It was the sixth day of history. God had just created Adam out of the dust of the ground. He had just brought to him the animals to be named, impressing upon him his need for a wife. He had just put Adam to sleep and from a rib made Eve. He had just brought the two of them together in the first marriage ceremony. Now God gives important, timeless instruction for marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
The importance of this passage for marriage is evident from the fact that it is repeated often in the Bible (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-8; Eph. 5:31). Recognizing the importance of this passage, some have referred to it as “God’s blueprint for marriage.” Just as the blueprint is essential for the home being built, so is this passage essential for the marriage that is being built. There are two important steps in this blueprint: leaving and cleaving.

First, what does it mean to leave father and mother?
It certainly does not mean that we are utterly to forsake our parents. When we are married, we must still have an attitude of respect for them, and we may even have the responsibility of caring for them when they are old and sick.
Neither does leaving father and mother simply mean that children move out of the house when they get married or move a long distance away from their parents. There are some people who have moved to the other side of the world and still have not left their parents. And there are others who live right next door to their parents and have truly left father and mother.
Leaving father and mother involves a radical change in your relationship to your parents. Before, you were under their authority and dependent upon them, but now that changes. You are no longer under their authority as you were before. You are not dependent upon their affection, assistance, and advice anymore. You establish an adult relationship with them, a relationship more on the level of friends.
It can be a temptation, often early on in marriage, for married couples still to cleave to father and mother. This can be done in any number of ways.
Married persons might be slavishly dependent upon their parents for advice and help. It certainly is not wrong to be close to your parents and even ask their advice about certain things. But a wife might wrongly talk to her mother about all sorts of intimate things without ever talking to her husband about them. And a husband might wrongly talk to his dad about an issue he is having without ever talking to his wife.
Another way this is done is by married persons living for their parents’ approval. She might want to have the perfect, Joanna-Gaines-inspired home and the model children so that her parents approve. He wants to make a lot of money, have a successful career, or follow in the family business to make his dad happy.
This might show itself in trying to change your spouse to be what your parents want. The husband might try to change his wife so that she is just like his mother, and a wife might try to change her husband so that he is just like her dad. He might tell his wife that she’d better cook the way his mother does, and she might tell her husband that he has to be handier around the house like her dad.
Our failure to leave father and mother might show itself in the way we think and act. A husband might do certain things because that’s the way his dad did it, and a wife might do certain things because that’s the way her mom did it. When they get into an argument, the husband blows up in anger because that’s the way his parents handled their issues, but the wife bottles up and runs away because that’s the way things were dealt with by her parents. He has no problem spending money because that’s the way it went in his house, and she is extremely tight because that’s the way her parents were.
When children don’t leave father and mother (and when the parents don’t let them leave!), it is disastrous for a marriage. Marriages are being torn apart at the seams because couples have foolishly refused to leave father and mother.
If you are dating or engaged, be ready to leave father and mother. And if you are already married, be sure that you have left father and mother. For the sake of the marriage!

The second step in God’s blueprint for marriage is that couples cleave to their spouse. God’s purpose in their leaving is their cleaving.
To “cleave” means to cling to something, to hold it very close to you, and to protect it with your life. Husbands and wives must cling to their spouse, hold them so close, and protect their relationship with their lives. This means that our primary concern as a married person is for our marriage. This is what receives the most attention. This is where we find the most joy. This is where we share ourselves. This is where we look for guidance, advice, encouragement, and comfort.
What this reminds us is that real love in marriage is selfless commitment. Real love in marriage is not primarily a feeling, because feelings come and go. There are times in marriage where our spouse annoys us, gets on our nerves, and sins against us. If love were only a feeling, then our marriages would collapse. But love is more than a feeling; it’s a commitment to cleave to each other, in good times and in bad.
Husbands and wives have the calling from God to strive to be one in marriage. On the one hand, their oneness is a reality in marriage. This is an amazing miracle that God performs on their wedding night. On the other hand, this oneness is something that must be worked at. Couples must constantly be working toward a greater oneness in thinking and desiring, in shared hopes and disappointments, in labors and goals, in possessions and interests. They cannot coast along, but must constantly be working at their marriage. Every marriage is either moving toward isolation or toward oneness. We must be intentional and proactive in cleaving to one another.
How practically do we cleave to one another? Here are a few suggestions:
Recognize and root out all the things that get in the way (e.g., pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, breaking of trust, anger, busyness, independent lives).
View your marriage as a top priority, your most important earthly relationship, even more important than your relationship with your children.
Spend time together.
Converse constantly. Quality time is not spent binge-watching Netflix but talking.
Grow together spiritually. God is the one who unites us together, and if we are not growing in our walk with him, then we cannot expect to grow together.
In the way of our leaving and cleaving to one another in marriage, we enjoy the blessing of peace and joy in our marriages. Think about what happens when we live opposite of the way God commands. When we fly in the face of God’s blueprint for marriage, we invite disaster. When we leave and cleave, this does not mean that we will be without sorrow or struggle in marriage. But it does mean that God will cause us to truly enjoy oneness and joy in our marriages.
And in living this way, God will be glorified in our marriages. This is his ultimate goal in marriage. His purpose is not first of all our happiness, but his glory. God is glorified when we live faithfully in marriage. This is the case because in that way we reflect something of who God is. Our commitment to each other in marriage is a witness to the world of God’s commitment to his chosen people in Christ. Our sacrificial love for one another in marriage is a witness to the world of God’s sacrificial love for us in Christ. The blessedness and joy that we experience in marriage is a witness to the world of the blessedness and joy that is found only in God.
For the sake of God’s glory, follow God’s blueprint for marriage! For the sake of the exaltation of his love for us in Christ, leave and cleave!

“Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward received me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23–24)

