“Our staff is planning to make the April issue of the Beacon Lights a special Servicemen’s Issue. We would like to have your regular contribution “Christian Living” for April be of special interest to the servicemen, if possible.”
That is the request that came to me from our staff clerk, Miss Elsie Kuiper, few weeks ago. And with that request I will gladly comply. For even though most of you boys are strangers to me according to the flesh, yet as members of Christ’s church we are one in spirit and we are united by that bond of love which makes us members of one another. And especially for you boys in service, Christian Living, though extremely difficult, nevertheless is vitally important. Therefore I am happy for this opportunity to pay you a little “visit”, and in doing so, I would like to have a little “talk” with you about your calling to stand alone and be separate.
To be alone, friends, is something which people, generally speaking, do not enjoy. And that is only natural, for man was not created to be alone. He was not made to live the life of a hermit, but to live in blessed fellowship with God and man. Therefore, rather than to stand alone and be different, he would speak, think, and work as others. What others say he would say, as—others dress he would dress, and where others go he would go. It lies in our very nature to follow the crowd.
And yet, fellows, to follow the crowd today is a bad sign and it is also extremely dangerous, for the crowd has forsaken God and is on the road to eternal doom. Therefore the Word of God always again reminds the church of Jesus Christ that she is a pilgrim and stranger here below and that it is her calling to be in the world but not of the same. And for the same reason, especially to you fellows in service, as you find yourselves far from home and church, in the midst of the world, surrounded by temptation and danger, the admonition comes: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate”.
You understand this does not mean of course that you must separate yourselves in the outward, local sense. That is, the meaning is not that you must withdraw yourselves from your present environment and must simply go A.W.O.L. Were that the case, then heeding the admonition would certainly bring you into trouble, and that with both God and man. For not only would your superiors most likely soon “catch up with you”, but even God would disapprove of your doing. For it is true as we confess, that nothing befalls us by chance but all things come to us by the hand of our Heavenly Father. Hence, also your being where you are is the will of God concerning you, and therefore, difficult though it may sometimes be, nevertheless you must willingly remain where God has stationed you for the present, and submit.
Thus it becomes evident that the admonition refers to a spiritual separation. You must be separate and come out from among them with whom you dwell spiritually. And that means that in your entire walk, conduct, speech and attitude, you must be different than they are. They live out of the principle of sin, and mind the things below. And in all their conduct they plainly reveal that they despise God and His Word, and that they are at home in the sphere of darkness. In that environment, your calling is to live out of a different principle, to serve a different God, and have a different hope. You may never join hands with them and become one with them in the true sense of the word, but you must always condemn their darkness and testify of the light. Always it must be seen in you, that you are spiritually different, since you have a different goal, seek a different country, and live a different life.
That, friends, is your calling. And on this point there may be no compromise. For, notice, thus “saith the Lord”! This call to come out is not the word of man, but of God. And notice too, that God simply says, “Come out.” That means, in spite of the cost, regardless of the sacrifice: never compromise, but come out from among them, and be different. To come out and be separate therefore is not an invitation, but an obligation. It is not something we may do, but must do. God simply demands it of us. And that He does so need not surprise us, for our spiritual separation must serve to the praise of God’s marvelous grace.
In this same chapter in which this admonition is found, the apostle points out that in principle there is a vast difference between the church and the world. He makes that plain by means of asking, “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” The underlying thought in all these questions is that in principle the church and the world are already separate. The one is righteous, the other is darkness; the one is a follower of Christ, the other of Belial. In principle they are directly opposed to one another.
And this principle difference between the church and the world is the fruit of God’s marvelous grace. By nature we are one with the world and like unto the world. But by grace in principle we are different. Having been chosen from eternity and redeemed in time, by a miracle of God’s grace in principle we have a new life, a higher aim, and different hope. And the more that difference becomes manifest in our lives, the more the beauty of God’s grace is displayed before the eyes of men. Therefore it is such a sad picture when the church goes hand in hand with the world, and makes common cause with the workers of iniquity. And for the same reason, God comes to us with the necessary and stern admonition, “Come out, and be ye separate.” For His glory is at stake!
