FILTER BY:

Covenant young people, friends and lovers of Jehovah’s covenant: I’m delighted to have the opportunity to address you at this your convention, especially in light of your theme: “Jehovah’s Covenant With Us.”  How unspeakably beautiful is God’s Covenant—that intimate bond of love and fellowship that God Himself makes with His own children.  How utterly amazing it is that Jehovah God has established that relation of friendship with us—that He would account us to be His friends!  Can you imagine that the Almighty God takes us, as it were, into His arms, clasps us to His bosom, sharing with us His own blessed life!  Can you comprehend a love so great, that God would establish that covenant by the shedding of the blood of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ?  Is it any wonder that this doctrine of God’s covenant stands at the very center of Holy Scripture, and that it stands at the very heart of the truth that we love and cherish?!

And I am convinced that there is no revelation of that covenant more beautiful and more enlightening, perhaps especially for you as covenant youth, than that of the marriage relationship.  We have in marriage a picture of God’s covenant with His people in Jesus Christ.  Of course one would never know that, or dream that that is possible when beholding the corruptions of marriage today.  On the one hand, many live together without marrying.  But there is no shock any more when unwed couples shack up together.  It has become an accepted statistic of cohabitation which carries no shame; it serves as the plot for the television sitcoms.

While the herpes epidemic and the terrifying spread of AIDS dramatize just how devastating and deadly promiscuity can be, many continue to jump into intimate sexual relationships while they hold marriage in contempt.  The world is in the midst of a frantic search for safer ways to commit fornication and adultery.  But all the while many young men and women continue to boast of their sexual prowess.

On the other hand, many entering marriage do so as if the relationship is an experimental thing.  And the rich and the famous are often in court battles to see whether their prenuptial agreements, their marriage contracts, are valid.  The social stigma of divorce is almost entirely gone!  Divorce is almost taken for granted!  And remarriage is almost as common—it is not at all uncommon anymore for individuals to be married and divorced several times—it comes about as easily as buying and selling a car.

But the sad thing is that the evils that corrupt marriage also creep into the church!  What is worse, increasingly much of the church itself condones these evils.  Much of the church has given up any kind of a Scriptural position on marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  To their shame many pastors and Christian counselors fail to warn the youth to flee fornication, and instead would educate in so-called “safe sex.”  They fail to guide married couples in the way of repentance and reconciliation, and instead recommend divorce for those who have troubled marriages.

And we may not sit back, smugly smiling as if all is well with us.  No, our churches, by God’s grace, do not condone the corruptions of the marriage relation.  But we are nevertheless influenced by these evils in more ways than we care to admit.  And in one way or another, sooner or later we are all touched by the misery and grief caused by the evils that threaten marriage.

No, it is only in the light of Scripture that we see the beauty of marriage.  It is by grace that we behold Jehovah’s covenant in terms of that relationship of marriage.  And that is our purpose this evening—to praise and glorify our God as we contemplate how rich and how beautiful His covenant is and as we consider how highly God esteems marriage as a reflection of that covenant.  Consider with me, THE COVENANT AND MARRIAGE.  We will notice first of all: The Covenant in Light of Marriage, secondly, Marriage in Light of the Covenant, and finally, The Premarital Implications: what does it all mean for you, as young people?

            The Covenant in Light of Marriage:

In many places Scripture reveals that marriage is a picture of Jehovah’s covenant.  The passage that probably comes to mind in that connection is in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the last part of chapter 5, where the apostle compares marriage to the union between Christ and His elect Church.  In this passage the Apostle Paul gives instruction regarding the holy bond of marriage.  Wives are called to submit; husbands are called to love.  And their perfect model for their behavior is the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Wives must submit “as the Church is subject unto Christ.”  Husbands must love their wives “even as Christ also loved the Church.”

He also directs our attention to the intimacy of the marriage relation, again as patterned by the closeness of Christ and the Church.  A man must love his wife as his own body; he nourishes and cherishes his own flesh “even as the Lord the church.”  Why?  Verse 30 tells us: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”  The Apostle then shows how the marriage bond takes precedence over even the relationship between parent and child.  A man leaves his father and mother for his wife.  He is joined unto his wife and they two shall be one flesh.

And then, in reference to marriage, especially from the viewpoint of the closeness, the intimacy of marriage, Paul says:  “This is a great mystery.”  Now in Scripture, the word “mystery” has a very special meaning.  A “mystery” is not just something puzzling or baffling that we can’t figure out.  In the Bible “mystery” always refers to God’s great and gracious salvation, that salvation which we would never know or understand, but which God has revealed by Christ Jesus.  And this is the idea here, too, for Paul goes on to say: “but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”

Oh, yes, he is giving instruction and guidance regarding marriage all right.  But underlying it all is the blessed truth of the union of Christ and the Church.  God wills that our marriages reflect the bond which He makes with His Church in the blood of Christ.  The fundamental significance of marriage is that it pictures the marriage of Christ and His bride, the Church.  Salvation is that wonderful work of God whereby we are united with Christ—yea, we become one with Him!

This great mystery was foreshadowed in the Old Dispensation.  The Psalmist in Psalm 45 prophesies the marriage of Christ the King, who is God Himself, to a Gentile woman.  The Song of Solomon is really a love song in which the covenant relation between God and His people is described in terms of the ecstatic love of marriage between Solomon and his beloved.  But especially this is evident in the prophets such as Ezekiel, Hosea and Malachi.  These prophets present the covenant relation between Jehovah and Israel as a marriage.  Jehovah God was Israel’s husband and Israel was Jehovah’s wife.  Her spiritual faithlessness was adultery!

In the opening chapters of Hosea, God describes His relationship to His people in these terms when He instructs the prophet to take a wife from whoredom.  In this way God demonstrates to His people that He enters into a covenant of marriage with a people who are, by nature, wicked and adulterous.  But Jehovah preserves and maintains that covenant of marriage as we read in Hosea 2:19: “I will betroth thee to me forever; yea I will betroth thee to me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness and mercies, and in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord.”

And finally, in the book of Revelation we see the glorious future perfection of that marriage of Jehovah and His people in Christ.  In Rev. 19:1-10 the final salvation of the church is pictured as the marriage supper of the Lamb.  That is the full realization of that blessed covenant fellowship which is the final destiny of God’s people.  And in Rev. 21:2, 9 the Church is described as the Bride of Christ: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”

What a glorious revelation of God’s covenant we have then in marriage!  What a fitting symbol marriage is of the covenant relation of Jehovah with His people in Christ!  In this light we see that Jehovah’s covenant is a warm, living vibrant relation of friendship and fellowship of the most intimate sort.  What a sovereign infinite love is displayed in God’s covenant!  It is an indestructible love; Solomon describes this kind of love in his song chap. 8:6, 7: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.”

What an amazing intimacy we share in Jehovah’s covenant!  Even as in marriage, the two become one, so in the covenantal relation Christ Jesus is the Head, and the Church, His body.  The two are one.  That union takes place when we are regenerated by the Spirit.  The sign of this union is the covenantal sign of baptism, for we are baptized into Christ.  So we are taken into God’s own covenant life to commune with Him forever.

What an abiding relationship!  That covenant relation is a relation which can never be broken!  Even as marriage is a bond which can never be broken, except by death.  This is not because both parties in this heavenly and spiritual relationship are always faithful.  No, we are often unfaithful, and Scripture calls us spiritual adulterers.  But Christ is always faithful!  He always maintains His covenant of marriage and always takes back His bride unto Himself.  He guides us safely through life until He takes us into the everlasting blessedness of His covenant in the day when the tabernacle of God is with men!

And finally, we may not overlook the fact that the purpose of it all is that God may receive the glory.  In the institution of marriage, the woman was not made first but second; she was made for Adam, not Adam for her.  So in the Counsel of God, not the Church, but Christ is first.  Christ does not exist for the Church, but the Church exists for the sake of Christ, to serve and praise Him forever!  What a great mystery!  To God be the glory!

Marriage in Light of the Covenant:

            Beloved young people, how honorable the marriage state is then!  We now, so to speak, turn things around, and consider marriage in the light of God’s covenant.  We realize then at the outset that marriage is no human institution, that it is not of human origin.  It is not so that marriage somehow evolved through the years of early human history.  It is not a social contract that men worked out and found useful to society for a time.

God, the covenant Jehovah, ordained marriage to reflect His great glory in His covenant.  God Himself officiated at the first marriage ceremony in the Garden of Eden.  It was not good for man to be alone—and God created the woman from the rib of Adam.  And God Himself then brought the woman to Adam.  This was the instituting of marriage as an ordinance of God to be observed by us.

