Out here in the Midwest corn belt, there is an insurance company—its name is not important—which has the rather gruesome custom of marking every fatal highway accident with a sign, which, besides bearing an “X” to mark the spot, also carries in large letters the single word “THINK.” I suppose the sign has merit in so far as it is an admonition not to be thoughtless, not to dream, while you are driving a couple of tons of potential death down the highway at sixty miles per hour, and in so far as it is a grim reminder, with its “X marks the spot,” of the possible consequences of failure to think. But I submit that the admonition is not complete. It ought also to carry some such word as straight or correctly. For if you think, but think wrongly, the consequences will be equally as fatal as when you fail to think at all.
It was not my purpose, however, to write an essay on straight thinking behind the wheel. I’ll leave that to the safety officials. I do want to offer a few thoughts on the subject of Straight Thinking by you young people, and that too, in connection with the subject of the day, the schism in our churches.
You can scarcely avoid thinking about that schism. I cannot, and your consistories cannot, and your parents cannot avoid it. But you cannot either. Nor would I advise you to try to avoid thinking about it. I would rather give you this advice: THINK STRAIGHT! Nor is it difficult to point out the fundamental reason why you should think straight. That schism—and in this connection I think mainly about the doctrinal issue, the issue of the truth, which lies at the root of it—that schism concerns the churches in which you either have already made or are going to make confession of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That means you give an answer to the question: “Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?”
Briefly, I would define straight thinking as that process of mind (and should I, mindful of the fact that we face basically a spiritual issue here, add the words: “and heart?”), whereby upon the basis of the objective facts in a given case (in this case, the schism), and in the light of abiding principles of truth (Scripture and our Confessions), we draw the obviously correct conclusion.
The above is a rather formal definition. But it applies. And any other kind of thinking in the present situation is fatal. And we should ban it.
However, it is very easy to be led astray in this respect. So easily we allow emotion and sentiment to control our thinking. And sometimes it appears equally easy to allure our thoughts out of the straight course marked out by Scripture and the Confessions by other means, by false philosophy, false doctrine, by false witness, false quotation, in short, by all those means which Scripture classifies as “the sleight of men,” and “cunning craftiness.”
I cannot here present the objective facts concerning the schism in our churches. They would probably fill more than a single issue of Beacon Lights. But let us briefly take notice of some instances of wrong thinking, and be warned against them.
“I can’t imagine that Rev. So-and-so would teach such a heresy. I can’t imagine that Rev. Blank is not Protestant Reformed. Why, I had all my catechism instruction from him. He had a reputation for being Protestant Reformed. I never heard him say anything that was not Protestant Reformed when he was my minister.” The above are some examples of wrong thinking, when such thoughts are allowed to carry weight in coming to a conclusion about the present schism. And let me add that they are all real examples. But do you not see the error? This whole schism is, in the first place, not a question of what anyone can imagine, not a question of anyone’s reputation for being Protestant Reformed, and not a question of the past teachings of anyone. And if we allow ourselves sentimentally to be guided by thoughts like the above, we will surely go astray. For schisms are undoubtedly painful; and the smaller and more intimate the church circles which schisms strike, the more painful they become, I suppose. But how about the question whether heresy has been propounded, whether church political rebellion has taken place, and whether or not a certain officebearer, or member, is knowingly and willfully supporting such heresy and rebellion? Think on that, unbiased by your emotions.
“They don’t mean to teach heresy. Rev. De Wolf himself said he never meant to teach that, etc., etc.” This is probably one of the most frequent instances of wrong thinking. Let me answer it very briefly, by saying that in the church and in the pulpit, and when it concerns the truth, the old saying does not apply, “Take a Dutchman for what he means, not for what he says.” Let me answer further by asking, “If it be true that he, or they, do not, or did not, mean what has been said, would it not be the easiest thing in the world to retract it?” And let me warn further: find out what indeed they did mean, if they did not mean what they said!
Another mode by which some are tempted to leave the path of straight thinking is the frequent claim that the whole issue is not important anyway, that it is a quibbling about terms, that it is theological hair-splitting. To think the above thoughts is also wrong thinking. For, in the first place, history should teach us two things on this subject. The first lesson of history is that it is a favorite method of those who depart from the truth to speak in the above manner. And the second lesson is that the occasion has been rare indeed when a case of genuine hair-splitting arose. And in the second place, it could very easily be demonstrated—and it has not been to date—if this were a case of mere terms or a case of hair-splitting. And finally, I would add that the truth is indeed distinctive, down to its finest details.
The above examples could be multiplied. But I lack the space.
Be warned by them.
And exercise yourselves in straight thinking. Ask yourself: what are the facts? What are the issues? What principles of Scripture and the confessions are at stake here? And guide your decision by the answers to these questions.
That requires study. It requires searching of the Scriptures. It requires that you be founded in the full truth.
And let Beacon Lights aid in this. It is well that Beacon Lights should be an “all around” magazine for our Protestant Reformed young people. But let it never lose its fundamental aim of shedding the beacon light of our Protestant Reformed truth, the true and complete doctrine of salvation, upon the path of life. For if that aim should be forgotten, it would become a beacon without any light.
The psalmist sings: “Truly my soul waiteth upon God.” Ps. 62:1 Our Psalter renders the original quite properly: “My soul in silence waits for God.” A soul in silence, or a silent soul! What a blessed gift of grace! A silent soul is the opposite of a turbulent, restless, impatient, rebellious soul. It is a soul that is resting in God. If our soul is silent toward God we do not judge His ways with us, do not murmur, speak not against Him, are of a tranquil mind, free from fear and anxiety, have peace with God and with His ways. How blessed to be able to say this in times of trouble and suffering! To enjoy this blessing we must wait upon Him, trust in Him, follow where He leads, confident that our salvation shall surely come from Him, and humbly commit the way to Him. They that wait for the Lord shall never be ashamed!
My task is to try to paint for you a realistic picture of life on “Seminary Hill.” I am referring, of course, to the fact that our Seminary is perched atop one of the highest points in the Grand Rapids area. And this reminds me immediately of the Biblical figure of the city set on a hill-top, which cannot be hidden.
This, to me, is and ought always to be the chief feature of any picture of our Theological School. I am referring, of course, not to our building and its prominent position. That is only figurative. I am referring, rather, to the proper position of our Seminary in our churches and in the church at large. That position is, properly, a prominent position – such a position that our seminary cannot fail to be noticed. Our seminary should be prominent in the church and prominent among all other seminaries by reason of its teaching and maintaining the truth of the Word of God according to our Reformed confessions. And this prominence, in turn, should become manifest in the quality of our graduates. That, I believe, is the proper sense in which our Theological School must be and is prominent, a school which forces itself upon the attention of many witnesses. And that, I hope, will always remain the outstanding feature in the picture of our school.
All the remaining features of a picture of our Seminary contribute, or ought to contribute, to portraying that one main feature. Our school’s curriculum, its scholarship, the actual teaching of the faculty and studying and learning by our students – all these stand in the service of the teaching and preaching of the truth of the Word of God as the Lord has imparted it to our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Make no mistake! At seminary we do not continually have an advanced catechism class or lengthy Bible discussion. Nor is it sufficient that a young man be filled with “zeal for the cause” and be able to mouth pious speeches. In the first place, we offer a thorough theological course. Our seminary course requires completion of some 50 subjects in three years, totaling 110 credit hours, or an overage of 18-1/2 hours per semester. That in itself is a large order. In the second place, our demands are high. We demand excellence on the part of our students. There is no such thing on Seminary Hill as marking on class average, nor any such thing as “grade inflation.’’ To hear students josh about it occasionally, of course, those professors are impossible tyrants; that must be taken with a barrel of salt. Nevertheless, we do not want lazy students; nor do we want intellectual pantywaists. Nor do we want the less-than-average graduate. Any student who cannot attain a C average in the seminary department may not appear before Synod for his final examinations. Why? Because our churches need capable and hardworking ministers? Yes, but capable and hard-working ministers in the service of the truth!
The same is true of our pre-seminary department. Its curriculum is PRE-seminary, that is, designed to prepare the student for his eventual seminary work. That is the reason why, for example, we have a heavy emphasis on languages: our students must complete 48 hours of foreign languages. The total demands of our pre-seminary curriculum are 125 semester hours, the equivalent of a 4-year college course. And again, the academic standards are high: a pre-seminary student must average B- in order to qualify for admission to the seminary department.
If you wonder sometimes, therefore, why some of our students need financial aid from the churches, remember this: we expect our students to be full-time, and even over-time students. They must not expect to have much time, and the faculty does not intend that they shall have much time, to spend on earning a living.
What are our goals in teaching at the seminary, and what must a student’s goals be?
In the first place, of course, we purpose to pass on to the students a body of knowledge – knowledge of the Reformed truth. They must have this body of knowledge -and a thorough understanding of it -in order to impart it to their future congregations.
In the second place, we purpose to teach our students to think and to work. There are, of course, many practical courses which are designed to teach a future minister how to preach, how to catechize, how to exegete, how to labor as a pastor, etc. But even in what may be called theoretical courses, we want to teach our students to think and to study and to probe the depths. In Dogmatics, for example, our interest is not merely in imparting a knowledge of Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics. Anyone can learn that from the book, and anyone can repeat it like a parrot. We want our students to learn to think dogmatically, that is, to grow and to develop in the ability to probe the riches of the truth and systematize them. And so it is, too, with the study of the Scriptures. A student who can only parrot what Decker, Hanko, and Hoeksema think is not a successful student; he must learn to think and develop on his own.
In the third place, part of our purpose is to teach our students to work hard! God
hates lazy preachers! And we aim to teach our students to bend every effort toward the work of the ministry and not to spare themselves. A parsonage is one of the easiest places to be lazy, but it is also one of the worst places to be lazy! When a student graduates, the faculty can no longer apply the whip. But if he still needs the whip at that stage, it will not be for lack of effort on the part of the faculty. We aim to train ministers who will find their joy in the labors of the ministry.
