It was a dark and stormy night…! A lot of stories begin with those words. Well, my life began exactly in that way. A blizzard raged throughout Northwest Iowa in November of 1935. The power went out on the 22nd, so that I was greeted by a few flickering candles in the parsonage of the Orange City Protestant Reformed Church. My father was Rev. H. H. Kuiper, and Orange City was his first pastorate. He died at the age of 56 in Loveland, Colorado. My mother (whom the doctor had assured would not give birth for some time yet, so he was elsewhere) passed away in 1998 at the age of 91.
Where did I grow up? There’s no easy, brief answer to that since my father was a minister, and PKs grow up all over. Let’s just say that I lived in six states as a boy and young man. The upside of that was the travel; how fascinating to explore the new parsonage and town! The downside was that friendships were always very brief. I envy, for that reason, those that have lived their lives in one county or state. Also, my five siblings and I were always the new kids on the block, always on the outside looking in but seldom really a part of things. It was difficult also because changing schools was always a rather constant thing. At times we had to attend the public schools; at other times we were sent to the local Christian schools. I am thankful that we were able to attend the then new Hope School for my last three years of grade school. Because my father took a call to our Randolph congregation, I boarded out with people in Grand Rapids so I could attend Christian High for three years.
I began college at the University of Redlands, a beautiful campus that many of you have visited when conventions were hosted by our Redlands young people. I finished college with a degree in Chemistry, and then taught for four years in Edgerton, Minnesota, and at Hope School. Looking back, I see how God used those four years of teaching in two positive ways. First, because I had always been rather quiet and withdrawn, teaching forced me to be more out-going, to develop speaking abilities, and how to deal with people, both students and parents. Secondly, those years of teaching were used by God to equip me for thirty-five years of catechism teaching, an important aspect of the covenant life of the church and a work that I still enjoy immensely. Occasionally, people will say to me, “We can tell that you’ve been a teacher.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but there it is.
I entered the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1964. One regret that I have often reflected upon is that my father never knew that I entered the seminary and gospel ministry; he died during my senior year in college. I did inherit his library which was a great help to me during the past thirty-eight years. Seminary life has impressed many memories upon all who entered there. Classes were conducted in a room in the basement of First Church (Fuller at Franklin), a room usually too hot or too cold. We had Rev. H. Hoeksema for one semester, his last teaching before he had to retire. The work required in seminary was the most difficult I ever attempted, both as to the quantity and quality required. The first sermon text assigned to me for practice preaching was Hebrews 11:17-19, and I upchucked my breakfast before I went to school to (try to) preach it. A certain nervousness still overtakes me in the hours before I go on the pulpit.
God enabled me to persevere during those three years of training, so that I was ordained into the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments on October 1, 1967. Jesus Christ called and sent me to the following congregations: Randolph, Pella, Skowhegan, Maine as a missionary, Lynden, Isabel, Lacombe, and Southeast. After thirty-five years of service, twenty-five of them in the West, I became emeritus on January 1 of this year. I still perform some labors at Southeast until they receive a new minister, and plan to keep busy helping other churches as well, as God gives me strength.
Teaching little children has always been a delight for me, as it is to most pastors. I recall teaching a class of nine or ten year old children about Jacob and Esau. After stating that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born or had done good or evil, a young fellow immediately burst out, “That ain’t fair!” How true what Paul teaches in Romans 9:20 about natural man’s reaction to God’s sovereignty! I trust we got things straightened out for the lad. Another time I was teaching a lesson on the suffering and death of Jesus. A little girl began to cry. After class she came up to me to apologize, saying, “I’m sorry for crying, but it made me so sad.” What a lovely response to the gospel!
Our churches need ministers and missionaries. Our churches need young men to study for four years beyond college to prepare themselves for a lifetime of preaching and teaching. Have you, young male reader, considered this need and your suitability for filling this need? Is Christ calling you to be one of His ambassadors? Often times this great question is very difficult to answer. Perhaps the following questions, and your thoughtful answers to them, will assist you in coming to the right answer. You must pray about this matter often. You must talk with your parents, teachers, and officebearers as to what they think of your suitability and gifts for this kind of work. But in addition, consider such things as these: 1) Do you love the church? Are you concerned for her welfare, her peace, her prosperity as the ground and foundation of the truth? 2) Do you like books, and do you love to read? Do you enjoy studying languages and grammar? Do you have an appreciation for history past, and especially for church history? Books, grammars, lexicons, commentaries, orthodox and heterodox writing of all kinds…these will be your tools as you labor in the Word of God according to the Hebrew and Greek. 3) Do you love God’s people, and especially old people? I ask this not only because ministers must serve and assist a growing number of elderly in the churches, but especially because love for the aged and infirm reveals the presence of a tender, pastor’s heart! 4) Are you committed to the Reformed faith of Holy Scripture, so committed that you are “resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine, and to reject all heresies repugnant thereto….” Yes, those words come from the second question for Public Confession of Faith. But as a minister you will be at the very forefront of that battle of contending for the faith! For the glorious truth of the Reformed faith, are you ready to suffer all, and lose all, even life itself?
I have been asked to comment on the question, have I seen any significant changes in the lives of our young people during the last forty years? That’s a nice question to consider in our young people’s magazine; a question that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
The past four decades of Protestant Reformed church history reveals very clearly that God is saving His children out of our generations by bringing our young people to faith in Jesus Christ, to confession of His great Name before God and men, and to a godly walk in the footsteps of Him Who has gone before us. I am thrilled and encouraged by the faithfulness that our young folks demonstrate, by the grace of God, to the Reformed faith that we hold, and to the way of life that we espouse. There are always those that disappoint in these matters, that cast away from themselves all that is precious and holy (permanently, we do not know), even as the church always brings forth a two-fold seed. But God is faithful in providing us with good members of the church militant as one generation after another joins the church triumphant above, with leaders of the church of future years, and with fathers and mothers who will train up their children in the ways of the covenant. Surely we must recognize the work of our schools as a major means in these fruits. And let me add one more item of a positive nature; the young people on the whole are being faithful in church attendance, being present at both worship services. What a joy to behold!
Have I observed any trends that may be potential causes of concern? Of course I have. The age at which our youth are marrying has decreased significantly. Please don’t ask me to prove this with scientific data, but a while back the average age was around 25-27, and at present it seems to be closer to 19–21. With marriage come children, heavy responsibilities, and often times heavy debt loads. Let us marry in the Lord, and look before we leap.
There have been some changes, I believe, in a couple of areas of Christian life that are of concern to many officebearers. This has come to my attention through being a church visitor in both Classes for many years. Proper Sabbath observance is a concern. More and more activities are being allowed of a recreational, earthly nature on the day of rest. Secondly, there is a growing emphasis on leisure. Sports take up so much of our time; sports (active and passive) gobble up so much of our resources; vacations often times take us away from our churches and place us in very worldly environments. And thirdly, a definite decrease in respect for authority can be observed: parents in the home, elders in the church, magistrates of the state, and those who employ us at our work. We officebearers have many opportunities to address this issue in preaching and teaching, but the erosion goes on. We urge you to think through this issue in the light of Holy Scripture, and to hold fast the traditions you have received.
But on the whole, there is little change from the past and good hope for the future. To God alone be the praise!
Would you be interested in hearing some high points of my rather ordinary life? God gave me a faithful wife on August 20, 1965, when Velerie Miersma became my bride. The Lord then gave us nine healthy children: David, Bradley, Christopher, Bethany, Philip, Victor, Dwight, Lois, and Dana. I have had the privilege of baptizing most of our thirteen grandchildren. I recall meeting Dr. Klaus Schilder at my grandfather’s house in Doon way back in 1946 or so. After being released from a German prison, he came to the United States to meet with Rev. Hoeksema and speak in our churches. I also visited Rev. Hoeksema, with my father after “HH” had a stroke and was recuperating in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, hospital. A statement that my father made fairly often, which made a deep impression on me was this: “I would rather be a minister of the Gospel than be President of the United States.” He firmly believed his was the more important office, and the work he performed of everlasting importance.
Above all, the outstanding feature of my life has been God’s faithfulness and grace to an unworthy, earthen vessel which enabled me to continue in the ministry all these years. Only by His powerful grace was I able to fight the good fight, finish my course, and keep the faith (II Timothy 4:7).
*V.D.M. is an old-time abbreviation for the Latin Verbi Dei Minister, or Minister of the Word of God.
Did you ever see a palm tree growing next to a glacier? I did, kind of.
Have you ever been inside a rhinoceros? I have, in a way.
Let me explain a bit. Most readers of the Beacon Lights are not aware that many years ago it was my privilege to be a teacher in our Protestant Reformed schools. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I decided that I ought to obtain the master’s degree in earth science. I was accepted at a large graduate school with the proviso that I first take prerequisite courses in mineralogy, geology and climatology. This I arranged to do at Western Washington University, located near our Lynden congregation. It was the summer of 1964. You will say; we are dealing here with ancient history in more ways than one!
After six weeks of intense classroom instruction we spent the last two weeks of the summer on field trips, first on the beaches and in the mountains of western Washington, and then in the arid environs of the eastern part of the state. Go with me on two of these trips on which we collected rocks and minerals, and observed various structures of geologic significance.
Riding high above the coastal plain of northwest Washington stands Mt. Baker (10,776 feet), blanketed in perennial snow, with long fingers of glaciers reaching down in several directions. These slow-moving glaciers maintain a thickness of forty to a hundred feet: compressed ice at the bottom and new snow at the top. In sight of Coleman Glacier, at an altitude of approximately 8,500 feet, we were being instructed in glacier movement when the boulder I was resting upon caught my attention. Our learned professor informed me that what we had here was a large fossil of a palm frond. Careful application of the rock hammer yielded a magnificent specimen which even now sits on the hearth of my study fireplace. A large, flat piece of petrified material, it clearly shows the structure of part of a palm leaf, the ridges and veins converging on a point (not on the rock), giving the familiar appearance of the palm leaf. At 50 degrees north latitude, and at 8,500 feet elevation, with glaciers all around? Our leader fearlessly dated the fossil at 90-70 million years old.