Needless to say, therefore, the way of the Christian is difficult, and especially for you boys in service it is far from easy to bring this admonition into practice. For in the measure that you do, you will be shunned, hated and despised. In the measure that you show your spiritual colors and never compromise, you will have to suffer and stand alone for Christ’s sake. But, friends, no one knows that better than God Himself. Therefore He has added to the admonition the beautiful promise, “Then I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you.”
And that, friends, is a blessedness beyond compare. In fact, it includes everything that heart could wish. For what could be more blessed and glorious than to have God as our Father? If that be our portion, then we have a Friend Who is always near, Who is always able to help, Who always knows what is best, and Who will never forsake us, for His love is eternal. And for that blessedness we need not wait until the day of our death. No, it is experienced already today, while the battle still rages and while we are still far from our Father’s house.
Only, we must bear in mind in this connection, that it is experienced and enjoyed by us only in the measure that by God’s grace we are spiritually different. For also here, it is either-or. Either we have God as our Father and—the world as our enemy, or we have God as our enemy and the world as our friend. We cannot have both. For God says, “then” and the implication is, then and then only, when you separate yourself, I will receive you and be a Father unto you. Hence, it is either-or: alone with God, or together without Him. The former is life, but the latter is death.
Therefore, Christian friends, by the grace of God, be not afraid to be different. Dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone. For in the measure that you do, you too, will experience and say with the Saviour: “Yet I am not alone, the Father He is with me!”
I was almost going to begin this article with the question: Did you ever suffer? But, friends, suffering, as we all know, is common to all men everywhere. Sooner or later it becomes the experience of every man, woman and child, for even though we all dread it and try to avoid it, yet even the strongest, the wisest and the “best” cannot escape it. And therefore, as it stands, the question is far too general.
So we will have to change it a bit.
And then I would like to put it like this: have you ever suffered for Christ’s sake? That, friends, is the question which I really had in mind. And in that form, it is one that is extremely important, so important in fact, that unless we are able to answer it in the affirmative, we cannot and may not sing and confess that it is well with our soul.
For we have again come to that beautiful season of the year which is known among us as the Lenten season. We say “beautiful” for as we know, during this season we commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We contemplate the fact that for our sake He was despised and rejected, afflicted and forsaken, in order that through His poverty we might be made rich.
And it is well that we do so, for apart from the suffering and death of Christ, there is no hope for us. In ourselves we are guilty and depraved, and no gold or silver, no man or angel, nothing in all the world can atone for our sin. But by the one sacrifice of the Lamb of God we are again reconciled with God and have been made heirs of eternal life. In fact, through that one sacrifice we are not only restored to the original position which once was ours in the first Paradise, but we shall once be exalted to the Paradise above, which no man, no devil or angel, shall ever take from us.
Therefore it is not strange that the redeemed church of God sings:
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
—and that she exclaims with the apostle: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ, my Lord!”
And for the same reason this cross of Christ is the very heart of the Bible. Regardless where you turn to its pages, always again you stand face to face with the blessed truth, that He was afflicted in our behalf and that by His stripes we are healed. For that cross is the most glorious revelation of the wisdom and power of God, and it is the only hope of our redemption both for time and eternity.
But, friends, the same Bible which emphasizes that Christ suffered for us, emphasizes also that we must suffer for Him. It reminds us not only that He suffered for our sake, but also that we must suffer for His sake. In fact, it tells us plainly that unless we bear His suffering we must not expect to share in His glory. Hence, according to God’s Word, in spite of the fact that Christ suffered and died for us, we can have no victory without a battle, no crown without a cross, and no glory unless we suffer.
And the reason why this should be so is evident. For Christ not only suffered and died, but He also rose again. And today, He is not only seated at the right hand of God, in glory and majesty, but He also lives in the hearts of His people. And dwelling in their hearts, He imparts to them His salvation and life, so that His church has indeed become the light of the world, a city on a hill which cannot remain hid. Since He lives, we live.
And since we have this new life in a sinful world, it must needs spell suffering for us. For the world lieth in darkness, and hates the light. And also the devil and our own sinful flesh are opposed to it. Therefore, it cannot be otherwise, in the measure that Christ truly lives in our hearts, the world will despise and ridicule us. In the measure that we glory in the cross, we will be compelled to bear the reproach of Christ. And the more we reveal the life from above, the more we will experience that the world hates the light and that it is an enemy of the cross.