I have three concluding remarks.
In the first place, if any of you – especially young men – desire more detailed information, write us for a Seminary Catalogue. Or perhaps your minister has a spare copy on hand.
In the second place, if you ever have the opportunity, come and visit us at school. During the school year, the place is like a bee-hive from 8 to 12 o’clock every morning. And especially if any young man would like to get a firsthand taste of seminary, pay us a visit. We’ll even let you drink our coffee at 10 o’clock, and Prof. Decker will let you have one of his doughnuts!
In the third place, a word to potential pre-seminary students. Please get in touch with us before you begin your college work; setting up a pre-sem program will be much easier, then, for you and for us.
Young people, remember your seminary in your prayers!
Beloved Protestant Reformed Young People and Beloved Protestant Reformed Brethren and Sisters gathered with us tonight:
First of all, I want to say that I have always counted it a privilege to be able to address one of our Protestant Reformed Young People’s Conventions; and especially is that the case in this Fiftieth Anniversary Year of our Protestant Reformed Churches, and when, as much as possible, all our people may be gathered with us to celebrate this occasion. I count that a privilege indeed. In the second place, I think a word of congratulations is in order to our Young People’s Federation for planning their convention around the theme of our denominational celebration. I think congratulations are in order for two reasons. In the first place, this shows, to my mind, a healthy denominational consciousness and loyalty. And, secondly, I think it gives the lie to the idea that there is any serious generation gap among us. We are together at this occasion, old and young-and, may I say, middle-aged. And I think it is a glorious occasion that we may all be together in this fashion to commemorate this anniversary.
The theme is appropriate, I believe, not only because it surely touches on a key aspect of the Reformed faith as we have always held it and still do maintain it today; but more than that, it is appropriate because it expresses something fundamental concerning our very existence, our very life, as a Protestant Reformed people. And it certainly expresses what must be the theme of all our celebration: we must end in the Lord our God and in His faithfulness, and never in self or in any man.
With that in mind, I will try to expound to you tonight THE IDEA OF GOD’S COVENANT FAITHFULNESS, and will do so under three heads:
- A High Distinction
- A Sovereign Faithfulness
- A Divine Revelation
A High Distinction
It is necessary, first of all that we pay attention to the idea of faithfulness as such. We must ask and answer the question: what is implied in that notion of faithfulness? Faithfulness implies, in the first place, that there exists an established relation between two or more persons, or some kind of alliance or agreement. I am not speaking now, you understand, about the covenant. But faithfulness in general implies and presupposes an existing relationship of some kind. In connection with tonight’s subject that existing relationship is the covenant relation, the bond of friendship between God and His people in Christ Jesus. You cannot properly speak of faithfulness without such a relationship. In everyday life you can speak of faithfulness, for example, between friend and friend, or of faithfulness between husband and wife. But you cannot properly speak of faithfulness between those who are enemies or between those who sustain no relationship whatsoever to one another. In the second place, there is suggested in this idea of faithfulness, especially in connection with tonight’s subject, the idea that somehow that relationship is put to the test. It is put under stress. It is strained. Faithfulness implies the existence of something which strains a relationship. Either that relation is strained by a long period of time, a long period of absence, or by some adverse circumstances of some kind which make it difficult and even impossible for that relationship to continue, and to be maintained, and to function, to survive. In the third place, faithfulness implies that in spite of these adverse circumstances, which put a strain on the relationship, nevertheless that relation between those persons does indeed endure and is indeed made to function. In that sense, for example, you can speak of a friend. A friend in times of prosperity, also according to the book of Proverbs, is nothing special. But a friend who is a friend and who remains a friend in adversity and in difficult circumstances, when that relation of friendship is put to the test, is a faithful friend. Then the faithfulness of a friend comes to manifestation.
Hence, there is the aspect in this subject of “The Idea of God’s Covenant Faithfulness”, first of all, of the covenant relationship itself. Let me briefly call attention to that covenant relation. That is necessary, and I think it is very important. I am afraid sometimes that we tend to become accustomed to that very glorious idea of God’s covenant, that we probably tend to let it become commonplace, so that it becomes a matter of course for us, perhaps, to speak of that covenant relation of friendship between God and His people in Christ without really ever contemplating the amazing wonder of it. And it is wonderful! I would like to call attention to that idea in terms of the Convention text in Deuteronomy 7. The covenant is not literally mentioned there; nevertheless, there is a very beautiful description of the covenant relation in that passage.
Let me call your attention, in the first place, to the fact that that passage speaks of God’s covenant people as one people, one spiritual nation, a holy nation, a special people. God, you see, does not simply save a number of individuals and take them up into the stream of Hi sown covenant life. He does not simply save a multitude, a mass of people. But He saves one people, a nation, one whole, with one King, one spiritual life-principle, one character, on law, one language, one heavenly country. He saves the generation of spiritual Israel from among all nations, the new humanity in Christ. That, first of all.
At the same time we must remember that God’s people are not characterized by mere monotony. They are not all the same. They are not exact replicas of one another. But there is diversity among them. There are many citizens in that one spiritual nation, gathered from the beginning to the end of the world and from among all nations. And each of those citizens occupies his own place and serves his own purpose in the whole of that nation, according to his own peculiar characteristics and talents and status. And yet that takes place so that all are fundamentally alike. And with that fundamental likeness of the people of God each serves in his own way in his own place to bring out the one idea of that covenant people of Jehovah.
In the third place, we must keep in mind tonight the organic viewpoint. What is said in the Convention theme text, and what is addresses to the people of God certainly cannot be applied to every individual in Israel of old, nor to every individual in the church here in the midst of the world in the New Testament day. Nor can it be applied, let me add, to every one of us as Protestant Reformed people. Not all are Israel that are of Israel. But God’s election and reprobation cut right across the generations of His covenant as they exist in history. Outwardly, indeed, all belong. Outwardly all share in the same benefits. Outwardly all claim the same name, and are called by the same name. But some to their salvation, and some to their damnation. Nevertheless, while here in the midst of the world and in the course of history many branches may be cut out of that tree of God’s covenant, the tree itself is saved. And God’s covenant people here in the world are viewed as a whole, as an organism, and addressed as such, from the viewpoint of the elect seed that is always present in their midst. That is important to remember. For it means that only as you and I are actually redeemed and delivered, only as you and I are actually a holy people unto the Lord our God, can we and may we lay hold personally on the high distinction that is described in this passage.
Notice that there are several terms in the Convention text which serve to emphasize that God’s covenant people are indeed a most excellent people. They are highly distinguished!
For one thing, they are called a special people. That is a term in Scripture which really carries the connotation of being a purchased possession, and in that sense a very dear possession, and in that sense a peculiar people. What a tremendous thing that is, beloved! We are God’s special people, God’s very own. All things are God’s. He is the Sovereign of heaven and earth. But from among all things, from among all the nations of the world, from among all men and in distinction from all the others, there is one people that is His very own, His inheritance, precious in the sight of the Lord, the apple of His eye – His as no one else is His. In that sense, they are a special people. How often this idea is emphasized in Scripture. God’s people are His bride, His wife, His friends. Or, as is emphasized in Rev. 21, where the final realization of God’s covenant is described, “They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
In the second place, they are the people upon whom is the divine stamp of approval. They are His chosen people. And as that expression is used here in Scripture, it points to the fact not only that God chose His people from before the foundation of the world. It points not only to the fact that God selected them from before the foundation of the world, in distinction from others. But it points also to this fact, that God realized that choice in time, that in history He actually singles out His people. And the expression that is used here in Scripture emphasizes especially that He set His heart and mind upon His people, that He approved them, that the divine seal is upon them, and He says to them: “You only have I known among all the families of the earth.”
In the third place, we are the objects of His love. And the expression that is used here for God’s love emphasizes the idea of fastening or binding together. It implies, therefore, that we are the people in whom God has delight. And as such we are the people whom God unites with Himself in the bond of fellowship, the bond of intimate communion and friendship.
Finally, God’s people are called here a people which is holy unto Jehovah. I cannot take the time tonight to expound that idea of holiness in detail. But let me emphasize that holiness with respect to God means that He, as the absolute Good, is Self-centered. And with respect to us, His covenant people, it means that we are God-centered. We exist for His glory and for the manifestation of His virtues and praises. And as such we are consecrated to Him with heart and mind and soul and strength.
That, briefly and in concrete fashion, is the idea of God’s covenant with us.
What a glorious estate is ours! Beloved, I mean not only that this is a wonderful doctrine. You know, it has been characteristic of us as Protestant Reformed Churches to emphasize that idea of God’s covenant. And that is well. That is our heritage. But let us understand clearly that this doctrine of God’s covenant with His people in Christ Jesus is the description of the actual, living relationship between God and us. Ye are a special people unto the Lord our God. Ye are a chosen nation. Ye are the object of His love. Ye are a holy people unto Jehovah our God. And Scripture never ceases to emphasize that idea. It never hesitates to remind us of that glorious estate that is ours. It does not speak merely in terms of what we must be, but in terms of what we are. And it does so not to make us proud, but to make us humble and thankful. It does so not to make us carnally secure, but so that we may also know and fulfill our calling. It does so to remind us and reassure us of this glorious act, because that excellency is so often denied by the world, and because it is so often hidden, covered up, by our own sin. That covenant is the heritage of us as the people of God, of us as a Protestant Reformed people. We represent the cause of God’s covenant in the midst of the world!
A Sovereign Faithfulness
It is in this connection that we must understand the idea of God’s covenant faithfulness. I noted earlier with you that faithfulness implies the presence of some kind of adverse circumstances which make it difficult, and even impossible, for a certain bond or relationship to be maintained and to function. And it implies that in spite of those adverse circumstances that relation is maintained and endures, cannot be destroyed, and functions. And that is true of this covenant relation.
