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Some years ago in Vancouver, B.C. I conducted a Bible class in a bookstore owned by a Mr. Don Robertson, an elder in the Free Presbyterian church there. One day as we were talking he told me how as a little boy in Scotland his father had taken him to the seashore when the tide was out. There before them stretched the great tide flats with little pools of water scattered here and there; and his father said, “Donald, my lad, do you see those pools of water? That is what the church of God is like today, like so many pools of water scattered about over the earth. But some day the tide will come in and then ‘the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.’”

What this story reflects is the postmillennial view of the old Scotch Presbyterians; but it also serves to point out this text, Isaiah 11:9, with its great importance in the mission of the church, which again relates rather closely to our subject for tonight.

What Mission Work Is

To begin with, we are going to have to settle in some way on what we mean by mission work. I do this somewhat hesitantly because I realize that others will follow me, and they may have their own ideas as to just exactly what mission work is. Each of us, however, is going to have to have some idea as to what precisely we have in mind; and in fact, I would urge that you listen carefully to each of the speeches with this question in mind, what does this speaker consider mission work to be?

In my own personal life, few questions have concerned me more than this. When I first received the inner call to enter the ministry, it was as a missionary that I sought to serve. After I entered college the first term paper I wrote was on the subject of missions; and about all I remember of it is that when all my study and writing was through I was still uncertain what set mission work apart from the other ministries of the church. And then I entered seminary; but at that time the DeWolf controversy was preoccupying the churches, and all of our efforts were put into maintaining and reestablishing the churches. There was little opportunity for mission outreach of any kind.

But still the concern remains and always with it that elusive question; what is mission work, and how is it distinct from the work of an ordinary minister?

I have suggested this question hundreds of times to others, I think, usually to fellow ministers, but few if any have tried to answer it. For the most part, I suppose, they have not taken it seriously, assuming me to be facetious; after all, we all know what mission work is, and no seminary graduate should be unable to give the definition. And it is true, I can too; but just because one can give a formal definition doesn’t mean that he understands the essence of a thing or can delineate its proper extent. And so the question continues to endure: Do we really know what mission work is?

We are all agreed, of course, that mission work is the gathering of the elect church of God through the means of the official preaching of the Word from all the nations of the world; but how does the practice of it differ from the work of the ministry within the church and within the bounds of the already established covenant, how is the work of missions distinct from the ordinary function of the ordinary pastoral ministry of the word?

I can remember at the time Rev. DenHartog had received the call to Singapore, we had a farewell for him with the ministers in GR. That night I didn’t have a lot of time to talk to him personally, but I did find the opportunity to ask him this one question, Now that you are a missionary, how will this differ from being a pastor? He looked at me somewhat surprised, it seemed, and answered to the effect that he would give it some thought and write me about it later.

I suppose that in the flurry of following activities the question was forgotten. In any case, I never heard from him again on that; but a few weeks ago, when he was here on furlough, he did speak briefly for the ministers, and he gave one of the finest speeches on missions I have yet heard within our churches.

As I recall it from memory, he made three basic points:

  1. Mission work must arise out of the spiritual life of the church.
  2. Mission work must involve all the offices of the church, not just ministers, but also elders and deacons.
  3. Mission work must include preparing all the members of the church for Christian witness.

Which finally brings us back to that question of what mission work is. I’m still not ready to give a comprehensive definition of mission work, but there are several things which can be pointed out.

  1. Mission work must arise out of the working of the Holy Spirit in the organic life of the church, and that is more particularly, out of the spiritual desire of the church to be participant in the conversion of sinners. You know of how Jesus said that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine who need no repentance; that same joy and longing should lie in the heart of the church, and out of it mission work must proceed. A missionary is not something unto himself; he must be sent out of the commitment and prayers of the church.
  2. Mission work is the unconditional proclamation of the unconditional gospel. We all know, being Reformed in our conviction, that the gospel is the proclamation of the unconditional promise of salvation to God’s elect people in Jesus Christ; but do we understand this to mean also that this gospel must then be unconditional in its proclamation, that is, when we go forth to preach the gospel, we are not to be asking beforehand whether those to whom we preach are the kind we think will make good Christians or good church members before we are willing to bring the gospel to them? This judgment is God’s and not ours to make. Whenever a person enters our life, and that is not just into our church services of worship, but also into the life of any one of us who are members of the church, he is put there by the providence of God. And it thereby becomes our duty to witness to that person of God, and of the responsibility of sin and repentance, both in word and in the example of our deeds, always with the hope and prayer that that person may be brought to repentance and into living fellowship with the body of Christ.
  3. The chief and only means of mission work is the preaching of the word, only we must realize that when it comes to mission work this preaching is not always, and maybe not usually, the formal preaching of sermons in services of worship. Back in my seminary days, Rev. Ophoff often would make the point that preaching is much broader than delivering sermons in Sunday worship, it is also to be found in the ministry of teaching catechism classes, sick visits and family visitation, in pastoral counseling, discipline calls, etc. And if we examine the life of Jesus and the apostles, it would seem that the greater part of their ministry was conducted on that level. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, etc., had to be dealt with individually in light of their individual needs in life. In fact, when it comes down to it, there are very few formal sermons recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, exactly because the church of that day was very much involved with missions. And I think it was the point of Rev. DenHartog that all of our church office bearers should be ready and available to do this work when contact is made by members in the church. In turn, this should be the chief area of activity for every missionary, he should be busy providing individual and often informal instruction in the teachings of Scripture, recognizing that it is the word purely taught which is the power of God unto salvation.
  4. The organizing of churches is the result and not the means of mission work. It is in this area particularly, I think, that we need to do some hard thinking. We tend to think, it seems, that mission work is the gathering of a group of people into little worship services with the hope and prayer that they will grow into a church. Now there is nothing wrong with those on the mission field doing this, it would seem that Paul did so too, but that is not mission work; the mission work is the going out and contacting new people, calling them to repentance and life. It is from this that the organizing of a church will be the result.

The Scope Of Missions

But what has this to do with missions abroad? What do we mean with that? And with this we may well go back to the text in Isaiah 11, to that beautiful promise that “the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea,” for in this we have the heart of New Testament missions.

The old Scottish gentleman of whom we spoke was reflecting the classical Presbyterian concept of postmillennialism. These people were firm believers in the sovereignty of God and the principles of the Reformation. They believed in the power of the word of God as the means by which God gathers his elect people as firmly as we do. They also believed, however, on the basis of this text and others, that as time went on more and more people would be saved until this world would be dominated by a majority of Christians and thus for an extended length of time would live on earth in that beautiful state described in verses 6-9. What they failed to note was the parallel teaching of Scripture that, as the church develops through history, the powers of sin are to develop also until the final conflict in the days of the Antichrist.

Nevertheless, what we must not fail to note and appreciate is the great wonder which is pointed out by this text and by other similar prophecies—this was the wonder that came about by the coming of the rod out of the stem of Jesse.

In Old Testament times there was no such thing as mission work, that is, the sending of the church to gather people of God out of the realms of darkness. In those days God kept his covenant only in the narrow line of Abraham’s descendants, all of the rest of the world was held in darkness by the deceit of Satan. But now this power is broken and the knowledge of God goes forth into all the nations of the world.

This is the great wonder that always rejoices the people of God. There is something about the subject of missions that ever captivates Christians; and it should, for it is this, the turning of sinners to repentance, the gathering of men out of darkness into light, in which the hosts of heaven ever rejoice. It is the pleasure of God and certainly must be also of his people with him.

And we in the Protestant Reformed churches during recent years have had some great and wonderful opportunities to be participant in this.

For several decades now we have had opportunity to work in missions in Jamaica. Although there has been much discouragement in this work, and we have often failed to pursue it with the dedication we should, nevertheless, it holds, I am convinced, a great deal of interest and support from the people in our churches. In turn, in recent years we have had the wonderful opportunity to work with the saints of Singapore. Here is a new and different thing for us, a group of over 100 young people pursuing the spread of the gospel with a joy and dedication which we can only covet and admire. And now, in more recent time yet, there has come the work in New Zealand, North Ireland, England, and also the possibility of work in Ghana.