Suffering for Christ’s sake, therefore, is an absolute must. Not because Christ’s work for us is insufficient. Nor because the effect of His suffering depends upon our suffering. But because our suffering is the inevitable result of His suffering. Hence, you cannot have the one without the other. Wherever you find the blood of atonement, there you will also find tension, battle and strife for Christ’s sake. While on the other hand, not to experience this suffering, can only mean that we are still strangers at the cross and that we are none of His.
And yet, friends, we find so little of that suffering today. The church today, generally speaking, is at ease. She has become rich and popular and enjoys the favor and friendship of the world. In fact, she seems to feel so well at home in this present world and gets along so well, even with the enemies of the cross, that it almost seems ridiculous to speak of suffering for Christ’s sake.
And the reason for that, you may be sure, is not that the world is gradually getting better and is more tolerant today than in days gone by. For Scripture teaches us that the world does not improve, but rather develops in sin, and therefore is an enemy of the truth today more than ever before. But the reason why the church suffers so little today is because she has adopted the pattern of the world and fails to reveal the life of Christ.
To gain the favor of the masses has toned down the doctrine of the cross. To avoid the reproach of Christ, she has removed the lines of demarcation, by doing away with the doctrine of the antithesis. And by becoming more like the sinful world instead of more like the Master, she became a stranger to that suffering which is the very mark of the children of God.
But, friends, what is true of the church in general, is true only too often also of us. For we too hate to suffer and also for us it is difficult always consistently and willingly to bear the shame of the cross. In fact, our desire to be popular, our craving for money, and our urge for “fun” always again tempt us to deny Christ and to go the way of the crowd. And only too often, we do deny Him and fail to shoulder His cross.
And that is bad. For thus we take sides with the enemy, we hide Christ’s glory, and we lose the assurance that we are children of light. And it is also foolish. For by grace it has been given unto us, not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake. And Christ’s word still stands: “Blessed are ye| when men shall revile you and persecute you . . . for my sake . . . for great is your reward in heaven.”
Therefore, friends, during this Passion season, as we commemorate the suffering of Christ for us, may we be reminded also of our duty to suffer for Him. And by His grace may it spur us on more willingly to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow Him. True it is, in the measure that we do, we will experience suffering for Christ’s sake.
But remember: “This is a faithful saying . . . if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” And until that day comes, let us be disciplined by that other word; “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”’
Jesus once said: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it also be in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.” These words of the Saviour, friends, were indeed spoken in truth and are certainly being fulfilled today, for in the world in which we live amusement centers are filled to overflowing, divorce courts are doing a rushing business and juvenile delinquency is on the increase, modernism is rampant, apostasy is gaining ground and knowledge of and love for the truth is almost a thing of the past. The masses have become alienated from the church and instead of seeking the things above, they hanker after the treasures and pleasures of the world. In fact, in spite of the loud speech of God’s judgments, the masses heedlessly rush on, hardening themselves in the way of sin. Hence, the conclusion cannot be escaped: today as never before Christ proclaims loudly, “Behold, I come quickly.”
And no one can deny that in such a world the church of Jesus Christ has a tremendous calling. When conditions are such, she may not be silent, nor may she isolate herself and withdraw from the various spheres and departments of life. Instead, in the measure that the world increases in sin, she must speak up and be active, and must reveal that he is of the party of the living God in the midst of the world. Therefore the admonition comes to her, and to each of her members individually, and I would add, especially to you as young people: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven,”
Did you ever stop to consider, friends, what the Implications are of this admonition? Really, when rightly considered, they are astounding. Fact is, the admonition presupposes first of all that there is a vast difference between the church and the world. It draws a line of demarcation between the two, and it tells us that the one has light while the other does not, that the one rejoices in the light of day, while the other gropes about in the darkness of night. And so it is, for Jesus himself said to His church: “Ye are the light of the world” and concerning the world He said, that it lieth in darkness.