That is true, beloved, first of all, as far as our origin as God’s covenant people is concerned. We were once God’s covenant friends by creation, in Adam, in the state of righteousness in Paradise. We were created that way in Adam. We were made in the image and likeness of God. We were created capable of living in covenant relationship, covenant friendship with the living God. Not only that: we were created living in God’s fellowship in Adam. That was our original estate. God was our God, our Friend-Sovereign; and we were created His friend-servants, living in His fellowship, His lovingkindness that is better than life.
But we fell. We were unfaithful. We were not true to that covenant position. We turned our backs on our Friend-Sovereign. We chose instead to be the friends of the prince of darkness. And when we did, we came into the house of the bondage of sin and death, the house of slaves. Do you understand what that means? Those are those adverse circumstances of which I was speaking a moment ago. And those adverse circumstances were so adverse that as far as we were concerned, friendship with the living God became forever impossible! As far as we were concerned, that was the end, the end forever of that covenant relation of friendship between God and us. We became dead in trespasses and sins. We lost the right and we lost the ability to be God’s friends. We lost the right and the ability to enjoy His fellowship and favor. We lost the right and the ability ever to be the objects of His love again.
But He redeemed us and delivered us by His mighty hand and by His stretched out arm. He brought us out of the house of the bondage of sin and death. He changed us from being not the objects of His mercy to being the objects of His mercy. He changed us from being not His people to being the people of the living God. And remember: even from a natural point of view, even apart from the whole question of our lostness, – even from a natural point of view there was nothing attractive about us. That is what the Word of God emphasizes in Deuteronomy 7 to the children of Israel, too. It wasn’t that they were such a wonderful people even naturally. It wasn’t that they were such a numerous people naturally. They were the fewest. They were the littlest. And literally Scripture emphasizes that they were the “scrapings” – that which is left on the plate after you eat and which you throw away into the waste barrel. Such a people God redeemed and delivered! Not the greatest, not the noble, not the might, not the wise, not the prudent! But the poor, the ignoble, the weak, the despised, yea, and things that are not, to put to naught things that are.
God is faithful, beloved! He is true! He had every reason to forsake us, every reason to turn His back on us forever. But He maintained His covenant. He took us anew for His covenant Friends in Christ Jesus. And He even raised that friendship to the higher and heavenly level of the resurrection-life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and made us like-not unto the image of the first Adam – but like unto the image of His son.
Still more. He maintains and realizes that bond of friendship and causes it to function although, even after we have been restored as His people, restored to His friendship, we still give Him every reason to turn His back on us, still give Him every reason to break off that covenant. I am referring now to the fact that as long as we are in this present earthly life, we sin against Him. We sin against Him a thousand times daily. And those sins are sins against grace, you understand. They are much more heinous. We violate His covenant. As far as we are concerned, we make that covenant incapable of functioning. We break it every time we sin. Any single one of our sins as the imperfect people of God would be sufficient in itself to bar us from His fellowship forever. But God is faithful. He never forsakes us though we make ourselves worthy of being forsaken a thousand times over. He never leaves us. HE always forgives. He always takes us back. And He heals, He cleanses, He sanctifies, and He preserves to the very end. There is one expression in our beautiful Baptism Form that expresses that idea. It is a heart-warming and comforting expression to any child of God. At the end of the doctrinal section of that form you read: “And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal undoubted testimony that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God.” That is God’s covenant faithfulness!
And it is sovereign! That is the beauty of it.
If you ask the question why God is faithful, the reason cannot be in you and me. We are unfaithful. The reason can only be in God Himself, beloved. God’s covenant faithfulness – that is the theme!
His faithfulness is sovereign. It is not dependent on anything in you and me. That is a good thing, too. If ever it depended on anything in you and me, that would be the end, the sure end.
He is faithful, in the first place, because He loved us. That is why – simply because He loved us. And that means, you understand, that He loved us in His electing love, from all eternity, according to the counsel, for reasons which He took out of Himself. He loved us from all eternity in Christ Jesus as our elect Head. In the second place, He is faithful because of the oath which He sware. That is a beautiful idea. God swore an oath. And because He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself, by His own eternally, unchangeably, divine, true being. And that He swore an oath means, first of all, that He spoke a word within Himself. From all eternity, God said “Surely, blessing I will bless them, and multiplying I will multiply them.” And His own eternally and unchangeably true Being is the witness of that oath. That is the oath that He spake unto our fathers and that He always speaks unto His people according to the Holy Scriptures. It is the sure word of promise!
That is the idea of God’s faithfulness. According to that love and according to that oath He always beholds us. God, you understand, sees us not as we are in ourselves. He views us not as we are apart from Christ. He always views us as He purposes to make us in Christ Jesus. He always beholds us as we shall be some day, without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal. And always in Christ Jesus, therefore, He loves us – from eternity to eternity, in unchangeable love and faithfulness.
A Divine Revelation
Then you can understand Christ, you see. Christ does not come to change the hatred of God into love. Then you would never have an answer to the question, “Whence is Christ? How could Christ come?” But He, the crucified and risen Lord, Who is become the quickening Spirit – He is the revelation of God’s sovereign love and faithfulness. Christ means that rather than forsake us, God – mystery of mysteries – forsook His only begotten Son in the bottom of hell, in order that we might be saved. Christ is the channel of God’s unfailing mercies.
Then, too, you can understand the very possibility of God’s faithfulness to us in the light of His faithfulness to Himself. For we must never forget that God’s faithfulness means in the deepest sense of the word that He is true to Himself as the Triune God of infinite perfections. Faithful God is to His own holiness and righteousness, how can He be faithful to us? If He loves us, if He is faithful to us, poor, wretched, lost sinners in ourselves, aliens from His house by nature, can that not only be at the expense of His own holiness and righteousness?
No, beloved; look to the cross! There, at the cross, is the revelation of a sovereign love and of a sovereign faithfulness, but of a love and a faithfulness in the way of God’s righteousness and justice. For there God’s own unchanging love and faithfulness provided satisfaction of His righteousness and justice. There mercy and truth – or if you will, faithfulness – are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
What is the conclusion?
This: we have nothing to boast – not as individuals, and not as churches.
And it is this: ours is a wonderful and sure heritage. It is not the heritage merely of some dead doctrine, but of living and comforting and real truth. And the end of it all must be: all glory to our faithful covenant God! “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!”
Beloved Protestant Reformed young people:
I count it a privilege that I may speak to you tonight. It has been several years since I have spoken at a convention. And to be perfectly honest, I am always a little bit jealous when someone else has this privilege, and I do not. The reason is not that I think myself to be such a topnotch speaker, but that I love you Protestant Reformed young people and welcome the opportunity to talk to you. So, thanks for the invitation.
I am particularly happy to speak on the theme which you have chosen for this year’s convention. For the times in which we live, I think that the theme for this convention could hardly be better chosen. We live in an age when the tendency in
Christianity at large is to be spiritually pacifist. And that is wrong, dead wrong! And therefore I am glad that your convention purposes to emphasize that we are militant, that we are at war, that we are soldiers of Christ.
And I want to begin right there with a direct question: Are you of Christ? That is, are you a Christian?
If so, then you are a soldier. Mind you, you are a soldier, not for Christ: because Christ has no need of anyone to fight for Him. But you are a soldier of Christ, a soldier in His cause, the cause of the victorious Son of God in the midst of the world. Those two are inseparable: Christian and soldier. If you are a Christian, you are a soldier of Christ. If you are not a soldier, you are not a Christian. The two are inseparably connected.
Further, if you are a soldier, you have a fight on your hands. And I mean it just exactly in that way: not that you may have to fight, not that you must merely prepare to fight, not that you must look forward to fighting sometime in the future. But you do have a fight on your hands now, and all your life. It is a fight, further, in which there is no quarter, no truce, no cease-fire, until Christ comes again. And it is a fight, too, in which there is no neutral ground anywhere.
To be able to fight that fight you must know four things. First of all, you must know who the enemy is, and must be able to recognize him. In the second place, you must know what kind of battle you fight in. Thirdly, you must know where the enemy is. And, finally, you must know what your position in the battle and in the battle-line is. This is true in any worldly battle, any this-earthly battle. If you do not know the enemy, if you are not able to recognize the enemy, if you do not know his character, if you do not know the kind of battle you are fighting, and if you do not know where the enemy is, you cannot properly fight. And this is true for our battle, too. And so it falls to me tonight to introduce that aspect of the theme of your convention. And I speak to you on:
THE ENEMY IN BATTLE
- The Identify of the Enemy
- The Nature of the Battle
- Your Position in the Battle
The Identity of the Enemy
We may very well be guided here by the passage of Scripture which is the theme- passage of this convention, Ephesians 6:11, ff. And then we ought to note, first of all, that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. The Bible talks about these things here not so much in order to tell us that we must prepare for the battle, but in order rather to show us wherein the proper battle-readiness consists. How must we prepare? And how must we be prepared? And in order to know this, we must understand for what we must be prepared. This is very important. If you are going to fight a battle against disease, you have to know that you do not fight disease with rat poison, but with antibiotics. If you are going to fight a battle against mosquitoes, you have to know the nature of that enemy, so that you may know that you do not fight mosquitoes with atomic bombs. Thus, in the spiritual sense, you have to know your enemy in order to know how to fight him. And you have to know, first of all, that you do not fight against flesh and blood. It is necessary to know this, and history shows this to be necessary. There have been people who took the position that we fight against flesh and blood. There have been people, for example, who have tried to fight the battle by forsaking the world physically: and they crawled into cloisters and monasteries, not realizing that they took the world right along with them. That kind of battle didn’t help. It was actually world-flight, rather than world-fight. Others have tried to fight the battle with physical means, and they still do that. There have been those in past history who tried to compel men to be baptized at the point of a sword. That also was of no use. They were not fighting with the right weapons and in the right battle. Others have sought the way out in self-improvement and in their own strength. But that also was of no profit. Hence, we must point out the character of the enemy. We must know the enemy in order to be able to fight him. We must be able to recognize him, recognize his character, his strength, his weapons.