Marriage is then good!  We read in Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.”  Marriage is good in God’s eyes; He has an intense and deep love for the bond of marriage.  Jehovah has a high regard for marriage; He is jealous for it!  Why is all this true?  Fundamentally because marriage is a picture of His own blessed covenant.

And thus, the Word of God even refers to marriage in terms of the covenant.  In Proverbs 2:17 we are warned against the adulteress who flattereth with her words, “which forsaketh the guide of her youth and forgetteth the covenant of her God.” In leaving her husband, she is accused by God of forgetting and therefore, of breaking, His covenant.

So too the prophet Malachi refers to a man’s wife as “the wife of thy covenant.”  Mal. 2:14. That’s beautiful, isn’t it?  “The wife of thy covenant.”  The same word is used to describe the covenant of Jehovah with His people in Christ Jesus.  This emphasizes that marriage is a covenant bond and thus an unbreakable union!

And that is precisely the concern of the prophet: the men of Judah were divorcing their wives and marrying others.  We read in Malachi 2:11, “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved and hath married the daughter of a strange God.”

How God hated that!  That’s vs. 16: “For the Lord the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away.”  Why?  Because He loves His covenant!  Our marriages are to be a reflection of His marriage, that covenant relation He has made with His people in Christ.  In His covenant God reveals the very nature of His relation to us.  It is a bond of love—and love Scripture calls the “bond of perfectness.” It is an abiding and faithful love.  It never puts away—divorces, but it forgives through the blood of the cross.  God does not cast us off the moment we sin and are unfaithful to Him.  But He forgives in the blood of the cross and restores us through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t you see, young people, the seriousness of divorce, of remarriage, of all violation of God’s marriage ordinance?  It is not first of all, that to disobey God’s Word regarding marriage is going to bring all kinds of turmoil, sorrow, heartache and misery into one’s life, sometimes consequences that remain through all our earthly life.  That in itself is true.  Many of us, perhaps all of us, have seen that in the lives of friends or relatives.  Even the world recognizes that the corrupting of marriage is the cause of all kinds of traumatic problems and grievous evils with which society struggles.

No, to violate God’s marriage ordinance is to show contempt for God Himself and for His covenant!  That’s why God views it as treachery!  In marriage we deal with God Himself.  For God’s sake, for the sake of His covenant, we must properly maintain the marriage bond!

Finally, of course, it is within the blessed bond of marriage that the covenant children are brought forth.  That implies that sex is a good gift of God, an honorable aspect of marriage.  In the sexual relationship there is a unique realization and expression of the closeness of marriage.  And it symbolizes the love that Christ has for His Church and that the Church has for Christ—a relentless, unswerving, jealous, sovereign love!

And our covenant God gathers His Church in the covenant generations of His people.  God’s covenant with us, as well today as in Old Testament times, includes as a precious element, that God will be the God of our children after us.

The Pre-Marital Implications:

As young people you are at the age when you are probably beginning to date or at least thinking about it.  Many of you have been dating for some time already.  Some of you may be seriously contemplating marriage.  What does this truth of the covenant and marriage mean for you?

Of course, in Biblical times there was no dating as we know it today.  Especially in the Old Testament times the parents chose the mate for their children as a general rule.  And even in New Testament times, when children had some voice in the matter, parents still made the final decision.  Betrothal was very significant in Biblical times.  It was much more serious than our modern day engagement, since it could be broken only by a legal divorce.

Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of the example of Abraham in Genesis 24: I’m sure you are familiar with the history of Abraham’s concern regarding a wife for his son Isaac.  First of all, Abraham requires his servant to promise under oath that he will not obtain a wife for Isaac out of the land of Canaan, but would go to Haran to obtain her.  Why was Abraham so concerned about this?  It was a concern for God’s covenant!  Very simply, the girls of Canaan were wicked, unbelievers; the Canaanites were under the curse of God; and remember, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed.  That seed would come through the line of Isaac.  Marriage with one of the wicked daughters of the land would be an alliance between Abraham and the people who were to be cast out and destroyed ultimately.  It would unite those who might not be united.  So Abraham insists that a wife for Isaac must come from his relatives, the covenant generations that lived back in Haran.

What is the principle here?  It is this: light and darkness may never unite!  The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”  You, children of the covenant, ought not seek to date and marry with the children of this world.  And we ought not look at dating and marriage as some sort of mission endeavor to convert a marriage partner to the Lord.  Godly marriage is a sacred relationship between two who are united in the faith and love of God.  They have a common goal, too—to serve God in their lives, in their home, with their children.

Notice, too, that a second important principle is suggested by Abraham’s actions.  The servant asks Abraham what he is to do should the woman refuse to return with him to the land of Canaan.  Should the servant then take Isaac to Haran and have him live there?  This is a conceivable problem, isn’t it?  This girl would have to live in a strange land with strange people, would have to be ready to marry a strange men.  But Abraham insists that the servant may never take Isaac from the land of Canaan to return to Haran.  Never!  The land of Canaan was the land of the covenant and promise.  It was typical of the heavenly and eternal Canaan.  To forsake the shadow, even for a wife, would be to forsake the reality.  Isaac must inherit Canaan with all the spiritual blessings of God that went with that.  Isaac must stay in Canaan!

Here the principle is also very important.  Often young people can place marriage at the top of the list so to speak.  They “fall in love” and what else can be expected but that marriage shall follow?  Everything else is pushed into the background.  God’s covenant, the will of God, the church, spiritual considerations are all made subservient to this: I’m going to marry this person.  There is a more important duty in the life of a Christian than marriage.  The service and obedience to God are first and foremost.  Marriage must be a means to obey God’s commandments and glorify Him, honoring His covenant.

Practically speaking, the question is then: Will this relationship, ultimately this marriage, lead away from the land of Canaan?  Or put it this way—will this conceivably lead me away from the Church?  Will I sacrifice God’s Word for the sake of marriage?  Will I heap contempt on God’s covenant?  Abraham recognized and we must recognize that we may not forsake the truths of God’s Word—even for a wife or a husband!

And finally I want to call your attention to the fact that God is faithful to His covenant.  Abraham reminds his servant of God’s faithfulness, in bringing him to Canaan, in blessing him there.  Surely God would not forsake Abraham and Isaac now in this time of need.  By faith Abraham believed that God would see to it that Isaac would receive the proper wife through whom the promise would be realized.  And how marvelous it was that God provided Rebekah as the wife Isaac must have!

What does this mean?  God still brings two people together.  The marriage form puts it this way: “Witnessing thereof that God doth yet as with His hand bring unto every man his wife.” Very simply, God will provide!  You, as young Christians, must believe that—God is faithful!  Don’t worry and fret—even when in a few years many of your friends may be getting married.  Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into an unhappy marriage out of desperation.  The point is that God has already determined who your husband or wife shall be, if it’s His will that you marry.  It remains for you to learn His will in this respect.  And that must be the goal and purpose of dating.

At this time in your life, especially during high school years, dating should not be taken too seriously.  It should be fun, casual, with the purpose of getting to know each other.  But even now, you should approach dating from a spiritual viewpoint, seeking to honor God’s covenant!  You shouldn’t be playing the field, making dating a game, trying to see how many broken hearts you can leave behind!  Even now, be looking for a fellow Christian, a fellow believer to love and be loved in the love of God!

And, young people, don’t be deceived by the distorted and perverted idea of love presented by the world in which we live!  You know as well as I do that the ungodly present love as lust—sex—feeling.  Young people, flee fornication!  For the sake of God’s covenant, show modesty and respect for each other, also here at the convention.  The love portrayed on television, in the movies, on much of the music of the radio, in so many magazines and novels is a perversion of true romantic love.

Love is presented as a matter of feeling, emotion, intense emotion, emotional fireworks accompanied by lightning and thunder—that’s “falling in love.”  It’s presented as magic and mysterious and sudden!  The popular music of the world has put it that way for years already.  Love just happens, “some enchanted evening…across a crowded room.”  Think of some of the songs you listen to—very often you can substitute the word “lust” for “love” in those songs and have perfect sense and bring out the real intent.

Following that influence, you girls will look for the tall, dark, handsome stranger to walk out of the darkness.  You fellas will look for the sweet, sexy stranger to sway in out of the mist.  You won’t be inclined to even think about the covenant—about those you may even go to church with or your classmate in your Christian High School.  Love is not something you fall into, it’s something you grow into by the love and grace of God as His children.  Open your spiritual eyes!  Look for spiritual beauty and strength, for spiritual compatibility!

Date and enter marriage prayerfully!  Dating can be very difficult and trying.  Marriage is never easy.  But place your faith and trust in our Covenant-keeping God.  Seek His grace that, whether single or married, you may honor and esteem His Blessed Covenant, even by a life of obedience to His ordinance of marriage.