The following week found the class in eastern Washington which, for the most part, is covered with lava (scoria) from ancient volcanoes and other disturbances. One evening after supper in a state park, the leader of our class asked several of us if we were up to some stiff work; if we would row across the lake and do a little climbing, he would show us something we would not soon forget! Soon two rowboats were tied to some brush on the far side of the lake. Six of us students then climbed a faint trail on the face of a cliff that was only a few degrees on the friendly side of perpendicular. Our attention was directed to a small hole high above our heads. With flashlights in hand, we took turns standing on each other’s shoulders. When my turn came, I thrust head and shoulders through the small opening and found myself inside a rhinoceros!
By shining the flashlight about, I observed a perfect cast of a mature rhinoceros body. The opening I filled was near the rump of the animal; the remainder of the cast stretched out before me for ten or twelve feet. The animal had been lying on its side with its feet slightly higher than its spine when it was entombed in flowing lava. Closer inspection revealed every toenail on its round, stumpy feet, the coarse hair that covered parts of his body, and at the far end the head with eyes minutely outlined, deep wrinkles about the face and two terrible horns. There was no skeleton or any other remains of the three-ton body; likely everything had been incinerated by the lava, but every detail and dimension was faithfully preserved in rock. The professor was correct in that I’d never forget this; he was dead wrong when he dated the demise of the beast at 90-70 million years ago.
Does the Christian, holding faithfully to the Word of God, have answers for the fossil record? Is this record embarrassing at best or soul-shaking at worst? If we try to deny fossils, or anything that definitely belongs to the creation in which we live, we do two things: we bring unnecessary reproach of unbelievers upon the Church for being blind, ignorant and naïve, and we deny God His glory for something wonderful He has done. Although every fossil and related phenomenon may not have a Biblical answer at this time, we may be sure that there is such an answer. And, by faith we also understand that no theory contrary to the Word of God can possibly be correct.
The two examples mentioned above pose no threat to the child of God who holds to divine creation in six, twenty-four hour days and to all the rest of Scripture as well. Palm trees in northern climates and rhinoceroses near the Canadian border may surprise us today, as we know these creatures to be found only in the tropic sub-tropic zones. (There are other examples of what may be called odd displacements: remains of tropical fish and warm-water coral sprinkled lavishly across the Arctic part of the globe). All these things point in the direction of a pre-flood, universally mild climate.
The Bible has a way of giving scientific facts that no Christian student or scientist may ignore. On the basis of Genesis 2:5-6, we are justified in saying that it did not rain before the flood; God nourished the plants with a mist from the earth. On the basis of Genesis 8:22, we are justified in saying that before the flood there were no seasons, for in this verse God speaks for the first time of “seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter.” One of the tremendous, cataclysmic acts of God in the flood was that He tilted the axis of the earth 23 ½ degrees from an upright position relative to the sun. Without this tilt there could only be inhospitable torrid and frigid zones; somehow, Rehwinkle suggests either ocean currents or a cloud canopy (cf. The Flood, Alfred M. Rehwinkle, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951), God created a universal, mild, Spring-like climate that allowed plant and animal life to prosper everywhere on the face of the earth.
In the flood, that great deliverance of the Church by water and that great picture of the final deliverance of the Church in the end by fire, God worked many changes in His creation. The windows of the heavens were opened and the fountains of the deep were broken. What havoc was worked when God shook the earth: incalculable amounts of water were added to the earthly sphere; the earth tilted to a specific degree in relation to the sun; seasons began; continents, islands and mountain ranges (above and below sea level) were formed, large areas of the earth were convoluted; and countless volcanoes belched forth their unlovely contents. All animals, birds and men not with Noah in the ark were destroyed, including the rhinoceros I invaded. Plant species became restricted as to where they could grow and bring forth after their kind. In the universal flood, and in the changes worked by God in that flood, we find the answers to most, if not all, the challenges hurled by unbelieving science against the Bible and its adherents.
In that class, so long ago, I recall two classmates: a Jewish teacher from a public school in Arizona and a “Reformed teacher” from a Christian school in Michigan. The Jewish teacher, though he denied the New Testament and the Christ, held to creation according to Genesis 1-2. The “Reformed teacher” believed in the period theory and accepted eagerly all that the professors were saying. “Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His glorious and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:8)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away. and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” John 15:1, 2
For some time now we have been examining the life of the young saint Joseph, from the double point of view that he is an example for the youth of the church today and that he stood in the Old Dispensation as a beautiful type of the coming Christ. Joseph was the Beloved Son, the Despised Brother, the Slandered Alien, the Prophetic Captive, the Prince of Life, and the Exalted Lord. In all this history the young man was “a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough whose branches run over the wall”, even as his father Jacob had prophesied (Gen. 49:22). The question we want to face with you now is this: Are we fruitful branches?
Do we find it easy to serve the Lord and walk worthy of our calling? Perhaps you say it’s not so hard to serve the Lord; we don’t live in a country where there is fierce persecution, our government doesn’t outlaw church services, prayer, and Christian schools. It’s easy to serve the Lord! But the conscientious child of God knows that overt persecution is only a small part of the difficulty. He knows that the battle is against sin which knows no national boundaries, it is against the devil who needs no passport, and it is against unbelief and corruption even as those things cleave to him! In whatever land they live, Christians have crosses to bear, battles to fight, weighty duties and obligations to fulfill. Surely the life of Joseph as recorded in the book of Genesis makes that clear.
The reason why the life of the child of God is so fraught with suffering, opposition, disappointment, and affliction is ultimately a divine reason. Whatever the reasons the devil, demons, and wicked men have for doing what they do to the church, God, Who is sovereign over all the enemy, has His reason as well. God chastens us, God corrects us, God teaches us reliance upon Him as our Help and our Strength, God sanctifies us and weans us away from the world. In the text quoted above the reason Jesus gives is that God purges every fruitful branch that it may bring forth more fruit.
Let’s identify several elements in the passage. First, Christ says that He is the vine; all the millions of grape vines on this earth are but pictures of Christ Who is “the true vine.” Secondly, God is the husbandman, or to use present day language, the nurseryman or the horticulturist. The Father of Christ has a vine which He has planted, for which He cares, and from which He expects abundant fruit. Thirdly, there are branches in the vine. These branches are of two types as we’ll see later, but here we will simply mention that the branches represent the church of Christ, the generations of believers, who are grafted into Christ by the living bond of faith. (See Lord’s Day VII and John 15:5) Finally, the passage speaks of fruit and the bringing forth of fruit; in fact, this is the main idea of Jesus in the passage. We read of this in verses 2, 3, 5 and 8 because the husbandman is interested in fruit. Why else would He plant a vineyard and care for it so faithfully? The emphasis of the passage is not upon the branches, not even upon Christ, but the emphasis falls on the fruit which Christ, through the branches, produces. Christ is the means in God’s hand whereby He saves a people, in order that they might bring forth fruits of thanksgiving and praise to Him! All the Scriptures make clear that this is the purpose of the vineyard. the purpose of the church, and the purpose of her salvation. The greatest question is not, Are we saved? Are we going to heaven? The all-important question is, Are we now, and will we one day in heaven. bring forth well pleasing fruit unto God? Do we live out of Christ, do we partake of His strength and nourishment spiritually, as does a branch out of the root and fatness of the vine? A vine is worthless without grapes, so is a church or a Christian worthless without fruit!
What are these fruits for which the divine Husbandman looks? Briefly. they are all things that are included in the fear and worship of God. The apostle Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace. longsuffering. gentleness. goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Spiritual fruits are those good works which God has prepared for us to walk in: seeking the things which are above, confession of and sorrow over sin, trusting in God each day, keeping His commandments, being faithful in personal devotions. Where there is fruit upon the branches of Christ’s vine, you may find humble submission to God’s will, a hatred of sin and deceit and corruption, and a manful attempt to live a new and godly life. And not only does Jesus say that there is fruit in the life of the Christian, but very strongly He states that there must be fruit. It is not simply the case that God doesn’t like or doesn’t want unfruitful branches; He doesn’t have them either! God always performs His good pleasure. Take note of verse 2 once more: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he (God) taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.” God desires and receives fruit unto Himself!
In line with that, Jesus speaks of two kinds of branches: not of dead and living branches (though that is true in the deepest sense), but of fruitful and barren branches. It doesn’t make any difference what the type of soil or what the variety of vine, there are always some branches in the vineyard that are without fruit. There are always shoots (sometimes called suckers) growing out of the vine or out of other branches which have the appearance of true branches, but they never yield any fruit. Really, that’s the only way you can tell the useless from the useful: this matter of fruit. What does the vine-grower do with those unfruitful branches? He takes his pruning knife, goes up and down the rows, and cuts off every one of them!
Now Jesus is saying that there are such fruitless branches in the church as she exists as an institute in this world. Of course, these branches were never really in Christ. If they were grafted into Him by faith, how could they ever fall from that faith, which is a gift of grace? No, they were members of the church outwardly. They went to church but were not really of the church. Just as all citizens of this country are called Americans, even though some may not have any heart for this country. just as the whole plant of corn is called corn while we know only the kernel is corn, so with the church: all those belonging to her outwardly bear the name that its true heart and nucleus has. They are not all Israel that are called Israel.
