sir, what does all this hubbub mean?” To which question comes quick and hearty reply, “Why man, it’s Christmas. You know, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and that sort of thing. ‘Tis the season to be jolly.” And just before the festive soul goes fah-la-lahing unsteadily down the boulevard, comes the consummation, “Jesus was born.” Ah yes, Jesus was born. But it’s hardly the answer one expected. Is that the foundation upon which this monstrous tower of December-babble is built? Upon the birth of Jesus?

The child of God needs no special brilliance to realize what the ungodly merry-makers understand by the “birth of Jesus.’’ A little baby lies in a manger. Several well rubbed, golden Guernseys moo contently over him. A beaming mother nestles “non-travailingly” in a shiny-yellow, non-prickly straw stack. At the door of this rustic “stable” stand three rich uncles about to deliver the child from any inconvenience he might have. Throw in a halo to indicate something about “divine” approval and that is the birth of Jesus. Everybody likes babies and cows and rich uncles and happy endings, “Why man, tis the season to be jolly.”

Out of every pore of the American celebration of Christmas seeps irony, deep, rich, and horrible. The rioting unbelievers have the right answer, “Jesus was born.” But He is not the creature of their stable scenes and His birth is not an isolated event. He “came down from heaven” and He went to the cross and He accomplished His purpose, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (John 9:39). And the blind ones frolic at the occasion of their condemnation. They are jolly in the season of their woe. But not completely. Through the raucous din of revelry is heard the thin, penetrating wail of despair and fear. At times very loud, at times scarcely audible, the cry of a horrified world acknowledges that death reigns and all is vanity. The world despairs and the world fears because the Babe was born and they believe not, for “he that believeth not is condemned already . . . The wrath of God abideth on him.”

Because the Babe was God in human flesh, became the man of sorrows, and is the Lord of Glory, Christmas is the season of merriment for the elect of God. Their joy is rooted infinitely deeper than in presents and trees. God gave His Son into the dirty poverty of Bethlehem for the salvation of His people. And that is the reason why the Christmas mirth of believers not only exists, but exists powerfully as a joy which cannot be swallowed up in sorrow. To their wretched cry, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,” comes the reply, “Your sins are forgiven you.” As they, too, peer fearfully into a war-threatening future, they hear the reassuring words. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” And some may mourn at Christmas with real tears but the mirth is not drowned. For death itself stood doomed when the Babe was born.

Merry Christmas, indeed. Not the Christmas of hollow customs and empty actions. Not the anxious merriment that frantically intensifies itself as the drumbeat of judgment rolls even louder. But a Christmas “good tidings of great joy . . . A Savior which is Christ the Lord’ and the merriment of “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Although I became editor of Beacon Lights only in 1959, I managed to stir up controversy over the magazine as early as 1958.  I had the help of others, who with me were members at that time of the Federation Board of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies.  The Federation Board had the oversight of the magazine.

In view of the upcoming Young People’s Convention in Loveland, Colorado in the summer of 1958, the cover of the June-July 1958 Beacon Lights featured several of us in an old car, on the side of which was the sign, “18th P.R.Y.P. Convention or Bust!”  The sign was a take-off, of course, on the mantra of the pioneers, “Pike’s Peak or Bust!”  Since the convention would be in Colorado, the state in which is located Pike’s Peak, we thought the sign fitting.

We intended to promote the convention.

It never entered our minds that anyone might be offended by the sign.  But we learned that some took umbrage at the cover of Beacon Lights.  These included redoubtable ministers.  They read the sign as impinging on the sovereignty of God with regard to getting to Colorado and the convention.

Despite this lapse of judgment, I was appointed editor of the magazine in 1959.  I served as editor until 1963, when I graduated from seminary and entered upon the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches.  Whereupon the Standard Bearer beckoned.