What is the place and calling of young people and young adults in the church?  I present it as a challenge to you:  Be committed to serve in the church.

We have to reckon with the sad reality that many churches, including evangelical and Reformed churches, lose most of their youth in their young adult years.  Many churches today complain about the absence of young adults.  The sad fact is that many younger nominal Christians have little use for the institute of the church, organized religion, or involvement in a congregation.  According to one study, most of the more than 3,000 teenagers interviewed saw religion as a combination of works righteousness (be nice; be good), psychological well-being (feeling good about one’s self), and a distant non-interfering God (he’s there if you get into a pinch).  If that’s all that it amounts to, who needs the church?  That may be the extreme, but sometimes our young people too can have difficulty going from childhood to mature involvement in the life of the congregation.

Questions:

  1. Why do you think so many young Christians today see no need to be involved in a congregation?
  2. What reasons do you have for being involved in your church?

 

Perhaps we too have the tendency to take the congregation where we are members for granted.  The congregation has probably always been there.  We may have been a member there all our lives.  We have always had easy access to the church.  We have never been prevented because of opposition or persecution from attending the worship services.  We have always been able to hear faithful preaching of the gospel.  We have always had the opportunity to take part in the life and activity of the congregation.  How easy it is to take the church for granted.  We often fail to appreciate and love the church, or even realize our need for the church and our calling to serve.

This becomes evident when we have a casual or indifferent attitude toward the church and our membership in it.  Maybe we are not very enthusiastic about the worship services.  Perhaps we are not very interested in the sermons.  We are not really concerned about the welfare of the church.  We are involved as little as possible in the life of the church. We try to stay in the background.  We simply do not have the time to give the church a prominent place in our lives; we have no time to serve.

Or maybe it’s the case that we get discouraged about the church and develop a pessimistic attitude.  It is certainly true that the church has many weaknesses and sins.  The church of Christ in the midst of this world is far from perfect, for it is composed of sinners who are saved by grace.  That reality can make it difficult to love the church.  We can get down on ourselves when we see our own weaknesses, and it is possible to become preoccupied with the weaknesses of other members.  Their attitude or behavior can make it difficult to want to serve in the church.

At other times we may see general weaknesses in our congregations or in the denomination.  We may be concerned about what we perceive to be a lack of interest in doctrinal distinctiveness.  Or we notice a tendency toward legalism or worldliness.  Or there seems to be a lack of zeal for mission work.  Or we see some pushing for changes in the church with which we do not agree.  We then become discouraged and disillusioned with the church.  We find it difficult to love it.  If the only things we see are the church’s flaws and weaknesses, it is almost impossible to love and serve the church as we ought.

From the perspective of Psalm 48: 12–13 we see our calling to notice the strengths and beauty of the church:  “Walk about Zion, and go round about her:  tell the towers thereof.  Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces.”   That doesn’t imply that we are to ignore its weaknesses.   They must be noticed and dealt with in the church orderly way.  But just as the Old Testament believer was to consider the strengths and beauty of the city of Jerusalem as the city of God, so we are called to behold the church from the viewpoint of what God has made it to be in Christ.  The church does not have beauty and strength because of men.  The church is beautiful and strong because of its glorious head, Jesus Christ.  It is beautiful and strong because God is in its midst and blesses it.  This provides motivation and incentive to love and serve the church.

Questions:

  1. Do you think that you take your congregation, for granted?  Why or why not?
  2. Why is it so easy to have a negative attitude toward the church?

 

Taking this a step further, we must consider a truth which we confess together every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed:  the communion of saints.  How often do we think about our place in the communion of saints?  We are not merely so many individual members of a church.  We are all members of one living organism of the body of Christ and so also members one of another.

This is a very practical thing that we must keep in mind.  We then live not unto ourselves or for ourselves, but we live for the sake of the body of Christ, also as it is manifest in our own congregations.  God has given to each of the saints, also young saints, a calling within the communion.  God has through the Holy Spirit endowed each of the saints, young and old alike, with certain gifts and talents, and with a certain measure of grace.  By virtue of these gifts and the grace of God, each of the saints has a particular place and calling within the church.   Some may seem to be more honorable and of greater significance than others.  Nevertheless all of them are needed for the fullness of the communion of saints, also in the local congregation.   All of the saints, from the greatest to the least, have a place and a calling in the communion of the saints.

The apostle Paul explains this so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12.  In verse 18 we read, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him “(see also verses 23–27).  The calling of all the saints of God is therefore to work toward the full manifestation of the communion of the saints to the glory of God. In that calling each of us has need of all the other members of the body, and each of us stands in the service of all of the other members of the body.

The communion of the saints comes to its most glorious manifestation in the institutional life of the church. Above all our calling is to gather with the church in worship.  The worship services give opportunity for each of us to exercise his calling as a member of the communion of the saints.  We have such wonderful opportunities for fellowship together each Sunday.   Also the catechism classes, the Bible studies, and the various societies provide wonderful opportunities to serve by our attendance and participation.  But we have to take the time and make the time to be involved and prepared.

Our calling to serve as young Christians goes beyond the institutional life of the church and extends to our calling toward one another in all of life.   Acts 2:41–47 presents a beautiful picture of the love and concern of the saints in the early church for one another.  The apostle Paul states in Philippians 4:8, “Look not every man on his own things, but every  man also on the things of others.”   How easy it is to just focus on ourselves!  How much of our lives are spent living unto and for ourselves?

The Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes this aspect of our calling to serve in answer 55:  “…that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members.”  It is easy for us to neglect this aspect of church membership.  It is easy for us to become self-centered.   Then our concern is a matter of what is in it for me: how am I served by my  membership in the church?

Our care and concern for others will manifest itself in visiting the fatherless and widows in their afflictions ( James 1:27).   Opportunities to serve in this way abound:  visiting those in the hospital or nursing home, the widows and widowers.  We will comfort and assist the sorrowing and those who are troubled or distressed.

Our service will also manifest itself in seeking to help those who are struggling spiritually or who have fallen into a way of sin.  We will seek them out to encourage and admonish them in love.  We will strive to lead them in the way of repentance.  Motivated by the desire to help and serve, we will kneel with them at the cross.

Questions:

  1. To use the language of 1 Corinthians 12, do you think we as younger Christians tend to think of ourselves as less honorable members of the body of Christ?  Less important, less necessary?   Why?
  2. What is implied and included when James 1:27 speaks of pure and undefiled religion as being “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”?
  3. To paraphrase a famous quotation of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what the church can do for you; ask what you, as a young member of the church, can do to serve others in the church.”  What do you think about that?

 

For many years now in American culture, the presence of a “generation gap” has been assumed to be an inevitable reality.  I think that too often our church life conforms to that assumption at precisely the time when you young people and young adults most need to be involved in the broader life of the church as a whole.  It is so easy in the church, perhaps especially in larger congregations, to divide everything according to age groups.  We’ve discussed our unity in the body of Christ, in the communion of saints.But that must be shown in real life in the congregation.  That should be reflected in how we love, serve, and live with each other, regardless of age.

If our congregational lives are exclusively or even primarily segregated according to age, it is difficult for young people to be involved and to serve as much as possible.   That makes it difficult for you to have, enjoy, and serve in relationships with those who are both older and younger.  Don’t misunderstand: our young people’s societies and young adults groups are important, necessary, and very valuable.   But your involvement and service in the church ought to go far beyond that, and I’m very thankful that very often it does in many ways.

But I challenge you to do more to serve.  Be committed, already now, to serve in the church.  Be a good example for those who are younger; perhaps be a friend or mentor to a young person.   Be able to say that you are a friend of this couple and their children, or of that older single woman or man, or of one of the shut-ins.  As a younger Christian, be hospitable. Scripture says (1 Peter 4:9),  “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.”   Share your life, your interests, your hobbies, your sporting events, programs, choir concerts, or musical talents with others.   Hospitality—no, you may not have your own home to invite somebody over to provide a meal, but you can still, in a self-giving way, involve others in your lives, and that is the heart of hospitality.  Increasingly become a self-giving part of the church.  Love the church.  Serve the church, and you will grow and flourish there.

Questions:

  1. Do you agree that this calling to hospitality applies to younger Christians?
  2. Do you feel our congregations are too segregated according to age? If so what can we do to improve that?
  3. Are there more opportunities to serve for young men than there are for young women?
  4. What place should prayer have in your serving in the church?
  5. How about supporting the kingdom causes?

 

We need the church.  We do as young people and young adults.  As much as we love God and love the glory of God, we ought to love God’s church, value our membership there, and live in the consciousness of our calling to serve the church.  Our attitude toward the church ought to be the attitude expressed in the hymn:

 

“I love Thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of Thine abode,

The Church our blest Redeemer saved,

With His own precious blood.