Not against flesh and blood do we fight. “Flesh and blood” does not mean our corrupt, sinful nature. For this corrupt nature is exactly an ally of our enemy, and we do indeed have to fight against it all our life long. Nor does “flesh and blood” simply mean men. We may depend on it that then the Bible would simply use the word “men” in the text. Besides, we do sometimes have our battle with men, that is, in as far as they are in alliance with the devil. We fight them then, and we have to fight them. But by “flesh and blood,” we must understand all that is of man, all that is visible, all that is earthly, all that is material. We do not have our fight with that as such. And we do not have our fight with natural powers as such. And therefore, we do not fight a merely natural, human battle; and we do not fight with natural physical strength. It is not a fight of physical prowess against physical prowess. It is not a battle of numbers against numbers. It is not a battle merely of mind against mind, or of will against will. It may very well be that flesh and blood can serve and are used in the camp of the enemy. But the battle is not against flesh and blood as such.
Positively speaking, we do battle against the legions of the devil.
Our chief enemy is the devil himself, Satan.
We must not make the mistake, now, of denying the existence of the devil, or of making the existence of the devil something vague and abstract, something that is not real. This is done, you know. The devil is the power of evil in your own heart, according to some. Or the devil is the power of evil in your surroundings, the power of evil in your environment. That is a very serious mistake. There is not a mistake that is more fatal for an army or for a soldier than to think that the enemy does not exist. You surely will not fight then! It is a fatal mistake to think that the enemy is someone else or something else than he really is.
We must understand that the devil is real. He is a definite person. He is an individual who has a mind and a will. He is a spiritual person; but just because he is a spiritual person, he is not less real. Originally the devil was one of the greatest of the angels, if not the greatest. He was an angel ranking in power and glory with Michael, the archangel. And therefore the devil is a highly gifted creature, a highly gifted, very real individual. But that devil is fallen into a state of absolute enmity against God, so that he employs all his great powers and all his great gifts — which he has kept, even though he has fallen — against God. That enmity against God is the great principle of all the devil’s actions. He hates God, and he hates all that is of the Lord our God. He is a liar. He speaks the lie of himself, and he is the father of the lie. He is Satan, God’s adversary!
That devil is the prince of this world. He is prince, not in the sense that he owns the world: for he does not own it. He is prince, not in the sense that he is legally appointed and created head of this world. That is not his position; he has no right to be prince of this world. But he is prince thus, that in the spiritual sense he and his principle of enmity against God reign in all this created world. And his purpose is, remember, not to destroy this world. The devil does not want that. But he wants to reign over the world; and he wants to have all things in all creation and in all of mankind and in all of the activity of mankind develop apart from and over against God, and for himself. That came about because man, the created world-king, submitted to that devil at the time of the fall in Paradise.
That is our chief enemy.
That devil is not alone, but has a whole host of evil spirits with him. The devil needs such a host. For you must remember the devil is a creature. The devil is not omnipresent, as God is. And the devil is not almighty either, as God is. And so he cannot do things alone, but needs an entire host of evil spirits to help him and to do his bidding. That host of the devil is described here in the theme-passage of your convention: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (or better: against the world rulers of this darkness), against spiritual wickedness in high places.” You see, this passage is talking about the spiritual world: about wickedness “in high places,” heavenly places, in the air. It is not speaking here of an enemy of this world and of this earth, but of an enemy who is of the spiritual world. And there is a vast number of devils under the prince of the devils. We do not know how many. We know that in one woman, Mary Magdalene, there were seven devils at one time. We know that in the man at the Sea of Galilee there was a legion of devils: just in one man. We do not know exactly how many devils there are under the prince of the devils. It is not impossible, I think, that there are more devils than there are men living on the earth at any given time. That is not impossible, I say, though I do not know. Not only that, but they are a battle-host: they are organized. There are differences of rank and power among the devils. There are principalities: chief demons. There are powers: leaders, rulers, princes among the devils. And that presupposes, of course, that there is an entire host under them, the common foot soldiers — the infantry, if you will — of the devil. There is an entire host! And together all those devils constitute one tremendous power of opposition against God and all that is of God.
Further, they are the world-rulers of this darkness. As an organized host, under Satan, they rule over this world. They ride over the world in as far as the spiritual principle of darkness is concerned. And in spiritual darkness, in hatred against God, they aim at completing and maintaining the rule of their chief, Satan. Concretely speaking, when they have finally achieved their goal — that is, in as far as that is possible — then you will have the final manifestation of the Antichristian Kingdom.
That, in brief, is the enemy.
The Nature of the Battle
That character of the enemy, as over against the character of the Christian soldier, determines to a large extent the nature of the battle. Also that nature of the battle you have to understand in order to fight. This is necessary. Our soldiers, for example, knew that when they had to go and fight in Vietnam. You could not go and fight in Vietnam in the jungles against the Viet Cong, who could do a disappearing act in just a little while, in the same way in which they could fight during World War II in Europe against the Panzer Divisions of Adolf Hitler. That was a different kind of battle. So it is spiritually, too. You have to understand the battle in order to be able to fight.
There are the following things which we ought to understand about the nature of that battle.
In the first place, we ought to understand very clearly the cause of the battle: its essential cause and its spiritual cause.
Essentially that battle takes place because, according to His counsel of predestination, God has His people in Christ: a people who are of His party, who are of the light, who have the love of God in them. And God has His people, and wants to have them, for a time in the midst of the world of sin and darkness, in the midst of the enemy. That is what God wants. That is why the battle takes place. God wants to have a people who are in the world, but not of the world, for His own glory.
From a spiritual point of view, that battle is caused, on the part of the enemy, the devil and his host, by the principle that I have already mentioned, the principle of hatred against God. And, on the part of the Christian soldier, that battle has its cause in the fact that we are of the light and have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. And that means that the battle involves the sharpest conflict conceivable. There are two forces in that battle that are absolute opposites spiritually.
And therefore the battle is inevitable: it cannot be avoided. That is why I said in the very beginning of my speech that if you are a Christian, you are a soldier. And if you are a soldier, you fight. The spiritual host of wickedness and the church, the saints, are absolute antagonists. They cannot agree! They cannot bear the sight of one another! They are as opposite and as exclusive as light and darkness. Even then, of course, you would not have a fight yet, you would not have a conflict. You would not have a fight if only those two antagonists lived in entirely separate worlds, entirely separate spheres. But they do not! They live in the same world. They lead the same life of this world. They live in the same sphere. They come into contact with one another in that world. And because they necessarily come into contact with one another in this world, they come into conflict. Hence, they must necessarily clash.
The host of darkness and the soldiers of Christ demand the same things, you see. Both demand the glory of God: the devil does so, and we do so. The devil and his host demand the glory of God, in order to destroy it. We demand the glory of God, in order to maintain it and to stand for it. We both demand the same Word of God. The devil demands the Word of God, in order to gainsay it and to place his lie instead of it. We demand the Word of God, in order to defend it and to live by its light in doctrine and walk. They both demand the same righteousness of God. The devil demands that righteousness of God, in order to trample it. We demand that righteousness of God, in order to glorify it. They both demand the same world and all that it contains, all its life. The devil demands that world, in order to make that world and keep that world a world of darkness for himself. We demand that same world, in order to claim it for God and Christ, and in order to live all our life in it for Him.
That is the battle, the inevitable battle. The name, the glory, the righteousness, the holiness, the Word, the ordinances of God — all these are at stake in the battle. And the conflict is inevitable. The devil cannot leave God’s people alone; neither can God’s people leave the devil alone. That is the second aspect of the battle that we must understand.
And the third aspect is the purpose. The purpose of the enemy is to annihilate God, to get rid of God, to get rid of His Name, His cause, His honor, His people. His purpose is to subject everything to the power of darkness. That is what the enemy wants. He cannot get at God directly anymore. He is not in heaven, and has no access to heaven. And He cannot get at Christ directly anymore, because Christ has ascended to heaven. But God has His people in the world. And the purpose of the enemy is to get at God, to get at Christ, to get at God’s Name and His honor and His glory through His people. Ultimately, you know, the devil is not after you and me. He is after you and me only because he is after God and Christ! That is his purpose.
The purpose of God with that battle is the revelation of His great power and majesty and holiness, the revelation of the tremendous power of His sovereign grace in and through His people. The purpose of God is the revelation of Christ as the invincible Lord of all and the maintenance of His covenant.
And remember, young people, principally the battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. The battle is God’s, and everything and everyone in that battle serve God. The army of Satan does that in spite of itself. The army of Satan does that in its wickedness, but it nevertheless serves God and His purpose. And we serve that purpose through divine grace in the light, in the love of God, in such a way that God’s purpose becomes our purpose. But the battle is the Lord’s, and He will achieve His purpose through that battle. Do not forget that.
In the fourth place, as far as the nature of that battle is concerned, you must remember that the battle is purely spiritual.
What does that mean?
I think that too often that idea of “spiritual” is vague among us. It comes to represent in our mind something that is far off, something that is “out there,” something with which we do not have very much to do. And that is wrong. It does not mean that this battle is fought only in the realm of the spirits: angels against devils, for example. That would exactly put the battle far off from us. If we have that idea, we will never fight and never realize that we have a battle on our hands. Remember, the battle is fought not against flesh and blood. But that battle which is fought not against flesh and blood is nevertheless fought in flesh and blood. And it is fought here, right on the stage of this present world. It is fought in all of the life of this world, in every sphere of the life of this world. But that battle that is fought on the stage of this world is fought for spiritual realities. It is fought for righteousness, for truth, for light, for life, for the love of God, for the glory of God. It is not fought for money, nor fought for worldly power, not fought for position, not fought for earthly glory and honor, but for things spiritual. Moreover, it is fought with spiritual means, spiritual weapons — centrally the Word and Testimony. I am not going to say any more about that because that is for your second speaker. But remember: the battle is spiritual. Remember, that even when the enemy uses material means! Remember, even when the devil uses the sword, and fire, and prison, and persecution: what is at stake in that battle is never your earthly life and possessions, or mine. The battle concerns God, concerns Christ, concerns the spiritual treasures which through God’s grace we have in Christ. That is what the devil is after! Don’t you ever forget that! Even when he persecutes, even when he kills, he is not after your earthly life and not after your money and not after your living. That is only the means. He is after your life, after that new life that is in your heart and mine. He is after that life that is of God and that is for God’s glory. And he wants, if at all possible, to snuff out that life, because he hates God.