In Psalm 73 the inspired psalmist Asaph reveals a painful struggle of faith that he endured. He speaks of how he was brought to the point of despair when he considered the life of the ungodly. He saw how they enjoyed riches and pleasure and how they seemed to have no cares or worries (vv. 3, 5).
And then he compared that with his own life. His life was filled with many sorrows and afflictions (v. 14).
In these circumstances, the psalmist responded in a sinful way. He was angry with God. He doubted God and his love and goodness. He even despaired of living as a child of God any longer (vv. 2, 13).
As Christians, we know that our life is not going to be easy and free of sorrows. Some of you may not be experiencing that presently, but you know that someday you will. For others of you, you are there right now. You are hurting deeply. Some of you have been hurt by living in a bad home with fighting parents. Some have had a parent abandon and leave you. Some of you have had a parent die. Some have been deeply hurt by things said or done to you. Some are dealing with sickness and constant pain, even one young woman who couldn’t come to convention because of leukemia. Some are discouraged and disappointed because their plans have not come about. Some come from churches that are deeply troubled. Some are hurting because they are lonely and have no friends. Some are struggling with feeling like they have no gifts.
Our struggles increase when we compare our life to the life of others. It seems like no one has it as bad as we do.
Like Asaph, we are tempted to respond to these hard circumstances in the wrong way. We are tempted to be angry with God: “God, why would you do this to me!” We are tempted to doubt God and his goodness: “God must not love me if he has sent this into my life!” We might even be tempted to despair of living as a Christian any longer: “What’s the use! If God doesn’t care about me, why not live how I want to!” This is one of the most powerful and difficult temptations that the child of God faces. We respond so easily in the wrong way.
The proper way to respond to these things is taught in vv. 23–24. We respond by filling our mind with thoughts of God. Rather than listening to ourselves (our feelings, our self-pity), we preach to ourselves the truth of who God is and what he has done for us. There are three things we are to fill our minds with.
Fill your mind with the thought that God is guiding you by his counsel (v. 24a).
A guide is a person that knows a certain path and helps lead someone that does not know the way. Think about a white-water rafting guide. He maps out the path through the rapids and rocks, and then he leads the inexperienced rafter through the river.
God is our guide, and he guides us by his counsel. This means that God has planned all of the details of our life in his counsel. God’s counsel is his eternal, perfect plan which determines everything that will occur in time and history. From eternity God not only planned the details of the creation and history broadly, but he also planned the details of our lives. He planned when we would be born, how long we will live, where we will live, how tall we will be, what calling we will have, whether we will marry or not, and the number of our children we will have. His counsel includes even the seemingly small and insignificant details of life: how many hairs are on our head, every little twitch and movement we make, and so on.
Having determined all things about us in eternity, God now guides our life according to that plan. He leads us every step of our journey according to his eternal plan.
This is so important to remember in our struggles. We need to remember that these things do not come by chance and at random. They are not a mistake. God didn’t mess up or get it wrong. But we are being guided by the counsel of God.
We don’t always understand these things. God’s counsel is mysterious (cf. Isaiah 55:8–9).
But we believe that God’s counsel is wise and good. Because God is wise and good, his counsel also is wise and good. He directs all things in a perfect way to reach the highest goal: his glory in our salvation.
Fill your mind with the thought that God loves you and is with you always (v. 23).
We must not imagine God’s guidance to be that of a cold and distant God as if he made his abstract plan in eternity and then watches from afar as it plays out. God’s guidance of us is that of a warm, personal, loving God who is present with us.
The reason why we are continually with God is because God is continually with us. God has established his covenant with us and has drawn us to himself. This means that God is with us and we are with him.
And this is the case always. God’s covenant is unbreakable. Once we are in God’s covenant, we are always in God’s covenant. He is with us, and we are with him at all times.
This gives us comfort in so many difficult circumstances of life. God is with us when we are a single and are lonely. God is with us when our family and friends forsake us. God is our Friend who never leaves us, forsakes us, disappoints us, betrays us, lets us down, or hurts us.
We have this comfort because of Christ. He felt what it was to be forsaken by God at the cross, when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Because he was forsaken, we are never forsaken.
So close is that presence, that the psalmist says, “…thou hast holden me by my right hand.”
Think about how an earthly father holds the hand of his child. He holds the child’s hand as they’re walking simply so that the child knows they are together. When there is something that scares the child, the father holds on tight to the child’s hand.
In the same way God our Father places our hand in his hand and holds us tightly. This is the expression of his tender, fatherly love for us. We are with him always, because he is always holding our hand. What a comfort when we are going through some dark time to know that our Father is holding our hand! O how great is his love that will not let us go!
Fill your mind with the thought that God is leading you to glory (v. 24b).
When the psalmist speaks of glory, he is referring to the heavenly life that awaits us at the moment of death. When we die, we will be taken to life in heavenly perfection. This will be a life without any more sorrow or suffering or sin. We will be delivered from the battles against the devil, from our wearisome labor, from the dark clouds of doubt and fear that descend. But the greatest joy and blessing is that this is life with God.
This will be glory. The word for glory refers to something that is heavy or weighty. Something that is heavy is not cheap, flimsy, or passing. It is something solid, something expensive, something that lasts. That’s the glory that awaits us. It is not cheap, flimsy, or passing. But it is solid and lasting. It is of infinite value because it was purchased with nothing less than the precious blood of Christ.
When the text uses the word “afterward” it is indicating that there is an inseparable connection between our trials and glory. It is not simply the case that trials are followed by glory chronologically or that the trials are outweighed by the glory. But the truth is that the trials are the necessary way to glory. God uses the trials to prepare us for glory. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Trials strengthen our faith and draw us closer to God. They loosen our grip on the things of this earth and make us look heavenward. They cause us to see our sins and turn from them. In these ways, God uses the trials to prepare us for glory.
The trials that God sends are difficult. They make us hurt, and grieve, and feel overwhelmed. And we don’t always understand why God does what he does.
But in faith and dependence upon him, we submit to his way for us. We measure what he sends not by how much it hurts but by the outcome. We live in the hope that in heaven we will see that we did not have one trial too many. All were necessary to lead us to glory.
Receive the trials God’s sends in that way. Walk by faith, and not by sight. When we walk by sight and not by faith, then we stumble and despair. But when we walk by faith and not by sight, we will receive strength to bear those trials. Trust God in the dark.
With your mind filled with these thoughts of God, press on! Press on in the knowledge of God’s guiding counsel! Press on in the knowledge of God’s loving presence! Press on in the hope of glory!

This article is an adaptation of a speech given on August 17, 2016, at the Young Adults Retreat held at Lake Okoboji, IA. 

Psalm 8:3–4: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him.”

Imagine David as a young shepherd boy in the fields of Bethlehem, keeping watch over his flocks by night.  He is lying on his back, surrounded by his sheep, gazing up at a clear night sky.  Or picture David as king in his palace in Jerusalem.  He is on his rooftop at night, not looking across at his neighbor’s wife, but up into the night sky to drink in the beauty of the moon and stars.  It was a scene like this that led David under the inspiration of the Spirit to cry in astonishment, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”

Like Psalm 19 (the theme passage of the retreat), Psalm 8 is generally about the creation.  But Psalm 8 has a different emphasis.  While Psalm 19 speaks of the creation generally, Psalm 8 emphasizes God’s creation of and provision for the highest of his creatures: man.

Although there is this difference between the two psalms, both have the same major theme: “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”


In one of the versifications of Psalm 8 we sing, “When thy wondrous heavens I scan, then I know how weak is man.”  That is one of the important truths that comes out of this psalm: the smallness and insignificance of man.

This is plain when we simply consider who we.  We are weak, easily laid low by the smallest bugs and diseases.  We are limited: limited in ability, limited in knowledge, limited in strength.  We are insignificant, one person amongst billions upon the face of the earth.

But this is also something that God impresses upon us by means of the heavens (vv. 3–4).  Think about the size of the earth.  Then think about how the earth occupies just a small place in our solar system.  Then think about how our solar system makes up just a small part of our galaxy.  Then think about how our galaxy occupies just a small part among the many galaxies in the universe.  When you think about that, what impression are you left with about yourself?  How small and weak man is.  We are nothing in comparison to the heaven.  We are a puny, insignificant speck of dust.

This is something that has always impressed me about Northwest Iowa.  When you stand outside during a clear summer day, the sky feels so big and open and impressive.  And the same is true at night; you go outside and gaze up into the vast, inky sky and see thousands of stars shining brightly.  And there is a thought that rises unavoidably to the forefront of the mind: I am nothing.

How humbling!  This is contrary to the attitude of the world (including the worldlings competing recently at the Olympics) as they strut with their chins in the air and their chests puffed out, boasting that man is might.  This is contrary to my self-important, self-confident, self-seeking attitude.  When we consider the heavens, and when we truly examine ourselves, we see that there is no room for pride in our lives.  We are puny, insignificant, weak creatures of the dust.  This ought to humble us deeply so we cry, “What is man?  Who am I?”

How humbling, but also how amazing!  The Creator is mindful of us puny creatures so that we are in his thoughts – how amazing!  The Preserver visits us, sustains us, provides for us, bestows life and breath, food and drink, health and strength – how amazing!  Stand in awe and amazement that God would condescend to us: “Who am I, that thou art mindful of me?”

The fact that God condescends to us is even more amazing when we consider how highly he has exalted us.  He does more than feed and clothe us like the birds and lilies; he has given us honor unmatched.

There are two parts to our exaltation.  First, God has exalted us in our creation. “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (v. 5).  The word “angels” is actually the word “God.”  Sometimes in the Bible the word is used to describe beings other than God (cf. Ps. 82:1, 6), but ordinarily it refers to God.  However you take it, it still describes the exaltation of man.  God made man lower than himself and a little lower than the angels.  Man is the highest of all earthly creatures.  What distinguishes us from the animals is that we have a soul, a spiritual dimension, that makes it possible for us to stand in a relationship to God and the angels.  And the explanation is that God created man originally in his own image.  This is the crown of glory and honor with which we were crowned.  From a spiritual point of view, we were the children of God and looked like him.

Second, God has exalted us in our position.  “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet…” (vv. 6–8).  In the beginning God gave to man dominion over the creation (Gen. 1:26, 28).  As the highest of all earthly creatures and the one made in God’s image, God entrusted to man the rule of the creation.  God made man to rule as king over the creation under God, in that way bringing the praise of the whole creation to the Creator.

How humbling!  Not only does he think of and care for us puny creatures, but God has seen fit to create us a little lower than the angels, crown us with glory and honor, and give us dominion over all the works of his hands.

How amazing!  What condescension of God in exalting insignificant creatures so highly!


But there is more to Psalm 8 than a description of God’s original, glorious creation of man.  There is a description of a higher mountain peak of glory here, but to reach it we have to descend from the mountain peak of our original creation and pass through a deep, dark valley.  To appreciate fully the amazing condescension of God described in this psalm, we have to be reminded of the sad and shameful story of the fall.

Much of what has been said so far was true of us at creation, but is no longer the case.  God made us in his own image, but we have lost the image of God and have taken on its opposite: the image of the devil.  God gave us dominion over the whole creation as kings under him, but now we press the creation into the service of self and sin and Satan.  God crowned us with glory and honor, but we have abdicated that crown and lost that glory.  This took place when we fell into sin.  When Father Adam and Mother Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and rebelled against God, we sinned in them and thereby fell from that original state of honor and glory.

But that took place according to the sovereign good pleasure of God in order to raise us to a far higher glory in Christ.  Psalm 8 is a Messianic psalm.  There are a number of times that this psalm is quoted in the New Testament as applying to Christ (cf. Matt. 21:15–16; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8–9).  Jesus Christ is “the son of man” (Ps. 8:4).  He was made a little lower than the angels when he took upon himself a human nature and was born of the virgin Mary.  He entered into our shame and humiliation and went to Calvary in order to make atonement for our sins.  And having made perfect satisfaction there, he arose victorious from the grave and ascended into heaven where he was crowned as King of kings and given rule over all things.  And he will come again as King to create a new heavens and earth where his kingdom will be fully realized and he will have dominion over all things.  Christ is crowned with the greatest glory and honor.