Although Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that “by their fruits ye shall know them”, He does not mean that we are to be judges of one another in this, nor that we can know these things absolutely. (In Matt. 7:15-20 Jesus speaks in the context of false teachers.) But the heavenly Husbandman does have perfect understanding of this matter of fruit. He allows for no barren branches in His vineyard, and therefore He takes them persecution and hardship; then the false branches leave! This takes place through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. When preaching is according to the whole counsel of God, without compromise, and distinctive according to our confessions, then fruitless branches are cut off! And this can happen, this taking away, by means of the discipline of the church. which ends, unless there is repentance, in cutting off or excommunication.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are branches which do bring forth much fruit. I know there is a great deal of difference in these branches; some bring forth abundantly and some bring forth with scarcity. For there are the strong in faith and the weak in faith. There are those who reveal the power of God’s grace in their lives powerfully, and others who manifest the life of Christ very weakly due to unfaithfulness and backsliding. Without exception, on these also, the Husbandman Who is God operates with His pruning knife. Unfruitful branches are cut off entirely; fruitful branches are pruned, shaped, and formed, strikingly by the same knife! Have you ever seen a vineyard that has been pruned? A pathetic sight, really. There in the corner of the field is a large pile of useless branches, and then if you look up and down the rows you find that the living branches have been cut back and trimmed! It looks all wrong! But the owner of the vineyard knows that pruning causes the vine to put forth more grapes. Are you fruitful branches?
“My Father is the husbandman!” God purges His people! The reason why we as Christians often bring forth so little fruit is that our flesh is present with us, and is against us. The flesh is not interested in fruit unto God, but only in the gratification of itself. Foolishly we occupy ourselves with, and pursue, those things which shall go up in the flame! And when God purges us, 0, how that hurts the flesh! But God’s knife makes no mistakes; the flesh must go down, it must be cut off if we are to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and consistent with the life of the Vine in us.
This purging takes place, also, through the preaching of the Word of God, that mighty two-edged Sword! True preaching condemns sin, commands repentance, and calls to obedience. Such purging goes on whenever the Word of God is faithfully preached. Young people must know that about the preaching of the Gospel. Does your minister sometimes step on your toes? As he is preaching along on a certain text, does he say some things occasionally (or often) that make you a bit uncomfortable, that come powerfully close to home? Does the Spirit of Grace say to you, during and after the preaching, that’s you! Be thankful for that kind of preaching! God is addressing you and purging you that you may bring forth more fruit!
But you say, “Purging hurts!” Yes it does! For the flesh, the ways of God are always difficult. Do you remember the question we asked at the beginning? Is it easy for you to serve God? in the kingdom of God, where the Christian serves the flesh is of no account! It has to go under. It has to go. Let it go! The only thing that matters is that there be abundant fruit unto the heavenly Husbandman whose vineyard we are! It may seem to us that we are doing our utmost for the Lord, then God purges us and shows us that He demands even more. It may seem only the weak in faith need this purging, and then God purges the strong in faith, as He did with faithful Job. From the natural point of view, our life is labor and sorrow. But from the spiritual point of view, it is purging and purifying. And remember. child of God, bringing forth fruit unto God is a little bit of heaven!
(The reader is encouraged to refer to Genesis 41:41-44 and Genesis 47: 14-20)
Like a golden thread woven intricately through the entirety of Joseph’s life is the beautiful working of Divine providence. To be sure, the life of every man reveals the unfolding of God’s plan. We often fail to see that because rarely do we see the picture of life in its completeness. But the Lord has left us examples in Scripture by which He displays the truth that in and through all things He realizes His high purpose. The life of Joseph is a lucid and impressive illustration of this. It was the Lord’s intention, eternally, to elevate Joseph above his brethren and to make him the exalted Lord of the entire world of that day! This had been revealed to Joseph as a youth already, and without knowing the details he believed that God would bring it to pass.
Notice how the Holy Scriptures place the emphasis upon the directing, governing hand of God. “And the Lord was with Joseph and he was a prosperous man.” (Gen. 392.) “The Lord blessed the house of Potiphar for Joseph’s sake.” (Gen. 39:5) “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison; and the Lord was with him and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.” (Gen. 39:21) And after Joseph is second in command in Egypt, he explains to his brethren, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” (Gen. 45:8) We simply have to view the prosperity of this young saint as the fruit of the power and grace of God in whom he trusted so steadfastly!
God gave to Joseph several spiritual virtues: a very submissive nature, a strong faith, enduring patience, and cheerful industry. Humanly speaking, what a different outcome this history might have had, if Joseph were an impatient skeptic, who was quick to revolt when confronted with opposition, and had to see with the natural eye before he would act. But that is exactly the wonder of God’s working, don’t you see? He not only determines the end from the beginning, but He also determines and supplies the means to that end!
If you read the passages cited at the beginning of this article, you could not but be impressed with the high position to which God elevated Joseph in the land of Egypt! He wore the king’s ring, golden chain, and clothing; he rode in the second chariot and before him all men were exhorted to bow the knee; and Pharoah made it plain to him that without Joseph no man could lift up his hand or feet in all the land of Egypt! With that power and authority vested in him, Joseph subjected the entire land to the strictest monetary policy one could possibly imagine. After seven years of plenty had past and the seven years of famine had become a reality, Joseph gathered all the money in the land, then all the cattle, then all the land became Pharoah’s, next the people became the slaves of the king, and finally Joseph passed out seed for crops and of the increase exacted twenty percent for Pharoah! Bear in mind that Egypt was the greatest world power of that day, and Joseph with the power given him by Pharoah was the highest earthly ruler to be found anywhere. Admittedly Joseph ruled with a heavy hand in that high position. His administrative and financial policies have often been criticized. It must be admitted that Joseph ruled without laxity; for every bit of meal given, he required payment. In this way he spared the land from utter ruin. And he certainly ruled over the land of Egypt with a rod of iron! (See Psalm 2:9, which applies to Joseph as a type of Christ.)
We must notice, however, that Scripture includes another feature of Joseph’s rule that reveals quite the opposite attitude and demeanor. To Egypt also came the brothers of Joseph, and after the young ruler had revealed himself to them, the aged Jacob and all that he had also came down to Egypt, settled in the land of Goshen, and became subject to Joseph! The family of Jacob represented the Church of that day; to them were given exceeding great and precious promises, and upon them God bestowed choice, covenant blessings. But because the famine also affected the promised land of Canaan, the Church came down to Egypt and became subject to the exalted ruler of the land, Joseph.
Over his brethren, the church, Joseph did not rule with a rod of iron, but graciously. He did not exact from them the last farthing, but he refused to allow them to pay for anything. We have already seen how they found their money in the mouths of their sacks. In Genesis 45 we read that Joseph instructed them that “They are not to regard their stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is theirs”. And Pharoah says to Joseph, “The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and thy brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell.” Thus, they live in the best of the land and they make no payment of any kind. How different is the treatment of the sons of Jacob from the treatment the Egyptians themselves received.
So Joseph rules over both the church and the world! He whose way had been through the deep, whose life for the past twenty years had been filled with grief and suffering, is now honored and respected! He ran his race with patience, with faith he clung to his God, and when the day of reckoning comes, he is marvelously rewarded by his God! It is true that his faith receives another reward when he enters into his heavenly reward. In fact, the honor conferred upon him in Egypt is but a picture of what awaited him in heaven. But if the earthly exaltation of Joseph is great, what shall the heavenly be? Truly, God is good to them that put their trust in Him!
The Gospel of this history for the Church today is simply this; what God has done for Joseph He has promised, and will do, for every single one of His children. As God led Joseph from being an outcast in Canaan to the Lord of all in Egypt, He displays to us that He will raise up all those cast out by the world to make them lords over all who will reign forever and ever. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5) Just as surely as the proud shall be abased so surely shall the humble be exalted in due time. What happened to the young saint Joseph so long ago shall happen to everyone who is united to Jesus Christ by faith. This may be difficult for us to believe, since we live in a world where wickedness is everywhere present, and where nothing seems able to stand before the onslaught of sin. And as the world develops in sin the church appears to be more and more helpless. But who are we to say that things are hopeless? When Joseph sat in Egypt’s prison, did it ever seem possible that he would rule over his brethren? Yet the Lord brought that very thing to pass! The power of the Lord is never diminished, nor is His arm shortened, that He cannot exalt and save. Although we can only expect a cross in this world, yet faith is confident of ultimate and complete victory over all the forces of sin and evil. “Evil doers shall be cut off, but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:9-11)
At the present time we seem to be in bondage, we seem to be dispossessed, we seem to occupy a precarious, unattractive position. But the day of our perfect liberation is at hand, and in a little while we shall be raised up to reign from on high! Be patient until the day of our Lord! In that day we shall receive a position far greater than Joseph ever received in Egypt. He had great honor, but he lost it after seventy years through death. But not even death can rob us of the glory that is promised the Church of Jesus Christ; she shall reign with Him forever and ever!
The absolute certainty of this promise lies in the fact that it is God’s promise and in the fact that Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, is even now in highest glory. All those that are one with Him shall surely follow Him into that reward!! Isaiah writes of the Savior: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him. He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Indeed, far more cruelly than Joseph, the Christ was hated and made to suffer. Because He was holy and we were corrupt, we affixed Him to the terrible cross. Yet Jesus opened not His mouth. Such patience!! Such waiting on the Lord! We can only marvel!
But notice the wisdom of God. As Joseph was sold into Egypt that God might preserve a seed alive unto Himself, so also Jesus was delivered to the cross with the very same purpose in mind! It was evil of Joseph’s brothers, and it was evil of the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day; but God meant it for good! The deepest humiliation was necessary in order that Christ might reach the highest possible glory prepared for Him by the Father. (See Phil. 2: 1-9)
It may not appear that Jesus reigns, according to the outward evidence of things. The kingdoms of the earth still rage. The world continues to show itself dead set against Christ, His righteousness, kingdom, and people. Maybe one is inclined to doubt that the anointed of God does, indeed, have universal supremacy. Then we turn to God’s own Word which cannot lie, and which always penetrates to the heart of things. We find in Rev. 19:1, 4, 6, “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia: Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God. . .And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. . . And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thundering, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” What believer of the Bible can ever doubt but that God is on His throne, ruling over all things through Jesus Christ, the worthy Lamb that was slain!
Jesus is Lord! He rules over the world of unbelief with a rod of iron, dashing them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. The Lord laughs, the Lord regards it an amusing thing that the wicked imagine they can come against Christ with impunity or any success. But Christ also rules over His Church by His wonderful grace and by the indwelling of His Spirit. He makes the Church willing to stand in the midst of a hostile world as representatives of His cause. He gives grace to be faithful, to be pure. That grace is sufficient day by day so that the pilgrim believer knows that the day is at hand when Christ comes to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain, to settle all the accounts.