Take just the last few months. In April, we had with us Rev. Rawson of Bransley, England telling us of his battle to defend and maintain the truth in one of the great historical bastions of the Reformation—where today less than 10% of the people can be called Christians in any sense of the word. In June, Rev. Hutton was here from North Ireland, a land which fights very much the same battle, to meet with us and to establish sister-church relations between his church and ours; and we have Deane Wassink back from Ireland where he has worked now for a year in Christian education. And then we had Rev. DenHartog in our midst giving his report on the work in Singapore and helping in establishing a sister-church relation with the young congregation there.

In turn, all of this seems to make peculiar demands upon us as Protestant Reformed churches. Although small and in many ways insignificant in the place we fill, there is one particular heritage God has given us, an unusual grasp of the scope of Christian doctrine based directly upon the word of God. And it is this particularly which all of these call upon us to share with them; certainly a unique opportunity for service in gathering the church of God.

The Responsibility

All of which leaves us with a peculiar responsibility before God. Stop to look once at the striking contrast between those contacts which are laid before us—between the working of the gospel in Europe and in Singapore. In England, the battle is with a smug spiritual deadness that has settled over the land. There in that land of rich Christian history the churches are small and struggling; everything is cold and indifferent. One can hardly get people to listen or to bother. One can walk through streets where great saints of history walked and were used in great ways for the gospel, but few care any more. One can visit libraries where great volumes of some of the richest writings of spiritual truths are stored; but few care to read them now.

And over against this there is the work in Singapore with those young people going out in zealous pursuit of spreading the gospel amidst heathen people, who meet them with concern, sometimes of open opposition, often, as Jesus promised, from their own families.

And in the middle of this we stand, a small unrecognized group of churches with an unusual responsibility. God has given to us this heritage with its riches of a sound biblical truth, and with it comes the responsibility to use it to build his church.

But what can we expect from this? We have noted the old Presbyterian view that the day would come when the whole of the world would be Christian. The problem, as we have noted, is that it is a view which did not allow for the development of sin in the world as Scripture indicates also. In turn, as we look about us we do not see sin giving way to righteousness; but rather the world is becoming ever more exceedingly sinful.

But there is also another phenomenon taking place around us, before our eyes. On the one hand there are those like Rev. Hutton and Rev. Rawson which tell how Christianity is waning in those very lands where once it showed its strength and promise. But at the same time there is what may well be the opening up of a whole new area of possible growth and development in Singapore with the possibility of a whole new era of development in China, generally, and maybe even Africa.

And how are we to understand it? Maybe Rev. Hoeksema brings it out as well as any in his Reformed Dogmatics (p. 784), concerning the white horse of Revelation,

He did not travel at random, but had his course mapped out, from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Macedonia and Greece and Asia Minor, from there into the very heart of the Roman world, where he hastened on over the mountains and plains of Europe, and when the time was ripe, crossing over into the Western Hemisphere. In general, therefore, the white horse ran in a westerly direction.

It may well be that we stand at a point of juncture today at which the gospel is about to make a great leap across the Pacific to a great last stand in the heart of Asia. And in it we are called to serve, to take the heritage we have and to use it both in strengthening that which remains in the land of our fathers and in promoting as we can the future hopes and promises which we see unfolding before us.

How we may best do so individually I leave to your further speakers; only remember this, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

Luke 2:1-5

TAXES! To most people they are a scourge—the scourge of the human race. Actually taxes are as old as civilization itself and its most unpopular part no doubt.

Originally taxes were very subtle. They were called gifts, and sometimes they really were. So we are told in Genesis that Abraham gave tithes of all that he possessed to Melchizedek king of Salem. This was a willing gift presented by Abraham because he recognized that Melchizedek was a priest of the most high God. His gift was recognition of the fact that all he possessed was his only by the goodness of the God whom Melchizedek represented. And there may well have been other instances also when gifts were given to the heads of other nations or tribes merely as expressions of friendship or gratitude.

Usually, however, when these early gifts of tribute were rendered, there were other, ulterior motives behind them. The gifts so given almost inevitably flowed from the less powerful tribes to the more powerful ones. There were reasons for this. The small and weak tribes were always conscious of their inability to defend themselves from invaders. For them it was a matter of practical importance to establish friendships with more powerful neighbors who could stand by them and help them should an enemy appear.

It did not take long for the mightier rulers to discover that this could be a very lucrative source of wealth. As times went on, the stronger tribes and nations more and more sent forth their armies into neighboring lands to exact from them such tributes or to threaten them with complete destruction. It became a way of life. Perhaps the most successful practitioners of this sort of taxation were king David of Israel and Solomon his son. Under the armies of David the boundaries of Israel and its tributaries were extended from the Nile to the Euphrates River. It was by far the largest kingdom and the most wealthy that the world had seen until that day. Each nation subdued by David’s armies was compelled to present a yearly gift or tribute to the nation of Israel. It was from the great wealth so gathered that the famed glory of Solomon’s great kingdom was constructed. And, although the strength of Israel was undermined by the division in the kingdom, this method of conquest and taxation continued to dominate the world for many centuries.

It was not, however, until the Romans were ruling the world that an entirely new concept in taxation was introduced. It happened during the reign of Caesar Augustus while Cyrenius was governor of Syria. At that time there was levied a tax, not just upon the conquered nations as a whole, but upon every subject of the Roman Empire individually, no matter to which nation he belonged. This was a tremendous, epoch-making event in the history of taxation. It meant that Romans had to go out and make records of every individual person in their realm. It meant that every individual person had to be contacted and the collection of his taxes had to be enforced. The complexity of that task must have been almost beyond comprehension in that day when it was introduced. This was perhaps the most significant innovation that was ever made in the long history of civilization and its taxations.

Unto this day the world still feels the effect of that innovation made by Caesar Augustus when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. There has hardly been an empire or kingdom since that time which has not followed this new method of taxation. Almost every person everywhere who has lived within the pale of civilization has been required to register for taxation after that method first devised when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. Although little is known about it, this was one of the great precedent practices of all time.

Oh yes, there is one other event which we should mention concerning that registration which was introduced by Caesar Augustus. Actually, of course, at the time it could hardly have seemed important. It was just one of those regrettable inconveniences which were bound to take place under a command as far reaching as that.

It appears that in Palestine all Jews were required to make their registration in the city of their fathers, regardless of where they happened to live at the time. This was an awkward requirement that meant that everyone who had moved into another territory had to travel back to the city in which his fathers lived. Sometimes this distance was considerable and the hardships could be very great. An instance of this was the case of a man who had to travel to Bethlehem in Judaea all the way from Nazareth in the province of Galilee. And what made this journey especially difficult was that his wife who traveled with him was about to give birth to a child.

We do not know any of the details of their journey, only that they came to the city as complete strangers unwelcome and unknown. Actually they were both people of rather impressive backgrounds. They were both of the family of David, and the young woman was from the line of Israel’s kings. She represented the line from which according to promise the Messiah was to come forth. But in that modern day people, regardless of how religious they professed to be, were quite satisfied with things as they were and really did not care whether the Messiah would ever come. The line of David’s promised seed was ignored and forgotten. The young couple came to the city of David and no one cared. Because of the registration, the city was crowded when they came. They went from door to door, but wherever they went there was no room until finally they were left with no choice but to spend the night with the cattle in a public stable. It was during that night that Mary’s son was born.

This was one of the more unpleasant consequences of that new form of taxation which was introduced. In itself it was incidental and did not reflect upon the value of this form of taxation as such. And yet, if it were not for that birth, the tax innovation of Augustus during the governorship of Cyrenius would no longer be remembered. Although neither Caesar nor Cyrenius could have realized it, it was actually their epoch-making form of taxation that was really incidental. Finally, it was only a means to bring Mary to the city of her fathers that according to prophecy she might there give birth to her firstborn son.

Rev. Bernard Woudenberg was born to Bernard and Lucy (Hanko) Woudenberg on February 16, 1931. He was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the old First Church area and he was baptized by Rev. Hoeksema.