By his saving work he causes us to share in that glory and honor and dominion.  Although we are undeserving, God is mindful of us and visits us with his salvation and love.  Although we lost the image of God at the fall, he recreates us in his image and crowns us with a greater glory and honor.  In Christ the King we reign over all things now.  This creation is our rightful inheritance.  All things work together for our good.

This is something we will enjoy fully at the return of Christ.  When he returns, we will be crowned with the highest glory and honor.  We will be like Christ, bearing perfectly his image in perfection.  We will receive the new heavens and earth as our inheritance where we will live and labor in the service of Christ.  We will be given rule over all things with Christ.  We are sons and daughters of the King, destined to reign with him forever!

How humbling!  Who am I that God would choose to crown me, an undeserving sinner, with the highest glory in heaven?

How amazing!  Who am I that God would be mindful of me and visit me with his salvation in Christ?


But, in the end, Psalm 8 is not about man and his original glory, or even the church and the glory of her salvation.  In the end, Psalm 8 is about God and his glory.

This is the theme of Psalm 8.  This is how it begins (vv. 1–2), and this is how it ends (v. 9).  Some commentators are confused and say that there are really two themes running through Psalm 8: the glory of God and the place of man in his creation.  But this is not true.  There is one theme that runs through this psalm, and it is the glory of God as he reveals it in the honor he bestows upon man.  The second idea is intended merely to serve the first and most important idea of the excellency of God.

Therefore, it would be wrong for us to end our consideration of Psalm 8 by talking about man and his glory.  Then we’ve missed the whole point of the psalm.  We have to end by talking about the glory of our God.  This is what we constantly need throughout our life: a glorious, expansive view of our God.

Everything that’s been said so far about us ought to lead us back to God.  When we see the honor which God originally gave to man, we remember how puny man is in comparison to the heavens.  Then we are led to consider how puny the heavens are before the God who has “set [his] glory above the heavens” (v. 1).  The glory of man is a drop in a bucket compared to the exceeding greatness of the glory of the Creator.

What is true in creation is also true in salvation.  The glory with which God crowns us is not our own but his own glory.  And though he crowns us with great glory and honor and gives us dominion over the new creation, we are still lower than the one who is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

Our response to the vision of God’s glory we receive is to glorify him.

As you consider his glory in the works of his fingers in creation, praise him: O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

As you consider his glory in how he has made you, praise him: O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

And as you consider his glory in how he has remade you and glorified you in Christ, praise him: O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!


*Rev. Engelsma is pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, IA.

As Reformed Christians, we give thanks to God that we stand in the line of the great 16th century Reformation.  But when we trace our spiritual heritage back to the Reformation, we recognize that there are a number of intervening links in the chain.  Not only did Christ reform his church in the 16th century, but he has carried on that work of reformation in the 500 years since then.  The watchword of the church of Christ on this earth is and must always be: “Reformed, and always reforming.”

One of the links in that chain is the Afscheiding (Secession), the reformation of the church of Christ in the Netherlands beginning in 1834.  The Reformed Church in the Netherlands had apostatized in the 200 years after the Synod of Dordt, but through the Afscheiding Christ brought her back to the pattern that God had ordained in his word.  For this work Christ used a number of God-fearing men, men whose names ought to be familiar to every student of church history: De Cock, Scholte, Brummelkamp, Van Raalte.

And Van Velzen.

His Life

Simon van Velzen was born on December 14, 1809, in Amsterdam.  He was baptized and raised in the apostatizing state church, which he was destined by God to reform.

With his five siblings, Van Velzen received his early education from his father, who ran a boarding school in the family home.  Early on it became evident that young Simon had been given outstanding gifts and abilities by God, so his parents destined him for the ministry, eventually enrolling him at the University of Leiden to prepare for this calling.

As a young man, Van Velzen lived at times like his riotous and ungodly fellow-students.  But God brought about a drastic change in his life.  Before he could begin his studies at Leiden, the southern part of the Netherlands (modern day Belgium) revolted, and the country was plunged into war.  Dutch soldiers were called up, and Van Velzen volunteered to fight.  During the interludes between battles he spent his time reading God’s word and other Reformed books.  Van Velzen later described the effect this had on him: “While I was examining myself and looking for salvation, I searched the Word of God as I had never done before.  And then to me the way of preservation was opened, then to me the Savior – who was before hidden from me – was revealed with clarity in my heart, and I found in Him my righteousness and strength.  I felt myself also to be in full agreement with the confessions of the church, and I found there my own faith expressed.”

Van Velzen returned to the University a changed man.  He befriended several other godly young men, and together this “club” studied God’s word and the Reformed confessions and grew in their knowledge of and love for the Reformed faith.

After he graduated in the spring of 1834, Simon began his ministry in a small village in Friesland.  Van Velzen faithfully carried out his labors as a minister of the word, and the people there loved and respected him.  But he did not keep quiet about the problems that were going on in the denomination; he raised objections to the false doctrine that was being promoted.  This did not sit well with the state church, and disciplinary actions were taken against him in the fall of 1835.  Finally, on December 11, 1835, Van Velzen seceded from the church along with twenty-eight other members.

Due to the shortage of ministers among the churches of the Afscheiding, Van Velzen was called to pastor the whole province of Friesland.  For over three years he served the Frisian churches devotedly, traveling constantly through the countryside preaching the gospel and organizing new churches.  During those early years Van Velzen endured much persecution: worship services he led were broken up by the authorities, mud and insults were slung at him and his family, and outrageous fines were levied against him.

In 1839 Van Velzen left Friesland and accepted a call to serve the congregation in Amsterdam, where he labored for the next fifteen years.

Van Velzen was a gifted and powerful preacher.  It was said of him that “he has inspired enthusiasm, awakened a warm spirit in many hearts, and poured soothing oil on stinging wounds.”  He preached wherever and whenever and to whomever he could.  He preached in church buildings and in barns, in open fields and in boats on the water.  He preached early in the morning (once at 4 a.m.) and late into the night.  He preached to small groups of people and to crowds of 500 people or more.  He preached in large cities and in small hamlets, tirelessly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When the churches of the Afscheiding established a seminary in 1854, they recognized Van Velzen’s gifts and chose him to be one of the first professors.  Van Velzen served as seminary professor until his retirement in 1889 when he was eighty years old.

During his lifetime, Van Velzen married three different times, but each wife was taken from him in death.  From these marriages, he received a number of children, and these children were present when on Good Friday, April 3, 1896, Van Velzen breathed his last, extolling God’s “wonderful grace.”

His Reforms

Let’s look briefly at the specific areas in which God used Van Velzen to bring reform.

First, Van Velzen brought about reform in the church’s worship.  Specifically, he opposed the use of Arminian hymns in the worship of the state church.  In addition to the Psalms, the church had introduced a number of hymns, some of which had an Arminian slant.  Van Velzen was opposed to these hymns.  He recognized that the use of them opened the door to false doctrines being sung into the church.

One story best illustrates his opposition to these hymns.  One Sunday evening a large crowd of people came to hear him preach.  The sanctuary was bursting at the seams, so a decision was made to hold the service in the cemetery outside of church.  When it came time to sing, Van Velzen announced the required hymn, but he quickly noticed that a number of people began to walk away in disappointment.  He immediately told the congregation that they were no longer going to sing the hymn but were going to sing Psalm 68 instead.  The people who had left came filing back among the gravestones, and the congregation sang this psalm with tremendous gusto.  The very next night, Van Velzen’s wife was giving birth, and the local doctor was summoned.  After the child was born, the doctor turned to Van Velzen and told him that the previous night he could hear the words of Psalm 68 rolling over the countryside to the neighboring town where he was attending to another patient.  So loudly and lustily did the congregation sing that night!  More than anything else, this event convinced Van Velzen that it was not right to force hymns upon his congregation.

Second, Van Velzen brought about reform in the area of church government.  One of the issues that plagued the churches of the Afscheiding was whether or not to use the Church Order of Dordt.  The Synod of Dordt not only produced the Canons but also wrote a church order.  Van Velzen and his fellow reformers wanted to return not only to the doctrines of Dordt but also to the polity of Dordt.  So at their first Synod, held in secret in March 1836, Van Velzen and the other delegates decided to make use of the old Church Order of Dordt.

A third area of reform in which Van Velzen was involved was the area of doctrine.