Looking over the issues of the magazine published during my editorship, I found many pictures of the gifted, dedicated young men and young women who worked together on behalf of the magazine in those days, now more than fifty years ago.  How those, my colleagues on the staff, have aged!  How gladsome that many of them have proved to be faithful, active members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, including ministers and teachers in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools!  How sobering that a number of the friends and co-laborers of those days, many years ago now, have died!  How sad that some of them have left the churches and the cause of the pure, sound Reformed faith that in those days they enthusiastically promoted and defended—on the pages of Beacon Lights!

One strong memory of those days on the staff of Beacon Lights is our zeal on behalf of the magazine and the activities of the Protestant Reformed young people that the magazine promoted, including singspirations, lectures, and conventions.

Stimulating the shared zeal were strong friendships.

Adding an edge to the enthusiastic meetings that planned the issues of the magazine, as occasionally to the contents themselves, was a willingness to “push the envelope.”  If we did not purposely break through established Protestant Reformed boundaries, we were not averse to extending them a little.  The staff meetings to plan future issues of Beacon Lights were lively.

An expression of this spirit was the creation of an occasional rubric written by a young man under the pseudonym, “Sole Mirans.”  This Latin phrase, which was, I fear, a deliberate attempt to flaunt our cultural development, meant, or was intended to mean, “Only Wondering.”  The rubric was supposed to subject accepted Protestant Reformed behaviors to critical examination.  The first such article appeared in the January 1960 issue of the magazine under the title, of all things, “Popcorn.”

To the best of my knowledge, the youth who was “Sole Mirans” took his identity to the grave with himself, at least with regard to the general readership of the magazine.  I will not betray Mr. Mirans here.

That the spirit of questioning certain aspects of the accepted Protestant Reformed way of life was never carried too far, indeed, never carried very far at all, became evident in a sharp letter to the editor by a young lady whom all of us attending Calvin College knew well.  In the March 1961 issue of Beacon Lights, she criticized the youthful staff of the magazine for displaying a “holier-than-thou attitude toward other churches.”  We published her critical letter in full.  The editor responded, graciously (if I may say so).

Two projects of the magazine during those years stand out.  First, Beacon Lights arranged the first ever “literary contest” of Protestant Reformed writers.  The contest was announced in the June-July 1961 issue of the magazine.  Results of the contest were revealed in the January 1962 issue.  A number of winning entries were published in this and subsequent issues.  Limited to members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the contest featured three categories:  fiction; non-fiction; and poetry.

A second contest followed a year later.  But then, evidently, the project fizzled out.  I think it ought to be resurrected.

The second project was the establishment of a Protestant Reformed Scholarship Fund for prospective ministers and teachers.  The project was proposed in the March 1960 issue of Beacon Lights.  The June-July 1962 issue announced that this project had become a reality.  It exists to this day, having helped many ministers and teachers with college and seminary expenses.

Throughout the early 1960s, when as yet there was no Protestant Reformed high school, Beacon Lights was an ardent supporter of such an institution of higher learning.  The entire October 1961 issue of the magazine was devoted to Christian education.

One talented contributor to the magazine in the early 1960s was also a good friend of many of us on the staff of Beacon Lights:  James Jonker.  James died very young, in 1961, in a car accident.  After his death, Beacon Lights published a large collection of his poetry in the June-July 1961 issue of the magazine.

And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren:  and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!  And God granted him that which he requested.”

— 1 Chronicles 4:9–10

 

 

Introduction

In this passage, almost hidden in the genealogies, Scripture presents to the church, particularly the youth of the church, the honorable Jabez.

All that we know of him is what we read in these two verses in 1 Chronicles.  The young man is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

We know that he belonged to the tribe of Judah, because he appears in the genealogy of Jacob’s son, Judah (v. 1).  Judah was the tribe to which God promised the bringing forth of the Messiah for the establishing of his covenant.  In this lad the covenant promise worked powerfully, so that Jabez was a worthy member of that honored tribe of Israel.