That means, too, that as far as we are concerned the aim in that battle is not to make the world better. You cannot do that any way. But that is not the aim, not our calling. We do not fight for that. The aim is not to gain the world for Christ either. Christ does not want this world.
The aim is not even to overcome the world. We do not have to do that: Christ has overcome it. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Christ said. “But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” But the aim is simply to be and to live to the glory of God’s grace by representing tire cause of God’s Son, the cause of the light, in this world.
That brings me to the next phase of my subject: the manner of the enemy. It is very striking that the Bible here stresses the fact that the devil uses wiles. He is wily! The devil has a whole bag of tricks. He fights with wiles, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. You know, because of our sinful nature, the devil can make a direct attack. He can tempt us from within. He can have direct spiritual influence on our spirit. And that also means, by the way, that we can fight directly with a counter attack! He comes in different ways. He comes to a young man differently than he comes to an old man. He comes to a young woman differently than to a young man. He has all kinds of methods and all kinds of tricks. He knows how to judge character and time and circumstances, and to tempt accordingly. He can come with influence on your mind and on your will. He can sow in your soul or mine the lie. He can sow unbelief. He can sow doubt. He can sow in us a strong desire for the world. He can sow in us rebellion. He can sow in us all kinds of evil lusts. And thus he can influence us directly with his wiles. When you and I realize that things of this kind are welling up in us from within, we must realize that the devil is at work! We must fight it!
But the devil can also come indirectly. He has his kingdom of darkness in the world of wicked men. And through that world of wicked men he can exert his influence through many a human servant. He can fight for his cause through all kinds of means. He can fight through the means of novels and romances and periodicals and newspapers. He can fight his cause through speeches and sermons He can fight his battle through class-lectures and human philosophy. He can fight his warfare through glittering temptations of money and power and honor and glory. Or, he can fight his battle also through the threat of the fearful sword, through persecution, through death.
But I want to emphasize that the devil, however he comes, always come with wiles! He is the deceiver, you know: that is his name. He lies in wait to deceive! His method is always to try to make the lie look true and beautiful. He always wants to make the wrong look right. He wants to make the way of sin look attractive and easy and good. He comes with deceit!
There is a further point which must be emphasized in connection with the nature of the battle in which we fight. That point is this: the scope of the battle is universal. There is no neutral ground anywhere. There is not any ground in this world, any part, any sphere, of your life and mine which does not involve the battle. In the deepest sense, even when we sleep, we are involved in the battle. Your home, your family, your dating and your courtship, your education, your job, your church, your life in society, industry, labor, the arts, entertainment — every conceivable sphere of life belongs to the battleground. And there is no ground where we and the enemy may meet in peace. There is no ground where we and the enemy may have fellowship together. What fellowship hath light with darkness? There is no area in all the world where we and the enemy may cooperate together. The battle involves every segment of our life, right down the line. Through all the departments of life there runs an absolute line of separation between friend and foe, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, righteousness and unrighteousness, God and the devil!
I want to emphasize this. For it is just exactly at this point that the devil has concocted one of his most crafty wiles: the neutrality myth. That is the myth that there is neutral ground, that there is common territory for believer and unbeliever. That is one of the choicest wiles of the devil, I say. Beware of that! There are neutral labor unions, neutral business organizations, neutral movies, neutral entertainments, neutral athletics and athletic associations — neutral this and neutral that! That is one of the choicest wiles of the devil. And Protestant Reformed soldiers of Christ, that is what being Protestant Reformed is all about. Do you understand? That is what denying common grace is all about. There is no neutrality. You are either a soldier of Christ, or you are of the enemy. There is no third possibility. I want to warn you on that score! I dare say that all of you young people are of the third or of the fourth generation away from 1924 and the common grace controversy as it was fought at that time. You are rather far away from it historically. But that is no sufficient reason to forget it. And I want to warn you particularly against the danger — and that is another wile of the devil —the danger that we deny common grace in theory, but embrace it in practice. Oh, yes, we say in theory: there is no common grace. God’s grace is particular. There is no common ground; we hold to the absolute antithesis. But when it comes to the application of that principle, we can find more reasons than Carter has pills to maintain that after all there is some ground. Be careful! Be on guard! Beware lest the devil succeed in smuggling into the camp of the saints through practice what he cannot succeed in smuggling in as far as doctrine and theory are concerned. It has always been one of the tricks of the evil one to move the church from a strong doctrinal position by attacking that position in practice.
Closely related is the myth that we must gain the world for Christ, or the myth that we must bring about improvement in the world. That is very common in this day of the social gospel. We must overcome immorality. We must overcome discrimination. Such is the battle cry of these social gospellers. That is another wile of the devil. And it is particularly subtle and crafty because it has the sound of a very idealistic battle cry. But the danger is that by his crafty guile the devil takes us away from the real battle! For if we become deeply involved in the ideals of the social gospel philosophy, we are not going to fight the true battle. For the fact of the matter is that at the basis of this philosophy is the denial of the antithesis, the theory that this world actually can be improved, let alone ought to be improved. And the result of this philosophy, if we heed it, is exactly that we begin to fight on the side of the antichristian kingdom of darkness.
There is still another wile of the devil, a ruse which has a particular appeal, I think, to youth. That is the ruse that we must not always fight, that we do not have to fight always. We must also have our fun, our good times, our recreation. This is a favorite wile of the devil which he uses on Christian youth. It is the theory, you see, that there is after all, some area of our life which does not belong to the battle ground. And the appeal of this wile of the devil, is, of course, to the fact that youth is the time of joy and exuberance and vitality. And indeed, there is no doubt about that. But remember that even the joy and the exuberance and the vitality of Christian youth are not the same as the frivolous and vain and materialistic joy of the world’s youth. Remember that even underneath your youthful exuberance and joy must be the underlying seriousness of the battle-awareness! Indeed, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes, but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. 11:9).
Such, therefore, is the battle.
Your Position in the Battle
That battle you must fight as Christian youth.
Your calling is not to have a place in the battle as little children. Nor is your position in the battle the same as that of fully mature soldiers. Nor is your position that of seasoned veterans in the battle of faith. No, your position is peculiarly that of Christian youth.
This implies many things: for the period of youth, or adolescence, is a unique period in your life. It is a period which has its own peculiar characteristic in many respects.
But if I were to mention the one, all-important aspect of your youth in connection with our subject tonight, I would stress that youth is above all the period of training, of preparation. And for you as Christian youth it is preeminently the period, therefore, of training and preparation as Christian soldiers, soldiers of Christ. It is the period in which you train to put on the whole armor of God, to wear that armor, and to use that armor in the battle of faith.
You must remember this, remember this especially with respect to your church life: your sitting under the preaching of the Word, your instruction in the catechism class, and with respect to the opportunity for training in your young people’s societies. Yours is not the position of mature and seasoned soldiers, and you must certainly not attempt to occupy that position as yet, nor act as though you have no more need of training. You must, as Christian youth, above all take advantage of this period of preparation, so that you may become thoroughly prepared, well trained, spiritually battle-ready soldiers of Christ. Then, and then only, will you be ready, when the time comes, to take your place as mature soldiers in the battle line. If you fail to do this, it can only have dire results spiritually. It will only mean that you cannot recognize the enemy, that you do not know what to do with your armor, and that you will be at a loss as to how to fight.
But the peculiar thing is that the Christian soldier must fight at the same time that he trains. He must fight from the first moment of his conscious life to the last breath of his earthly pilgrimage. He must fight even when he is in training. And the peculiar aspect of the battle for the youthful Christian soldier is exactly this that the enemy tries to prevent you from becoming trained. He tries to deter you from training. And also in this connection the devil uses wiles, and by those wiles seeks to tempt you to neglect your training, or to forsake your training, or to be wrongly trained. He has the guile of the amusement craze. He has the guile of bad literature. He uses the wiles of bad education, whereby he seeks to lead you astray from the truth and to prevent you from putting on and learning to put on the girdle of the truth. And he has the trick of leading you into bad friendships and bad associations with others. And therefore, remember: youth is above all the time of preparation, the time to train for the warfare. And in order to be properly trained in the midst of the church, whether in catechism or in your young people’s societies — which are voluntary training grounds — you must fight to be trained.
My concluding word is this. The battle is a very one-sided battle. On the one hand, it is one-sided from a physical point of view. If you look at it from that point of view, from the point of view of flesh and blood, the tide of the battle is decidedly in favor of the enemy. The majority, the power, the means, the money — all these are on the side of the enemy. And yet, on the other hand, in the deepest sense of the word — and that is what your third speaker is going to talk to you about — the tide of the battle is decidedly against the world. Christ eternally had the victory. He obtained that victory and realized that victory through His cross and resurrection. And He no’ has all power in heaven and on earth. We are soldiers of that Christ. And through faith we are victorious in that Christ!
If you cruise the streets of Grand Rapids, you will not find it. For it has no building of its own, but is buried in the basement of the First Church edifice. In fact, you will not even discover a sign pointing to its existence. But when schools throughout our land open this fall, the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches will also begin a new term, D.V.
This institution is in several ways unique among educational institutions.