First, Van Velzen was committed to the confessions produced by the church at the time of the Reformation:  the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt.  His love for the Reformed faith was evident at his classical exam.  During the course of the examination, Van Velzen expressed his belief in the doctrines of election and reprobation.  His examiners were astounded by what they heard, “Where did you learn that?  You certainly were not taught that by the professors at Leiden?”  To which Van Velzen replied, “Certainly not!  The professors never taught me that, but that is the teaching of the Canons of Dordt!”

Later in his ministry, Van Velzen penned a work on “The Value of Symbolic Documents [i.e. Creeds].”  “In opposition to the dry, comfortless opinions of adversaries,” Van Velzen wrote, “the symbols [creeds] present the most glorious truths; they provide weapons against attacks; they provide warnings against errors; and they have already been a blessing for thousands and thousands of individuals.”

A second instance of Van Velzen’s efforts to the reform the church in her doctrine was in a controversy over the doctrine of the covenant.  In 1861, two ministers published a book on infant baptism and the covenant.  In this book they introduced the idea of a conditional covenant made by God with all the children of believing parents.  Van Velzen opposed this false doctrine, and in its place taught the truth of an unconditional covenant established with the elect.  But try as he might, Van Velzen was not able to eradicate the noxious weed of a conditional covenant from the churches.  The result has been the development in our own day of the conditional covenant teaching of the Federal Vision.

His Significance

Van Velzen’s greatest strength was that he had an unwavering and resolute character.  Many do not consider this to be a strength, but rather criticize Van Velzen for being “unyielding, obstinate, and domineering” and charge him with being the chief troublemaker in the churches of the Afscheiding.  Admittedly Van Velzen exercised his zeal in a wrong way at times, but this man was a staunch, unwavering watchman on the walls of Zion.  God gave to him a heart-felt zeal for the truth and a desire and ability to defend that truth against all attacks.  “No!  No!” he later wrote, “Not even one truth that has been entrusted to the church may be abandoned!  If the Forms of Unity are pure, biblical doctrine, and if the truths therein contained are necessary and beneficial unto salvation, then complete devotion to them cannot be unwholesome.  We must instruct and warn with all longsuffering, but we must never tolerate error.”  One writer later described him as a man who “desired to maintain, defend, and develop the old Reformed theology.  He held fast the line of the Reformation without deviating an inch.”  He was “the Calvin-figure” of the movement.

This “Calvin-figure” ought to be of interest to Reformed believers in this country.  Although he never set foot in America, Van Velzen influenced the Reformed men and women who came to this country from the Netherlands.  Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as other Reformed churches, trace their spiritual ancestry to Van Velzen.

Although we are thankful to God for using this man, our interest is not in the man himself, but in the work of God through him.  The question that comes to us is this: Are we truly thankful?  Is our gratitude a matter of lip service, merely building the tombs of the prophets and garnishing the sepulchers of the righteous?  Or are we truly thankful for the work of God in reforming his church?  Are we willing to fight for the truths that the reformers maintained and developed?  Are we ready to teach them to our children and grandchildren and pass them on to the next generations?  Are we zealous to live these truths out in our daily walk in this life?

This is a sign of true children of the Reformation!

Every soldier in the U.S. Army can appreciate a seasoned general’s battle plan, one that pinpoints the enemy’s defenses and places him in the best position to gain the field.  Every collegiate basketball player can appreciate a savvy, veteran coach’s game plan, one that shows how best to stifle the opponent on the defensive end and expose him on the offensive end.

So also is it important for us to have a battle plan as we carry out our calling to be holy.  The Christian life and experience is a war.  We are engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the devil and the world, but I have in mind especially the spiritual war that takes place within every child of God between the old man and the new.  As soldiers in the army of Christ called to fight this daily battle, we need a battle plan, the believer’s battle plan.

Know the Enemy

That battle plan, in the first place, exposes the enemy within.  There are especially two important things that we need to know about ourselves.

First, we need to know that we are dead (Col. 3:3a).  Paul is not referring in that passage to the fact that we are dead in sin and totally depraved, but we do need to begin there.  By nature sin is our lord and has a claim upon us.  Sin demands that we obey.  And we are sin’s slaves.  We willingly serve sin and do all things for it.  All our life is determined by Lord Sin.

But we are dead!  We have died and are no longer under the service of that lord.  That lord no longer has a claim upon us.  No longer does he have dominion and rule over us, and we no longer are his slaves.  We no longer render service to that lord. Where once our whole life was determined by sin, now no longer is that true.

We are dead because of the death of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:20).  When Christ died on the cross and made atonement for our sins and sinful natures, he put sin to death.  And from the moment that he applies that saving work to us by his Holy Spirit, we are dead to sin.

The second important truth that we need to know about ourselves is that we are also alive.  We are dead, and our life is hid with Christ (Col. 3:3b).  Christ is our Lord, and he has a claim over us.  He demands that we obey him.  And we are his slaves, quickened and made alive so that we are able and willing to serve him.  The life of Christ is the power in us.  That life has dominion and rule over us.

We are dead because of the death of Christ, and we are alive because of his resurrection (Col. 2:13; 3:1).  When he went through death and rose again on the third day, we also died with him to sin and arose with him.  Through his resurrection we have the holy life of heaven in us.  It is this new principle of life that rules and has dominion over our lives.

This is who we are!  When someone asks, “Who are you?” your and my answer is, “I am dead to sin and alive to Christ!  Sin is not my lord and has no claim over me.  But I am the willing servant of the Lord Jesus.”  Despite the presence yet of the old man, we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.  The new man reigns in us.

This provides proper self-esteem.  Not the self-love that the world promotes, but healthy self-esteem wherein we know God’s esteem of us in Christ.

But perhaps you wonder, “Why then do I still sin?  When I examine myself, I see all kinds of sins.  But I thought I was dead to sin?”  This is the case because of the way in which God carries out his work in us.  When God applies the work of Christ to us at our regeneration, he does not remove the old man.  Neither does he improve or reform that old man so that we are without sin.  When he regenerates, God gives to us a new principle of life that exists alongside of that old man of sin.  The old man and the new man exist in you and me at the same time.

This knowledge provides the basis for our pursuit of holiness.  This truth shows us that holiness is possible.  We are dead to sin, and we are alive to Christ.  The old man, although present, does not rule in us, but the new man does.  Therefore, we are able to put off the earthly and sinful and seek those things which are above.  This truth also forms the basis for the command of God to be holy.  God calls us to be holy, because we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.  God says, “You are dead to sin.  Now, be who you are, and fight against sin.  You are alive to Christ.  Now, be who you are, and live in devotion to me.”

Know How to Fight

The second part of our battle plan teaches us how to fight and engage in the battle.

In deep humility, we must first acknowledge that we often don’t engage in this battle and don’t strive after holiness as we should.  The excuses are legion.  We might say, “But Christ did it all.  He finished the work of salvation, so away with any talk of holiness.  To speak of my living in holiness is a threat to salvation by grace alone.”  Or this: “Living a holy life makes me stand out at work and school.  Others laugh at me and mock me.  I am not going to do that again.”  Or this: “Being holy is impossible.  All of my best works are as disgusting rags, so why even try?”  And then there is this unspoken, yet real excuse: “I am simply too tired and lazy.  Living a holy life is hard work, and I don’t like hard work.  Besides, I secretly love that sin, and putting it off is too painful for me.”

But our King calls us to holiness.  And that requires a radical, flesh-killing, sin-destroying, lust-quenching, warrior-like mentality.  This mentality starts by knowing our sins.  Each one of us must know our own, specific nature and our own particular besetting sins.  We must know the strategies of the old man, and how he has attacked in the past.  This means that we must constantly be in God’s word, and constantly seeking to examine ourselves in the light of that word.  As we examine ourselves in the light of the word, we also must be diligent in praying the words of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139: 23–24).  We need God to show to us the sin that we cannot or will not see.  It is easy for us to overlook our sins, to excuse a certain sin as not being that serious, to justify what we have done because of our circumstances.  But a radical, flesh-killing, sin-destroying, lust-quenching warrior sees his sins and acknowledges them as such.

Seeing and acknowledging our sins, we mortify them by sorrowing over them and hating them.  There is such a thing as insincere sorrow, a “sorrow of the world” (2 Cor. 7:10) which is only a sorrow over the painful consequences of sin.  True sorrow is a sorrow not merely over the consequences of sin but over the sin itself.  We are grieved because we have provoked God, our Father, who is gracious to us and faithful to us in his covenant.  Taking this view of our sins, we start to despise and detest them as the hated enemy in our spiritual warfare.  We hate those sins that we used to love because they are abhorrent to our Father.