He attended Baxter Christian School as a boy. This school was located in the First Church area. More than half of the school’s student body came from First Church.

After high school, Rev. Woudenberg attended Calvin College. At that time, Calvin College was located just one block away from First Church. While in college, he and his friends would schedule their classes around Rev. Hoeksema’s dogmatics classes, and they would walk to the church and audit these classes. Before they started seminary, they had audited all his courses,

Rev. Woudenberg has always enjoyed photography as a hobby.

As he was growing up, Rev. Woudenberg didn’t experience the peer pressure that young people face today. There was a certain tendency to follow certain styles, but he can’t remember any pressure being placed on the youth to conform to these styles.

On November 19, 1953, Rev. Woudenberg married Frances J. Kerkstra.

At a young age, Rev. Woudenberg was being led and prepared by the Lord for the ministry. “As a child I had developed a deep interest in mission work, and my original intent was to do that kind of work; but with the pressure of the split of 1953, there simply was no option in that direction. Denominational efforts were focused completely on recovering from the rupture in the churches.” During high school and college, he and his friends began to have a deep interest in theology.

Undoubtedly, attending seminary during the aftermath of the split of 1953 was a memorable experience for Rev. Woudenberg. He also found interacting intellectually with Rev. Hoeksema, Rev. Ophoff and Rev. Vos to be fascinating.

Ordained a minister of the Word in 1956, Rev. Woudenberg’s first charge was in Creston Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1960, the Lord called him to labor in Edgerton, Minnesota. When his labors in Edgerton were finished in 1965, the Lord called him to labor in Lynden, Washington. In 1976, he was called to return to Michigan to serve the congregation in Kalamazoo until he retired in 1996, and became a minister emeritus.

Teaching catechism and Bible classes have always been among Rev. Woudenberg’s favorite activities. He enjoyed holding these activities with members of his congregations and people outside the denomination. In these classes, he and those attending these classes would struggle to understand the meaning of a text or a doctrine. He used the dialectical method of teaching throughout his ministry which he learned from Rev. Hoeksema. In this method, the quantity of knowledge was not important, but the attitude one had when approaching the Scriptures was strongly emphasized.

As he labored among his congregations, Rev. Woudenberg knew the importance of being sensitive to the members of congregations. A minister has to speak in terms of what the Scriptures have to say of the members spiritual needs. A pastor may not drive his flock, but he must lead them in the way they are called to go.

Rev. Woudenberg remembers the split of 1953 as a time of great interest and excitement, but it was also a time of confusion. Many did not have a clear understanding of what the split was all about and went where they did to remain loyal to their families and friends. There were often sad consequences of this misunderstanding. “Some soon drifted off in misdirected ways and became very liberal, while others found themselves in areas where they clearly did not belong, and grieved because of it all through their days. But even we who remained often became more interested in rebuilding our organization than in understanding the principles which were at stake and led to that very sad event.”

There have been many other controversies which we as churches have faced during our existence. Rev. Woudenberg says the consequences were often the same. People had wounded spirits which carried scars that marked the rest of their days.

Rev. Woudenberg has good memories of working with people of God throughout the world. Besides having the privilege to work with many people in our denomination, he has been able to work with saints in Jamaica, Australia and Transylvania. “Everywhere people battle with the spiritual conflicts of life, to which only the Word and Spirit of God has the answer.”

For young men who are considering the ministry of the Word to be their calling, Rev. Woudenberg has this advice. “Learn to deal with the Word of God openly and honestly, and be sensitive to the working of the Spirit of God among His people. Very simple people can often be used by God to confront us with truths which books can never provide.”

Rev. Woudenberg says the interest in the Word of God is not as lively among us as it once was. “We are always in need of the Spirit of God to humble our own pride and to arouse among His people an interest in what He has to say to us.”

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.  Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.  For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.  Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.”   Psalm 122:6-9

Jerusalem was always a fascinating city.

We first read of it in connection with Melchizedek, at the time of Abraham.  This man apparently showed up one day in the pagan Jebusite city of Jebus, and began to lead the people there in the worship of the Most High God.  The result was that they made him their king, and called him “Melchizedek,” King of Righteousness; while their city became known as “Salem,” Peace; or “Jerusalem,” City of Peace, a sure indication of the success of what he did.  It was during that time that Abraham came to him.  Those two worshippers of God had fellowship together.  He blessed Abraham: and Abraham, recognizing him as a priest of the Most High God, paid to him his tithes (Gen. 14:20).  And then, sometime thereafter, it seems, Melchizedek disappeared from the scene, leaving no heir, and the city returned to its pagan ways (Hebrews 7:1-3).

It was a brief but beautiful beginning for a city which was to become the City of God, particularly when David became king.  One of the first things he did was to capture that city, whose inhabitants had long forgotten Melchizedek’s ways; and there he established his throne.  But even more, to it he brought the tabernacle of God, so that in it the worship of the Most High God was again restored.

And so it remained until Jesus came—except that at His death He transformed it in a most wonderful way, as he said to the Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me; the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”  By that He meant to say that after his death the true Jerusalem, the City of Peace, would no longer be found in a particular geographic place, but wherever true people of God would gather in spirit and in truth to worship.  It is just as the book of Hebrews says of all who now walk in faith, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” For you and me this says that every time we go to worship in church we stand at the entrance of the new heavenly Jerusalem, the true City of Peace, into which, if we come in spirit and truth, we may take our place.

And then to us David says—as we read in the psalm quoted above—“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces…Peace be within thee.”  That is what Jesus meant when He said, “the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” We must come to worship God with a prayer for peace in our souls.

The word peace in the Hebrew is shalom, a word used by Jews as a greeting to this day.  As with so many Hebrew words, its meaning runs deep and full.  Shalom means much more than just to be free from war or even to be quiet or tranquil; it also has in it the idea of being rich and full, spiritually complete and satisfied.  It really means to live in the City of Peace with the true King of Righteousness ruling in our hearts; then our sins are gone as well, and we have peace in our souls.  There were a few beautiful moments in Old Testament history when that physical city of Jerusalem provided an earthly picture of this—although not many, and they were brief.  But there will be a time when in perfection it will come to be, that time when in the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem will come “down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Nevertheless, what we must not forget is that as children of faith we may taste this already whenever we come together to worship in the Name of Jesus as we should.

And so to us David says—speaking across the ages—“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;” and he means not just to stop to say a brief prayer before leaving for church, or just briefly when we sit down in the pew—although such certainly is in order as well—but, come in an attitude of prayer, an attitude which says in the heart, “For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.” It is this attitude of peace, of love for God and His people, which constitutes the spiritual stones from which this new city is built (I Peter 2:5), as we become part of the New Jerusalem, that City of Peace.  And for those who do so, “they…prosper that love thee.”

            Shalom!

John Calvin once described the inner motiva­tions of people in this way, “The poor yield to the rich, the common people to the nobles, the ser­vants to the masters, the ignorant to the schol­ars; but there is nobody who does not imagine that he is really better than the others. Everyone flatters himself and carries a kingdom in his bosom.” It is one of the most perceptive insights into the workings of the human heart to be found anywhere; and each of us can know how true it is by simple examining his own inner life. Honesty can only compel us to admit that we all stand guilty before the first commandment of God’s law. “Thou shalt have no other gods before thee.”

This commandment is first because it’s most basic. Once one has turned himself from the true God to another, the rest of the law is effec­tively gone. And, on the other hand, any time one breaks any of the other commandments he is rejecting this commandment as well. The first commandment is fundamental and cannot be ignored.

It began, of course, with Satan. He came to Adam and Eve in the garden and said, in effect, there was no reason why they should have to acknowledge God as their God. They could easily ignore him; they could be their own god; nothing bad would result. In fact, the implication was clearly there that it was actually arrogant and presumptuous for God to expect them to listen to him, or to suggest that any part of the cre­ation, even the fruit of one lone tree, could right­fully be withheld from them. That was Satan’s thought. He had devised it while among the angels; and since that time history has re­echoed it again and again.