When the Lord comes, He will dispossess all the kingdoms of this world, and He will give freely to His people the new heavens and the new earth. There can be no doubt about that.
Christ has the victory. And since we are united to Him by faith, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. We understand that all things are ours, we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Be patient. Be obedient and holy. Be faithful. The reward is certain, and the crown is sure.
“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:5
“And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Genesis 45:7
As we continue to hear the Word of God on the life of Joseph we ought to ponder the old truth that “It is man that proposes but it is God that disposes.” Acting with wisdom and power, God demonstrates to us most clearly in the life of Joseph that without destroying or ignoring the will of man He carries His great and marvelous purpose through to completion. No life evidences more clearly than does Joseph’s life that “all things work together for good to them that love God who are the called according to His purpose.” If we continue to bear in mind that Joseph’s struggles and suffering are a picture of what every faithful child of God must undergo, then we shall be instructed by these lessons from Genesis, but more, we shall be comforted as well.
We would remind you at this point that the life of Joseph was a life divinely designed to be a type of Christ. The details, experiences, and utterances of Joseph’s life in many cases reflect the same in the Life of Jesus. We have seen Joseph as the beloved son, the hated brother, the slandered alien, and the prophetic captive. In each case we found striking fulfillment in the life of Jesus, the Son of God, Who came unto His own and they received Him not, Who was slandered by Jews and Gentiles alike, and Who proclaimed liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. We must have an eye for this once again as we look into the events recorded in Genesis 45. May our faith be as Joseph’s faith, a mighty, indestructible, glorious power that leads us on to a quiet walk of trust in God, no matter what betides.
Last time we found Joseph in prison, interpreting dreams for the butler and baker of Pharoah. Now we find him in his exalted position in the court of Pharoah, and we want to look at him in that position especially as he comes into contact with his brothers who have come to buy food. How did Joseph come to such a high station in life? What has happened to him since we saw him in charge of the prison? Two years have passed since the incident with the butler and baker. At this time Pharoah himself has two dreams in one night, the well-known dreams of the fat and lean cows, and the good and bad ears of corn. (Confer Genesis 41.) After the wisemen and magicians of the court had shown themselves incompetent to interpret the dreams, the butler comes to his senses and says to Pharoah, “I do remember my faults this day.” And he recounts his being in jail with the chief baker, their dreams, and Joseph’s interpretation of them. “And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was: me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.”
After Joseph is summoned from the dungeon and Pharoah relates the dreams to him, God, to Whom all interpretations belong, once again gives to His servant-prophet the power to reveal His perfect will to Pharoah. In the dreams, which are identical in meaning, God shows that He is about to send seven years of prosperity and abundance upon the land, after which there will follow seven years of famine; so severe, in fact, that the abundance of former years will be consumed and completely forgotten. And there are two dreams, says Joseph, because the thing is established by God and God will shortly bring it to pass.
Then Joseph goes beyond the meaning of the dream. Still speaking as the prophet of God, he advises the king to seek out a man who is wise and discreet, to set this man over all the land of Egypt, and have him see to it that twenty percent of the abundance each year is laid away for use during the famine. Pharoah pondered the advise briefly, it seemed good to him, and he immediately appoints Joseph to this high position. The young Israelite receives the king’s own ring, a golden chain about his neck, linen clothing, and the right to ride in the king’s second chariot, to which the people bowed the knee! He is the second most powerful man in all the kingdom!
As the prosperous years roll by, Joseph shows himself a very competent overseer. Under his administration, “corn is gathered as the sand of the sea, very much, until they left numbering, for it was without number.” Then came the seven years of famine. It was widespread and severe, touching all the surrounding countries, so that many came to Egypt to buy corn. Among those multitudes, in the second year of the famine, were the brothers of Joseph. When they come to stand before Joseph, he recognizes them immediately, although they do not know who he is. “And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them.” What an impressive scene! The mighty ruler Joseph, second in all the land; before him, ten men with empty sacks and empty hands. Doesn’t it seem as if the tables are turned? What will Joseph do? Will he pay back in kind, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, for all the evil treatment he had received? Will he begin to recite his dreams, and say, “Didn’t I tell you?’’ Or, will he practice those lessons his father had taught the family at home, the spiritual law expressed in I Peter 3:9, “Render to no one evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing, knowing that ye are hereunto called that ye should inherit a blessing.’’ Do you know that lesson, and do you practice that in your life? Since vengeance belongeth unto the Lord, we are not to strike back at people when they look at us the wrong way, say something unkind, or treat us evilly. Rather, we are to answer with the soft answer that turns away wrath! That will usually bring an end to the fracas, and prevent things from blowing up. That was true of Joseph, wasn’t it! He always had a higher purpose in mind than his own selfish, little purpose. In all his dealings with his brethren, he showed himself to be a real prince; a prince of peace and a prince of life!
In Genesis 42:25-26, we may read of the care that Joseph showed his brothers, and this was a natural kind of care, first of all. They departed with their beasts of burden laded with corn and other provisions. He did not have to help these Hebrews, and he certainly did not have to give them food, restoring their monty unto them. But Joseph is the divinely appointed means through which Jacob-Israel will receive their necessary portion. God had sent him to Egypt beforehand with the purpose of preserving this precious posterity. The power of life and death is in Joseph’s hands, and as the prince of life he provides for his brethren.
But there is more. Joseph’s actions reveal that he understands a deep principle that was spelled out by Moses, and later by Jesus, that “Man shall not live by bread alone.’’ The young man understood that his brothers had a deep need that earthly corn and bread could not touch. In times past they had been wicked, cruel men and as such they could not represent that posterity which the Lord would preserve for His own glory and praise. There was a famine in their souls, because things-were not right between God and themselves nor between their neighbor and themselves. And if this matter was not put right, they would die! For this reason, before Joseph reveals himself to them, he knows he must bring them to understand that true life consists not in food, raiment, or possessions, but in the proper worship of God, in confession of His sovereignty and goodness, in obedience to His will, and in the acknowledgement that He must be thanked in all things.
The fact that his brothers were carnal, unspiritual men bothered Joseph very much; that would bother us also wouldn’t it, if we had family members who showed no spiritual life? He understood, however, that he could not change his brothers’ hearts, but he did put into operation a plan to try them in order to determine whether there had been any change in the past several years. This plan originated not in Joseph’s heart, but it came from God Who had raised up Joseph to this high position for this very purpose! What stands out, therefore, in this dramatic history is that Joseph’s pre-eminence does not reveal itself in lording it over others, but in seeking the welfare of others and serving others! How we need to learn this lesson! God puts us in various positions and offices in His church and kingdom. He does that, graciously, in order that we may be servants there. But often times we make of those offices and positions opportunities to serve ourselves! Not Joseph! He functions humbly and willingly in God’s plan to preserve a spiritual posterity. And in this sense, too, Joseph is the prince of life!
So the young ruler sets himself to the prodigious task of proving their spiritual character. In Genesis 41-44 we see that this test consists of four important steps: 1.) First, the test of their attitude; was it proud and haughty or could they be reasoned with? 2.) The test of their integrity; did they really have a brother at home? 3.) The test of their covetousness and jealousy; would they object to Benjamin’s greater portion? 4.) The test of their love for Jacob. From the history of these chapters we learn that a tremendous change had taken place in these brothers! Very plainly they were sorry for what they had done in respect to their father and Joseph. They had been living shallow, carnal lives apart from God, but now with new hearts they began to enjoy life with God in the way of His commandments. But since life with God can be enjoyed only in the way of repentance, conversion, and sanctification, God raised up Joseph as the prince of life to bring his brethren to the consciousness of these things! Through him God gave corn, but also through him God gives life!
In all this history, Joseph is a very beautiful picture of the Prince of Life Whom God raised up in the fulness of time. We read in Acts 3:15 that Jesus is “the Prince of Life Whom God hath raised from the dead.’’ Jesus is the Prince of Life in the natural sense in that God rules through Him so that all things (prosperity and famine, health and sickness) come to pass by the hand of Jesus. But He is the Prince of Life especially in that “God hath exalted Him with His right hand to be a Prince and Savior, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.’’ (Acts 5:31) He is the Good Shepherd Who gives His life that the true Israel of God, the precious posterity of God, might have life by a great deliverance! That great deliverance is the salvation of our souls through the terrible suffering and death of the cross. With wicked hands He was nailed to that cross, that He might become the exalted Prince of Life!
As such, He knows how to deliver His people. He gives life through amazing regeneration, He maintains us through the means of grace, and He leads us onward in such a way that we reveal that life unto the glory of God at the appearing of Jesus. As in O.T. times, the people of God sometimes show themselves to be selfish, covetous, worldly minded, and altogether unworthy. Then the Prince of Life, in great love for His own, sends the hardships and the judgments that will bring us to our senses and to our knees, quickening in us a spiritual attitude, and leading us into the enjoyment of His salvation.
“And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.” Genesis 40:8
God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform! With this truth we are deeply impressed as we continue to learn from the fascinating life of the young saint Joseph. As a young man we found him rejected by his brethren in his father’s house. After his brothers have sold him as a slave for a few shekels, he is taken to Egypt and in the house of Potiphar his faith and holiness are severely tried; but they are found strong with the result that for righteousness sake he is cast into prison. There he was “laid in iron, and his feet hurt with fetters.’’ (Psalm 105:18) All these things befell him not by chance but by the hand of God Who works in mysterious ways for the purpose of bringing about great wonders. The hand of God often leads His children through the valleys and ravines of trouble in order that through them they may be brought to exaltation and honor and strength.