Finally, engaging in the battle against the enemy within involves the actual fleeing from sin and fighting against temptation.  The sorrow of heart and hatred for sin must produce the actual turning from sin.  In warfare the man who flees from the enemy is a coward, but that is not the case in our spiritual warfare.  The man who flees from his sin is not a coward, but rather is a hero of faith.  This means putting up barriers and boundaries where we know we are weak: thinking about something pure, talking about something else, going somewhere different, shutting down the computer, unplugging the TV, deleting the app on the cell-phone.  Don’t try to ignore your sin.  Don’t justify it.  Don’t tolerate it.  Don’t cherish it.  Don’t feed it.  Don’t make a truce with it.  Kill it.  Crush it.  Starve it.  Exterminate it.  Destroy it.  Repent and flee from it.

Know What to Expect

The last part of the believer’s battle plan is intended to send us off to war with a realistic expectation of what we are going to face.

First, expect this to be a daily battle.  Every day, from the moment you get up in the morning until the moment your head hits the pillow again at night, you are called to fight.  There are certainly times when we wish that we could have a break, when we wish that sin would retreat for a time so that we can relax.  But there is no reprieve, no sabbatical, no time off.  Every day we find ourselves on the front line of this great conflict with the calling to fight.  So every day we must strap on our armor, take up the shield of faith, grip the sword of the Spirit, and go war a good warfare.

Second, expect this daily battle to be difficult.  Every day until we die or Christ comes again, we are going to face a violent attack from our enemy within.  That old man will always be attacking the new man in Christ, seeking to get his hands around the new man’s neck and wring the life out of him.  In this war there is going to be blood, sweat, and tears.  There are going to be times when we fall and are laid low by a sin.  And there are going to be times of success and advancement.  But there is always more fighting to do, more blood-thirsty enemies to be on guard against, more deadly assaults to ward off.  This is going to be the hardest, most difficult thing you will ever do.  Expect it.

Third, because this daily battle is difficult, expect gradual progress.  At times this is not so easy to see.  Often we feel as if we can hardly make any progress.  We have all sorts of sins that we constantly fall into again and again.  And the moment we think one sin has been put to death, another crops up in its place.  The temptation is to doubt and despair and give up.  But what we need to recognize is that holiness is a slow and gradual process.  This work of God in us is not finished in a moment.  It’s not finished in a day, or a month, or even a year.  As Calvin once said, “This military service does not end except by death.”  But recognize too that God does put to death the corruption of our flesh.  He does give us the victory over our sins now in a continual, yes, sometimes slow advance.  He cleanses us of our filthiness and sanctifies us in order that we may repent of our sins our whole life long.

Fourth, expect to make this gradual progress through the use of the God-provided means.  It might seem obvious or might be something that you hear drummed into your ears over and over again, but the way in which God strengthens us for the fight against sin is by reading our Bible and praying.  Through reading the word God shows to us our sins and the path of holiness, and through prayer he strengthens us by his Spirit to live holy lives.  Another important means is having good friends, friends who are not afraid to talk about spiritual things, friends who can keep you accountable, friends who love you enough to point out your sins.  The most important means is your church membership.  As a member of a true church of Christ, you sit under the preaching of God’s word, which is the power of God unto salvation, and you also receive the sacraments and enjoy fellowship with and encouragement from other like-minded saints.  Make use of these means!

Fifth, in this difficult battle, expect victory.  That victory is due only to the cross of the Captain of our salvation.  We can be exhorted all day to be holy, but there is no possibility of progress apart from the cross.  There Christ took our old man of sin and nailed him to the tree, putting him to death.  Although we still have that old man, he is an enemy over whom we already have the victory. We start to experience that victory now already, because we do see progress in holiness.  The sorrow for sin is greater, the hatred is more vehement, and the fleeing is more urgent.  We can look back at our lives and see that God has given to us the victory over certain sins and we have made progress in other areas.  This is not reason for boasting or for slacking, but for perseverance.  The cross is the certainty of our final victory also.  For now we belong to the church militant, the church that is at war.  But we are confident that when God takes us in death, we will be taken into the church triumphant, the church that rests from her fighting in heaven.  Our life now is one of constant battle against sin and one of constant sorrow over it.  But in the life to come, there will be no more sin and no more sorrow, for God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.  The warfare is difficult, but the cause is worth it!

Onward, Christian soldiers!


This is the revised version of a speech given on April 7, 2015, at the young adults retreat hosted by Loveland Protestant Reformed Church.  The theme of the retreat was “Our Calling to be Holy” from Colossians 3.

Only a boy named David.  And yet prepared by God as a boy for his future work, work that included leading God’s people Israel as king, as well as writing Psalm 23, the theme of this year’s convention.  It is this preparation of David by God that we consider now.

There are especially two events recorded in the Bible in which we can see evidence of how God prepared David at a young age for his work  (1 Sam. 16–17).  In the first scene, we are taken to a grassy hilltop surrounded on every side by more rolling hills, by green pastures and quiet streams.  Nestled there in the hills is the little village of Bethlehem.  Standing on that hilltop, leaning on his shepherd’s staff is a boy, handsome and youthful, but toughened by the hours spent outdoors and the encounters with wild animals.  Scattered around this boy is a flock of sheep, well-fed and cared for.  As the boy stands watch over his sheep, a messenger arrives and tells him to hurry to his father’s house.  The boy shoots off and arrives at his father’s house panting and sweating, only to be greeted by a strange scene.  There stand his seven older brothers and his aged father, with surprise written on their faces.  But another old man is there as well.  His name is Samuel, and, the moment the shepherd boy arrives, Samuel takes the horn of oil in his hand and pours it out upon the boy’s head.  While his undoubtedly angry and jealous brothers look on, that young shepherd boy is anointed king of Israel and filled with the Holy Spirit to qualify him for this task.

Fast forward a few years.  Now you are standing on a ridge, looking across a valley at the camp of the hated Philistines.  You are filled with fear because for thirty-nine days now a ten-foot giant named Goliath has stepped into the breach and reproached Israel and her God.  Now it is day forty, and Goliath is at it again.  But this day is different.  After Goliath stomps forward and opens his mouth, someone steps forward from the ranks of Israel.  As you look closer you notice that it is not even a soldier, but it is only a young shepherd boy with nothing in hand except a sling.  But that boy is not afraid; he rebukes Goliath and tells him that the vultures are going to feast on the bodies of his comrades today.  And then that sling goes round and round, and the giant comes tumbling down with the shepherd’s stone in his enormous forehead.  And just as quickly the shepherd boy removes the giant’s sword and lops off his head.  Certain defeat has become a resounding victory, thanks to that young boy.

Obviously, the young shepherd boy in both scenes is David.  And in these two events – his anointing by Samuel and his defeat of Goliath – we see David prepared by God for his future work.

There are five points worth noting about God’s preparation of David.

First, David was a young man raised in a covenant home.

Before discussing his family, it is worth noting that David was a young man at the time these two important events took place.  In 1 Samuel 17:33 Saul says to David, “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.”  In verse 42 we read that Goliath “disdained [David]: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.”  The Bible does not tell us exactly how old David was, but he was certainly in his teens and probably no older than 18 or 19 years old.  That is, David was about the same age as you young people.

This teenage young man grew up in a covenant home.  The story of this covenant home began with David’s great-grandparents, Boaz and Ruth.  The Moabitess Ruth was born and raised in idolatry, but by God’s grace she became a woman of great faith.  Recall her stirring words to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Intreat me not to leave thee…thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…” (Ruth 1:16–17).  This God-fearing woman married Boaz, a man who was equally as God-fearing.  Together they established a covenant home in Bethlehem where God blessed them with a son (Obed) and grandson (Jesse).

Jesse continued the covenant home begun by Grandpa Boaz and Grandma Ruth.  He married a young woman, and he and his wife established their own God-centered home on the family inheritance in Bethlehem.  God caused David to grow up in a large family, for he gave to Jesse and his wife ten children: eight sons and two daughters (1 Sam. 17:12; 1 Chron. 2:13–16).  Interestingly, Jesus Christ also grew up in a large family with at least seven other siblings (Mark 6:3).  Jesse and his wife taught David and his nine siblings the word of God and spoke to them of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people Israel.  They guided those children to walk according to God’s law and disciplined them when they strayed.  Because of this God-fearing instruction, David had a great love for his parents.  When he was forced to live life on the lam because of Saul’s persecution, David made sure to protect his aging father and mother from the murderous king (1 Sam. 22:3–4).

Through the means of those God-fearing parents, David was prepared for a life of service to God.  The same is true today.  God is pleased to raise up spiritually-minded young people from the covenant homes of God-fearing parents.  This does not mean, of course, that God cannot raise up strong young people from unbelieving or spiritually-weak homes, but this is the exception.  The rule is that God uses the means of covenant parents giving instruction in a covenant home to prepare young people for a life of service to him.  That is reason for you young people to give thanks, for God has placed you in such covenant homes.