What little we do know of Jabez is instructive especially for the youth of the covenant.  At the time he meets us on the pages of Scripture, Jabez is obviously a young man.  He is of that age when the whole of life stretches out before him and when he seriously considers the whole of life for himself—what he desires his life to be. Jabez’ age when we meet him is about the age at which covenant young people make confession of faith in the church today

There is this too about Jabez that specially concerns or ought to concern the youth of the church:  Jabez was honorable, according to the word of God.  Youth esteems honor.  In their contemplation of the life that lies before them, they are determined to be honorable humans, and uppermost among their desires is the desire for honor.  The covenant request of Jabez reveals what genuine honor consists of.

Such was his request that every young person who confesses his or her faith from the heart makes the same request of the God of Israel/the church:  “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed,” and what follows.

I set before the young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches who consider making confession of faith or have already made confession of faith, the honorable Jabez and his covenant request.

 

Who He Was

We do well to remember that there was something special about Jabez.  He was a member of the covenant people of God.  His name is included on the lists of the generations of the people of God.  His request shows that he was not merely a member formally and outwardly.  He was a living member of the covenant people by the Spirit’s work of circumcising his heart.

Today’s Jabez is the young man or young woman who became a member of a true church by baptism, because he or she was sanctified in Christ and was already at baptism a member of the church by eternal election from infancy.

This is honor!

But Jabez was one of the ordinary members of this special people.  There were exceptional members—the officebearers; those who performed heroic deeds; those who stood out because of a notable child or grandchild. They were on the foreground of the history of the Old Testament church.  Jabez was not among them.  You do not find Jabez in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith.

There were also ordinary members of the special people of God in the Old Testament.  They were in the background. They did not receive special gifts or perform mighty deeds of faith. They were the majority, as is the case in the church also today.  Jabez was one of these ordinary members. He comes briefly to public attention here in two verses of 1 Chronicles 4, and then, as if in embarrassment, disappears again forever.

Indeed, there was something positively unpromising about Jabez, as his name brings out.  “Jabez” means “sorrow.”  This was not a nice name.  His mother named him Jabez, “because I bare him with sorrow” (v. 9).  Now all children are born with some sorrow to their mother.  This is what God imposed on women as judgment for woman’s part in the fall:  “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).

That Jabez’ mother named him “Sorrow” because of the pain he caused her in the birth points out that he was an exceptional case.  Hers was a very hard pregnancy with Jabez.  His entrance into the world was a hard delivery.  The delivery may very well have left its mark on Jabez, whether physically or mentally.  Jabez was an “uncomely” member of the church, one of the “weak” (1 Cor. 1:26–28).

You would not expect much from Jabez, from the one who caused pain to his mother, from the “Sorrowful One.”  Indeed, Jabez was not motivated by his mother to expect much of himself.

So often in the church today we look to the few who are prominent and specially gifted.  This is not wrong, for God raises up a few for special labor and gives them extraordinary gifts for the welfare of the church—a King David; an apostle Paul; a church father Augustine; a Reformer Luther.

But so easily we suppose that nothing can be hoped for from the ordinary many.  They receive the impression that they are shut up to a small spot in God’s covenant and a puny portion of God’s covenant salvation.

Jabez shows that this is a mistake.

This ordinary church member was honorable.

The honor was spiritual.  He was a God-fearing young man.  He showed this by praying:  “Jabez called on the God of Israel” (v. 10).  The young person who is spiritual prays.  Jabez could pray because he knew God as the God of the covenant:  “God of Israel.”  He knew this covenant God as almighty, capable of doing all the wonderful things that Jabez requested in his prayer. Jabez depended upon this almighty, covenant God with the trust of faith in him.  Jabez made no boast of his own worth.  Neither did he declare what he would do for God.  He only asked of God to give to him.

Ordinary member of the covenant though he was, Jabez was no spiritual lightweight, but a spiritual heavyweight.  “Honorable” in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament has the root meaning of “heavy.”  Jabez was heavy with the weight of the glory of God’s grace in him.

These are the honorable people, as judged by God:  those who know him as God of the covenant; those who seek communion with him in prayer; those who seek the blessings of salvation from him as purely gracious gifts.