Since that is the case, God’s church is exceedingly rich, but the world is unspeakably poor, for nothing is more beautiful than light, but on the other hand nothing is more terrible than darkness. For in darkness man has no knowledge and certainty, he gropes about in the dark, reaches out in despair, and finally stumbles and falls. But walking in the light, man has knowledge and life, joy and hope, fellowship and peace. And so it is with God’s church. Since she has been redeemed by God’s grace, she has light upon life’s pathway, and walking in that light, she has joy and peace, fellowship with God and man, and she rejoices in the hope of eternal. But the world on the other hand, lieth in darkness, and in that darkness, it is blind and foolish, evil and sinful, without God and without hope. Hence, the one is light, the other darkness; the one is from above, the other from below; the one is on the way to eternal bliss; but the other is on the road to eternal doom.
But even so, we have no reason to boast, for that we in distinction from the masses have light is not due to our own ingenuity or due to our own choice. For by nature we too were darkness, foolish and sinful, and nothing in all the world could change that. But God, by a miracle of His grace, has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. And therefore the difference between them and us is due only and entirely to God’s sovereign and elective grace.
Did you ever stop to think of the Christian friend? Did you ever stop consider, that it is only because of God’s grace that you are different than your neighbor, who swears, drinks, goes to shows, works on Sunday, and cares not about God and His service? And do you walk in that consciousness daily? If so, then no doubt you also realize that you have a great calling, for the very purpose of light is not to hide it, but to let it shine. And yet, there are very few people today who really do that. The tendency today more and more seems to be to hide it and cover it up. And also as young people, being surrounded by temptations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to always be faithful. But for that very reason Jesus comes to us with the admonition, not to foolishly put our light under a bushel, but to let it shine.
Notice, Jesus does not say that we must seek to conquer the world. Nor does He say that we must save some for His kingdom. That in the final analysis is His work. Instead He tells us that we must let our light shine. That is our work. And to really do that implies that in all spheres of life we condemn the works of darkness and testify of the light. It means that even though we live in a world of sin, nevertheless we must keep our garments clean, we must reveal the life that is from above, and it must be seen in us that even though once we were blind yet now we see.
And so it must be in every sphere of life. In work and play, in church and school, at home and by the way, not only on Sunday but also during the week, it must become manifest that we are children of light. Wherever we go and in everything we do, we must say “yes” to God and “no” to sin. Wherever that is impossible, there the Christian must not work and refuse to dwell. And our light must shine, at the expense of all.
Therefore when as young people we choose our vocation, it may never first of all be a question of a nice soft job, or of honor, or of money, but, rather of letting our light shine, with the talents God has given us. And when we choose our entertainment and our life’s partner, it is no different. Our main concern must always be the shining forth of that light which God has given us by His grace. For that is our task, that is what we are here for—to let our light shine, and to do so regardless of the cost and In spite of all.
And if you ask for the reason, or the purpose, then Jesus answers: “that you may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Notice, the purpose is not that people may see us and glorify man, but that they may see God and glorify Him. Our goal therefore must not be ourselves, but God. And the shining of our light does reveal His glory, for not only the light, but also the will and the ability to let it shine are of Him. Hence, when we let our light shine, His grace becomes manifest, and thus in a world of darkness it can be seen that in principle the head of the serpent has been crushed and that our God is the mighty God who calls forth life out of death and has changed darkness into light. Therefore our light must always shine, not only in public, but also in secret. In fact, even though we lived alone on an island it would still have to shine, for regardless whether people see it or not, regardless whether it makes them curse or pray, the shining of our light always redowns to the glory of God.
However, the implication of the admonition is, that not only we ourselves, but also our fellowmen must glorify God, and if we let our light shine, they will do so. And so it is. That is true first of all of God’s people. When they see our light, in word and deed, in our good example and sanctified walk, it edifies them and strengthens them in the faith. Our light has a wholesome effect upon them and becomes the means that they too give glory to God. In fact, nothing makes more for joy and fellowship, peace and contentment, among the people of God, than to walk together in the light. While on the other hand, nothing is more discouraging, more detrimental to the church, and more dishonoring to God, than a compromising Christian who puts his light under a bushel.
But what is true of the church is true also of the world. The shining of our light shall induce not only the people of God but also the men of darkness to give glory to God. Not today of course. Today, in the measure that we reveal our light, we experience the truth of God’s word, that the world hates the light and we must suffer because of it. But even so, be not dismayed, for presently, in the eternal morning, all shall be forced to confess that the light of God’s church as it shone throughout the ages, was the work of God, that through it He has triumphed over the work of Satan, and that therefore He is God, and He alone. Even hell itself shall be compelled to tell the praises of our God.