In the first place, it is extremely small. As already indicated, it has no home of its own, but functions in one room in the basement of First Church in Grand Rapids. This one room serves as class room, library room, office, and work room. In the second place, the pupil-teacher ratio is very low. This year there will be three students and two instructors. There have been years when there was one student and two instructors. In the third place, although this school has been in existence for some forty years, – much longer than any other educational institution in our Protestant Reformed circle, – this year for the first time it will have two full-time instructors, Prof. H. Hanko and the undersigned. Moreover, among our Protestant Reformed schools our seminary is unique in various other respects. For one thing, it is not a co-educational institution, but open to male students only. For another, it is not a parentally operated school, but a denominationally owned and controlled school. Besides, it offers not a general, but a very limited curriculum, designed strictly to prepare ministers of the gospel. In a way it might be called a graduate school; for while our seminary confers no degree, it nevertheless purposes to train those who have completed their college work and to do so in the limited field of theology.
Let me assure you, however, that the above information does not tell the whole story.
For, in the first place, while our seminary confers no degree, it offers, upon completion of the three-year curriculum, a valuable and well-earned little document: a diploma which only a very limited number of men have earned. And that diploma entitles the young man who owns it to enter a most glorious field of labor, the gospel ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches. You may expect, too, that there will be a place of labor for you. As I have written recently at length in the Standard Bearer, our churches are suffering from a severe shortage of ministers. Besides, there has never been a time in our history when there was no place for our graduates.
In the second place, a student who has earned his diploma from our school will go forth well-equipped. He will certainly have a thorough and strictly Reformed theological education. But he will also have a complete theological education. I do not have sufficient space here to present the entire curriculum of our seminary in this article. Permit me, however, to mention the following: 1. A student at our school will average between fifteen and twenty hours of credit per semester. 2. His course will include six semesters of Reformed dogmatics; a total of eight semesters of New Testament and Old Testament exegesis; four semesters of church history; six semesters of Old Testament and New Testament history; instruction in Greek and Hebrew; training in the principles and practice of preaching; and training in various practical subjects necessary for the ministry. 3. In general, our curriculum is about equally divided between Prof. Hanko and myself. Prof Hanko will handle especially church history and the New Testament branches; my subjects are dogmatics and Old Testament branches; and the various other branches are divided between us. Any young man interested in our seminary and its requirements and advantages can send for a catalog. The old edition will be helpful; but since Prof. Hanko has joined our faculty, we hope to publish a new edition in the not too distant future.
In the third place, while the smallness of our seminary has its limitations and while indeed if you look forward to a place in our Protestant Reformed ministry, you must not have your eye on fame and fortune, nevertheless that same smallness has its educational and social advantages. A student at our seminary receives the educational advantage of personal attention which is possible only in a small student body. And there is an intimacy in our school which is possible only in a small institution.
I conclude this brief article with an appeal. Young men, consider seriously whether perhaps the Lord wants you to attend our seminary and to prepare for a place among our Protestant Reformed ministers. Young people, remember our seminary and its needs in your prayers.
The Christian Reformed Church, as is always true of the Church of God on earth, was beset with doctrinal controversies. That this is always true need not surprise us, for the devil knows very well that to rob the Church of her heritage of the truth is to destroy the Church. In this attempt he never grows weary.
There are three of these doctrinal controversies which particularly are important, two of which shall occupy us in this article. The third is the controversy concerning common grace which led to the establishment of our own Protestant Reformed Churches.
The first controversy was concerning premillennialism.
The history is briefly this.
Shortly after World War I, a certain Rev. H. Bultema wrote a book entitled Maranatha in which he defended the well-known view of the dispensationalists. This view denies the unity of the Church in the Old and New Dispensations and teaches instead that a distinction must be made between God’s dealing with the Jews and with the Gentiles. The Jews and Gentiles are never united into one Church, but the Jews are treated separately and differently from the Church composed of the Gentiles. The Jews always remain God’s special covenant people. Christ is the King of the Jews, but not of the Church, the Gentiles. Of the Church, this theory teaches, Christ is only the Head.
Although there was some question on the Synod as to whether Bultema taught all the premillennial views, nevertheless, to make a distinction between the Jews and Gentiles in this fashion is to open the door for all premillennial views: a thousand year reign of Christ with the Jews in Palestine, a rapture, etc.
These views were discussed and condemned by the Synod in 1918 and 1920. A committee was appointed to urge the First Church of Muskegon, of which Bultema was the pastor, to take action against their minister. This the consistory refused to do, even when Bultema refused to retract his views; and the result was that the congregation was put outside the denomination and Bultema was removed from office.
This particular doctrinal controversy does not concern us too much. It is a question how much premillennialism lingers on in the Christian Reformed Church even today. But the fact is that this error was not of a kind to have any effect upon our own denomination.
There is only one point worth our notice in this connection.
That point is that Bultema was condemned on the grounds that his views were contrary to the Confessions; that he had failed to present his objections to the Confessions in the proper way, i.e., by way of protest to Consistory, Classis and Synod; that therefore he had violated his promise which he made when he signed the Formula of Subscription, and had made himself worthy of deposition. The relevant part of the Formula of Subscription reads: “And if hereafter any difficulties or different sentiments respecting the aforesaid doctrine (i.e., the doctrine of the Confessions, H.H.) should arise in our minds, we promise that we will neither publicly nor privately propose, teach, or defend the same, either by preaching or writing, until we have first revealed such sentiments to the consistory, classis and Synod, that the same may be there examined, being ready always cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the consistory, classis and Synod, under penalty in case of refusal to be, by that very fact, suspended from our office.”
The Synod clearly saw that Bultema’s views were in violation of the Confessions, and certainly followed correct procedure.
But the point that is worth noticing is that this strong and correct position of the Christian Reformed Church has been forgotten ever since that day. If only the Christian Reformed Church would maintain this same position today how different things would be in that denomination.
Today there are ministers, professors in the seminary and missionaries who, in public writings openly criticize the Confessions.
One example of this will suffice. In the March issue of the Reformed Journal, Rev. Harry R. Boer is writing on the subject “The Doctrine of Reprobation and the Preaching of the Gospel.” In this article Rev. Boer as much as says that he does not believe the truth concerning reprobation. But this need not concern us here except to notice that this truth is nevertheless historically Reformed. What is important as far as our discussion is concerned, is the fact that he is discussing the doctrine of reprobation as taught in the Canons of Dort. He finds that the view of reprobation expounded in the Canons is ambiguous, vague, uncertain and contradictory when considered in the light of other teachings of the same Canons, particularly the teaching concerning the preaching of the gospel. He concludes in fact, that this treatment of reprobation is so ambiguous that he finds it impossible to teach or to preach this truth.
Anyone reading his article and knowing the teachings of the Canons will be able to see clearly that he is forcing interpretations of the Canons that are not there; that he is creating contradiction where none exist; and that he fails utterly in proving his contention. But even this is not my point. What concerns me is that fact that he openly criticizes our Confessions, publicly expresses disagreement with them, seemingly embraces the view of the Arminians expressly condemned in the Canons; and does all this without going the church political way of protest through Consistory, Classis and Synod. He breaks his promise that he made when he signed the Formula of Subscription. And absolutely nothing is done about it. The Formula of Subscription clearly states that he should be, by the very fact of his opposition to the Confessions, deposed form office. But Boer continues to teach and to preach.
The Christian Reformed Church has walked a long way since 1920.
The second doctrinal controversy involved a professor in the seminary.
Dr. Janssen, professor of the Old Testament, was teaching views which aroused suspicions as to his orthodoxy among some members of the Board of Trustees. We need not follow the history of the case; we pause only to notice that his views were condemned by the Synod in 1922 and Dr. Janssen was relieved of his position in the seminary.
What does interest us are the views of which he was put out. Prof. Janssen questioned the infallibility and therefore also the authority of Scripture. As a result of this position, he also cause doubt on some of the miracles, suggesting that they could perhaps be explained by natural causes, and he brought into doubt the literal interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis.
Although these views were condemned, they were evidently more deeply rooted in the Church than was first realized, for in 1924 the Synod had more than a dozen protests directed against it which supported the views of Janssen, or at least, expressed dissatisfaction with Synod’s decisions.
The point is now that it is obvious that the Christian Reformed Church is no longer willing to condemn these same views which are currently being taught. Recently the doctrine of infallibility came under attack and was discussed on the Synod. Besides, in Calvin College, in the Christian High Schools and Grade Schools the same errors are being openly taught for which Janssen was put out. Once again the literal meaning of the first three chapters of Genesis is being questioned; miracles are being explained through natural causes; the authority of Scripture is being undermined, and teachers are claiming to find errors in God’s Word. But today nothing is done about it. The strength to withstand false doctrine is gone in the Christian Reformed Church.
In his book “The Christian Reformed Tradition” Rev. D.H. Kromminga writes by way of summary concerning these doctrinal disputes: “What strikes one in these heresy trials is the fact that every one found a settlement in a relatively short time without seriously disrupting the Church.” (p. 147) While this may, from a certain point of view, be true, these same evils are seriously disrupting the Church today in that they are no longer condemned.
1. Jacob fulfills his vow at Bethel, vss. 1-15
A. Jacob goes to Bethel at God’s command
1. Jacob’s Sinful Negligence:
a. Where does Bethel enter the picture earlier in Jacob’s life?
1. What had taken place there?
2. What was the significance of Bethel at this time?
3. What did it imply to go to Bethel?
4. Does the Lord appear to Jacob (after Peniel) before he goes to Bethel?
b. What had Jacob vowed at Bethel earlier?
1. What were the circumstances of that vow?
2. What form had his vow assumed?
3. Regardless of whether that vow was properly made and whether it assumed the proper form, was it binding?
4. Had Jacob kept any of the elements of that vow?
c. What were the reasons for Jacob’s neglect?