 

I love Thy church, O God!

Her walls before Thee stand,

Dear as the apple of Thine eye,

And graven on Thy hand.

 

For her my tears shall fall;

For her my prayers ascend;

To her my cares and toils be given,

Till toils and cares shall end.”

Rev. Michael De Vries hails from “the tall corn state” of Iowa. He was born on July 31, 1953, during very troubled times in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, the first child of Vernon and Marilyn De Vries. He and his family were originally members of the Pella Protestant Reformed Church. In Pella, the conditional—theology controversy took a heavy toll, and our church there was almost destroyed. For a few years his family continued with the vast majority of the congregation, which was led to leave the Protestant Reformed denomination. In 1961, this congregation disbanded and he and his family were members of the Christian Reformed Church, and then, the Reformed Church in America. In the late sixties, in the providence of God, the Protestant Reformed congregation in Pella revived, and Rev. De Vries, in his mid-teens at that time, and his family returned early in 1969. They rejoiced in the preaching of God’s sovereign, particular grace, which doctrine they had always loved.

Rev. De Vries grew up on a farm, where his mother still lives. Until his early high school years, he planned on a career related to agriculture. He attended one of the last two operating one-room country schoolhouses in the state of Iowa for grade K-6, and then attended the public schools in Knoxville, Iowa. After high school graduation, he attended Central College (RCA) in Pella for one year. Then, in 1972, he moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and enrolled in the Pre-seminary Department of our Protestant Reformed Seminary. He also attended classes at Calvin College and Grand Valley State College.

Rev. De Vries had very little trouble with peer pressure as a teenager, largely due to the fact that he had a small number of good Christian friends. How important it is that our young people are able to say with the Psalmist: “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:63).

In the fall of 1972, a fellow pre-sem student, the now Rev. Ron Cammenga, introduced Rev. De Vries to his girlfriend’s sister, Dawn De Jong, a member of Southwest PRC. After a two and a half year courtship, they were married on June 6, 1975. Dawn has been a tremendous help and encouragement to him while in Seminary and during the years of his ministry. The Lord has given them four children: Jeff, Connie, Russ, and Karen. Jeff married Angie Schipper in August 2001. He and his wife, Connie, and Karen live in the Grand Rapids area. Russ lives near his parents in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

At about age fifteen, Rev. De Vries had begun to consider studying for the ministry. His family encouraged him in that direction. Rev. De Vries recalls a conversation he had with Rev. J. Kortering who was in Pella on classical appointment. Rev. Kortering also encouraged him to prayerfully consider entering the ministry.

Rev. De Vries has many wonderful memories of his years in pre-seminary and seminary. There were many hilarious times with his other pre-sem housemates as they lived, first in the “ghetto” on Donald Place in Grand Rapids, and then in the old Hope Church parsonage. One incident he will never forget occurred in Prof. H.C. Hoeksema’s 8:00 a.m. Latin Grammar class. When Rev. De Vries began to doze off, he was startled awake when Prof. Hoeksema slammed a Psalter down on the table in front of him. Rev. De Vries almost jumped out of his chair to the sound of Prof. Hoeksema’s booming laughter. Needless to say, Rev. De Vries hesitated even to blink in Prof. Hoeksema’s classes after that. A highlight of the seminary years was when the seminary move was made in January of 1974, from the basement of First PRC to the beautiful new facility on “Seminary Hill” in Grandville. Rev. De Vries was a member of the first class that graduated from the newly formed Pre-seminary Department at that time. He graduated from Seminary in 1978.

It was a wonderful surprise for Candidate De Vries to receive the call from his wife’s home church and the congregation where they and their three children were members, Southwest PRC in Grandville. Rev. De Vries was ordained into the ministry on Reformation Day, October 31, 1978, and labored at Southwest for six and one half years. In 1985, he accepted the call to Edgerton, Minnesota where he served almost ten years. The De Vries children spent their formative years in this small farming community. When Rev. De Vries accepted the call to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, their oldest son, Jeff, decided to remain in Minnesota. Rev. De Vries has now served in Canada for seven years. In the last year they went from having three of their children in the parsonage to having an empty nest. But the warm fellowship of their “church family” in Edmonton has made this adjustment much easier than they anticipated.

Rev. De Vries has found that one of the most blessed and rewarding things to witness in the life of the church is the reality of the communion of the saints. That is a truth we confess each Lord’s Day in the Apostolic Creed. It is a truth that is easy for us to take for granted. But what a tremendous blessing it is to experience and witness that mutual love and care of God’s people for each other, for Christ’s sake! How vital it is that our children and young people also strive to manifest that love and care for each other!

In his own ministry, he is thankful to God for the wise, faithful, zealous men with whom he has served in the consistory in each congregation. What a blessing it is to labor together, in peace and unity, seeking the welfare of the flock!

Since being in the ministry Rev. De Vries has had little time for hobbies. He has always been an avid reader. He and his wife have always enjoyed watching high school and college basketball, especially when their children were playing. During the years in Minnesota, he enjoyed caring for their vegetable garden each summer, as well as deer hunting every fall with his sons. Since being in Canada, the De Vries’ love spending an occasional day or two in the Canadian Rockies, hiking, and spotting wildlife.

Rev. De Vries believes that all of our young men should prayerfully consider whether they may have the gifts and abilities needed for the ministry, and whether God is calling them to prepare for the ministry. In these last times the need is great for faithful preachers of the Word! It is an awesome calling! But the grace of God is sufficient for humble men of God who look to Him for their strength.

We are truly living in the perilous times of which Scripture warns. The temptations faced by our young people are many. The society in which we live is self-centered and pleasure-loving. The unparalleled prosperity in which most of our young people have grown up has only aggravated the situation. What heartache to pastors, parents, and fellow church members when some of our young people can appear to be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” Thankfully, our faithful God is pleased to show many of them the folly of that way.

How urgent it is that our homes be strong in the truth, and that parents insist upon the church and the activities of the church being at the center of our lives. Rev. De Vries encourages our young people to use their time and talents in the life of the church. How wonderful it is to see many of our young people who are spiritually sensitive, who prepare for and participate in Young People’s Society, who find their delight in the things of God’s kingdom. Rev. De Vries urges our young people and young adults to attend our conventions and retreats when possible. What tremendous opportunities these are for spiritual growth, for rich fellowship, for forming sometimes life-long friendships and relationships.

The back door slammed shut with a loud bang. “Mom, you won’t believe it! I’ve been offered a fantastic job with a corporation in Garden City! It’s just what I’ve been hoping for—an excellent position in my field! Look at the salary and benefits package they are offering me! Why, I’ll have my student loans paid off in just a couple of years! Can you believe it?” John exclaimed. He rarely got this excited.

“Whoa! slow down; yes, John, it certainly is exciting, but there are many things to consider,” mother replied.

Later, John and his parents had a lengthy discussion about John’s career opportunity in Garden City. His parents were very happy for him. At the same time, they reminded him of many important considerations, not the least of which was the church. And now as John lay sideways upon his bed, his long legs propped up on the wall, one brief statement his father had made kept running through his mind, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

***********

It was the word of the Lord Jesus (Luke 17:32). Whenever we feel tempted or inclined to make decisions solely on the basis of the financial benefit, or the opportunity for wealth and success, remember Lot’s wife! And remember Lot!

Greed, worldlimindedness, opportunity for success had so blinded Lot’s eyes that he was willing to sacrifice his spiritual welfare. He was ready to leave Abram and pitch his tent toward Sodom. His eye was on the world, its wealth and opportunities, not on the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. What riches were there in the cities of the plain! What career opportunities! What pleasures! What success! There he could really make it!

Lot was like a moth fluttering around a flame. Yes, he was a righteous man. Yes, his righteous soul would be vexed by the wickedness that surrounded him in Sodom. Yes, he had good intentions and many excuses, but his “career move” would be a dreadful mistake! It would involve personal separation from Abram, and upon Abram were the promises of God’s covenant. It would involve leaving the strength and joy of Abram’s fellowship in that strange land. He needed that fellowship. How very precious and necessary is the communion of the saints! It would involve leaving the sphere of the true church. Leaving Abram, Lot was leaving the altar where Abram worshipped. Lot was leaving the faithful and proper worship of Jehovah!

But you can almost see the wheels turning in his brain, can’t you? “I’m a child of God; I’m not going to lose my salvation. I’ll continue to worship God. God has His people in other places too. After all, God has placed this wonderful opportunity on my pathway. I can be a good example and let my light shine in Sodom. Certainly God wants me to use my talents and abilities and advance myself as much as possible, reaching my full potential. I feel this is God’s will for my life.” Such must have been Lot’s reasoning.

Are we too attracted to the riches of the plain? Is Sodom appealing?