Today we find Joseph in this prison. According to the last part of Genesis 39 this outstanding young man had once again risen to a position of great prominence. At home, in Potiphar’s house, and now in the prison, this stalwart character manifests his abilities and integrity. Soon he is in virtual control of the entire prison. And as he labored in this high position, everything he did prospered for the Lord was with him. As the overseer of the prison, his lot was eased considerably, but he is still a prisoner in a strange land. Sometime after he had been cast into jail, he is approached by two of his fellow prisoners, and what began as a little chat regarding a couple of dreams turns out to be very important, both for Joseph personally and from the point of view of prophecy.
One day the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh’s household, due to some wrongdoing, are committed to the care of Joseph as prisoners. Since both these men labored in things pertaining to the king’s table, it is very likely that their crime was a conspiracy to get rid of Pharaoh, perhaps by poisoning. These servants were men of high repute in the Egyptian civil service. The duty of the butler had been to present the cup to the king after having tasted a portion of its contents, thus insuring that the king would not receive wine that was sour or poisonous. Since he is designated as the chief of the butlers, he served not only as cupbearer but also as overseer of the royal vineyards and cellars; he was in complete control of the production of wine. The baker had the superintendence of everything relating to dainties for the royal table. He was over a host of other bakers and confectioners. So both officers were men of high rank and importance, both had access to the king’s household and presence, and both were very likely of nobility as well.
For a season, perhaps for a year, these men continued in the prison ward under the care and supervision of Joseph. On a certain night, both of them dreamed a dream. Ordinarily this might pass without comment for dreams are common – everyone dreams whether they can give a lucid account of them or not. Also today, dreams comprise a part of our lives, and undoubtedly we will be judged according to those things which we dream as well as for our conscious activities. It is, of course, difficult to explain the working, or the mechanics, of any dream; but we can all agree that there is a rich sub consciousness in every person that is far broader and richer than one’s conscious experience. When we are awake the contents of this sub consciousness is controlled by our will and judgment, but when we sleep these restraints are removed, so that various images arise out of our souls and tread over the threshold of our mind. The result is that without our control, frequently strange combinations of images and events appear. Such are our natural dreams.
But in the Holy Scriptures, dreams were often-times the medium of divine revelation. That the dreams of the butler and baker formed a certain speech of God is evident from the facts, first, that these dreams created an indelible impression upon these men, and second, that a definite interpretation was given to them. When a dream is from God, the Spirit of God works upon a man, influencing the subconscious mind to select and combine certain images, so that they form a symbolic whole. In this way God makes known His will and counsel. It was through this kind of a process that the butler and baker went one night.
The next morning, when Joseph observes their melancholy, depressed faces, and after he learns that this was due to the dreams they had had, and that there was no interpreter for these dreams, he responds with the words, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them I pray you.” He did not claim to be God, but he did confess that God was with him. And, he did not scoff at the idea of dreams; he did not say, “Oh, I have had my dreams too, and once they seemed important to me, but they have only mocked me and they will do the same to you.” No, Joseph’s readiness to interpret their dreams reveals that he still believed that his own dreams will be realized and that he held fast to the truth that with God all things are possible!
You can read these rather well- known dreams in Gen. 40:9-19. To the dream of the butler Joseph immediately gives this interpretation: “The three branches are three days. Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head and restore thee into thy place, and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.” To the baker’s dream Joseph responded: “The three baskets are three days; yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree. And the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.” The alien in a strange land has become the Lord’s prophet!
Generally when we think of a prophet, we think of a man who has the ability to narrate events before those events take place. Though it is true that prophecy often-times includes the element of predicting the future, that is not the essential idea of prophecy according to Scripture. Prophecy is not interested in history or the future as such, but prophecy had to do with the development and realization of the Kingdom of God! Further, prophecy is based on the principle that God’s covenant people, being His friends, are called to know God, to enter into His secrets, that they may be His witnesses in this world. Thus, a prophet is one who is commissioned by God to speak His Word and is so filled by the Spirit and Word of God that he bubbles over with the revelation of God. Thus it makes no difference if his declarations have to do with the past, present or future. The important point is that the prophet reveals the will of God! In the office of prophet Joseph functions while in prison. “Do not interpretations belong to God?’’ God will give the meaning; Joseph is only His mouthpiece.
Now what is the Word of God through Joseph at this point? The simplest answer is that the destinies of the butler and baker is set forth here. Or, in light of Gen. 41:12, we could say that the future of Joseph himself is tied in with these dreams. But you sense immediately that this history, recorded so faithfully and in such detail in the Scriptures, must have a broader significance that that! Let us list the outstanding features of this history. 1.) This bit of history takes place in a prison, and we know that Egyptian prisons were terrible places, dark, gloomy places where the prisoners either died very quickly or endured a living death. 2.) The butler and the baker were in this terrible place because of their own guilt. Joseph was unjustly accused and innocent. 3.) As the prophet of God, Joseph set forth the Word of God in this horrible dungeon of death. Now if we put these things together, we see: 1.) That Joseph is a beautiful type of Christ Who is sent of God to be the Light that shineth in darkness, the great revelation of God in our flesh. 2.) The prison stands for this world of darkness in which all men are held ensnared by their sins and guilt. 3.) And the two rightful prisoners represent the whole of humanity, all of mankind, which has involved itself in ruin by transgressing the will of the King in Heaven! 4.) The words that Joseph speaks to the prisoners proclaim that in three days there will be a general resurrection (a lifting up). Both the butler and the baker will be lifted up, the one will be raised to glory and honor as he is reinstated to this high position in the king’s house, the other will be raised unto shame and disgrace, for he will be beheaded and hung on a tree. Both were at fault, both were guilty of crimes against the king, both were under condemnation. But the king decides the outcome. On the third day one is given life and the other death.
What Genesis 40 sets forth here are the great events that transpire centuries later on Calvary’s hill. Once again, three individuals are involved. There is Jesus, the Son of God, numbered with the transgressors but actually the Lord of all! He has been anointed “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those that are bound.” (Is. 61:1) On His right and left hands are the malefactors, criminals of the worst kind who had fallen under similar condemnation. And, at the first, both sneered at the Just One. But by the amazing grace of God the one repented of His sin and believed on this King of the Jews, and he is assured of a resurrection unto life when the Savior of His sheep speaks these wonderful words of life, “Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” The other persists in his unbelief and is raised unto desolation and death.
That’s what Joseph proclaimed in Egypt’s prison, what Jesus tirelessly preached during His earthly ministry, and what the Church must continue to hold forth today! God alone determines the eternal destinies of men! All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All are under a just condemnation. All come into this world as guilty children of wrath, shut up in the prison house of sin, out of which there is no human way of escape. But in eternal love and abounding grace, God has chosen some to escape the awful prison, to know the friendship of the King, to be restored to a wonderful place of service in His house, and to have the promise of a resurrection unto everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven where we will have new names! This will happen on the third day; perhaps we can distinguish three great days on the clock of God’s counsel: the great day of creation, the long awaited day of Christ’s incarnation, and the final day of the resurrection and judgment. Then all shall be lifted up to receive according as they have done in the body, whether it be good or evil.
Yes, God alone determines the destinies of all the men in this world. It is not of him that runneth, or of him that willeth, but of God which showeth mercy. Men like to question the wisdom and the righteousness of the Most High. But the truth cannot be changed. Joseph said it. Jesus said it. The Word continues to say it without ambiguity. God sovereignly chooses, redeems, and glorifies whom He wills. And God sovereignly reprobates, condemns, and destroys, in the way of their sins, those whom He wills. Because He is God! Is it not lawful for God to do what He wills with His own? Jesus said, “Even so, my Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Shall we also say, with humility and fear, “Even so!”
“We must seek peace, with all earnestness. Bitterness, ill will, malice, and love of dispute should never characterize a Christian in his defense of the truth. Instead, there should be a sincere interest in the honour of God and the well-being of our fellowmen. Paul says, “As much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men.”
Having then purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, will all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one-another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
And may the God of mercy and peace, the God of order and unity, grant that we may be of one mind and may together praise Him in unity of faith, now and eternally.” A. Kuyper
Editors note – This is the second and last installment of the article on John Huss written by Rev. Dale Kuiper.
It is important to notice here that Wycliffism died out in England shortly after Wycliffe’s death. The Lollards were soon stamped out by an inquisition-type suppression. His condemned writings no man dared print. However, the truths he developed were not to die out completely. By various means they were carried to Bohemia. We saw how his philosophical works were brought to Prague. In 1401, Jerome, inseparable friend of Huss, copied Wycliffe’s Dialogus and Trialogus and carried them to Prague. Therefore Huss had access to all the definitive works of Wycliffe. He studied them carefully, and with one exception, embraced them all. Huss could not break with transubstantiation, even though his accusers at Constance later seek to lay this to this charge as well.
As we said, Huss immediately becomes identified with the condemned Wycliffistic views. And due to this his life becomes stormy and short. Andrew of Broda said in 1414, “Because he was the advocate and defender of Wycliffe he went to the stake” (6, p. 44). Also, some of Huss’ enemies in Prague call him “a son of iniquity, a Wycliffite” (6, p. 48).
Huss’ difficulties begin with Zbynak, archbishop of Prague. After Zbynak changed his allegiance to Pope Alexander V, recently appointed by the Council of Pisa, he receives a bull to root out the Wyclilfe heresy in Bohemia. Zbynak burns Wycliffe’s books and bans Huss from preaching. However, Zbynak soon dies and Huss continues preaching, teaching, and writing. The newest pope, Pope John XXIII, had commanded a crusade against Ladislaus, king of Naples, because he refused to acknowledge him. Huss held a debate on the ethics of papal-inspired use of the sword. He also published a pamphlet, Questio magistri Johannis Hus de indulgentiis, in which he treats the same evil. (The material for this pamphlet was taken literally from Wycliffe’s de Ecclesia.) Informed by anti-Hussites, Pope John responds by placing all of Prague under int erdict.
With the entire city suffering from the lack of church services and facilities, friendly king Wenceslaus persuades Huss to go into exile in December of 1412. This lifts the interdict and allows Huss time to produce a Bohemian translation of the Bible and to write his de Ecclesia which W. Walker terms “essentially a reproduction of Wycliffe” (8, p. 304). Huss also busies himself by preaching in wood and field to the peasants. These peasants will later become the army of Ziska which fight the Hussite wars.