1. Had the Lord revealed His faithfulness to Jacob? Proof?
2. Had Jacob merely forgotten?
a. Is it conceivable that such a tremendous event would be forgotten by Jacob?
b. Would Jacob’s forgetting also explain the fact that he never went to see his aged father?
3. Was one of the reasons that Jacob was afraid of the inhabitants of the land? Cf. 34:30 and 35:5.
4. Was one of the reasons also that Jacob was spiritually not prepared to go to Bethel?
a. What was the situation in Jacob’s family at this time? Vss. 2 & 4
b. Was it spiritually possible for Jacob to go to Bethel and appear before the Lord as long as this situation prevailed?
c. Was Jacob responsible for this situation?
d. Can any practical lesson be learned from the above?
1. Figuratively speaking, are we also called to “go to Bethel?”
2. Do the same two reasons also prevent us from obeying?
a. Spiritual unpreparedness?
b. Unwillingness to face the enemies in the road?
2. The Lord’s Evident Displeasure:
a. What command did the Lord give Jacob? Vs. 1
1. Is mention made of an appearance of the Lord to Jacob in this connection? Does the Lord ever appear to him at the altar built at Shechem?
2. Is there rebuke in the command of the Lord?
a. Does the Lord merely tell him to go to Bethel?
b. Or does the Lord bring Jacob’s sin to his attention?
1. Why does the Lord say, “…make there an altar”?
2. Why is mention made of the fact that the Lord appeared to Jacob at Bethel?
3. Why is mention made of Jacob’s fleeing from Esau?
4. Why is Jacob’s old name used here?
b. Is the Lord’s displeasure as expressed in this command also confirmed by the Lord’s dealings with Jacob?
1. Can Jacob experience the Lord’s favor in the way of disobedience?
2. Is this demonstrated in the Lord’s dealings with him?
a. How does the Lord bring Jacob into straits in the events that take place at Shechem? (Cf. your previous lesson.)
b. With what alternatives was Jacob faced through this chain of events? Could we say that his choice was as follows:
1. Either leave the land because he is not safe there and because his carnal efforts have failed and involved him in trouble;
2. Or go to Bethel and entrust himself to the protection of the Lord?
B. God’s Blessing of Jacob in This Way.
1. Jacob’s Obedience:
a. What does Jacob admonish his family to do?
1. Whence were these strange gods? Who was found at an earlier date to be in possession of these idols?
2. What is the change of garments and the handing over of their earrings a sign of in this connection?
b. Under what adverse circumstances does Jacob begin his journey?
2. How is the favor of the Lord manifested toward Jacob while he is journeying?
a. What is meant here by the “terror of God?” What was the effect of that terror of God?
b. Does God always protect His people in the same way?
c. When we walk in His way do we ever have to fear?
3. Arrival at Bethel:
a. What did Jacob name the altar which he built at Bethel?
1. Was this a fitting name? Why?
2. What is the significance of this name?
3. Compare the altars at Bethel and at Shechem.
b. Parenthetical notice of Deborah’s death.
1. Who was Deborah? Why and how was she in Jacob’s company?
2. What is the meaning of the name of the oak beneath which Deborah was buried?
3. Does Judges 4:4 and 5 refer to this site?
4. God’s Blessing at Bethel:
a. What elements of the covenant promise are specifically mentioned in the blessing which God pronounces here on Jacob?
b. Compare this blessing with other announcements of the promise, especially those at Bethel and at Peniel.
c. What is the meaning of Hosea 12:4 in this connection?
d. What is the significance of Jacob’s setting up a pillar here and of his drink offering?
II. From Bethel to Hebron, vss. 16-29
A. The Birth of Benjamin and Death of Rachel, vss. 16-20.
1. The event:
a. Who was Rachel? What was Jacob’s attitude toward her? What was her interest in having children? (Look up previous references.)
b. The naming of Benjamin.
1. What did Rachel name this son? What is the meaning of the name?
2. What did Jacob name him instead? What does this name signify?
3. Is there anything particularly spiritual manifested in either name? Is this naming done in the hope of the promise?
c. What was the significance of Rachel’s death for Jacob?
2. Rachel’s grave:
a. Where was her grave?
b. What does it mean, vs. 20, that “that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day?”
c. Does this site occur in later history? Cf. I Samuel 10:2.
B. Reuben’s Incest:
1. What was Reuben’s sin? Under which of the commandments does it come? What does this reveal of Jacob’s family? Was there an element of chastisement in this for Jacob?
2. What was Jacob’s reaction?
a. Did Jacob do anything about this at the time?
b. Did Jacob take the right attitude in this situation?
c. Did Jacob ignore this sin of Reuben altogether? Cf. Gen. 49:4.
C. Jacob’s Arrival at Hebron:
1. Why are Jacob’s twelve sons mentioned in this connection?
a. How had Jacob left Hebron years before this?
b. Of what is his possession of twelve sons at the time of his return a token?
2. The death of Isaac:
a. How old was Isaac when he died?
b. Did Isaac’s death take place at the time when Jacob returned to Hebron and entered upon the inheritance? Figure out the chronology here. Approximately how long after Jacob’s arrival at Hebron did Isaac die?
c. If Isaac’s death occurred some years later, why is it recorded at this point in the sacred narrative?
d. How do you explain Esau’s part here?
The Young People’s Spring Banquet will be held May 11.
We are SORRY…
that no copy for “From the Pastor’s Study” was received from Rev. Van Baren. Next month’s issue D.V. will contain an article by Rev. Lubbers.
JACOB AND THE SHECHEMITES
I. Shechem and Dinah: (vss. 1-4)
A. The Setting. (Note. There are several different aspects to the incident recorded in this chapter, even as there are several individuals involved. Above all, we must view the entire history here as part of the Lord’s dealings with Jacob, the heir of the covenant, at this time. And the main questions as to why the Lord dealt thus with Jacob, and what there was in Jacob’s life and way that occasioned these dealings of the Lord with him, –these questions must be kept in mind throughout your discussion of this passage.)
1. Review the last part of chapter 33:
a. What did Jacob do at Shechem? Vs. 19. Of what is this an indication? Did Jacob intend merely to sojourn there a while and then pass on? Or did he, (and had he done so at the time of the incident in chapter 34,) settle down?
b. What was really the idea of that altar that he built? Was this a truly pious act on Jacob’s part? Or was this an attempt to satisfy the Lord, this building of an altar and naming it El-Elohe-Israel, in lieu of going to Bethel?
c. Did the Lord appear to Jacob at all during this period? Did He do so at this altar?
2. How long did Jacob stay at Shechem?
a. Is this anywhere mentioned in Scripture?
b. Can we determine the approximate length of Jacob’s stay? How old were his children,-Dinah, Simeon, Levi,-at this time?
c. Can we determine, from the length of Jacob’s stay here, anything as to Jacob’s attitude at this time? Would you characterize it as a spiritually sound and healthy attitude, or was Jacob at this time rather carnal, revealing himself still in the old appearance of Jacob, the pre-Peniel Jacob?
B. Shechem’s Rape of Dinah:
1. Dinah’s part.
a. Who was Dinah? How old a girl was she?
b. What did Dinah do? Vs. 1. Was this a proper action on her part? Should she have been visiting “the daughters of the land?”
c. Do you think it surprising that she also came into contact with the young men of the land?
d. Was Dinah herself entirely innocent in this affair?
1. Was this a single incident? Or was this a love affair between Shechem and Dinah?
2. What do you suppose was Dinah’s reaction to Shechem? Did she lend an ear when Shechem spake “kindly” (literally: “spake to the heart”) to her?
e. Was Dinah, however, alone at fault in Jacob’s family?
1. Was there already something wrong in the family situation when she was allowed to visit the daughters of the land?
2. Was there something wrong in Dinah’s upbringing? In view of the fact that idols were served in Jacob’s household (cf. 35:4), could Dinah conclude that there would be anything wrong in seeking the fellowship of heathen young women and listening to the “kind” words of a heathen prince?
2. Shechem’s action:
a. Who was Shechem? What kind of man was he? What was he spiritually?
b. Was his act that of a sex maniac? Or did this illicit “love affair” apparently go on for some time?
c. What do you think of Shechem’s “love” for Dinah? Was this a case of “true love?” was it a case of “infatuation”?
d. How are we to judge of the fact that Shechem wanted Dinah for his wife? Is Shechem to be credited for “at least wanting to marry” Dinah after their illicit relationship?
e. What is meant by the fact that Shechem was “more honourable than all the house of his father?” vs. 19
f. As between Dinah and Shechem, who, in your opinion, was more honorable: the covenant young woman, Dinah, or the “outsider,” Shechem?
II. Jacob and His Sons Versus Hamor and Shechem: (vss. 5-19)
A. Hamor’s Proposal:
1. Jacob’s reaction:
a. How did Jacob become aware of the situation? Vs. 5
b. Does this tell us anything about the relationships in Jacob’s family? Was Jacob keeping a watchful fatherly eye on his daughter? Did his daughter confide in him?
c. How did Jacob react? Did he do anything immediately? Why did he wait until his sons came home? Did he get his sons out of the field? And what, after all, did his sons have to do with it? Was this a matter for Dinah’s brothers or for her parents?
d. With what, apparently, were Jacob and his sons very concerned at this time, -with building a God-fearing home or with multiplying cattle and possessions?
2. The proposal of Hamor:
a. Who was Hamor?
b. What did Hamor propose?
1) Was he interested merely in obtaining Dinah for his son?
2) Or did he see this as an opportunity to set up an alliance with the prosperous house of Jacob?
3) Did Hamor have anything “to lose” by this?
4) Did Jacob stand to lose anything by this proposal of Hamor? If so, what? Do you think Jacob should have accepted the proposal in good faith? Give reasons.
c. What was Shechem’s abiding interest in the whole transaction?
1) Was this lust?
2) Or was it love?