Around us too there are “well-watered plains,” many of them. They are typical of all the material prosperity, financial success, and carnal pleasures this world has to offer. Sodom is a picture of that world in the raw. Jehovah Himself describes it in the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter 16:49,50: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: Therefore I took them away as I saw good.” Sodom— that’s where the action is! That’s where the opportunities are! Wealth, prestige, success, power are there, right at your fingertips. Move to Sodom and you can get rid of your pilgrim’s tent. Lot did!

The temptation is great for us to reason as Lot did: What a wonderful opportunity this job offer is! What a marvelous chance to advance myself in the industry! With the increase in income, I’ll finally be able to get on top of things; I’ll have considerably more money to give for kingdom causes. We’re not the only true church; God has His people in other denominations too. I can live a “good Christian life” in that locale too. I can be a witness there. I’m confident about my salvation, and it seems as if God has opened this door for me. My talents and skills will be put to so much better use in this new position.

But, is it so? Are career advancements, larger salaries, prestigious corporate positions the important things in life? Jesus says, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19, 20). God does not care so much about our career advancements, about the big bucks we can bring home, about the earthly success we attain. His concern is our living according to His Word and unto His glory in whatever work He gives us to do.

No, our Protestant Reformed Churches are not the only true church from a denominational point of view. God certainly preserves His people in many different churches, some of which are even making serious departures from His truth. But that is not the point. The question we face is: Where must I join myself? Where is the church in which I am called to live and worship in active membership? The Belgic Confession in Article 29 presents us with the three marks by which the true church is known and by which it is recognized. “The marks, by which the truth church is known, are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin…” Certainly the ecclesiastical scene is complex today—so many different churches and denominations. But our calling is to join and remain a member of that church which most clearly manifests these pure marks of the true church.

No, we will not lose our salvation; not one of Christ’s sheep can be plucked from His hand. But we may not foolishly suppose that we can remain spiritually strong and healthy where the pure milk of the gospel is watered down, or worse, poisoned with false doctrine. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2). To live a “good Christian life,” we need that pure milk of the gospel. We need that pure milk of the gospel for our light to shine brightly from day to day. Without it, like Lot, we will backslide; we will gradually weaken spiritually, increasingly compromise our principles until we must be pulled out of the fire (Jude 23). Yes, Lot was saved; saved in spite of his own folly. But how painfully Lot must be saved! The Lord caused his soul to be vexed with the wickedness of Sodom. For a time he was captive of Chedorlaomer and the kings of the East. He had to be rescued by Abram. He ends up losing what he sought the most, earthly possessions and material prosperity. He is left in a most miserable condition, according to the world.

What about our family, our children, and children’s children? What about the covenant of God in our generations? In the way of departing from the truth we see generations cut off. Consider Lot’s family—they became involved in Sodom’s ruin. His wife, who was an apostate, was double-hearted, destroyed. His daughters were adulteresses, hard-hearted, carnal and conniving, making Lot father-in-law to Sodomites when they married, and themselves making him father of heathen nations. Lot lost his family, also in their generations.

More importantly, we must remember that the glory of God is at stake in these things. Our God is glorified by the truth! To the extent that the truth is compromised, God is denied His glory. How can we expect the blessing of God in that way?

Finally, we must be very careful in coming to conclusions regarding what God’s will is for our lives. Many give themselves over to subjectivism: “I feel this is the Lord’s will for my life.” But nowhere does Scripture teach that God reveals His will through mere subjective feelings and impressions. Perhaps these notions arise from our sinful nature, the allurements of the world, the temptations of Satan, etc. Has God necessarily opened this door? God does not always give absolutely clear providential signs for our decisions in life. In confronting us with such decisions God may well be testing us, trying our faith. We must continually pray for wisdom to walk in the light of His Word so that we, and our families, may serve Him faithfully in the church where we may hear the pure preaching of the gospel, where we may glorify Him in the truth. As Solomon also declares, apart from God, all our labor is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26).

************

The next morning at the breakfast table John spoke to his parents, his mouth half full of Cheerios, “I’ve thought a lot about my job offer, and prayed about it too. I’m going to pass up the job in Garden City. You’re right, first things first. The church, the truth, faithfully serving God—these are the important things! I’m confident that the Lord will be with me and bless me in this decision. Thanks for your help.”

************

“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32)! ♦

Introduction:

Perhaps, as young people, we are inclined to consider the history of 1924 as irrelevant for us today. Of what value is “dry and dusty” history of several generations ago? Is there anything in that history that is applicable to our modern times?

I would emphasize that if we are to be faithful members of our Protestant Reformed Churches, we must know our history! We must have a knowledge of the truths and principles upon which our churches were founded. We must be aware of the battles fought by those who have gone before us. That which our spiri­tual fathers believed, confessed, fought for and were willing to die for is our heritage, entrusted to our care, which we must also believe, confess, and if need be, die for. A generation which ignores, or worse, despises, her past is a generation that enters the battle of faith without weapons or training. As the Church of tomorrow, you young people must be able to carry on the great heritage of the truth.

 

I. Learning from Our Beginning:

A. The History of 1924

1. The controversy began with an exchange of pamphlets and writings.

a. Rev. Herman Hoeksema, who was minister of Eastern Ave. Chr. Ref. Church of Grand Rapids, MI, Rev. H. Danhof, who was minister of the First Chr. Ref. Church of Kalamazoo, MI, and a bit later Rev. G. Ophoff of the Hope Chr. Ref. Church in the Grand Rapids, MI area of Riverbend, were the men who especially raised their voices against the doctrine of common grace, showing the anti-Scriptural character of this doctrine.

b. The result was that several protests were filed against Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof and were treated by Classis Grand Rapids East and Classis Grand Rapids West in May of 1924.

c. Several of these protests came to the Synod of Kalamazoo in June of 1924. This Synod of the CRC adopted the ’Three Points of Common Grace.”

1) The second part of the decision judged Hoeksema and Danhof to be Reformed “even though it be with an inclination to one-sidedness.”

2) The third part of the decision stated that there was reason for the warnings against worldly-mindedness that Hoeksema and Danhof had sounded “with a view to a possible mis­use of the doctrine of Common Grace.”

3) The fourth part of the decision contained a plan for further study and development of the doctrine. But the Synod specifically repudiated advice from the advisory committee that Synod ask Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof to subscribe to the Three Points of Common Grace and that discipline be exercised in the event that they did not.

2. Nevertheless, as the matter came again to Classis G. R. East and Classis G. R. West this was what was demanded of these ministers, i.e. to approve and promise fidelity to the Three Points of Common Grace.

a.   The result was that these three pastors with their consistories were deposed from office.

b.   They did not separate from the CRC but were illegally expelled from that denomination.

c.   The ultimate outcome of these decisions was that a new church-group originated, known as the Protestant Reformed Churches.

3. Questions:

a.   How did the “Janssen controversy” of 1922 form the occasion for the common grace controversy?

b.   Does a Classis have the authority to depose ministers and consistories?

c.   In what ways was the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches a Church Reformation?

B. The Three Points of Common Grace

1.  The Three Points remain a part of the official doctrine and teaching of the CRC. They are not mere interpretations of the Confessions but are additions to the Confessions, additions which were departures from the truth of our Three Forms of Unity, as well as contrary to Scripture.

2.  The First Point of common grace teaches a favorable attitude of God towards all men in general, and not only toward the elect. Another very significant teaching contained in the First Point is that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all who hear, i.e., that the preaching of the gospel is a well-meaning offer of salvation to all who hear the preaching.

a.   What alleged proof was given for the First Point?

b.   How is the First Point contrary to Scripture? and specifically, how does it deny sovereign predestination?

3. The Second Point of common grace teaches that God restrains sin by the general operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart which is not regenerating. This point set forth the negative result of the operation of God’s grace upon humanity in general.

a.   What alleged proof was given for the Second Point?

b.   Does God restrain sin? Does God restrain sin by a gracious operation of His Spirit and in an attitude of favor in the natural man?

c.   What other possible reasons are there that prevent a man from committing every sin imagin­able?

d.   How is the Second Point a denial of the truth of total depravity?

4.  The Third Point of common grace teaches that unbelievers who are not regenerated can do good works, not saving good, but civil good. This point is a statement of the positive result of the favor­able attitude of God that is taught in the First Point.

a.   What alleged proof was given for the Third Point? Why did the “proof” quote only the first half of Canons III, IV, article 4?

b.   How is the Third Point a denial of the truth of total depravity?

c.   What are good works in the light of Scripture and our Confessions?