Take the example of Pharaoh. Here was a man who had benefited immensely from Israel’s service, a people whose strength and faithfulness had been given to them by their God. Because of it, his nation had become the greatest and most prosperous in all the world. And yet, when he was reminded that Israel belonged first to this God, and they must be allowed freedom to wor­ship Him as He wished (Ex. 4:22, 23), Pharaoh was incensed. He was Pharaoh and he didn’t have to listen to anyone else. With fury, he answered Moses, Ex. 5:2, “I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.”

And it wasn’t greatly different with King Saul. He was given by God’s appointment a position to which he had no claim and no reason to expect. At first, to be sure, he seemed humbled and compliant (I Sam. 11); but once it came out that he was required to do what God desired (I Sam. 15), he set himself in resistance until his mind broke down in maddened distraction (I Sam. 18:10). He would not accept the fact that God is the only God.

And so it is with our world today; it will not recognize the God by which it was made. To be sure, Christians may worship if they wish; but public recognition of God becomes increasingly rare, and with it morality all but disappears. And the consequences are there. The same self-­destructive patterns which drove Pharaoh into the depth of the sea and Saul into wild hatred and psychotic distractions are working their way through the world in which we now live.

And you, Christian young people, are con­fronted with it.

You live in this world; and it beckons you to come along on this reeling course of self-infatua­tion which refuses to recognize the true God. There is only one thing sacred in our day; every­one must be left free to be his own god, to do alone what he or she wants. With this no one may be allowed to interfere.

And the fact is that you can understand this quite well. It comes easily to your way of think­ing, and you like it. There is something in the nature of each of us which feels very comfortable with the suggestion that we should each be left to do whatever we choose; and the world has devised countless ways of encouraging that. After all, what are the pleasures of this world but just so many ways of making you feel good about yourself, of making you feel that somehow you are bigger and more powerful than you really are. Isn’t it this that lies at the root of the rush of pleasure which comes from beating someone else at sport? Isn’t it the sublimation of being able to identify with the wild living of some fictitious character living another life than our own that gives the pleasure to fiction in books and film? What else is it that gives that momentary flush of satisfaction to intoxication through drink or drugs? To be, if only for a moment, like a god, to feel, no matter how unreal, that one can do whatever he wants; that is the pleasure of sin. To have some other god, that’s what it’s all about.

But “Thou shalt not.” There is another way, and it’s the only way that’s right. Life and living do not consist of doing what we want; life and living are found in having true fellowship with others. And this is only possible when one has true fellowship with God. But it means that we don’t live to do what we want, but that we live to respond to others, and above all that we respond to what is right and true. Life is real when we know that we are not our own (Ps. 100:3), and so we turn from ourselves to live in response to God Who made us. That is what the first command­ment is all about.

John Calvin once described the inner motivations of people in this way, “The poor yield to the rich, the common people to the nobles, the servants to the masters, the ignorant to the scholars; but there is nobody who does not imagine that he is really better than the others.  Everyone flatters himself and carries a kingdom in his bosom.”  It is one of the most perceptive insights into the workings of the human heart to be found anywhere; and each of us can know how true it is by simply examining his own inner life.  Honesty can only compel us to admit that we all stand guilty before the first commandment of God’s law, “Thou shalt have no other gods before thee.”

This commandment is first because it’s most basic.  Once one has turned himself from the true God to another, the rest of the law is effectively gone.  And, on the other hand, any time one breaks any of the other commandments he is rejecting God as the true God, and is breaking this commandment as well.  The first commandment is fundamental and cannot be ignored.

It began, of course, with Satan.  He came to Adam and Eve in the garden and said, in effect, there was no reason why they should have to acknowledge God as their God.  They could easily ignore him; they could be their own god; nothing bad would result.  In fact, the implication was clearly there that it was actually arrogant and presumptuous for God to expect them to listen to him, or to suggest that any part of the creation, even the fruit of one lone tree, could rightfully be withheld from them.  That was Satan’s thought.  He had devised it while among the angels; and since that time history has re-echoed it again and again.

Take the example of Pharaoh.  Here was a man who had benefitted immensely from Israel’s service, a people whose strength and faithfulness had been given to them by their God.  Because of it, his nation had become the greatest and most prosperous in all the world.  And yet, when he was reminded that Israel belonged first to this God, and they must be allowed freedom to worship Him as He wished (Ex. 4:22, 23), Pharaoh was incensed.  He was Pharaoh and he didn’t have to listen to anyone else.  With fury he answered Moses, Ex. 5:2, “I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.”

And it wasn’t greatly different with King Saul.  He was given by God’s appointment a position to which he had no claim and no reason to expect.  At first, to be sure, he seemed humbled and compliant (I Sam. 11); but once it came out that he was required to do what God desired ( I Sam. 15), he set himself in resistance until his mind broke down in maddened distraction (I Sam. 18:10).  He would not accept the fact that God is the only God.

And so it is with our world today; it will not recognize the God by which it was made.  To be sure, Christians may worship if they wish; but public recognition of God becomes increasingly rare, and with it morality all but disappears.  And the consequences are there.  The same self-destructive patterns which drove Pharaoh into the depth of the sea and Saul into wild hatred and psychotic distractions are working their way through the world in which we now live.

And you, Christian young people, are confronted with it.

You live in this world, and it beckons you to come along on this reeling course of self-infatuation which refuses to recognize the true God.  There is only one thing sacred in this day; everyone must be left free to be his own god, to do alone what he or she wants.  With this no one may be allowed to interfere.

And the fact is that you can understand this quite well.  It comes easily to your way of thinking, and you like it.  There is something in the nature of each of us which feels very comfortable with the suggestion that we should each be left to do whatever we choose; and the world has devised countless ways of encouraging that.  After all, what are the pleasures of this world but just so many ways of making you feel good about yourself, of making you feel that somehow you are bigger and more powerful than you really are.  Isn’t it this that lies at the root of the rush of pleasure which comes from beating someone else at sport?  Isn’t it the sublimation of being able to identify with the wild living of some fictitious character living another life than our own that gives the pleasure to fiction in books and film?  What else is it that gives that momentary flush of satisfaction to intoxication through drink or drugs?  To be, if only for a moment, like a god; to feel, no matter how unreal, that one can do whatever he wants: that is the pleasure of sin.  To have some other god, that’s what it’s all about.

But “Thou shalt not.”  There is another way, and it’s the only way that’s right.  Life and living do not consist of doing what we want; life and living are found in having true fellowship with others.  And this is only possible when one has true fellowship with God.  But it means that we don’t live to do what we want, but that we live to respond to others, and above all that we respond to what is right and true.  Life is real when we know that we are not our own (Ps. 100:3), and so we turn from ourselves to live in response to God who made us.  That is what the first commandment is all about.

Some years ago in Vancouver, B.C. I conducted a Bible class in a bookstore owned by a Mr. Don Robertson, an elder in the Free Presby­terian church there. One day as we were talking he told me how as a little boy in Scotland his father had taken him to the seashore when the tide was out. There before them stretched the great tide flats with little pools of water scattered here and there; and his father said, “Donald, my lad, do you see those pools of water. That is what the church of God is like today, like so many pools of water scattered about over the earth. But some day the tide will come in and then ‘the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

What this story reflects is the Post-Millennial view of the old Scotch Presbyterians; but it also serves to point out this text, Isaiah 11:9 with its great importance in the mission of the church, which again relates rather closely to our subject for tonight:

MISSIONS ABROAD WHAT MISSION WORK IS

To begin with we are going to have to settle in some way on what we mean by mission work. I do this somewhat hesitantly because I realize that others will follow me, and they may have their own ideas as to just exactly what mission work is. Each of us, however, is going to have to have some idea as to what precisely we have in mind; and in fact, I would urge that you listen carefully to each of the speeches with this question in mind, what does this speaker consider mission work to be?

In my own personal life few questions have concerned me more than this. When I first received the inner call to enter the ministry, it was as a missionary that I sought to serve. After I entered college the first term paper I wrote was on the subject of missions; and about all I remember of it is that when all my study and writing was through I was still uncertain what set mission work apart from the other ministries of the church. And then I entered seminary; but at that time the DeWolf controversy was preoccupying the churches, and all of our efforts were put into maintaining and reestab­lishing the churches. There was little opportunity for mission outreach of any kind.