B. The Counter-proposal of Jacob’s sons:
1. Who answered Hamor?
a. Was this the proper province of Jacob’s sons?
b. What does this reveal concerning Jacob, if anything? Should he, as the head of the household, have left this to his sons? Did the fact that he did so absolve him of responsibility?
2. What did his sons demand of the Shechemites?
a. what is the meaning of circumcision? Cf. Romans 4:11, for example.
b. Supposing that the sons of Jacob were acting in “good faith,” even then would it have been proper for them to demand what they did and to make this arrangement? Would the mere rite of circumcision remove what they called the “reproach” of giving Dinah to Shechem?
c. Suppose that the whole arrangement had gone through as proposed by Jacob’s sons: what would have been the result?
d. To what use were these sons putting the covenant sign of circumcision?
e. What was their motive in all this? In what sense did they act deceitfully? Were they truly interested in circumcision? Did they have their eye on more cattle and goods?
III. The Outcome: (vss. 20-31)
A. For the Shechemites:
1. How did Hamor and Shechem view the sons of Jacob?
2. How do you explain the fact that they readily agreed to the proposal of Jacob’s sons?
3. What did Simeon and Levi do to the men of Shechem?
4. Would you say that the men of Shechem were “innocent victims?”
B. For Jacob’s sons:
1. Simeon and Levi:
a. What did they do?
b. Of what sins did they make themselves guilty?
1. Were they murderers?
2. Were they more than murderers?
3. In the slaying of these uncircumcised-circumcised Shechemites, did Simeon and Levi reveal themselves as respecting the sign of circumcision and as men who bore the sign of circumcision themselves?
c. What does Jacob say of them prophetically in Genesis 49?
2. The other sons:
a. Were the other sons free of responsibility? Proof?
b. How did these sons reveal their real motive? Vss. 27-29
C. For Dinah:
1. What became of Dinah?
a. Where was she already at the time of the slaughter? Is this of any significance?
b. Do we read of Dinah again?
2. How would you judge the outcome of the situation as far as Dinah was concerned?
a. Could we say that in spite of all the deceit and corruption here, -or rather, through it all, -the Lord nevertheless kept Dinah from an ungodly marital union?
b. Would it perhaps have been better if the marriage of Dinah and Shechem had gone through?
D. For Jacob:
1. Did Jacob receive “food for thought” as far as his family situation was concerned?
2. What did Jacob fear as far as the inhabitants of the land were concerned?
a. Was this a good reaction on his part?
b. Was there anything “spiritual” about Jacob’s attitude as expressed here?
3. Did his sons apparently care much about Jacob’s fears?
4. Was the Lord using these events to chastise Jacob? If so, how?
Could this be said about you?
Could this be written about you?
The Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, by language, nor by civil institutions. For they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue, nor lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities, as the case may be; they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life. Yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is a foreign. They marry, like all others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common, but not wives. They are in the flesh, but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are killed and are made alive. They are poor and make many rich. They lack all things, and in all things abound. They are reproached, and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated, and are justified. They are cursed, and they bless. They receive scorn, and they give honor. They do good, and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens and by the Greeks persecuted; and the cause of the enmity their enemies cannot tell. In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world but are not of the world. The soul, invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason, but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members, by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul in enclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison; but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink; and the Christians increase, though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christian in the world; and it cannot be taken from them.
Author Unknown. Written about AD 100. Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. Vol II Pages 9 and 10.
One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus—albeit unwillingly—he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf.
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own most hallowed lips. John Calvin
The whole power of earth has armed itself to destroy it (the church), yet all these efforts have gone up in smoke. How could it, assailed so strongly from every side, have resisted if it had relied upon human protection alone? Rather, by this very fact it is proved to be from God, because, with all human efforts striving against it, still it has of its own power thus far prevailed.
Pride goeth before destruction. Proverbs
Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles. Proverbs
Even as Adam lived and was an active creature, not in or before his being created, but by virtue of this marvelous work of God, so the sinner lives, and becomes positively active, so that he wills to be saved and embraces Christ, not in cooperation with God who saves him, but as a result of the wonder of grace performed upon him.
Rev. H. Hoeksema
God reconciled us unto Himself while we were yet sinners! God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself…This is the meaning of the cross: God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son! There God reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. There God Himself, through His Son in the flesh, satisfied His own justice. The Son of God brought the sacrifice that was required to blot out the guilt of sin, and to clothe us with an everlasting righteousness… And so, the Gospel is the ministry of reconciliation. It proclaims that reconciliation is an accomplished fact: the elect are surely reconciled to God. He reconciled us! We are reconciled by grace, by pure, free, sovereign grace!
Rev. H. Hoeksema
A spiritual union must be established between Christ and our soul, before we can receive any fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection. This union is absolutely first.
Rev. H. Hoeksema
Jacob and Esau Meet and Go their Separate Ways
I. The Meeting with Esau, vss. 1-15
A. The Parties Who Meet.
1. Who was Esau?
a. What had become of Esau while Jacob was with Laban?
b. What had been the last manifestation of Esau prior to Jacob’s departure for Padan-Aram? cf. 27:41, ff.
c. Had Esau changed fundamentally during this time?
2. Who is the Jacob who now goes to meet Esau?
a. May we assume that it is only “Israel” who now meets Esau?
b. Was the old Jacob drowned, so to speak, in the Jabbok, so that only Israel appeared on the other side? Or is Jacob’s “halting upon his thigh” perhaps also a sign that his conversion from his great life-sin was no perfection?
1) Was Jacob’s old nature overcome completely?
2) Or was it subdued principally, crippled for life, but still with him?
3) Did that old nature still “limp along” with Jacob, often impeding his journey and causing him to reveal himself in his old appearance of Jacob?
B. The Meeting
1. What is Jacob’s attitude toward Esau at this time?
a. Does he demean himself before Esau and act the part of a coward?
b. Does he attempt in all this to flatter Esau and to appease him?
c. Is Jacob’s obeisance to Esau wrong on his part?
d. Is Jacob’s attitude one of humility of the younger before the elder, mixed with the consciousness, perhaps, of the fact that formerly he had sinned against his brother?
2. On the other hand, what was Esau’s attitude?
a. Is it correct to say that Esau and his four hundred men had at first come with other intentions?
b. Does Esau evince a real change of attitude from that which he had assumed in chapter 27? Has his hatred toward Jacob left him? Was there genuine reconciliation between Esau and Jacob?
c. Is Esau’s action one of genuine love, or is he at the moment overcome by natural feelings of brotherly affection?
3. In connection with the above, explain the following details:
a. Why does Jacob present his family in the order described? vss. 1, 2, 6, 7
b. Why does Jacob bow to his brother seven times? vs. 3
c. Why does Esau embrace and kiss Jacob? vs. 4
d. Why does Esau show such an interest in Jacob’s family?
e. Why does Jacob offer the present to Esau? vs. 8
f. Why does Jacob express himself as in vs. 10 and what does this mean? Was it right for Jacob to say this?
g. Why does Esau first decline and then after all accept Jacob’s proffered gift?
h. Is there an evil motive on Esau’s part in his offer to “go before” Jacob in their proposed combined travel?
i. Is there distrust and alibi on Jacob’s part in his desire to travel separately?
4. How must this meeting be viewed from the point of view of God’s attitude toward Jacob (and Esau)?
a. Do we read of any direct intervention of the Lord in connection with this event?
b. Does the explanation of Jacob’s evidently successful meeting of Esau lie strictly on the level of the human and is it probably to be attributed to Jacob’s clever diplomacy?
c. Or is it to be explained from the fact that the Lord Who appeared to Jacob at Peniel blessed and cared for Jacob in this crisis, providentially directing events in Jacob’s favor?
II. Esau and Jacob go their separate ways. 33:16-20
1. Where does Esau go?
a. Where was Seir?
b. Was Esau already settled there at this time?
c. Compare this brief statement with that in 36:6-8.
1) What is the meaning of “went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob”? vs. 6
2) Does this imply that Esau departed for Seir only after Jacob had actually settled in Canaan? Or is this to be understood in the light of the fact that Jacob was heir of the blessing?
2. What became of Esau?
a. Apart from his meeting Jacob at the time of Isaac’s death, do we ever hear of Esau personally again?
b. What is the significance of the generations of Esau in chapter 36?
1) Note: rather than make a separate and detailed study of chapter 36, I suggest that it be studied in connection with 33:16.
2) Try to study the following matters in this connection:
a) Compare the record of Esau’s marriages as given in chapter 36 with the earlier record.
b) Who are these “dukes”?
c) Who are the “sons of Seir the Horite”? Why are they mentioned here? vs. 20
d) When did these kings reign in Edom? vss. 31, ff
e) Why are the dukes mentioned once more at the end of the chapter?
f) Compare this record with that in I Chronicles 1:35, ff. Are there differences? How are these differences to be explained?
g. What is the significance of the fact that kings reigned over Edom long before Israel was established as a nation?
h) When, after the death of Esau, do the descendants of Jacob next come into contact with Esau’s descendants?
i) Why is the history of Esau’s generations briefly traced here and then dropped?
1. Where did Jacob first go after the departure of Esau?
a. Where was Succoth? Was it in the land of Canaan?
b. Why did Jacob stop here?
c. What is the meaning of Succoth? Does this indicate anything about the length of Jacob’s stay? About his attitude at this time?
2. What is the significance of Jacob’s arrival at Shechem?
a. Note: It would be better to translate vs. 18: “And Jacob came in safety (or: in peace) to the city of Shechem.”
b. Where was Shechem located?
c. Of what should this coming “in peace” to Shechem have reminded Jacob? Do you think it did remind him of this? In that case, what should Jacob have done at this time? cf. 28:20.
d. What is the meaning of the name of Jacob’s altar at Shechem?
1) Do you think it was a proper altar?
2) Does the Lord “appear” unto Jacob in connection with this altar? Why not? Was Jacob in the right way with relation to his covenant God at this time?
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