II.  Developing Out of Our Roots:

A.  In General:

1.  Our Protestant Reformed Churches have not stood still, but, by the grace of God, have main­tained and developed the truth.

a.   From our beginning, we have done so antithetically, over against all the departures from the Reformed faith, initially especially over against the teaching of common grace.

b.   We have often been criticized for this and we have been accused of being too negative.

1) Is such criticism valid?

2) Why is it necessary to expose and condemn the lie?

2.  But our development has also been in the positive development of the truth, particularly the precious truth of God’s eternal covenant of grace.

a.   Over against notions of the covenant as a pact or agreement between God and men or of the essence of the covenant being a general conditional promise, our churches have set forth the Scriptural truth of God’s covenant as the gracious relation of living fellowship and friendship between God and His people in Christ.

b.   In hope of the final realization of that covenant of God, we have emphasized our calling, our part of the covenant of grace.

c.   Rev. Herman Hoeksema explained that calling beautifully in the twenty-fifth anniversary booklet of our PRC: “And as we thus live in the midst of the world as of the party of the living God, it is our calling as a church and as individual believers to keep His covenant, to live from the principle of regeneration, and to stand antithetically as God’s people in every department of life.”

d.   Questions:

1) How does an “agreement” differ from a relation of friendship?

2) What Scriptural evidence is there that the covenant is a bond of friendship?

3) What does it mean that the covenant is “unilateral”?

4) How does the Baptism form describe our “part” of the covenant?

B.  Specifically:

1. In connection with our Convention theme, “Spiritual Youth in a Carnal World”, it is especially in connection with this calling to stand antithetically that we must see the significance of our begin­ning and development.

a.   Virtually from the beginning of the controversy re common grace, Rev. Hoeksema warned that to maintain common grace would mean the denial of, and therefore, the loss of the truth of the antithesis.

1)  What is the antithesis? cf. II Cor. 6:14-18, James 4:4, I John 2:15, 16.

2)  How does common grace deny the antithesis?

3)  What does it mean to be “in the world but not of the world?”

b.   Strikingly, the CRC Synod of 1924 had warned, in the third part of the decision regarding common grace, “against all one-sided emphasis on the misuse of the doctrine of Common Grace.”

1) This warning that the result would be worldliness was indeed prophetic.

2)  But the spirit of worldliness against which Synod warned was not due to a misuse of the doctrine, nor even a one-sided emphasis of it; rather the doctrine of common grace itself was responsible.

2. The consequences were inevitable and are plain for all to see: it led to a breakdown in the truth of the antithesis.

a.   The churches from which we came had formerly taken strong stands against worldly amuse­ments, drama, and dancing for example. In recent years, the same church has been speaking in high praise of the “film arts” and has supposedly “redeemed the dance”.

1) How has common grace served as a basis for the Christian to participate in drama and dancing?

2)  Are we consistently opposed to such entertainments?

b.   The same is true of the sphere of labor – very early in our history our people realized that the denial of common grace and an antithetical life in this world forbids us from joining the existing labor unions.

1) How has common grace served as a basis for membership in labor unions?

2) Why is union membership contrary to Scripture?

c.   We can see this breakdown too in regards to membership in secret organizations, and in connection with the emphasis placed on the church’s calling to improve society and culture.

III.      Understanding Our Purpose and Calling:

A.  In relation to the World

1. We may not conceive of the history and development of man’s culture, of his science and art, of his technology and labors as a positive development from a spiritual point of view as common grace would have it.

a.   From a spiritual point of view all of man’s cultural activity serves the coming of Antichrist and stands in opposition to God.

b.   In the so-called culture of our own day and the developments taking place we see more and more clearly revealed that process of development under the wrath of God which is described in Romans 1:19ff.

c.   Give examples which demonstrate that:

2.  From the perspective of Common Grace, increasingly it is emphasized in Reformed circles, and perhaps especially in Reformed schools and colleges, that our attention and our efforts are to be directed toward this earth and world.

a.   It is asserted that it is our calling to reform or transform this world, to redeem the so-called good culture of this world, the fruit of common grace, and to Christianize it.

b.   Don’t worry about heaven – get busy and do something here and now to solve the social problems. That’s the popular philosophy today.

c.   What is our calling towards this earth? What does it mean to be a good steward?

3. Our calling is to manifest ourselves as “spiritual youth in a carnal world.”

a.   We are spiritual pilgrims and strangers here, and must live the lives of citizens of the king­dom of heaven.

b.   Again consider the previous quotation of Rev. H. Hoeksema: “. . . it is our calling as a church and as individual believers to keep His covenant, to live from the principle of regenera­tion, and to stand antithetically as God’s people in every department of life.”

c.   Give examples from different departments of life.

B.  In relation to our heritage:

1. We must be aware that Common Grace is not a dead or irrelevant issue; it is still appealed to today.

a.   Common grace continues to build a bridge over the chasm of the antithesis which separates the church from the world. In recent years that bridge has been reinforced and widened.

b.   We must continue to deny and repudiate common grace without hesitation or compromise.

2. We must not weary of hearing or neglect the study of who we are, where we came from, and why.

a.   Only then will we be able to “stand fast and hold the traditions which we have been taught.” (II Thess. 2:15)

b.   Only standing in this awareness will we adhere to the faith of our fathers and defend this heritage entrusted to our keeping.

IV.       Resources for reference and further study:

-The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, by Herman Hoeksema, Second Edition 1947, Grand Rapids, MI.

-God’s Covenant Faithfulness, edited by Gertrude Hoeksema, 1975, R.F.P.A., Grand Rapids, MI.

-A Watered Garden: A Brief History of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, by Gertrude Hoekse­ma, 1993, R.F.P.A., Grand Rapids, MI.

-A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth, (booklet) by Herman Hoeksema, reprinted 1992, Evangelism Committee of Southwest PRC, Grandville, MI.

-Grace Uncommon (pamphlet) by Rev. Barry Gritters, Evangelism Society of Byron Center PRC, Byron Center, MI.

The word “decadence” is from the Latin decadere, “to fall down or away, hence to decay.” Webster defines it as “a process or state of decay or deterioration.” A recent essay in TIME Magazine entitled “The Fascination of Decadence” explores the concept. It notes that the word can be used to mean many different things. “They use it to describe a “50 dollar bottle of Margaux, a three-hour soak in the tub, a 40-hour-a-week television habit, the crowds that tell the suicidal to jump, a snort of cocaine.”

And yet, the essay, maintains, “Americans mean something by it.” “Decadence, like pornography, may be hard to define, but most people think they know it when they see it.” And see it we do in our modern day society. Consider only the following:

 

In a recent article in U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT it is reported that communities once noted for good schools and quality education are being scandalized by physical assaults and threats against teachers and students. Handguns, ice picks, explosives and other weapons are turning up increasingly at schools in many wealthy suburbs.

“The National Institute of Education estimates that 5,200 junior and senior-high-school teachers are physically attacked every month and 6,000 are robbed by force. About 282,000 junior and senior-high-school students are assaulted and 112,000 are robbed at school every month… Students carry blaring portable radios into classes, roughhousing and obscene language are commonplace in hallways, food fights break out in cafeterias, and there is constant noise. Besides this atmosphere, many schools experience frequent outbreaks of brutal violence, some with deadly results.”

 

Another recent magazine article entitled, “Where War and Rebellion Are a Way of Life” highlights 23 different areas over the globe that are plagued by conflicts. According to the article, “war, rebellion, and terrorism are almost a way of life in the developing Third World.” But even in some richer nations, political, religious, and economic tension is triggering bloodshed.

 

A recent interview with famous film actor Charlton Heston provides a very telling commentary upon the dangers of the film arts and their grievous effect upon our society. According to this movie star, film is “the most potent social tool and social weapon ever devised.” He states: “It can speak more eloquently all over the world than any politician, any ambassador, any diplomat, any arm of government. This has challenges as well as terrible, terrible dangers.” According to Heston, our society is becoming increasingly film-orientated. The result? “Very few people can read – really read; even fewer can write.”

 

According to a recent article to TIME Magazine entitled “Sinfully Together,” the Census Bureau has spotted the change in what used to be called “living in sin” but what is now simply called “living together”. A recent report disclosed that the number of couples living together has more than doubled since 1970. “Now the bureau lists 1.1 million ‘illicit’ couples, with the sharpest rise occurring since 1977 in the under-25 category.”

The report added that divorce is now so common “that nearly half of all children born today can expect to spend a meaningful portion of their lives before age 18 in single-parent families.”