The Council of Constance is now fast approaching. Called jointly by Emperor Sigismund and Pope John, the council convened on Nov. 1, 1414. It had as its purpose the healing of the papal breach and the matter of church reform. As a secondary goal, it would also seek to end the Bohemian confusion. This was especially important to Sigismund, for as the brother of Wenceslaus, he stood heir to Bohemia and desired her to be purged of the blemish of heresy (2, p. 417). Accordingly, Huss is summoned to Constance.
Having secured the promise of a salvus conductus from Sigismund, Huss set out for Constance on Oct. 11, 1414. He did not actually receive the safe conduct document until after he arrived at Constance. Huss took up lodging at the house of an elderly widow. Soon his enemies spread the rumor that he had attempted escape, upon which he is arrested and held prisoner in three foul cells. Huss’ accusers had convinced Sigismund that he did not have to keep faith with anyone accused of heresy. Much later at Worms, Charles V is encouraged to violate the safe conduct he gave Luther. He replies, “I do not wish to blush as Sigismund did,” alluding to the behavior of Sigismund when confronted by Huss on the last day of his life (3, p. 106).
Huss has come to Constance willingly. He based all his hope on an open discussion of the issues. He felt that if this would come about he would be absolved. Once imprisoned, however, his chances for a fair trial became nil. His teachings were obnoxious to his age. Even such men as Gerson and d’Ailly of Paris, severe critics of papal abuses as they were, became Huss’ persecutors. They had only correction of administrative abuses in mind. To them, faith meant believing what the church taught. They would only be satisfied by a complete retraction by Huss.
The examination of Huss was conducted by commissioners or committees which visited him in his cells. It is interesting to note that the contents of these meetings were rarely doctrinal discussions, but usually attempts to gain a retraction. Huss consistently maintained that he could retract only if it were shown from Scripture that he was in error. D’Ailly once remarked that he should obey the decision of fifty church doctor’s and retract without question. This superficiality Huss deplored; he could hope for no justice from such men.
After many such attempts to persuade, threaten, and trick him into a retraction of thirty articles gleaned from his works, Huss is finally brought to the cathedral to meet the entire council. On July 6, 1415, after seven months of imprisonment, Huss obtains the meeting he looked forward to. But once inside he learns that this will never be. The meeting begins by sentencing Huss as a criminal and a heretic. When Huss attempts to reply, he is shouted down. His entire sentence reads, “The holy council, having God only before its eye, condemns John Huss to have been and to be a true, real, and open heretic, the disciple not of Christ, but of John Wycliffe, one who in the University of Prague and before the people declared Wycliffe to be a Catholic and an evangelical doctor” (7, p. 381). Thus, he was persecuted because he upheld Wycliffe, not because of clerical criticisms. The council then took from him his priestly garments and bound him over to the secular powers for the burning, since the church could not go beyond her powers by executing the power of the sword!
Not one person dissented; it was a unanimous decision. Nor has any action been taken to this day that admits of the error of the Council of Constance!
His strong faith in God and the conviction that his cause was the cause of Christ were never more evident than in the last few hours of his life. As the bishops assigned his soul to the devil, Huss commits his soul, to the gracious Lord Jesus. He sings hymns even as the wood and straw are piled neck-high around him. The flames choke him before he can sing the third time, “Christ, thou Son of God, have mercy upon me.” All his possessions are burned and with his ashes, cast into the Rhine. Thus ends John Huss.
If we turn to the writings of Huss, we notice that he teaches nothing that Wycliffe does not teach, with the exception of denying transubstantiation. At his trial he was also accused of teaching that after the consecration of the bread and wine, the elements remained. This accusation had no basis in the works of Huss, and shows that the church was battling tooth and nail, not Huss finally, but Wycliffism. Huss vehemently denied the charge. In the few instances that Huss attempted development of doctrine beyond the point reached by Wycliffe, he becomes dull and falters. His writings are more polemic in favor of the Oxford scholar than reformatory (2, p. 418). Thus when considered from the Reformation point of view, he is a very inferior figure. His best sermons and most learned quotations are all directly from the English evangelist. Only in his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, published for the first time in 1905, does he show originality and a knowledge of the whole of theology. More than anything else he is remembered as the advocate and example of the right of the individual conscience. Essentially then, there is no such thing as Hussism; rather it must he termed transplanted Wycliffism.
One question remains: what is the connection between the martyred John Huss and the reformation of the sixteenth century? He, along with Wycliffe, are often called forerunners of the reformation. Walker insists this is true only if we consider their general contributions to the unrest and dissatisfaction with the church which ultimately lead to reform. But they instituted
no doctrinal reforms. Rather they held to Middle Age doctrines. The important concept of faith was never understood or developed. The Scriptures were merely a law. Walker concludes by saying that the reformation actually owes little to Huss and Wycliffe (8, p. 306).
In the same vein, Harnack writes that “the Wycliffite and Hussite movement loosened the ground and prepared the way, yet it brought to expression no reformatory ideas.” (6, p. 292).
Further, in class notes of Sept. 23, 1964, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema maintains that there is no gradual development between Huss and Luther. The Bohemian uprising ran dead, just as Wycliffism died in England.
The more common interpretation of the relationship and function of Wycliffe, Huss, and Luther, is expressed in three medallions which have been preserved in the Prague Library. The first medallion shows Wycliffe producing sparks from a stone. The second portrays Huss kindling a fire from the sparks. The third has Luther holding aloft the resulting torch. This clearly is not the correct interpretation. To fan flames from sparks certainly shows progress and development, something which Huss never did in relation to Wycliffe. Further, Luther’s holding high this torch is not historically accurate either. Luther became acquainted with Huss’ writings after he began his reformatory work, and he never read Wycliffe (7, p. 387). Thus both the function and relationship are erroneous.
If Huss had carried his ideas of the ultimate authority of the Bible and the real constitution of the church to their logical conclusions, we could say that he was fighting against the Roman Catholic hierarchy. But this he never did. He believed devoutly in the virgin Mary, the worship of saints, and the seven sacraments. Concerning grace, faith, and works, he was not a forerunner of Luther, but rather echoed Aquinas. Thus with the view of Walker, Harnak, and Hoeksema, we must concur.
Huss’ place in history then comes into very clear focus. It is, very simply, to take the teachings of Wycliffe, which never took root in England, and spread them abroad in Bohemia and surrounding lands. Through his advocacy of these principles, they become the subject of discussion at councils, and thereby enjoy further dissemination, though infrequent acceptance. But especially in the minds of the peasants did these doctrines take root. This fact allows for a ready acceptance of the views of Luther in the next century. That these views form an essential part of the body of Luther’s teachings is seen from a quote from Luther himself: “Shamelessly (unawares) I both taught and held all the teachings of Huss: in short, we are all Hussites without knowing it” (6, p. 305). (Notice that word unawares.)
Looking back over five centuries of time, we see that God’s place and work for Huss were relatively small when considered against the broader and grander scene of the reformation. But we also see God preparing people and nations for the acceptance of true reformatory principles. This reformation will begin in Germany and culminate in Switzerland. This is God’s Divine Purpose concerning John Huss.
- Gillett, E. H. The Life and Times of John Huss. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1861,
- Jackson, S.M. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. V New York: Funk and Wagnallis. 1909.
- Kuhns, Oscar. John Huss, the Witness. New York: The Abingdon Press, 1907.
- Lutzow, Count. The Life and Times of Master John Huss. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1921.
- Roubiczek, P. and Kalmer J. Warrior of God. London: Nicholson and Watson. 1947.
- Schaff, David S. John Huss, After Five Hundred. Years. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915.
- Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Vol. VI. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Publ. Co., 1949.
- Walker, W. A History of the Christian Church, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.
- Wylie, J. A. The History of Protestantism, Vol. I. New York: Cassell and Co., Ltd., 1899.
The following article is the first of two installments taken from a paper written by the Reverend Dale H. Kuiper. It was originally written as a seminary paper, but is particularly appropriate at this time of year, and at this time in history, when the Reformation is so overshadowed by Halloween. Rev. Kuiper has graciously granted us permission to print this paper in two installments, the second of which will be followed, by the Bibliography. Ed.
History is necessity. Therefore we may ask the question, “why?” concerning historical
facts and expect pertinent answers. If history is decreed and necessitated, then events happen at certain places and at certain times for good reason; nor could they happen any other way.
The study of John Huss of Bohemia presents several such historical whys. Why did these events occur in Bohemia? Why did Huss appear in history? These questions are legitimate, and in the answering of them much concerning the man John Huss is clarified.
A study on so recent a personage as Huss presents no difficulty as far as research material is concerned. The great difficulty is to tear one’s self away from the numerous interesting events which surround his life. The vast amount of material in the English language demands a limiting of scope. This paper will deal only with the life, death, and work of John Huss. The fascinating wars waged by his followers and the dominant position of nationalism in Bohemian religion will needs lack full treatment.
JOHN HUSS: Reformation Forerunner?
Great events do not burst upon the scene of history but are the fruit of many year’s ferment; they are a long time preparing. That activities of a reformatory nature should occur in Bohemia implies a definite background. God does not accomplish His divine will supernaturally, but he uses men and institutions to bring His plan about. John Huss was born into a certain set of circumstances, prepared for him, and in which he would act. To understand his work, therefore, we must understand the background of Bohemia.
Bohemian history became intimately connected to that of Germany in 1310. Up to that time Bohemia was ruled by native kings. However, the male line died out, and a royal sister married John of Luxembourg. Thus a German potentate sat on the Bohemian throne. In 1346 Charles IV became king of Bohemia, and by later becoming emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, drew Bohemia into imperial politics (3, p. 25).