But it is also something which you ought to remember as you begin dating and having some fleeting thoughts of marriage.  Your marriage and the covenant home you will establish is the means which God uses to raise up God-fearing generations.  Especially you young women ought to remember this.  God is especially pleased to use you—your rearing of the children God gives, your faithful instruction and care day after day as a mother in the home—to produce spiritually-minded children and young people.  Ordinarily, God calls a young woman to be a wife and mother in the home, not to be a career woman.  This does not mean that you young women may not or cannot go to college or get a job.  But if God sees fit to give you a husband and children, he is pleased to use your faithful instruction of those children in the home to raise up a God-fearing generation.  What a blessed calling that is!

Second, David was prepared through his labors as a shepherd.

As the youngest of Jesse’s sons, David was assigned the task of caring for his father’s flocks.  His care for those flocks gave to him an understanding of the nature of sheep; bove all he learned that the predominant characteristic of sheep is their absolute dependence upon a clever, compassionate shepherd.  This knowledge prepared David for his later work of guiding God’s flock Israel.  He knew that Israel, like his father’s sheep, needed a shepherd to guide and protect them.  And David learned as well that from a spiritual point of view he and all God’s people needed Jesus Christ, the powerful yet compassionate Shepherd.

Not only was David prepared by learning the nature of sheep, but he also grew and developed the nature of a shepherd.  There was a two-fold aspect to this nature.  First, David was prepared at this time to be a courageous fighter.  It was required of a shepherd not only that he feed and guide the sheep, but also that he protect them from ravenous lions and bears.  He must be willing to fight for the lives of the little lambs.  And David certainly did, as he tells Saul: “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him” (1 Sam. 17:34–35).  David was also called upon to ward off the thieving bands of Philistines that encroached upon his family’s inheritance.  This is very likely the reason why David earned a reputation in Israel as “a mighty valiant man, and a man of war” (1 Sam. 16:18).  By defending his father’s flocks and fighting against these enemies, David was prepared to be a strong, courageous defender of God’s people.

But there was another side to David’s nature.  Not only was he a valiant fighter, but David also possessed a spiritual, meditative spirit.  He was not always called upon to fight lions and bears; much of his time was spent silently observing the flocks.  This gave David ample opportunity to become a “cunning” harpist (1 Sam. 16:18) and accomplished writer of songs and poems.  During these long hours David spent his time meditating on God’s word as he had heard it from his parents and as he saw that word revealed in the spacious heavens, grassy pastures, babbling brooks, and woolly sheep.

There is a sense in which every young person ought to be characterized by this double-sided nature.  We need to have the nature of courageous warriors.  Our battles, of course, are not physical ones against lions, bears, and uncircumcised Philistines; we “wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12), but against a host of spiritual enemies: the devil and his demons, the wicked world, and our own sinful flesh.  And we fight against these enemies not with swords and shields or even with slingshots and stones, but with the spiritual armor spoken of in Eph. 6 and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  We need to be courageous in these battles and valiantly fight against these enemies that seek to destroy us.  We need courage to stand alone, as David did.  When everyone else shrinks in fear, we do not fold, but we fight.  We fight now, as young people.  This is not something that we do only when we get older, but this is a battle we wage already now when we are young.

But we must have that spiritual, meditative spirit as well.  We read God’s word and meditate upon it.  We study that word and hide it in our hearts.  We go to that word for comfort and encouragement, and we speak that word to one another.  In this way we will have the strength to be courageous warriors.  David found the strength and courage to fight by meditating upon God’s word, and we too are able to stand against our enemies only if we learn to wield that powerful sword of God’s word.

Third, David was prepared by God in such a way that he stood in a right relationship with God.

This is evident, first of all, from the fact that David was filled with a burning desire for the glory of God already at a young age.  That was his motivation in going up against Goliath.  David did not fight the giant out of a desire for personal glory or even to receive the reward that King Saul promised, but he stepped into that valley with Goliath because the he had reproached the God of Israel (1 Sam. 17:26, 36, 45).  David told Goliath that he intended to feed the Philistines to the vultures in order that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”  He went on to say, “And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:46–47).  To put it simply, David was willing to go toe-to-toe with that giant because he was a “God-intoxicated man.”  This was something that the enemies of John Calvin threw in his teeth because of his desire for God’s glory.  But what they intended as ridicule could not have been higher praise.  That was the case with David as well.

The question is, “Are you a God-intoxicated young man or young woman?  Would someone say that of you or of me?”  If they looked at you—how you act, how you talk, how you dress, with whom you hang out, what you do for fun—would they say that you are filled with a desire for God’s glory as the teenage David was?  Or is it the case that you are self-intoxicated or pleasure-intoxicated?

Not only did David seek the glory of God as a young man, but he also had a firm trust in God.  It is not surprising that David is listed with the other heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, but what might be a bit surprising is that David manifested this strong faith at a young age.  He had this faith when he chased down a lion and a bear, and he had this faith when he confronted the giant.  David said to Saul, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).  And then he said to Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (v. 45).  At both of these times, David saw himself as a sheep.  He was the little lamb that needed to be delivered from the paw of the lion and the paw of the Philistine.  And he trusted in God as his shepherd to deliver him.  And without this experience, David never could have written Psalm 23.  David’s confession that he is the sheep and God is his shepherd is not merely intellectual but arises out of his own experience.  In this way too God was preparing David for his future work.

God is our shepherd as well.  He is our strength and defense, our shelter and comfort in times of need.  He gives to us the gift of faith so that we trust in him as little lambs trust in the Good Shepherd.

Fourth, God worked in David’s heart at a young age a heartfelt love for the church.

This love was nurtured in David through his compassion for the sheep and lambs of his father’s flock, and this translated into a love for the sheep that belonged to his heavenly Father.  David exhibited this love for the church in his battle with Goliath.  David was chiefly motivated by a desire for God’s glory, but he was also driven to fight by his love for the church.  Not only had the giant reproached God, but he had also “def[ied] the armies of Israel” (I Sam. 17:10).  David says in v. 26, “What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  By referring to Goliath as that “uncircumcised Philistine,” David does not intend to ridicule the giant, but rather he points out the fact that Goliath stands outside of the covenant of God and does not belong to the covenant people of God whom he has reproached.  David fights in order to remove this reproach.

This love of David for the church ought to characterize all God’s people.  As young people this love for the church ought to manifest itself in your being members of a true instituted church and by making confession of faith in that church.  Love for the church means that you do not leave the church for a boyfriend or girlfriend, for a college education or a job offer.  Your love for the church shows itself by your attendance at the worship services of that church.  This might mean that you do not accept a certain job opportunity or pursue a certain career path because it prevents you from worshipping God on the sabbath day.  You show love for the church of which you are a member by speaking well of her to others and by refusing to allow others to speak reproachfully of her.  This love shows itself in your desire to be instructed in the truths taught in that church.  This especially means faithful and (dare I say it?) enthusiastic attendance at the catechism classes.  As young people, your love for the church also manifests itself in your active involvement in the life of the church.  Besides your involvement in the young people’s society, you ought to take part in the activities and functions of the church and especially ought to seek out opportunities to give of your time and abilities to serve the other members of the congregation.

Finally, David was prepared by God to be a type or picture of Jesus Christ.

When we consider the life of the young man David as we have done, there is instruction for our lives.  David was a king and outstanding type of Christ, but he was first of all a believer and a sinner.  That is David’s perspective in Psalm 23; he writes not as the shepherd but as one of the sheep.  “The Lord is my shepherd,” David sings, “and I am one of his sheep.”  David is therefore an example to us.  But even when we consider David as an example, we ought to see that David’s great faith and mighty deeds were all done in the power of Jesus Christ.

But David is much more than an example.  He was prepared by God to be a type of Jesus Christ.  He was prepared at a young age to be the great warrior king who would deliver God’s people from their enemies.  In David, then, we see Jesus Christ as the high king and captain of our salvation who has defeated all our enemies by his death on the cross.

Not only was David prepared to be a type of Christ, but even in the preparation itself we are pointed to our Savior.  Born in the little village of Bethlehem, raised in a covenant home by God-fearing parents, claiming only humble origins, faithful in the seemingly menial tasks—young David in every way pointed to the humble birth and early years of Jesus.

But especially in his calling as a shepherd does the young man David direct our gaze to the good shepherd, Jesus Christ.  Our strong and loving shepherd leads and protects us his sheep now in this life, and he will lead us for all eternity to the fountains of living water and will cause us to dwell forever in our Father’s house.

Only a boy…but what a Savior to whom he points!

Dear Young People’s Societies (and supporters):

I just wanted to give you a quick update on some of the things that your Federation Board is up to right now.

One of the most important (and most enjoyable) aspects of the Fed Board’s work is the oversight of our magazine, Beacon Lights. I am happy to report that the Beacon Lights Staff is to a point where they need monthly meetings. Our editor-in-chief and the newly organized Staff are making good progress and the work they are doing is very encouraging. One thing worth mentioning is that the Staff just launched a Facebook page. Assuming that most of you young people have Facebook (a safe assumption, I believe), I would encourage you to check out their page so that you can receive updates on the Beacon Lights as well as post any questions or suggestions that you might have for the Staff.