Not only was Jabez honorable, but he was also more honorable than his brothers (v. 9).  There was a distinction in the family between Jabez and his brothers.  Jabez was more honorable than those who seemed more promising and from whom, perhaps, their mother expected more than she expected from “Sorrow.”

This distinction could have been absolute.  Jabez was honorable; the brothers were dishonorable.  The brothers rejected the God of Israel.  They despised the covenant.  They sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.

Today there are in the same family, among offspring of the same parents, those who confess their faith and then keep their vow—the children of promise—and those who, having made confession of faith, break their vow and forsake the church for the world of the ungodly—children of the flesh.  The eternal decree of predestination, election and reprobation, distinguishes between the children of believers.

But the distinction between Jabez and his brothers could have been relative.  They were honorable, but Jabez was more honorable.  The brothers feared God, but not with the zeal of Jabez.  The brothers had regard for the covenant and its sign in their flesh, but for Jabez the covenant was everything.  The brothers too sought the blessings of the covenant, but not with Jabez’ ardor.

God’s covenant grace was rich and abundant in the sorrowful one.

There is this distinction among the saints also today.  The distinction is not of office, or gifts, or work in the church.  But it is of spirituality; of covenant life; of godliness.  Some are spiritual lightweights.  They show this by contenting themselves with a minimum of the truth, a minimum of sound doctrine, a minimum of attendance at church, a minimum of the covenant blessings of salvation.

Jabez showed himself a spiritual heavyweight by his request of God, by the content of his petitionary prayer.

 

His Request

In general, the request was spiritual blessings.  Even though in the time of the old dispensation, when everything spiritual had an earthly, typical form, these blessings had an earthly appearance, Jabez did not request merely earthly riches and comforts.

The request of Jabez showed his honor, and there is no honor in the natural, fleshly desire to be rich and comfortable.

To dare to appear before God asking for material wealth is shameful behavior.

The blessings Jabez asked of God were spiritual blessings, and they all were blessings of the covenant God established with Abraham and Judah—Jabez’ ancestors—and thus with Jabez—their descendant.  Every one of the blessings was promised by God to his covenant people.

The covenant blessing for which Jabez prayed was three-fold.  First, God would enlarge Jabez’ coast, that is, the boundaries of Jabez’ portion of the promised land of Canaan.  Jabez desired a spacious area in which to enjoy God and his rest.  He desired a large territory in which to serve God and praise him.

Those young men and women who make Jabez’ request today desire all of the riches of God’s truth; the fullest possible enjoyment of the life of a true church; and the privilege of serving God, not as little as possible, but as much as possible.  They ask God for sharing in the riches and comfort of Jesus Christ by the Spirit in abundance.

The less honorable in the church are willing to lose their territory for some earthly gain.  They settle for as little truth, as little preaching, as little holiness, as little of Jesus Christ as permits them still to go to heaven when they die.

The young person who leaves a true church, which preaches the pure, full word of God, for weakened and corrupted preaching, probably for the sake of a wife or a husband, is no Jabez.   

Young man, young woman—pray: “Enlarge my coast!”

The second blessing for which Jabez petitioned was that God’s hand would be with him.  This was the request that God’s almighty power uphold, protect, and bless him and all his life in the world.  For the hand is the hand of the God of Israel—a hand exercising love towards and doing good to Jabez, a true, living member of the covenant people of Israel.

The one who makes this request trusts in and commits himself and all he has and does to the care of the God of Israel.

This second blessing is also that God governs Jabez’ life.  God’s hand is a ruling, directing, authoritative hand.  Jabez was no rebellious, independent, autonomous young man, doing “his own thing.”

It is no insignificant aspect of the second blessing that Jabez requested the presence of God himself with him in life.  Where is God’s hand, there is God himself—with Jabez.  This is the blessing of the covenant above all else:  God is with us, and we therefore are with God.

The less honorable young people in the godly family and in the church are content to forget God, to live and work pretty much in their own strength, and even to direct their life according to their own whims and pleasures.  Their own hand plays too prominent a role in their life.

Young man, young woman—pray: “That thine hand might be with me.”