Under Charles IV, Bohemia was lifted to high, levels of culture, industry, and learning. He founded the University of Prague in 1348. To this university flocked students from all of northern Europe, including the British Isles. Kuhns gives the enrollment at Prague as 30,000 students with 200 doctors and 500 bachelors of art. However, most other writers say that this is a greatly exaggerated number. The university was founded with four faculties, theology, law, philosophy, and medicine, and was divided into four nations, Bohemian, Bavarian, Polish, and Saxon. This university and its structure play an important part in the life of John Huss.
Secondly, Bohemia was converted to Christianity much later than other European nations. She was not forced to adopt Christianity under force of violence as were the Franks and the Saxons. We may say that she greatly desired conversion, and therefore became better acquainted with the Christian Faith.
Then too, Bohemia was converted by missionaries, not from Rome, but from Constantinople. According to Nestor, a king of Moravia in 863 requested the following of the Greek emperor: “Our land is baptized, but we have no teachers to instruct us, and we have no translation of the Holy Scriptures. Send to us teachers who may explain to us the Bible” (9, p. 131). Cyril and Method were sent from Constantinople, and were instrumental in the Bohemian and Moravian conversion. Due to this, and also to its rather remote location, the church in Bohemia did not have strict Romish rules imposed upon it. She conducted her services in Bohemian rather than Latin, and priests were allowed to marry.
Two other factors complete the description of the setting into which Huss is born. Bohemia came under the influence of three preachers in the years immediately before Huss’ birth. Militz of Kremsier, Matthias of Janow, and Conrad of Waldhausen, during the years 1360-1375, openly preached against the iniquities of the church, even calling the pope anti-christ (9, p.132). The Bohemian population heard and accepted preaching which, criticized the pope, advocated a weak sort of Scriptural authority, and taught that the cup should be granted to the laity.
The last factor to be considered here is the influence of the philosophical writings of John Wycliffe. (It appears that his theological works did not appear in Bohemia until the time of Jerome.) In 1367, the University of Prague ordered the philosophy department to augment its teaching with the notebooks of the Paris and Oxford doctors. Late in 1411, Huss himself says that members of the university have been reading Wycliffe for more than twenty years (7, p. 359). Also, the marriage of King Wenceslaus’ sister Anne to Richard II of England allowed for a ready transfer of Wycliffism. The philosophy thus translated to Bohemia from England may be best termed realism in distinction from the nominalism which prevailed during the fourteenth century, especially in Germany.
This then is the condition of Bohemia at the time of the birth of Huss. It can readily be seen that the seeds of a great struggle had been planted for a period of centuries. Upon this scene comes a fearless preacher who, already from his youth, possessed a martyr complex.
Little or nothing is known concerning the early life of Huss. Wylie gives his birthdate as July 6, 1373, but the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia lists it as July 6, 1369. It is likely the later date, according to David Schaff, because then his age at the time of entering the, priesthood would be more in line with canonical age for that event (6, p. 19). Also, many writers say that the July 6 date is used only because it is the day remembered in Bohemia as the day he died in Constance. Whatever the case, historians agree that he was born at Husinecy, a small town on the Moldau River about seventy live miles from Prague. He took his name from this village, or possibly from a nearby castle.
In 1389 Huss began his studies at the University of Prague. Studying the arts, philosophy, and theology, Huss received the B.A. in 1393, the B.D. in 1394, and the M.A. in 1396. He never studied for the doctorate, and referred to himself as bachelor of sacred theology.
Biographers disagree as to the character and abilities of student Huss. Generally he is described as very average, graduating near the middle of his class. He is said to have led a spotless youth; later his accusers could lay nothing to his charge concerning his private life. He greatly admired the martyrs of the early church, and once thrust his hand into a fire to see if he possessed the constancy demonstrated by St. Lawrence. Not only did he possess ascetic tendencies, but it was his desire that he might take a place in history beside those who adorned church history with their steadfastness (1, p. 54).
Having received the M.A., Huss begins lecturing at the Prague University. It is during these first few years of his work that he gains wide popularity with the faculty, students, and common people. Even Aeneas Sylvius, who later curses Huss as a heretic, describes him as “a powerful speaker and distinguished for the reputation of a life of purity” (1, p. 48). Honors now begin to come to Huss in a flurry. Ordained to the priesthood in 1400, he becomes dean of the philosophical faculty the following year. In 1402 he served for six months as rector of the University, following a re-organization of the university due to difficulty in the student ‘‘nations.” Also in this year he is appointed as the pastor of the Bethlehem Chapel. This chapel was so named — House of Bread — so the preaching of the Word might be refreshment to the common and faithful people of Christ.
The Bohemian historian Palacky (6, p. 42) judges Huss’ sermons to be contrived to arouse reflection, to persuade, and to create a lasting impression. In this respect he was less stormy than his predecessors Militz and Konrad. Palacky also characterizes PIuss as bold and obstinate, and as having as his highest earthly goal the wearing of a martyr’s crown.
Before a year of preaching had passed, Huss became identified with Wycliffism. Had not this been the case, we may safely say that he would not have been a martyr. We make bold to say that all events subsequent to his pastorate at Bethlehem Chapel were determined by the fact that he embraced the teachings of Wycliffe. To better understand Huss from 1402 to his death in 1415, it is necessary to briefly discuss the views propagated by Wycliff’s at Oxford. To understand these views is to understand Huss.
John Wycliffe (1324-1384) wrote prolifically in several fields: as a schoolman, political reformer, pastor, and doctrinal reformer. To understand his impact on Huss, we need examine only his doctrinal tenets. These writings are divided by Schaff (7, p. 330) into five headings: the nature of the church, the papacy, the priesthood, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the use of Scripture.
Wycliffe believed the church to be the body of all the elect in distinction from the prevailing thought that the church was composed of friars, priests, monks, and prelates. He said that Christ was the head of the church, not the pope. Concerning the papacy, he had only words of scorn. The pope was synonymous with anti-christ in Wycliffe’s writings. He called the papal office poisonous and unnecessary. Nor could any Biblical grounds be found for it. He attacks the priests and monks by saying they would rather curse than bless. Nor is the practice of man confessing sin to another man anywhere taught in the Scriptures. He calls to task especially friars, those slavish agents of the pope’s will who spread false views of the eucharist.
Wycliffe showed the greatest courage when he attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation. He referred to this doctrine as a lying fable and a pronounced idolatry (7, p. 336). Over against it he asserted that Christ’s body was present in the bread and wine symbolically; they are the effectual signs of Him. He proves these points with Scripture and reason.
Certainly no other doctrine was as clearly developed by Wycliffe as was the authority of the Scriptures. In a thousand paged work, De veritate Scripturae, he maintains the absolute authority of Scripture for all things from salvation to logic. Further he believed in an open Bible, that is, all people should have the Bible to study in private. That this belief might be practiced, he translated the Latin Vulgate in 1382.
These are, briefly, the teachings of Wycliffe, teachings which were so clearly written that they could be grasped by a superficial reading. In 1382 at the Earthquake Synod in London, the teachings of Wycliffe were condemned. In 1413 a Lateran decree ordered his books burned, and the Council of Constance in 1414 exhumed his bones and burned them.
This speech was given by Rev. D. H. Kuiper at the 1967 Young People’s Convention Outing at Newton Hills, South Dakota.
Why should young people praise God, and God alone? Why should theology, and especially Protestant Reformed theology, concern itself with the honor and glory of God? Why do you as young people devote an entire convention to this subject? In the answering of these questions, we will at once produce the ground or basis for our doxology. There are, I think, primarily two.
In the first place, it is incumbent upon us to praise God, our Creator, due to our very creation. To see this clearly we better go back 6000 years to Paradise. Adam and Eve, in the state of rectitude, made in the image of God, possessing and enjoying true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, did nothing but raise one continuous anthem of praise to God. That was altogether proper for them. God placed Adam in Paradise to rule, and to be servant. Standing at the acme of creation, he was the mouthpiece through which the entire creation expressed the praise of its Maker. To this task he was totally consecrated in the perfect service of love. That was his task, his mandate. All this because of the position in which he, the creature, stood in respect to God the Creator. This applies to us of course. Sin and the fall did not change that. We as well as all rational, moral creatures must serve, and laud, and adore the one Almighty God of heaven and earth. We are His creatures; it is His prerogative to determine what we shall do. And according to all Scripture, He had determined that the works of His hands shall praise Him. So it is the very purpose of our existence to be vessels of praise unto God.
In the second place, and for us tonight, much more to the point, the basis for the ascription of praise to God is the work of the God of all grace, that is, the work of God through Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly it is the work of God in Christ that Peter has in mind in verse ten. And it is the consideration of that work which causes him to end on the high note of verse eleven, which Rev. Vanden Berg called to our attention last night. Further, it is exactly the work of Christ as He preserves us that we must notice tonight. Hence in the consideration of our preservation as the basis for our doxology, I call to your attention: Our Frightening Adversary, Our Gracious Preservation, Its Glorious Purpose.
I want to begin with a quote from Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, a book that many of you have read. Screwtape, an old experienced devil, is writing to Wormwood, a rookie devil, instructing him in the skills and intricacies of swerving a Christian from the faith. He is making the point that it is of great advantage to the devil if the Christian be not too convinced of the reality of devils. So he writes to Wormwood: “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and then persuade him that since he cannot believe in that, he therefore cannot believe in devils either.” So the idea of this advice is that if the Christian is not convinced of the personal reality of Satan and his devils, then Satan’s battle is more than half won. Do you believe in devils, young people? Are you convinced that they are just as real as you are? Or the person sitting next to you? Are you accustomed to think of him in very concrete terms? You should be, and you must be! The text speaks of the devil as something very real. And so does all of Scripture (recall the temptations of Adam and Eve, of Job, of Jesus Himself). A rather well established legend has it that Martin Luther once threw a bottle of ink at the devil in his study, Now, I don’t recommend that we start throwing things around, but Luther was greatly concerned about devils, sin, and the matter of justification. And so must we be! Remember, the devil is personally real.