There has been one Staff change in the last few months. After many years of faithful service, Mrs. Jeanine Huizenga has decided to step down as the business and subscription manager of the Beacon Lights. If my information is correct, these two positions were essentially thrust upon her many years ago, and since then she has capably carried out this work. We express our hearty thanks to Jeanine for her devotion to the Beacon Lights and for her years of faithful labor. Thanks also to Ms. Laura Kaptein for agreeing to take up this position. Any questions about finances or subscriptions should now be directed to her. Recently the Fed Board began the annual process of nominating new members to serve on the Fed Board. Letters should be winging their way out to prospective nominees right now, and, if they agree to be put up for nomination, you will vote for the next members at the convention this summer.

The convention this year will be hosted by our Randolph PRC. It will be held from August 8-12 at Green Lake Conference Center in Green Lake, WI, which is only a half-hour drive north of Randolph. The speakers this year are Revs. Brummel, Holstege, and Key, and they will be speaking on the theme “Lessons from the Life of Joseph.” If you want more information on Green Lake Conference Center, check out their website

One quick note about upcoming conventions: Hope (Walker) PRC is making plans to host the 2012 convention, and we have just received word that South Holland PRC has agreed to host the convention in 2013.

By the time you read this you will be close to the end of your society season. I hope that your discussion this year was profitable and pray for God’s blessings on the remainder of the season. We’ll see you this summer at convention!

In Christ,
Joshua Engelsma, Federation Board President


So far we have seen God’s work of grace in the lives of five young church fathers: Timothy, Athanasius, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus. Now, there is one more tale that must be told. And this tale might very well be the most outstanding of all. This is the story of the Afscheiding, the Reformation that took place in the Netherlands beginning in the year 1834. This is especially the story of the wonder of God’s grace through six young men who led this Reformation.

The situation in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands in 1834 was bad. Real bad. In name this was the church of the great Protestant Reformation and that “most holy synod,” the Synod of Dordt (1618-19), but in actuality there was not even the slightest resemblance. In the two hundred years between the Synod of Dordt and 1834, the church had become lazy in doctrine and in discipline, and she had become thoroughly liberal and apostate. This was all solidified in 1816 by the king of the Netherlands, William I. William replaced the Church Order of Dordt with a new order that gave him power in the church. He put the church under the control of the Dutch government and made all appointments to the church’s broader gatherings. He also had the Formula of Subscription rewritten so that the Reformed Confessions, especially the Canons of Dordt, would only have to be adhered to if the ministers judged them to be faithful to the Bible.[1] For example, if a man cooked up the nonsensical notion that the doctrine of election and reprobation taught in the Canons was not found in the Bible, he could preach against that doctrine and still be considered a faithful Reformed minister.

Things were bad indeed!

The time was ripe for reformation.

It was then that God began to raise up the man that would spark this Reformation: Hendrik de Cock. De Cock attended the Reformed seminary in Groningen and was ordained into the ministry in the Reformed Church in 1523. It is indicative of how bad things were in the Church that De Cock became a Reformed minister without ever reading the Three Forms of Unity or John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. But he did. After his ordination, De Cock served two different congregations before accepting the call to serve the congregation in the city of Ulrum in 1829.

It was here in Ulrum that God worked a powerful change in the life of this liberal minister. In God’s providence, de Cock came across the Institutes in a fellow pastor’s study and read it vociferously, and he also read the Canons of Dordt. He was also influenced by one of his simple yet faithful parishioners, a man by the name of Klaas Kuipenga. Kuipenga told de Cock these memorable words: “If I must add even one sigh to my salvation, then I would be eternally lost.”[2] God used all these things to work a mighty change in de Cock, and soon his congregation noticed a change in his preaching. He preached the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation and all the other grand truths set forth in the Reformed Confessions. Soon hundreds of spiritually-starved saints were flocking across the Dutch countryside to Ulrum to hear the pure gospel of grace preached.

De Cock’s preaching did not go unnoticed by the authorities for very long. The local government officials were very nervous about so many people gathering in the church Sunday after Sunday. The church officials were upset too, especially because de Cock was preaching against the heresies that had overtaken the church. What finally touched them off was de Cock’s practice of baptizing infants of those who were not members of his church and his outright refusal to sing hymns because of his firm conviction that they brought Arminianism into the church. De Cock was eventually suspended from office, and the broader church assemblies began the process of deposing him from the ministry altogether.

De Cock humbly submitted to his suspension for over a year. During this time he was not allowed to preach to his congregation but had to sit quietly and watch while liberal ministers occupied his pulpit and filled the people with their lies. When Hendrik P. Scholte, a minister who was sympathetic to de Cock, came to supply Ulrum’s pulpit on Sunday, October 12, 1834, he was not allowed to preach in the church. A service was held in a nearby field instead, but this was the breaking point. De Cock could keep silent no longer. On Monday, October 13, 1834, de Cock and his consistory signed an “Act of Secession or Return,” separating themselves from the apostate state church and forming again a true, instituted church of Christ.[3] Prof. Hanko captured the humble beginnings of this reformation well:

The reformation of 1834 in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands began in a dark and smoke-filled consistory room of a country church of no importance where five men gathered to sign a single sheet of paper to protest what had happened to their minister.[4]

The next day the majority of the congregation in Ulrum signed the document. The Reformation was now officially underway.

At first, de Cock and the congregation at Ulrum were alone, but it did not stay that way very long. Scholte was the next to follow, only two weeks later. Scholte had been educated at the bastion of liberalism, the university at Leiden. He was well aware of the heresies taught by his professors and often skipped their lectures. While at Leiden, he gathered around him a group of spiritually-minded students which became known as the “Scholte Club.” Together they learned the Reformed faith and encouraged each other to remain faithful to it. In the Club were all the future leaders of the Afscheding: Antony Brummelkamp, Simon van Velzen, Albertus C. Van Raalte, and Georg Frans Gezelle Meerburg. All of these men except Van Raalte were ordained as ministers in the state church. By 1835, they had all left and joined de Cock.

Each of the members of the Scholte Club was different. Scholte was the unquestioned leader of the group and was the first to join with de Cock. But he was very independent and taught erroneous views on certain points which led to his deposition from the Afscheiding churches in 1840. Scholte eventually immigrated to America and set up a colony in Pella, Iowa. The group remained fiercely independent and died out with their leader.

Brummelkamp was a more moderate man who was always trying to keep the peace between the reformers. He was also one of the ones who worked with the state church to gain acceptance for the Afscheiders. He was one of the first professors appointed to the Afscheiders’ new seminary in Kampen, but it was largely due to him that the error of the well-meant offer of the gospel entered these churches.

Meerburg was another peace-loving man, so much so that he has been called “the Melanchthon of the Secession,” after the peace-at-all-costs friend of Luther, Philip Melanchthon.[5] Meerburg’s influence was limited because he died already in 1855.

Van Raalte was never ordained in the state church, but he was examined and approved by the first synod of the Afscheiders held in 1836. Van Raalte eventually left the Netherlands with a large group of followers and set up a colony in Holland, Michigan. He played an important role in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches and is worthy of special note.

Van Velzen was by far the most orthodox of the group. When de Cock died in 1842, van Velzen became the unquestioned leader of the Seceders. He was the greatest theologian of the reformation and maintained an unconditional covenant and the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation. Two interesting facts about van Velzen: first, he and Brummelkamp and Van Raalte were all married to sisters from the de Moen family and therefore were brothers-in-law; second, at eighty-three years of age he presided at the synod of 1892 when the Afscheiders and Abraham Kuyper’s Doleantie merged into one denomination.

Together, these men brought God’s spiritually-starved people out of the corrupt state church and filled their souls with the bread and water of life. They preached the gospel. They rejected hymns. They refused to allow the government to interfere in the church. They restored the precious heritage that is the Reformed confessions. In so doing they were kicked out of the church where they were born and raised. They were mocked and ridiculed by their former colleagues. They were heavily fined, beaten, and even imprisoned, all for the sake of the truth. Yet they refused to give in. They knew the people needed to hear the comforting gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was truly an amazing work of God in these men!

This work of God is even more magnified when we consider how old these men were. As one historian wrote,

Viewed from a historical distance, they tend to be pictured as men with long white beards. The assumption that they were venerable fathers is enhanced by the fact that their movement was a conscious return to long-cherished confessions and traditions. It may well come as a surprise, then, to learn that the average age of these six leaders at the time of the secession was twenty-seven years.[6]

None of these reformers was an old man. De Cock was the oldest of the group, and in 1834 he had just reached the ripe old age of 33. Scholte was the next oldest at 29. Meerburg was 28; van Velzen was 25. And Brummelkamp and Van Raalte were only 23. These men could hardly grow a beard much less sport a “long white beard”!