But still the concern remains and always with it that elusive question; what is mission work, and how is it distinct from the work of an ordinary minister?

I have suggested this question hundreds of times to others, I think, usually to fellow ministers, but few if any have tried to answer it. For the most part, I suppose, they have not taken it seriously, assuming me to be facetious; after all, we all know what mission work is, and no seminary graduate should be unable to give the definition. And it is true, I can too; but just because one can give a formal definition doesn’t mean that he under­stands the essence of a thing or can delineate its proper extent. And so the question continues to endure: Do we really know what mission work is?

We are all agreed, of course, that mission work is the gathering of the elect church of God through the means of the official preaching of the Word from all the nations of the world; but how does the practice of it differ from the work of the ministry within the church and within the bounds of the already established covenant, how is the work of missions distinct from the ordinary function of the ordinary pastoral ministry of the Word?

I can remember at the time Rev. DenHartog had received the call to Singapore, we had a farewell for him with the ministers in GR. That night I didn’t have a lot of time to talk to him personally, but I did find the opportun­ity to ask him this one question, “Now that you are a missionary, how will this differ from being a pastor?” He looked at me somewhat surprised, it seemed, and answered to the effect that he would give it some thought and write me about it later.

I suppose that in the flurry of following activities the question was forgotten. In any case, I never heard from him again on that; but a few weeks ago, when he was here on furlough, he did speak briefly for the ministers, and he gave one of the finest speeches on missions I have yet heard within our churches.

As I recall it from memory, he made three basic points:

  1. Mission work must arise out of the spiritual life of the church.
  2. Mission work must involve all the offices of the church, not just ministers, but also elders and deacons.
  3. Mission work must include prepar­ing all the members of the church for Christian witness.

Which finally brings us back to that question of what mission work is: I’m still not ready to give a compre­hensive definition of mission work, but there are several things which can be pointed out:

  1. Mission work must arise out of the working of the Holy Spirit in the organic life of the church, and that is more particularly, out of the spiritual desire of the church to be participant in the conversion of sinners. You know of how Jesus said that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine who need no repentance; that same joy and longing should lie in the heart of the church, and out of it mission work must proceed. A missionary is not something unto himself; He must be sent out of the commitment and prayers of the church.
  2. Mission work is the unconditional proclamation of the unconditional gos­pel. We all know, being Reformed in our conviction, that the Gospel is the proclamation of the unconditional promise of salvation to God’s elect people in Jesus Christ; but do we understand this to mean also that this Gospel must then be unconditional in its proclamation, that is, when we go forth to preach the gospel, we are not to be asking beforehand whether those to whom we preach are the kind we think will make good Christians or good church members before we are willing to bring the gospel to them? This judgment is God’s and not ours to make. Whenever a person enters our life, and that is not just into our church services of worship, but also into the life of any one of us who are members of the church, he is put there by the providence of God; and it thereby becomes our duty to witness to that person of God, and of the responsibility of sin and repentance, both in word and in the example of our deeds, always with the hope and prayer that that person may be brought to repentance and into living fellowship with the body of Christ.
  3. The chief and only means of mission work is the preaching of the Word, only we must realize that when it comes to mission work this preaching is not always, and maybe not usually, the formal preaching of sermons in services of worship. Back in seminary days, Rev. Ophoff often would make the point that preaching is much broader than delivering sermons in Sunday worship, it is also to be found in the ministry of teaching catechism classes, sick visits and family-visitation, in pastoral counseling, discipline calls, etc. And if we examine the life of Jesus and the apostles, it would seem that the greater part of their ministry was conducted on that level, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, etc., these people had to be dealt with individually in light of their individual needs in life. In fact, when it comes down to it, there are very few formal sermons recorded in the NT Scriptures, exactly because the church of that day was very much involved with missions. And I think it was the point of Rev. DenHartog that all of our church office bearers should be ready and available to do this work when contact is made by members in the church. In turn, this should be the chief area of activity for every mission­ary, he should be busy providing individual and often informal instruc­tion in the teachings of Scripture, recognizing that it is the Word purely taught which is the power of God unto salvation.
  4. The organizing of churches is the result and not the means of mission work. It is in this area particularly, I think, that we need to do some hard thinking. We tend to think, it seems, that mission work is the gathering of a group of people into little worship services with the hope and prayer that they will grow into a church. Now there is nothing wrong with those on the mission field doing this, it would seem that Paul did so too, but that is not mission work; the mission work is the going out and contacting new people, calling them to repentance and life. It is from this that the organizing of a church will be the result.

THE SCOPE OF MISSIONS

But what has this to do with missions abroad? What do we mean with that? And with this we may well go back to the text in Isaiah 11, to that beautiful promise that ‘the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea’, for in this we have the heart of NT missions.

The old Scottish gentleman of whom we spoke was reflecting the classical Presbyterian concept of Post- millennialism. These people were firm believers in the sovereignty of God and the principles of the Reformation. They believed in the power of the word of God as the means by which God gathers his elect people as firmly as we do. They also believed, however, on the basis of this text and others, that as time went on more and more people would be saved until this world would be dominated by a majority of Christ­ians and thus for an extended length of time would live on earth in that beautiful state described in :6-9. What they failed to note was the parallel teaching of Scripture that, as the church develops through history, the powers of sin are to develop also until the final conflict in the days of the Antichrist.

Nevertheless, what we must not fail to note and appreciate is the great wonder which is pointed out by this text and by other prophecies of like kind – this was the wonder that came about by the coming of the rod out of the stem of Jesse.

In OT times there was no such thing as mission work, that is, the sending of the church to gather people of God out of the realms of darkness. In those days God kept his covenant only in the narrow line of Abraham’s descendants, all of the rest of the world was held in darkness by the deceit of Satan. But now this power is broken and the knowledge of God goes forth into all the nations of the world.

This is the great wonder that always rejoices the people of God. There is something about the subject of missions that ever captivates Christ­ians; and it should, for it is this, the turning of sinners to repentance, the gathering of men out of darkness into light, in which the hosts of heaven ever rejoice. It is the pleasure of God and certainly must be also of his people with Him.

And we in the Protestant Reform­ed churches during recent years have had some great and wonderful oppor­tunities to be participant in this.

For several decades now we have had opportunity to work in missions in Jamaica. Although there has been much discouragement in this work, and we have often failed to pursue it with the dedication we should, nevertheless, it holds, I am convinced, a great deal of interest and support from the people in our churches. In turn, in recent years we have had the wonderful opportunity to work with the saints of Singapore; here is a new and different thing for us, a group of over 100 young people pursuing the spread of the Gospel with a joy and dedication which we can only covet and admire. And now, in more recent time yet, there has come the work in New Zealand, North Ireland, England, and also the possibility of work in Ghana.

Take just the last few months. In April we had with us Rev. Rawson of Bransley, England telling us of his battle to defend and maintain the truth in one of the great historical bastions of the Reformation – where today less than 10% of the people can be called Christians in any sense of the word. In June Rev. Hutton was here from North Ireland, a land which fights very much the same battle, to meet with us and to establish sister-church relations be­tween his church and ours; and we have Deane Wassink back from Ireland where he has worked now for a year in Christian education. And then we had Rev. DenHartog in our midst giving his report on the work in Singapore and helping in establishing a sister-church relation with the young congregation there.

In turn, all of this seems to make peculiar demands upon us as Protes­tant Reformed churches. Although small and in many ways insignificant in the place we fill, there is one particular heritage God has given us, an unusual grasp of the scope of Christian doctrine based directly upon the Word of God, and it is this particularly which all of these call upon us to share with them, certainly a unique opportunity for service in gathering the church of God.