Secondly, I want to point out briefly that our adversary is powerful. He is a spirit which gives him great advantage over us. He can come and go without detection. He can approach us without our knowledge. And not only can he approach us, but he can even enter into us. Because he is a spirit he has access to our hearts. He can penetrate our thoughts, and even control them to a great extent. Furthermore, he is not alone, but Satan the Adversary is captain of legions of devils. When he fell from heaven, he took with him a large number of fallen angels. These he directs as a master general. He sends his troops where the battle is the hottest. And where is that? at the United Nations, the World Council of Churches, at the universities and public schools of our land? in Hollywood and Paris, perhaps? Don’t you ever think it. In all these places things are well in hand — he needs only to look in from time to time to check the regress and the development of sin. But as Satan well knows, the battle is the hottest and the most difficult where the Truth is to be found. And there he sends his devil hosts. I shudder to say this, but it’s true and needs saying, you find the greatest concentration of devils in the Protestant Reformed Churches, and in its seminary and schools. And at this convention! I would even say that there has been assigned to each one of you for the duration of the convention a special devil. All because the adversary hates the Truth.
Thirdly, our adversary is pernicious and diabolical. The name Satan means slanderer; all he does is lie and falsely accuse. He slanders the church before the world, and he accuses us before our own consciences. He loves to remind us of our sins. To tell us that we are no better than anyone else; that we have no right to be saved, he wants to turn our eyes from the cross, don’t you see? And once we lose sight of the cross, of course, we’re miserable. Then his accusations seem to contain truth.
Fourthly, he is practiced. Practice and experience make finite a difference in most every area. In driving a car, playing various sports, dealing with people, doing our work, it is experience that separates the beginner from the expert. We are up against an expert who has practiced for 6000 years. He has made an extensive study of human nature. Generally, he knows all the quirks and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses of the human race; specifically, he knows you and your weaknesses. He knows when to be subtle, when to be bold, when to flatter and when to seek compromise. He is like a giant computer who has stored up all this information and has it all at his finger-tips, ready for immediate use. So the devil as such is personally real, is terribly powerful, is thoroughly pernicious, and is well practiced.
This adversary Peter calls “a roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour.” What a fitting picture! The king of the beasts, covered with sinew and muscle, strong of tooth and claw! The lion whose roar is enough to stop the heart, who is filled with cunning, and who is able to do pretty much as he pleases. And notice he roars. That roar indicates both fierce anger and enormous appetite. He is angry because he has been cast out of heaven and must now limit his nefarious work to the sphere of this earth. He has suffered one defeat after another — his massive pride is hurt. He is roaring mad! And hungry! His appetite will not be satisfied until he has devoured all the sheep of Christ. Oh, I know, the devil will eat most anything he can get his hands on, but over the years he has developed a special appetite for spiritually healthy, Christian young people, for young people such as you. You he seeks to devour.
You know, it wouldn’t be so bad yet if Satan always roared. The text does not mean to say that his method is always that of a roaring lion. The Dutch have a saying something like this: the devil doesn’t come on wooden shoes. You don’t always hear him clumping up to you. He also knows how to tip-toe. He knows, does this devil, how to appear as a lamb. Imagine! The father of the lie can appear as truth; the prince of darkness as the light. But nevertheless, the overall effect and net result is that he is a roaring lion.
The question that we must now face is; why is he our adversary? That question takes on added significance when we remember that he is the prince of this world, and we are of this world. Due to the fall and our sin, we are his rightful and loyal subjects. As you and I are by nature, we are of our father the devil. Don’t forget that. But why then is he our adversary, and why should he seek to devour us? The text says, “But the God of all grace Who has called you. . . .” That calling has established the adversity between the devil and us. As we were by nature, we were in the dark jungle with the roaring lion, we ran with him and delighted in his strength. We wallowed in the dark, miry swamps of sin. That was our natural habitat, and we loved it. But the God of all grace called us! Out of that jungle of sin and death, He called us into His eternal glory. That is, by His Word, out of pure grace, and through Jesus Christ, He actually moved us; He called us into His marvelous light. Do you see the picture? The picture is that of a great, dark, dense jungle. In the midst of the jungle is a little clearing, and that tiny clearing is bathed in light. In the beautiful, dazzling light of God’s eternal glory! In the light of Truth, and of His revelation and fellowship! In that bright circle of light stand you and I. The calling has placed us there. And all around us? Darkness, and the roaring of the lion. That is always the picture of the church in the midst of the world. Therefore it is because of the calling, that gracious act of God in Christ that illuminates our hearts and minds and places us in the light of God’s presence — it is because God has set His love upon us—because He has formed us for His peculiar people — that the devil esteems us as most delectable food. He is our adversary because He hates God, and he hates Christ, and because he sees in you the life of Christ.
That’s the enemy. Certainly nothing that we can take lightly. A roaring lion is not something that you play around with, not if you have an ounce of sense. Lions, and devils, play for keeps. For the devil knows that he has but a little while to win you over. He knows that the end is near when his defeat shall be total and absolute. I have purposely sketched this dreadful picture of the adversary at length in order that we might see our gracious preservation for what it is. It is from that enemy that we are kept safe! What does that mean?
Does it mean that the roaring lion has no access to us? That he cannot touch us at all? Don’t you ever believe that! It is certainly the experience of every child of God, and of young people especially, that the devil is able to touch us and affect us. To continue in the language of the figure, the lion is able to claw us a bit, to put his teeth marks on us. He is able to tempt us, and to cause us to fall into sin temporarily. That’s just what he wants you to do here at Hull. He doesn’t want this convention to be a spiritual mile-post in your lives, but rather a time of empty fun. So he places in your minds the idea that now that we’re away from Mom and Dad we can kick up our heels a bit. Those thoughts are of the devil! He doesn’t want this convention to be a demonstration of the unity of faith and lose which we possess together, hut rather he is working in you to cause division and heartache and pain. He wants you to shun certain people, to be a respecter of persons, to make a few feel like outsiders. That too is of the devil! Just let me remark here that if there is one person that comes to this convention and is left out in the cold, is ignored, is not caught up in all the activity and joy and fun, then this convention is a failure. And Satan’s purpose will have been accomplished.
Further, that devil may be able to cause our faith to waver in its consciousness. He might even be so successful that we begin to ask ourselves the questions: Do I have faith? Am I in Christ? Do I belong to Him? Have you ever asked those questions? I have. That devil can touch us.
But, young people, that’s as far as he can go! Oh, he is powerful, but he is not omnipotent. There is one infinitely greater than he. That is the God of all grace and all glory! All power and dominion is His! By Him kings rule and princes decree! And by Him the devil roars and seeks to devour! The God of our text, our God is in sovereign control of every person and event. And thus Satan himself, unwilling servant though he be, can only serve the purpose of our Father’s will. What frustration that must cause the devil — no matter what he does or what stratagem he tries — he fails, and he serves God’s purpose. No wonder he roars! And what blessed comfort this truth presents us! Our Father Who loves us controls the roaring devil!
How does this preservation come about? in order to reveal His grace, God has given all authority in heaven and on earth to Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Thus it is Christ that sustains us in the faith and keeps us. He is the Lord from heaven. He is greater than every foe. He dwells in us with His mighty Spirit so that our faith in its essence never fails; we are not devoured. And that Spirit is never taken away from us! So we never plunge ourselves to everlasting destruction, as surely would be the ease if we had to meet the accuser alone. We never commit the sin unto death. But rather, time and time again, we are renewed unto repentance and sorrow over sin. And finally, because that Spirit of Christ is in us, the roaring and the attacks of the devil can only serve to drive us closer to Christ and closer to God! The more the devil seeks to swallow us up, the more we are driven into the arms of Jehovah! Jehovah, who is a strong tower into which the righteous may run and be safe! What a blessed truth that is! I thrill every time I think of it! God uses Satan to bring us close to Himself. That’s His grace and His wisdom . . . and His glory!
To us that might seem like a strange way to work. But that’s because we don’t understand God’s thoughts — they are too high for us. Nevertheless, God uses the devil, temptations, all these bloody encounters, in order to perfect the work which He has begun in us. He uses all these to beat down our pride, for we are proud, until finally and at long last it has been reduced to nothing. Then we cry out: the God of all grace is All and I am nothing! When we ourselves are weak, and when we see ourselves to be nothing, then is our faith strong! And then is God glorified!
Which is, of course, the glorious purpose. The purpose of our whole lives, of everything. Every step of the way through which God leads us affords us abundant reason to glorify Him. He has called us into His eternal glory and caused us to taste the blessedness of His covenant. He works in us to perfect us, to stablish, strengthen, settle us. Even the devil himself must serve that work. Again and again we are made to see that we cannot stand on our own two feet, but that we need Him! Every experience of life is designed to teach us that.
As we see that, and as we learn that, then the doxology Soli Deo Gloria becomes our doxology. For then we see that God is God, that He has done and is doing wondrous things! For even though we must suffer for a while, yet in the way of that suffering He is leading His church into the perfection of His covenant. What then is the basis for our doxology? The grace of God, as it is revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord! He is worthy of all praise both now and forever more! I thank you.
As we worked our way through the middle chapters of Genesis in December, we saw the Lord establish a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants and give them prosperity in the land of Canaan. But in these final chapters of Genesis, God providentially uses the dramatic events of Joseph’s life to guide the family […]
Who am I? What is my purpose on this earth? Why is everything the way that it is? These are the kinds of questions that often trouble young people as they become more independent from their parents, enter the world of college or career, and make major life decisions such as choosing a spouse, a […]
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 […]
The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]
As we examined the first eleven chapters of Genesis last month, we took note of the fact that the book of Genesis is theological, meaning it helps us to grow in our knowledge of God. In addition, we noted that the book of Genesis is historical, meaning that the events chronicled in it are the […]
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 […]
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 […]
Although it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been immersed in news coming from Japan about the 2020/2021 Olympic games, it’s still worth considering how these events are understood in the modern worldview of our country. The “Top Story of the Day” on Monday, August 9 (at least according to my newsfeed), was how […]
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 […]
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 […]