What about the future? One Bureau of the Census study projects that unmarried people living together and people living alone will account for 30 percent of the nation’s households by 1990 – a 20 percent rise over current levels. Present trends will continue: a movement of mothers from home to job, a high divorce level, and a low birth rate.
A recent TIME article describes a pagan wedding ceremony. No, it wasn’t taking place in the deep jungles of Africa or South America, but the bizarre ceremony was performed in a campground outside Demotte, Indiana. It was one of the highlights of the Third Annual Pan Pagan Festival, “a four-day conclave that brought together a witches’ brew of 325 paganists, occultists and well, witches from 26 states and Canada.” In the past decade there has been a rather rapid spread of neopaganism around the country. According to J. Gordon Melton, an Evanston, Ill., Methodist minister who heads the Institute for the Study of American Religion, there may be as many as 40,000 practicing pagans today.

 

The use of illegal, mind-bending drugs is rampant today. According to an article entitled “The Colombian Connection” in TIME, 42 million Americans have tried pot, making smoking it the most widely accepted illegal indulgence since drinking during the Prohibition. Americans now consume about 130,000 lbs. per day, quadruple the 1974 consumption, and they spend $25 billion per year on this “pleasure.” The article points out that although marijuana is its main product, Columbia is also America’s chief cocaine supplier. Americans pay $20 billion annually for 66,000 lbs. of the stuff and Columbia provides about 80 percent of it. This is true despite the fact that there is growing evidence that these drugs result in severe physical and psychological damage.

 

We could speak of the recording industry with its current hits emphasizing rhythmic beat and sexually explicit lyrics. We could mention the violence within the home, the fact that as many as 8 million Americans are assaulted each year by members of their own families. We could describe the almost unbelievable statistics regarding shoplifting, arson for profit, employee pilferage, embezzlement, insurance fraud, and tax evasion. We could make reference to that most vile of sins, homosexuality, which is advocated openly today as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. We could point to legal abortions and the pervasive custom of contraception that suggest a society that has lost its will to perpetuate itself.
British author Malcolm Muggeridge states: “What will make historians laugh at us in how we express our decadence in terms of freedom and humanism. Western society suffers from a largely unconscious collective death wish.” One is reminded by that statement of the judgment wrought by the sounding of the fifth trumpet in Revelation 9. We read in verse 6: “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall fall from them.”

 

We see in these examples of decadence, signs of the times which Jesus revealed in Matthew 24. We see the perilous times of the last days as described by Paul to Timothy in II Timothy 3:2ff: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”

And what is the result of this decadence in society? Is the world improving, becoming a better place in which to live? Quite to the contrary, the world becomes ever more steeped in iniquity. And the judgments of God come upon it. The wicked are hardened. In the words of Revelation 9:20,21: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murder, nor of their sorceries (literally, using of all kinds of poisonous drugs, MDV), nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” Their end will be in the lake of fire.

Keep your garments clean! Defile them not in the decadence of this evil age. Have no communion with the idolatry and murder and theft and fornication and corruption of the wicked. The world will hate you, but Jesus says: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

“Feed the flock of God which is among you….” I Peter 5:2a

As a young minister, one immediately feels the awesome responsibility to Jesus Christ in connection which one’s care of the congregation. Christ commissioned Peter to “feed my sheep” and “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). This commission is given to every minister of the gospel. And as it is so evident from the Scriptures, “feed the sheep” involves more than the official preaching of the Word on Sunday. Pastoral work concerns the private application of the Word. It is the preaching of the Word to the individual sheep of Christ. In Acts 20 the Apostle Paul describes his ministry in Ephesus as “teaching publicly, and from house to house,” vs. 20. (emphasis mine, MDV). Thus, pastoral work concerns the official, spiritual, individual care of the members of the congregation.

That care of the individual members of the congregation involves a broad range of problems and situations. It is as complex as life itself. It involves comforting and encouraging the sick, the afflicted, the grieving. It involves instructing and guiding the troubled, the confused, the distressed. It involves exhorting and admonishing in love those who are walking in ways of sin.

Of course the pastoral labors of a minister depend much upon the size of the congregation in which he is called to labor, as well as the particular character of the congregation. Being the pastor at Southwest Protestant Reformed Church, a congregation of approximately 70 families. I have had a considerable amount of pastoral work in the short time. I’ve been in the ministry. Many times pastoral work is toilsome, discouraging, very difficult labor. Yet, my experience has been that pastoral work is very rewarding, and that I have received a great blessing in these labors.

I have been asked upon more than one occasion, in connection with particular situations, “Isn’t it very difficult for you to know what to say?” And my first inclination might be to answer: “Yes, it is very difficult.” Looking only at myself that would be true. I would feel very inadequate at times. I might ask myself, “What can I, such a young, inexperienced pastor, say to God’s people who are in very difficult circumstances that can comfort them, encourage them?”

But that is not, and may be never be the case in the life of a faithful pastor. Why? Because I come to God’s people, not with my own thoughts, not with trite words of my own, but only and always with the Word of God! It is certainly true that my words, my advice, my counsel would be of very little help to God’s people. But I do not, and I may not come with my word, with my advice and opinions. By God’s grace I come to God’s people in need saying: “Thus saith the Lord!”

I have sometimes thought that it would be good to have more study in the area of Pastoral Work in our seminary. But, of course, no matter how much time were spent considering different problems and situations that might come up, one could not begin to treat the vast multitude of such problems and situations. And really every situation is unique. It concerns specific persons and specific circumstances, and must, therefore, be considered individually also. The point is that there can be no hard and fast rules for specific types of cases – say this every sick person, say this to everyone walking in ways of sin, say this to every couple experiencing martial problems. That’s why in Seminary we concentrate upon the principles of pastoral labor. And a fundamental principle is: Always Bring the Word!

            A Pastor who always, without fail, heeds that principle does not dread pastoral work, does not question it, does not neglect it. But rather, he considers pastoral work an important part of his calling as a minister of the gospel. And that principle never fails! From my brief experience in pastoral work, already I am assured of that. No matter what the problem is, no matter what the situation is, God’s Word is the answer. Oh, there are problems I cannot treat. Sometimes God’s people need hospitalization or medication, etc. for either physical or mental problems. Nevertheless, ultimately the care is the Word.

And it has been very striking for me to see how God’s Word speaks to His people in every conceivable situation. That is particularly true of the Psalms. The Psalms speak to us in every conceivable situation of life in which we may find ourselves. Our lives and experiences are reflected in that of the Psalmist.

This fact has especially impressed upon me the necessity of the pastor’s being familiar with the Scriptures. My qualification, my competence to do pastoral work is to be found in the fact that I’m a minister of the Word. And, therefore, pastoral work among the members of the congregation goes hand in hand with the official preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

Finally, all this implies that I, as a pastor, must depend upon Christ in all my pastoral work. I must labor as Christ’s ambassador, as one authorized and qualified by Christ to labor as a shepherd to His sheep. I must labor as one responsible for those sheep before Christ’s face. I, and every faithful pastor, must have a deep sense of dependence upon Christ. That means that I pray! My life, and the life of every faithful pastor, must be a life of prayer.

Prayer is, of course, necessary for all of God’s people, but it is especially necessary for the pastor. That’s evident from the Scriptures. The prophets and apostles were men of prayer. Even our Lord Jesus Christ on more than one occasion was constrained to withdraw from the people to be by Himself to pray.

As a young pastor, it is through prayer and the Word of God that I am able to perform pastoral work. At times, of myself, I would surely falter; I would not even dare to begin my labors. But I pray, pray concerning specific members of the congregation, specific needs, and specific situations. I pray concerning of my own needs and my own weaknesses. Strengthened by prayer and armed with the Word of God, I am able to proceed with my work. And through that way of prayer and of faithfully expounding and applying the Word, I have the confidence that God’s people hear the voice of their Good Shepherd.

Do not fail to remember your pastor in your personal prayers. He needs your prayers. Ask your heavenly Father to strengthen and encourage him, to grant him all that he needs to be a faithful pastor, that your congregation might be blessed and the cause of God’s kingdom might be furthered.

The above title is not original with this writer. “The Dead Sea Video Tapes” was the title of a lecture given in 1976 by a certain Malcolm Muggeridge. His series of three lectures, given at the London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity, was published in this country by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. under the title Christ and the Media. (cf. a review of this little book in the October 1, 1978 issue of the Standard Bearer.) In this lecture, and the entire book, the author maintains that the media and especially television have an evil influence upon our society. He raises many thought-provoking and, very frankly, frightening questions, as is evident from the following   excerpt from this lecture:

“Let us imagine that, somehow or other, a whole lot of contemporary pabulum-video tape and film of television programmes with accompanying news footage and advertisements, copies of newspapers and magazines, tapes of pop groups and other cacophonies, best-selling novels, a selection of successful films, recordings of political speeches, exhortations, comedies and talk shows, and other recordings of the diversions, interests, and entertainments of our time gets preserved, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, in some remote salt cave. Then, centuries, or maybe millennia, later, when our civilization can only be patiently reconstructed out of dusty ruins, incomprehensible hieroglyphics and other residuary relics, archaeologists discover the cave and set about sorting out its contents, trying to deduce from them the sort of people we were and how we lived.