THE RESPONSIBILITY

All of which leaves us with a peculiar responsibility before God. Stop to look once at the striking contrast between those contacts which are laid before us – between the working of the Gospel in Europe and in Singapore. In England the battle is with a smug spiritual deadness that has settled over the land. There in that land of rich Christian history the churches are small and struggling, everything is cold and indifferent. One can hardly get people to listen or to bother. One can walk through streets where great saints of history walked and were used in great ways for the Gospel, but few care anymore. One can visit libraries where great volumes of some of the richest writings of spiritual truths are stored; but few care to read them now.

And over against this there is the work in Singapore with those young people going out in zealous pursuit of spreading the gospel amidst heathen people who meet them with concern sometimes of open opposition, often, as Jesus promised, from their own fam­ilies.

And in the middle of this we stand, a small unrecognized group of churches with an unusual responsibility. God has given to us this heritage with its riches of a sound Biblical truth, and with it comes the responsibility to use it to build his church.

But what can we expect from this?

We have noted the old Presbyter­ian view that the day would come when the whole of the world would be Christian. The problem, as we have noted, is that it is a view which did not allow for the development of sin in the world as Scripture indicates also. In turn, as we look about us we do not see sin giving way to righteousness; but rather the world is becoming ever more exceedingly sinful.

But there is also another phenom­enon taking place around us, before our eyes. On the one hand there are those like Rev. Hutton and Rev. Rawson which tell how Christianity is waning in those very lands where once it showed its strength and promise. But at the same time there is what may well be the opening up of a whole new area of possible growth and development in Singapore with the possibility of a whole new era of development in China, Asia generally, and maybe even Africa.

And how are we to understand it? Maybe Rev. Hoeksema brings it out as well as any in his Reformed Dogmatics, p. 784, concerning the white horse of Revelation, “He did not travel at random, but had his course mapped out, from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Macedonia and Greece and Asia Minor, from there into the very heart of the Roman world, where he hastened on over the mountains and plains of Europe, and when the time was ripe, crossing over into the Western Hemisphere. In general, therefore, the white horse ran in a westerly direction.”

It may well be that we stand at a point of juncture today at which the Gospel is about to make a great leap across the Pacific to a great last stand in the heart of Asia. And in it we are called to serve, to take the heritage we have and to use it both in strength­ening that which remains in the land of our fathers and in promoting as we can the future hopes and promises which we see unfolding before us.

How we may best do so individ­ually I leave to your further speakers; only remember this, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”

What is the best method to follow in society Bible study? This is always a question, even a problem each time we set up our society programs.

To begin with, the one thing that we must realize is that method of study is not the most crucial issue. Far more important than method is the matter of spirit, or of the attitude with which the participants take part in society meetings. No method can ever compensate for a bad attitude; and there is perhaps no method of study that will completely fail if the attitude of the society members is what it should be. Good society life is first of all a matter of spiritual self-examination and dedication among the members. When you come to society it is your spiritual attitude which is the most crucial contribution anyone can make.

Nevertheless, once this is dealt with, there are certain advantages to using good methods and good approaches, especially those which will help the members to make their own preparation for the meetings, and thus enable them to make their contribution to the study which is to take place. In this there should also be left room for variation and change. To just keep on doing the same thing year after year tends to stifle the kind of freshness and spirit, the sense of excitement and interest which should be sought, especial­ly among young people who are first engaging themselves in the activity of searching out the truths of Scripture in study and discussion among each other. There should always be opportunity to use new and different approaches as long as they are adapted to growth in the knowledge of God and His Word and not to some other pursuit.

Perhaps the most common approach to this which has been followed through the years has been the direct study of particular portions of Scripture, most usually a chosen book of the Bible. This is a perfectly good and desirable method of approach.

If, however, there is one danger that should be avoided in this, it is too great a concentration upon details and individual verses. So easily a society can begin to focus upon individual details in words and phrases until the overall message and the flow of thought that runs through the book is lost. A study of a book of the Bible should take fairly large portions at a time with concentration upon understanding the general message of the author, rather than with an analysis of its various details. Although the later approach might have its place among scholars, it is not generally beneficial for a society as a whole.

In turn, in all direct study of Scripture there is attention which should be paid to parallel portions of Scripture which pre­sent the same truths in different settings. We should always remember that the best and most reliable commentary on any portion of Scripture is another portion of Scripture teaching the same truth.

But there should also be a place for a more topical approach to the study of Scripture. That is, there is real benefit to be gained from taking a certain doctrine, a certain spiritual problem, a certain Scrip­tural truth, and tracing its development through the whole of the Bible. Such an approach does have advantages:

  1. It gives an opportunity for developing experience in the use of basic Bible study tools by all members of the society, tools such as a good cross reference Bible, a concordance, and a good topical Bible. Besides this there are opportunities to make beginning use of such things as books on Dogmatics and doctrinal studies simply as a means of finding related references to various portions of Scripture teaching the same truths.
  2. In the study period opportunity can then be given for everyone to present their findings of passages bearing on the subject in question. Each can participate on this level, bringing out the portions of Scripture he has found.
  3. Discussion can then be made about the meaning of these various portions of Scripture and how they relate to each other.
  4. Such study develops within the members of a society a familiarity with the whole of the Bible and an ability to find their way through the Scriptures in pursuit of any spiritual question with which they may need guidance.

But above all, regardless of what method of study is used, we should all try to find and develop the joy and sense of excitement which can come only from dealing in a lively way with the most vital body of truth this world has ever known, God’s Word with its answer to every need of human life. To have pleasure in its study is among the richest blessings we can know.

You know, of course, what a walk is: that activity that we engage in to move around from place to place. And it carries us through the activities of life. In the days in which the Bible was written, I suppose more than now, walking was their only practical means of conveyance perhaps a few had donkeys or camels. The Romans might have had their horses and chariots: but for the most part, those who went from place to place did so by the use of their feet. Now we have our wheels, we ride, we have our cars and the main part of our moving around we do by getting in the car and riding where formerly they walked. But the figure is still evident to us. It’s as though all of life were a journey along which one travels or walks or makes his way.

Now we are all familiar, of course, with traveling. You want to go from one place to another. You get in the car and you go along and as you are traveling, if you know where to go, you proceed to your destination. All along the way, there are different forks in the road, there are different junctures, there are crossroads and each time there is a decision. If you don’t know where you are going, you are always searching around. Do I take this fork or do I take that, do I take that road or do I wait for the next, do I turn at this comer, do I follow this curve. That’s the way we travel from place to place. The whole idea of the figure of walking which appears quite commonly in Scripture, and I suppose most other places too, is that life is such a journey: with all of these decisions to be made along the way as to where we are going and how we are going to come to our goal. And in the context of which we are speaking, of course, we recognize the fact that these decisions, these decisions even of our daily walk are spiritual, moral decisions made as it were before God.

Now, you are all young people. And I suppose if one were to take some kind of an examination of your different likes, there would be a rather great similarity. You are either students or you are just shortly out of school. You are very much concerned with your preparation for life in school and you are taking up an occupation outside. You are involved in the matter of courtship, with a view to possible eventual marriage, and the establishment of your life beyond. There’s a great deal of similarity, at least in those outstanding characteristics. And yet when it gets down to the matter of people and their life, you can never really generalize. Every person is uniquely an individual. You have your own nature, you have your own being, you have your own individual circumstances and responsibilities in life that makes your life different from anyone else’s. No one else can fit your exact place in the exact way that you do.

There are basic moves that you make in life, basic roads or paths that you travel that have their comparisons to others. And yet the way in which you go is always so uniquely your own that no one else’s is quite like it. It’s a walk that is your walk and it is a daily walk, where every day and every moment of the day across the path there appears junctures, or forks in the road, different cross paths, decisions that have to be made. Each one essentially involves a spiritual decision.