Therefore, friends, nothing is more beautiful and glorious than to let our light shine. And nothing could be more safe. But on the other hand, nothing is more deplorable and terrible, and also dangerous than to cover it up and hide it under a bushel.
As young people, let us then remember in all our way, the words of the Saviour: Ye are the light of the world! And may we so let our light shine, that men may see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven!
Another year has come and gone, and again we stand on the threshold of a new year. Another year with all its joy and sorrow belongs to the irrevocable past, and again a new year with its unknown way stretches out before us. For just what awaits us on the way that lies ahead we do not know. That is known to God alone and will be revealed to us only as God unfolds His eternal counsel.
True, in general we know that the coming year will be no different than the year that has gone by, for also in the year to come, some will be born, others will die; some will profit, others will lose; some will be glad, while others are sad. So it has been always and so it will remain unto the end of time. Therefore, in a sense, there is nothing new under the sun and it is true as Solomon said: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
But even though life in general is much the same from year to year, yet in detail we do not know what awaits us, for the particulars of our way have not been revealed to us. Therefore it is but natural, as we enter a new year, that countless questions arise, questions in regard to ourselves and our loved ones, our parents and friends, our church and nation and the world in general. To all of which we can give only the answer: We do not know.
And therefore, as we might expect, it especially at this time of the year the that hearts of men are filled with eager anticipation and that people in general do a lot of “hoping” and “wishing”. They realize that the year that has passed was a failure and disappointment. Their resolutions were not kept, their goal was not attained and their hopes were not realized. With joy therefore they bid farewell to the old year and with gladness they welcome the new. And with fresh courage and renewed zeal, they begin the new year, in the hope and expectation, that the new year will bring them a joy and happiness which the old could not afford. And in that hope, they wish for themselves and one another, health and prosperity, joy and peace, and they greet one another with “A Happy New Year”, with which they mean a year filled with the “best” and crowned with all the pleasant and sweet things of life. According to them, the year can be a happy one, only then, when man’s way is one of roses and the skies are always blue.
And yet, friends, I am sure that if those things must make us happy then we shall always be unhappy. If health, peace and prosperity must be the source of our joy, then true joy and happiness will never be a blessed reality.
That such is indeed the case, is only the teaching of God’s Word but also a matter of experience. It is not so many years ago, that we had, what we called a depression. At that time many hearts were heavy and all looked forward to a return of prosperity when again there would be plenty for all. Unto that end, prayer meetings were held and we clamored for improved conditions and an easier way, for then we would be happy, so we thought.
Today, however, God has given us that much desired prosperity, even to such an extent that, with the exception of a few, all live in luxury. But still we are not satisfied. For though we receive the prosperity for which we clamored, God also gave us war and the atomic bomb. Underneath the pretty rose hid an ugly thorn. Besides, sickness and disease still run rampant, there is trouble and unrest at every hand and death still lurks at every comer. And therefore, today as in the past, people are restless, hearts are burdened and man still looks forward to better days. In fact, in spite of our so-called prosperity, today as never before, men’s hearts fail them for fear and the world is filled with anxiety and unrest instead of happiness and peace.
Thus we experience, on the one hand, that happiness and contentment are not to be found in things, that as long as we seek our joy in things seen, our dreams will never be realized and our hopes will always be crushed. And, on the other hand, we also experience, that it is true as we sing: “In all earth’s habitations, On all the boundless sea, Man finds no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.”
So, friends, it was also with the Psalmist of old. In Psalm seventy-three Asaph tells us that he had seen the prosperity of the wicked and .that for a time he envied them, for in spite of their sin they seemed to prosper. They were not in trouble as other men, their eyes stood out with fatness and they had more than heart could wish. While he on the other hand, apparently cleansed his heart in vain, for his punishment was there every morning and he was plagued all the day long.
But in the sanctuary of God it was revealed to him that with all their prosperity God sets the wicked on slippery places, that He is far from them and that He casts them down into destruction. But on the other hand, it was also revealed to him that his cross and suffering were sent him in love and must serve to prepare him for eternal glory. And therefore he concludes at the end of the Psalm: “It is good for me to draw near to God.” “Let the wicked”, he means to say, “have his prosperity, but give me my God.”