“What, we may wonder, would the archaeologists make of us? Materially so rich and so powerful, spiritually so impoverished and so fear-ridden, having made such remarkable inroads into discovering the secrets of nature and into unraveling the mechanisms of our material environment, beginning to explore, and perhaps to colonise, the universe itself, developing the means to produce in more or less unlimited quantities everything we could possibly need or desire, to transmit swifter than light every thought, smile or word that could possible entertain, instruct, or delight us, disposing of treasure beyond calculation, opening up possibilities beyond envisaging , yet seemingly haunted by a panic fear of becoming too numerous, to the point that there would be no room on the earth for its inhabitants and an insufficiency of food to sustain them. On the one hand, a neurotic passion to increase consumption, promoted by every sort of fatuous persuasion among the technologically advanced people of the Western world; on the other, ever-increasing hunger and want among the rest of mankind. Never, the archeologists will surely conclude, was any generation of men, ostensibly intent upon the pursuit of happiness and plenty, more advantageously placed to attain it, who yet, with apparent deliberation, took the opposite course, towards chaos, not order, towards breakdown, not stability, towards death, destruction and darkness, not life, creativity and light. An ascent that ran downhill, plenty that turned into a wasteland, a cornucopia whose abundance made hungry, a deathwish inexorably unfolded. This, as it seems to me, cannot but be the archeologists’ general conclusion from the material available to them.

“All those preposterous advertisements, technically speaking the best camera work of all, beautifully produced, in the magazines, on the glossiest of glossy paper, on film or video tape, flawless, commending this or that cigarette as conductive to romantic encounters by a waterfall, some potion or cosmetic sure to endow any face, hands, or limbs with irresistible loveliness, or medicament which will give sleep, cure depression, remove headaches, acidity, body odour and other ills-can it have been, the archeologists will ask themselves, in the light of the almost inconceivable credulity required, and apparently forthcoming, some long since forgotten religious cult? A cult of consumption; the supermarkets with soft music playing, its temples; the so-persuasive voices, ‘Buy this! Eat this! Wear this! Drink this!’ of priests and priestesses; the transformation wrought by adopting such a diet, using such gadgets, stretching out on such a bed, the miracles; with Muzak for plainsong, computers for oracles, cash-registers ringing in the offertory-so, they will conclude, the worship of the great god Consumption was conducted, with seemly reverence and dedication. There were even religious orders, with prodigies in the way of asceticism being performed in the interest of slimming and otherwise beautifying the male and female person.

“Contrasting with this apparently flourishing cult, the archeologists would detect vestigial traces of an earlier faith called Christianity, which had become, it seemed, largely associated with social and political causes. Thus, the prevailing Christian ethic, in so far as one could be detected at all, was based on the concept that human beings were victims of their circumstances; in the nomenclature used by some moralists, ‘situational’. In the folk stories, plentifully represented in the film and video footage, misbehavior was almost invariably shown as being due to adverse living conditions, or to mental and moral states beyond the control of the individuals concerned; never to be deliberate wrongdoing, so that the notion of sin seemed to have largely disappeared, and virtue, in so far as the concept still existed, to have found expression exclusively in social acts and attitudes. If any of the archeologists were interested enough, they could trace the adjustments and distortions of the original Christian texts-always, it goes without saying, ostensibly in the interests of clarification-to conform with the concept of Jesus as a revolutionary leader and reformer, a superior Barabbas or Che Guevara, whose kingdom indubitably was of this world, finding in this textual and doctrinal adjustment an example of the infinite ingenuity of the human mind in shaping everlasting truths to conform with temporal exigencies. It might amuse one or other of the archeologists with a Gibbonian turn of mind to note how easily hallowed sayings were turned round to signify their opposites; as, that it is absolutely essential to lay up treasure on earth, in the shape of an ever-increasing Gross National Product; that the flesh lusts with the spirit, and the spirit with the flesh, so that we can do whatever we have a mind to, and that he that loveth his life in this world will keep it unto life eternal, and so on.

“There being nothing in the material at their disposal to suggest to the archeologists that Christianity had any survival possibilities, especially after coming across the announcement, as they inevitably would, that God had died, their assumption that a consumption cult had replaced it as a popular faith would be reinforced.”

According to Muggeridge, the basic doctrine of this cult is belief in progress, all chance representing progress. But our archeologists will discover innumerably instances of the deplorable consequences of the application of this fallacious proposition. For instance, they would see “wars, each more ferocious than the last” which were confidently expected to bring a lasting peace, “liberations that enslaved, revolutions that created worse tyrannies than those they replaced, divorce reform that undermined the institution of marriage and abortions reforms that resulted in ever more abortions being performed.”

The mystical content in this cult of consumption would obviously be sex. Writes Muggeridge: “Sex is the mysticism of materialism, a proposition that would have been borne in upon the archeologists when they found themselves confronted with a superabundance of erotica of every sort and description, in periodicals and books and newspapers, as in films, television programmes, plays and entertainments…”

As for the necessary redemptive process to substitute for the traditional Christian converstion, Muggeridge points to education in all its aspects. Education appears as the answer to all of society’s ills. But what is the result of this emphasis upon education for education’s sake? “Instead of sages, philosopher-kings and saints, pop stars, psychiatrists and gurus. Looking for a Leonardo da Vinci or a Shakespeare, the archeologists find only a Rolling Stone.”

Muggeridge concludes:

Surveying and weighing up the whole scene, then, will not their final conclusion be that Western man decided to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, having convinced himself that he was too numerous, laboring with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer, until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he kneeled over, a weary battered old Brontosaurus, and became extinct?”

Is this not a frightening, but realistic presentation of the content of the media which surrounds us? Even the world recognizes and is concerned about the “soft core” pornography in television and the mass media. Even the world is disturbed by the violence presented in the media which it unquestionably links with antisocial behavior. Even the world is becoming concerned with the advertising industry and its influence, especially upon children. Even the world is becoming alarmed at the violence and corruption portrayed in the news reports.

Oh, we may chuckle when we hear about the kindergarten class, that when told not to squeeze a turtle, named it “Charmin”, or about a half a class of third graders, who when asked to spell the word “relief”, write “Rolaids”. But the power and influence even in advertising is undeniable and alarming.

Television and communication researchers support Malcolm Muggeridge’s thesis that “the technical complexities, necessity of editing, and the demands of the public make the television producer turn reality into fantasy. “Reported in the July 1975 issue of the Reader’s Digest the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications researchers “found that heavy viewers of television (more than four hours daily) develop an unreal view of the world.”

This deception is found even in news reports. Jerry Rubin, one of the principals in the Chicago conspiracy trial some years ago writes in his book called De It:

“Television creates myths bigger than reality. Whereas a demo (demonstration M.D.V.) drags on for hours and hours. TV packs all the action into two minutes a commercial for the revolution. On the television screen news is not so much reported as created. An event happens when it goes on TV and becomes myth… Television is a non-verbal instrument, so turn off the sound, since no one even remembers any words that they hear, the mind being a technicolor movie of images, not words. There’s no such thing as bad coverage for a demo. It makes no difference what’s said: the pictures are the stories.”

What the future holds is even more frightening. In the November 1978 Reader’s Digest in a condensation from Newsweek entitled “TV’s Tantalizing Tomorrow” we read the following:

“Despite its projected benefits, the new technology is regarded with suspicion by those who fear that it will alter leisure habits and social arrangements in ways society may come to regret. Consider the video junkie of a not-too distant day, snuggly ensconced in his all-electronic cocoon, lightning up his three-dimensional wrap-around screen with selections from 100 channels. Will he ever tune out long enough to converse with the rest of his family? What about the future of reading or of quiet, solitary reflection? ‘We have to find out if we are producing something pleasant or are unknowingly inflicting people with a cancer’, worries Sy Salkowitz, president of 20th Century-Fox Television.”

As people of God, and particularly as young people, we should be very cautious in our attitudes toward the media. We may not find our pleasure in the world. Careful, spiritual evaluation is necessary if we are not to be deceived. It is very easy for us to lose our spiritual sensitivity when we constantly come into contact with the corruption and sensationalism dominant in the media today. As strangers in the midst of the world we must have our eyes focused, not upon a television set, not upon filthy literature, but upon spiritual realities of Christ’s kingdom. As the Apostle Paul warns in Colossians 3:2, 3: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And then we have this blessed hope: ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (vs 4)

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 […]

Continue reading

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 […]

Continue reading

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 […]

Continue reading

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 […]

Continue reading

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 […]

Continue reading

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 […]

Continue reading