These men were young. Very young. Too young, if judged without faith. Today, they would just be entering seminary, not leading a reformation. But God was pleased to use these weak means. By using these young men, God’s Name was the more magnified and glorified. He used the weakest of means to fulfill his purpose. What a wonder he performed in The Netherlands in 1834!

Every year at the Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention, an important meeting is held. A group of young people delegated by their respective churches gathers together to vote for new members of the Federation Board. This Board meets monthly (and sometimes more!) to take care of all the business for the Young People’s Societies as a whole.

At the last Convention hosted by our Hudsonville PRC, the delegates voted for the following new members: Jonathan Langerak (Vice-President), Annie Zuverink (Vice-Secretary), Jordan Koole (Vice-Treasurer), Rev. G. Eriks (Spiritual Advisor), and Mr. Scott VanUffelen (Youth Coordinator). Members serving for their second year are: Joshua Engelsma (President), Rebecca Koole (Secretary), Scott Mingerink (Treasurer), Elizabeth Kuiper (Librarian), and Rev. R. VanOverloop (Spiritual Advisor). A hearty thanks must be given to the following retired members for their years of faithful service: Ryan Barnhill, Emily Kuiper, Ben Rau, Rev. A. Lanning, and Mr. Joel Langerak. If you see one of them, tell them thanks for all their hard work.

The Fed Board is presently hard at work! Some of the things we deal with are the annual Convention, the Young People’s Scholarship Fund for prospective teachers and ministers, the Thanksgiving and Easter mass meetings, and the Winter and Pre-Convention singspirations.

We also have oversight of our Young People’s magazine, the Beacon Lights. Recently, the Board has been working hard to improve the Beacon Lights and make it an important part of the life of our societies. We are thankful to our editor-in-chief, John Huizenga, for his work in the past and for his willingness to continue in this position. If you have any questions or suggestions about the Beacon Lights, feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you!

Young people, parents, grandparents, we covet your continued support. Encourage the Young People’s Societies. Attend the Conventions and mass meetings and singspirations. And support the Beacon Lights. We need that support. But, above all, pray for us. Pray that God will give us the wisdom to perform our work for the good of the young people and to the glory of his name. And pray that he will bless our labors in the coming year.

The work of God in history is always an amazing and awe-inspiring thing. But there are certain times in the history of the church that truly make the believer’s jaw hit the floor in astonishment at the wonderwork of God.

“God did what?”

“He did this when?”

“He used that man? Of all people, that man?”

One of the outstanding examples of this is the Heidelberg Catechism. Would you believe it, young people, if I told you that our beloved Heidelberger, the creed you learn in the catechism room and hear preached from the pulpit every Sunday, was written by two young men not much older than you are now? “Impossible!” you say. Yet, in his infinite wisdom, God chose two men, one twenty-eight years old and the other twenty-six, to write one of the most beautiful statements of faith that has ever been written, a statement of faith which is still in use almost 450 years later.

The first man was Zacharias Ursinus. Ursinus was born on July 18, 1534, in the city of Breslau to poor parents. When he was about fifteen years old, he left Breslau to study in the great Reformation city of Wittenberg. There his enormous God-given talents caught the eye of one of the professors, Philip Melanchthon, who was a great friend and co-laborer of Martin Luther. The two became fast friends. Under Melanchthon, Zacharias learned a great deal about the faith of the Reformation, the faith which he later encapsulated into the Heidelberg Catechism.

After his studies in Wittenberg were complete, Ursinus traveled throughout Europe sitting under the feet of many great teachers, including Calvin himself. Calvin even gave the young traveler a signed copy of his written works. Ursinus eventually came home to teach in his native Breslau. But soon there was trouble there. The Lutherans in the city were upset that their son was leaning in the direction of the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper. The backbiting reached such a pitch that Ursinus eventually left his hometown and went to the city of Zurich. From Zurich he was called by Frederick III, ruler of a region called the Palatinate, to come and teach in his school in the capital city of Heidelberg.

The decision to move to Heidelberg was not an easy one. By nature, Zacharias, although extremely gifted, was shy and reserved. His desire was to find a quiet corner in which he could study in peace. He did not want the scrutiny and attention which he was sure to get in Heidelberg. In this way he was very much like another young man we have looked at—John Calvin. But Ursinus went anyway. God had a great work for him to perform there.

The second man was Caspar Olevianus. Olevianus was born in the Roman Catholic city of Treves on August 10, 1536. Unlike his future colleague Ursinus, Olevianus’ parents were more well-to-do. They could afford to send their son to the best schools in Europe. So off he went to Paris at the age of fourteen to pursue a career in law. While in France, young Caspar came into contact with the Huguenots, those faithful French Protestants who were persecuted so severely for their faith. Caspar even attended some of their secret meetings. Their staunch stand for the faith no doubt made a mighty impression on the young man.

There was one experience in France that affected Olevianus like no other. A fellow student, who just so happened to be the son of Frederick III, fell out of a boat commandeered by a bunch of drunken boys. Caspar dove into the water to try to save Frederick’s son, but he was unable to reach him. In fact, Olevianus himself almost drowned. At that moment, Caspar promised that he would preach the Reformed faith in his hometown of Treves if God would spare his life. Olevianus survived, and he never forgot that promise. And Frederick never forgot the boy who had tried to save his son’s life.

Once his studies were completed in France, Olevianus traveled throughout Europe just as Ursinus had done. He met such great reformers as Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Theodore Beza, and William Farel. It was Farel, that fiery servant of God who had detained Calvin in Geneva, who ordered Caspar to return to Treves to preach the gospel there. Caspar obeyed and was eventually tossed into prison by the Catholic authorities. It was only after much pleading by Frederick III (and the transfer of much gold) that the bold young preacher was released and taken to Heidelberg.

So, Frederick III now had the bold preacher Olevianus and the brilliant teacher Ursinus both in Heidelberg. But why? The simple answer is that the city of Heidelberg was divided. It had officially declared itself for the Reformation in 1546, but there was so much infighting, especially between the Lutheran camp and the Calvinist camp over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. The animosity had even escalated to the point where a Lutheran minister and a Calvinist deacon grappled over the communion cup in full view of the entire congregation! Things had reached a head, and Frederick III knew it. He himself had studied the matter and was convinced that the Calvinistic view was in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. But what to do about all the fighting?

Frederick had a solution. He wanted his land to be united in a common confession of the truth, including the truth of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, he commissioned his young scholars Ursinus and Olevianus to draw up a confession which all preachers and teachers would have to hold to. The two young men began their work in 1562, and by the start of 1563 the beautiful Heidelberg Catechism was complete. One historian writes,

The peculiar gifts of both, the didactic clearness and precision of the one [Ursinus], and the pathetic warmth and unction of the other [Olevianus], were blended in beautiful harmony, and produced a joint work which is far superior to all the separate productions of either. In the Catechism they surpassed themselves. They were in a measure inspired for it.[12]

The Heidelberg Catechism was not only intended as a means of uniting the citizens of Frederick’s kingdom under a common confession. Rev. Hoeksema writes, “From the outset…the Heidelberg Catechism served the double purpose of catechetical textbook and symbol of the Church.”[13]The Catechism was intended as a means to instruct the youth of the church. It was meant to be used in the catechism room, just as it is still today in our Protestant Reformed Churches. This is evident from what Frederick III wrote in his introduction to the Catechism:

…we also have ascertained that by no means the least defect of our system is found in the fact, that our blooming youth is disposed to be careless in respect to Christian doctrine…

…it is essential that our youth be trained in early life, and above all, in the pure and consistent doctrine of the holy Gospel, and be well exercised in the proper and true knowledge of God.[14]

The Catechism, therefore, was written by two young men for the children and young people of the church.

As was mentioned at the beginning, it is a wonder of God’s grace that two men in their twenties wrote the Heidelberg Catechism. First of all, it is a wonder because of the doctrinal clarity and depth. All of the doctrines of Scripture are clearly laid out in the 129 Questions and Answers. This level of understanding is uncommon in twenty-something year olds. Secondly, the writing of the Heidelberger is a wonder because of the way in which it is laid out. It is not laid out logically like the Belgic Confession, but rather it proceeds from the idea of comfort and traces the experience of the believer from sin, to deliverance, to thankfulness. It all begins with that soul-stirring first Question and Answer:

  1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
  2. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.

The wisdom and comfort in this approach is also uncommon in young people. But, it attests to the fact that God is pleased at times to work amazing things through young people such as Caspar and Zacharias, and you and me.

To his Name be all the glory!

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 […]

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

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

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

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

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

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

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

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

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

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

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