The third blessing that made up the prayer of Jabez was that God would keep Jabez from evil.  It was not that God would keep evil from Jabez, that is, all kinds of earthly evil, as humans esteem evil—sickness, poverty, family problems, and the like.  But Jabez desired that God keep him from the evil of sin.  He willed and prayed that the power of sin might not rule him, that no besetting sin, whether lust or drunkenness or pride, or any other, get mastery over him even in his soul, that he never fall into presumptuous sin.

Jabez knew that the real evil threatening human life is sin.

He knew also that it is sin that causes the worst misery.  His reason for the request to be kept from evil was “that it may not grieve me!”  Sin separates from God.  Sin deprives the child of God of the experience of the covenant.  Sin dams up the outpouring of blessings.  Sin exposes the sinner to the painful chastisements of God.

The third blessing is the petition of the young person today, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

It is the prayer for Jesus Christ, the Savior from sin, and for his salvation from sin.

The less honorable young people are concerned more about God’s keeping earthly evils from them than they are about his keeping them from the spiritual evil of sin.

Young man, young woman—pray: “Keep me from evil.”

 

His Joy

“And God granted him that which he requested” (v. 10).

He always does, when the covenant young man or woman requests the spiritual blessings, riches of Christ, fellowship with God, protection and guidance, and holiness that God has promised to his covenant people.

To those who desire the world, God gives the world.

To those who are satisfied with a bare minimum of blessing, God gives the bare minimum.

To those who desire spiritual abundance, God gives abundance.

The life of Jabez, therefore, stretching before him in his youth, would be satisfying and profitable, whereas the life of so many is vanity.  And it would end in the enlarged coasts of the new world in the day of Christ, from which evil is banished.  For the hand of God with a young person in this life leads him or her unto eternal life.

Granting Jabez that which he requested, God made Jabez joyful.  His life would be a joyful life.  This is implied in Jabez’ request that God keep him from evil, “so that it may not grieve me!”  “Grieve,” in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, is the same word as Jabez’ name.  Jabez was very much aware of his unhappy name.  The sorrowful one prayed that evil might not make him sorrowful.  By answering Jabez’ prayer, God made him joyful, with real, lasting joy.

The sorrowful one became the joyful one.

This is our desire for all our children and all the young people of the congregations.

This, young people, desire for yourselves!

With Jane’s approval, I add to her moving article on marriage, divorce, and remarriage what she herself could not comfortably write.

When she was cruelly and wickedly abandoned and then divorced by her husband, she was assailed by especially two powerful temptations.  One was despair.  Using her distress, and for a woman, especially a young woman who naturally, strongly desires a husband, children, and a family of her own, the distress was severe, Satan tempted her to despair not only of the possibility of purpose and joy in earthly life, but also of God and his goodness.

The other powerful temptation was bitterness.  Yielded to, the bitterness would not have terminated on her painful circumstances or even on a faithless husband.  But ultimately, it would have been resentment against God and his dealings with her.  Bitterness would have consumed her spiritual life and shriveled up her earthly life.

By the almighty, amazing, never failing grace of God in Jesus Christ, Jane resisted both temptations.  She refused to plunge into the depression of despair.  She gave bitterness no place in her soul.

With trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God of her faith, she submitted to her adverse circumstances as the will of her heavenly Father for her life.  Rather than give up on life—Christian life—as would have been the easy way of response to her divorce and single life, she determined that she would study at college for four years to become a Christian school teacher.  This she accomplished.  For the past fifteen years, she has taught in our Heritage Christian School in Hudsonville, Michigan.  There God has given her a large and loving family, including many children.

In her obedience to the command of the Lord that the divorced woman, particularly the “innocent party” in the divorce, remain “unmarried” (1 Cor. 7:10–11), Jane is a visible, ringing testimony to the unbreakable marriage covenant between God and his bride, the church.

She is also a witness to the power of the grace of God that enables us to do hard, even naturally impossible things, and to do them willingly and gladly.  As she has written in her article, grace gives her not only obedience (to a very difficult command), but also the experience that “obedience is liberty.”

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