It starts every day anew. You wake up in the morning and, of course, you get up. The first thing you have to decide is what are you going to wear today? What is your appearance to be? There is a decision made there for it’s true, you know, that somehow the clothing that people wear is an expression of their inner soul and of the view they have of themselves and the goals which they fill. I’m often fascinated by that. I’m fascinated by watching young people in their dress through a week like this at a convention, you see the different ways in which people dress. These shirts with the sayings on it. It’s one of the phenomena of our day. It’s an expression of sorts, but more than that the very style, the color, all of these things are a way of saying where you finally want to identify, who you want to be like. More than anything else, the clothing which you wear is a means of saying, “I want to be identified with these kind of people or those: with the neat, with the sloppy, with the showy, with the reticent. I and my clothing make an identity in life.” And so, every day you wake up and you decide, in a way, how you express yourself by the clothing that you wear. You go down to the breakfast table. There you meet the other members of the family. Then at that point you somewhat, almost unconscious­ly, make a decision: you are going to be happy, you are going to be cooperative, you are going to be communicative, or you are going to be quiet, and sullen, and you are going to be surly. It’s one of the characteristics of young people, and that only too often in the home. Or you are going to follow suit and show that you can speak the same way and use the language that is vile and crude and vulgar as his or hers is too. And so you go on, you go through the activities of the day, you come down to the entertainments that you seek at night. You are going to make your decisions through the day and through the night: are you going to work, are you going to work to the utmost, are you going to get by with as little as you can either on the job or in the school? Are you going to give yourself out to anything you desire simply to entertain yourself? Or are you going to engage yourself in an evening of things that are worthwhile? What are you going to speak about? What are you going to do? Everything is a juncture in life that brings you along the way.

Now, of course, you begin to develop patterns. We all do. What you do most commonly sets in as a form of habit. It’s like when you travel along a road every day. Once you are used to the way and travel it often, it just becomes a matter of habit. And so it is with all these patterns and fashions of life. Habits begin to set in. The kind of way you dress one day will tend to repeat itself over and over again until it becomes your accustomed attire. The way in which you meet your parents will fall into a pattern. The way you deal with your friends will too. And the way you work on the job. But always these are essentially decisions that have been made. And behind them are spiritual responsibilities, as we’ve heard the last few nights, spiritual responsibilities which lead up to decisions. These determine the course that you follow through life as you proceed along the way.

The text for this year’s convention theme contains an instruction, an admonition: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.” It implies that this progress through life, this road that we travel, is determined by the seeking, the reaching out for a particular goal. And that’s true of course. God has made us to be, you and me, rational, moral creatures. We don’t just live instinctively. We aren’t just trained like animals to respond to certain stimuli. Regardless of what modern psychology may be more and more prone to say, we are made to be rational, moral creatures. Who with the heart, will decide the goals toward which we are to travel. Now, there are all kinds of secondary goals that preoccupy us day after day. You go through a few days like you have out here on the convention grounds and time and again you’ve been up against that question, “Well, what am I going to do now? Am I going to try the cold water swimming or stay to the pool, walk down the beach or play on the volleyball court. Am I going to meet with a boy or a girl or with friends? What am I going to do?” All of life has that, these secondary goals toward which we direct ourselves. We go out, we work, we have to have our money and so we work for that; we have our particular friends that we seek after; we have our styles of entertainment that we engage ourselves in; we have our pleasures that we like, the things that we do. They come and go pretty much day after day in their own way, but under­neath them all there are basic goals, basic desires, basic directives that finally set the patterns of life. And they aren’t so many. They’re rather few. Perhaps if we can get down into the heart of the matter, particularly as young people, if there would tend to be one thing that deter­mines the pattern in life, it is the desire to find for oneself meaning and worth and purpose. We’re that way. We’re made that way. Deep down inside of you if there is one thing you want; it’s to amount to something, to have some value, to have some meaning, and purpose, and worth to the life that we lead. That is, in the terms of our figure, to the path that we follow through our days.

A great deal of these secondary goals that we take so nonchalantly from day to day are really derivatives from the basic goal. You go out, you have a few days like this, you know its vacation time, and it’s understood that you are here for the purpose of convention, for the purpose of spiritual activity; but you are here to enjoy yourself too. And there’s a good part of your schedule that has been directed toward that. But you look back at it and being young people there’s been a lot of laughter, a lot of gaiety on the surface, but, there’s been a lot of pain underneath too. Things that have hurt. You get this matter of sports. You’re out there on the volleyball court, or tennis court, on the beach or by the swimming pool; these are things that you do for entertainment. Sometimes you enjoy them, sometimes you don’t. When are you having a good time? Now you may just like a particular sport and enjoy playing volleyball as such, but it’s an awful lot better if you’re on a winning team, isn’t it? or if you’re surging ahead in the competition of the individual or in the tournament realm. Why? Because when you’re winning, you get this sense, at least for a moment, that somehow I can do it well and I count.

I met a girl the other day. I don’t know who she was. I presume she is & may be here tonight. She was coming from the tennis court with a racket in hand. Passing by, just to make conversation, I said, “Well, did you win your game?” She glanced up at me and said, “Me? I never win.” and walked on. I suppose some­thing happened that somehow made her feel she couldn’t do it. She didn’t count. I trust she’s recovered from the blow; but it’s the kind of thing, you know, that happens to each one of us day after day. You get a convention like this and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s built on a foundation of broken hearts: boys that want the attention of certain girls, certain girls that want the attention of certain boys, and somehow it just doesn’t mesh. You try without making it appear that you’re trying. Everything hangs in a glance, a look, a note of attention. I always wonder, you come to the end of a convention, and I trust you have had for the most part a good time; but just how many are there that didn’t make it, that somehow didn’t find any friends and no one noticed and took the time to give them attention, the attention that their heart cried out for.

You know, your stage in life is a hard stage. It’s the most difficult. As long as you’re a child, you somehow rest on the foundation of the family. You belong there. Unless the home is an extremely unstable home, and sometimes sadly they are, life is painful from the very beginning. But ordinarily if there is an essence of stability in the home, the child takes for granted the love and the place which he has and that’s its foundation. But you came into that teenage period – 13, 14, and 15 – and you begin to realize, “I’m going to have to step out on my own.” And you step out and make steps into a world you don’t really know how to handle. You don’t want to rest on mom and dad anymore. You want to rush ahead into adulthood, and yet you can’t. Sometimes it seems the world is full of possibilities and there is excitement. You know the kind of vocabulary young people use. It’s tremendous, it’s immense, it’s just a wonderful thing. I often think when I listen to them: Boy, when they get something really good, what kind of words do you use to express it then? You’ve used all the big words up. But over against it, there’s that pain, that uncertainty, that fear. And it drives you. You’ve got to do something that counts. Anything that you think you may be able to do, well you dive towards it. If you are anywhere good at sports, you become a sportsman. If you’re anything good at study, then you study. If you’re anything good at going out and talking it up and living it high, you go out and you try that. Anything that seems to provide a place for you in life where you count. And so often it seems that it’s more than you can handle. Always around the edges there is this thing beckoning you on into false satisfactions. There’s all kinds of them. The whole money thing: if you’ve got money you’ve got power, so go out and get money. Because if you ever get to the point where you’ve got money, you can buy influence. It makes you impor­tant. It seems like that to everybody except those who have got it. They die a death all their own. You try it, you try it in sports, you try it in friends. You’ve got these machines, it’s a form of narcotic that we have, you get out on a high-powered machine, get a motorboat, get a high powered snowmobile, get a motorcycle. It’s a heady feeling when you’re riding down the street and you’ve got all that power between your legs. It makes you feel great and strong, and there for a minute you feel like you count. You’ve got to quit. If you don’t quit, sooner or later you’re going to kill yourself trying with those motorbikes. But for a time it seems to be worthwhile. There are the other things, too, there’s the drugs, the narcotics, including smoke and alcohol too. They’re there, they somehow in their way say. “Hey, I’m something, I count.” You follow that road far enough and you set a pattern until you feel nine feet tall because you’re dead drunk. Even though the next morning you know you’re going to wake up to a hangover. But for a while it gives you a sense of value. And all of these other things: the dancing, the sex, the fascination of science fiction that all the kids are reading. It’s a way of losing yourself in a world where you can believe for a minute that you count. You’re seeking for something. Really, you know, your convention text is addressed to exactly people in that situation. You know, of course, where the chapter starts: come, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?” Whether it’s your alcohol, your hard drugs or your motor­cycles. Wherefore do you spend your money for that which is not bread, that can’t satisfy. You labor for that which satisfieth not. “Harken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good. And let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Young people, there’s only one thing that can give you real meaning and worth in life. There’s only one thing that provides it. I know, it sounds foolish really. These after all are, as has been pointed out a very particular kind of people to whom this chapter is directed. This isn’t just anyone, when scripture speaks in these terms of people who thirst and people who hunger, it’s talking to a particular kind of people. Those who by the working of the Holy Spirit, have died to themselves. You can go out, you can try it. You can go out looking for that sense of bigness, of importance, of power be it in money, or motorbikes, or drugs, or sin. But it doesn’t fill. Yet there’s something in man that can’t let it go. There’s something inside our very nature that always said in the midst of the misery of it all, “but if only I had a little more!” It must be I haven’t got quite enough. And that’s why the wav beckons you along until those bad paths become patterned paths and habits that drive people on into sin, and ultimately down that swift road to hell.

But our text, the chapter, the scriptures, are speaking to those who are different. Those upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has impressed that truth, that you can’t make it on your own. You gain half the world and you still lose your soul. “Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.” I know it doesn’t make sense, not to our heated brains that are so deeply entrenched in this idea. “Look, if you’re going to count, you’ve got to make it on your own. You’ve got to be able to show off and say look what I’ve done. I’ve won the game. I’ve been on the right team. I’ve made the mark. I’ve impressed the people.” That’s that narcotic affect that leaves a hangover the next day. Seek ye the Lord. That is the One Who is great beyond all greatness. You go on into that chapter and you have that tremendous description of the greatness of God that follows on there. As you get down to verses 8 and 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heaven is higher that the earth, so are my ways higher that your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” You see, it’s that recognition look, my ways. And always the wrong way. If you’re going to go down the path of life and each time say again. “What do I want?” You’re always going to end up along the wrong fork.

God’s ways, God’s thoughts, they’re the only ones that know the end from the very beginning. The goal that really counts, the life that has meaning and value so great it endures beyond time into all eternity.

You hurt sometimes inside? I do too. We all do. You hurt because you’d like to have a little more recognition and you’d like to count? Seek the Lord. Call upon Him. That’s the only thing that fills up that void, that takes that pain away, that endures unto all eternity. To belong to Jesus Christ. Seek the Lord. What does it mean? As has been so amply said, take that Word and use it for your map. I mean in a very real way. I don’t care what the problem is. If you want to learn how to dress in the morning, how to greet the family at the breakfast table, how to answer a cursing friend, how to go about your labors, what to do at night when the work is done, there are principles here. It doesn’t tell you do this and don’t do that in so many words, but there are principles here to be taken and learned and followed. That’s what seeking the Lord is. You take it and you use that as the map to determine what forks in the road you take, what junctures you follow and what you do not. Seek the Lord. Seek Him and His church. We need the Word of God, and dear young people, we need each other. We’re not just a group of individuals learning our lessons. The church is a body, a body of those who belong to Jesus Christ. We need each other to set good patterns. It happens at conventions like this. From all I’ve heard, it’s gone real well. If you’ve got some in the crowd who make the wild unbecoming sinful thing the thing to do, it can catch on and spread. I hope and pray and I trust this convention has been for you a way to leant these are the patterns that really count, to strength­en, to encourage and to substantiate each other in the way of living as Christians would and should. And the way of establishing a pattern of life, and that’s what this is all about. We as a denomina­tion are a denomination that would set ourselves apart from the ways of the world to reject its false satisfactions, its narcotics, whether they be physical narcotics or whether they be physiological or spiritual narcotics. A pattern of life where together we strengthen and en­courage one another in the way that is right and good and true. May you from this convention go forth to establish a way of life wherever you go, whether it’s on to work, whether it’s on to marriage, where you never return to a young people’s convention again, whether it’s to come back next year. May you go forth from this convention knowing that the only thing that gives to your life meaning and value is to reject the narcotics of this world and seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.

Having just moved from the great Northwest, I have been asked to write for you an article on the beauty of creation.

It is certainly true that the northwest comer of our country, and particularly the northwest comer of the state of Washing­ton, in which Lynden is located and where we were privileged to live for many years, constitutes one of the most beautiful portions of our great land. Many a time have I ridden around through Whatcom County marveling at the magni­ficent beauty of the white mountain peaks on every side standing out in sharp contrast to the blue sky above and the dark green of the fir trees and fields below. Many a time have my family and I gone down to the bay to watch the glory of the setting sun across the deep blue waters of the Puget Sound dotted as it is by the many small islands which are uniquely its own. Many a pleasant hour have Phil and I spent hiking along mountain trails up through forests of towering cedar and fir to the meadows above, covered with mountain flowers and looking out at the jagged peaks of black and white which make up the Cascade Range. Is there an experience of beauty anywhere that can compare to standing on the high white glacier fields of Mt. Baker when the breaking dawn fills the sky on every side? One does not look out at it, he is in the very sunrise with its glory that fills the sky. The heavens do declare the glory of God, and creation shows His handiwork. We have seen it and will never forget it.

And yet, through it all, there was one great frustration which I could never quite meet.

From the time I was a student, my hobby was taking photographs; and scenic photography I preferred above all. It has always seemed to me to be a hobby which teaches one to see and note little beauties in creation that otherwise are apt to be ignored.

I did what I could of this while still in school; but it was not until we were settled in Edgerton that I was able to apply myself to it with any regularity at all. There in the area around Edgerton, as well as in South Dakota and Colorado where we often went on classical appoint­ments, I was able to spend many a pleasant hour searching for those small, unrecognized points of beauty which could be caught by the camera and so remembered for myself and for others. It was a satisfying pastime, searching the creation that way for those marks of beauty which otherwise one never thought to note. To this day, I have many cherished photographs which serve to restore to my memory thrills of joy which I once had at some point of creation’s glory, and without which they would be forgotten forever.

When, therefore, we were called to live and work in the middle of the spectacular beauty which is so much a part of the great Northwest, it seemed to me that one of the great bonuses for me would be the photographic opportunity which it afforded. And for a time I went at it with enthusiastic joy; but it wasn’t long before I found myself deeply disconcerted. The great and spectacular beauty of mountains such as Baker and Shuksan and Ranier was so evident that no one could pass it by; and when photographed the results were seldom any different than what one could find already printed on calendars and postcards everywhere. And, even more, with everything dominated by such great and self-evident beauty, it was hard, and sometimes it seemed impos­sible, to look once again for those small beauties which would provide a fresh and new viewpoint to be recorded. The great, spectacular beauty of that country made it harder, not easier, to take the kind of photograph I liked.

And I think there is a parallel to this in all of life, particularly for a Christian.

There are things in life whose greatness and importance seem evident to all; they are like great mountain peaks that dominate the horizons of time. These are the things to which the important people of this world direct their attention, governmental heads, the wealthy, and the learned. And we, standing by in our smallness, are apt to think that if only we could be involved with things like that then certainly we could serve our God best.

What we so readily forget is that the greatness and beauty of God is every­where, in the small things as well as the great.

It may be quite true that the majesty of God’s greatness is to be seen in the great spectacular peaks of high moun­tains; but don’t forget that it is also there in the rolling prairies, in fields of grain and lakes and streams, and even along city streets. And maybe sometimes we can see it best when the great and spectacular is not there to detract.

For your life and mine the same obtains. It may seem to us in moments of dream that we could do God great service if our lives could be involved in some of the world’s great things. But God is in the small as well as the great; and our service of God is equally well given in the small things of ordinary living. It might seem to us that we could give better service if we could work with things that are great; but the likelihood is that they would only detract. To learn to see God in the small things of life and to praise Him there is where your service and mine is given best.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

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Judah: A Story of Redemption

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021.   The story of Judah is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. We often overlook this history because it is nestled in the middle of the story of Joseph. All the […]

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Author Interview: “Through Many Dangers”

M. Kuiper, Through Many Dangers (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021)   Through Many Dangers is a work of Christian, historical fiction that has just been released this summer by the RFPA. The book is written especially for young people and details the story of a group of Dutch Reformed boys who serve in the […]

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