In these words the Psalmist therefore gives expression to the blessed truth that it is never first of all a question of “things” or outward circumstances, but of God, whether He be with and for us, and whether we are near to Him. And so it is, for on the storm-swept ocean of time, there is but one beacon of light, but one fountain of happiness and peace, and that is God. And as the rivers and streams cannot rest until they rest in the deep, blue ocean, so man can not rest until he rests in God.
But therefore the people of God have a rich consolation, for that God, who is the fountain of all good and apart from whom we cannot rest, is present everywhere and is with His people where’er they rest and where’er they go. He is nigh unto them not only in His providence to uphold and direct them, as He does all His creatures in general. But He is near them in His love, in His fellowship and grace, to bless them, to cause all things to work together for their good, and to prepare them for their home in heaven above. Thus, in reality, the Christian is never alone. In Him we have a Friend, who is always near. And what a Friend He is! For since He is almighty, He is always able to help; since He is all-wise, He always knows what is best; and since He is faithful, He never leaves not forsakes us, He never slumbers and never sleeps.
And yet, there come times in the life of the Christian when he too feels lonely and forsaken, when life seems vain, when God seems far and His way with us appears to be foolish. However, the trouble is never with our way, nor can we attribute our anxiety and care to the fact that God is not near, for He is always near, and His way with us is always good. But the trouble is, though He is always near to us, so often we are not near to Him. Only too often with our minds and hearts and with our trials and problems we are so far from His. And the result is, we become filled with anxiety and fears, we fret about our way and we are inclined to complain with Jacob of old that all things are against us. So it was also with Asaph. He allowed the prosperity of the wicked to draw him away from his God, and thus for the time being, he lost the experiences of God’s favor and nearness, and later he had complain that he had been as a beast before God.
Therefore even though God is always near us, we must also be near Him. Not of course, that God’s being near to us depends on our being near to Him. For that He is near us, is all of grace, and therefore nothing in all the world can destroy it, not even our sin. He is always near His people, and that forever. But that nearness is experienced and enjoyed by us, only in that measure that by His grace we live close to Him.
And that means that we do not ignore or disregard Him, but that we are always conscious of Him in the home and by the way, and that in our work and play, and in all circumstances of life, we seek to walk the way of His commandments, commit our way to Him in faith and follow where He leads us.
Therefore, with a view to the way that lies before us, it is not a question first of all of what the way will be, whether it will bring prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow, life or death. But rather it is a question of faithfulness in that way, of living near to God.
As we start our journey in 1953, may this, then, be our prayer:
“Another year is dawning
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee;”
For then and then only, can we truly sing:
“In sweet communion, Lord, with Thee
I constantly abide;
My hand Thou holdest in Thy own
To keep me near Thy side.”
And then we may boast in all circumstances of life:
“Thy counsel through my earthly way
Shall guide me and control,
And then to glory afterward
Thou wilt receive my soul.”
That, friends, is what happens to us during the Christmas season: God turns us inside out!
We have again come to that season of the year which is known among us as Christmas. However, that is a fact of which none of us has need of being reminded, for where-ever we turn, everywhere, we find the hustle and bustle which is common to this season of the year. In our cities and towns, streets and windows are gaily decorated in the festive colors of yuletide, children and adults are tense with excitement and the minds of old and young alike are occupied with the problems and joys of the coming holiday. All of which reminds us that we have again come to the most joyful of all the festive seasons and that this season is indeed one of joy and gladness, of rejoicing and jubilation.
And well may it be such, for Christmas has a very comforting message and Bethlehem is indeed a beautiful place. For there in Bethlehem, many centuries ago, God supplied us with a Saviour. And that, friends, namely a Saviour, is exactly our greatest need. For at the root of all our troubles, and those of the weary world in which we dwell, lies our sin. And sin, as we all know, means that we are enemies of God. It means that we have broken God’s law. It implies that we stand guilty before Him, and that we are the objects of His hot displeasure and righteous judgments.
And to be delivered from that awful condition and state, one who is an example, or merely extends kind invitations and throws out well-meant life-lines, is of no avail. What we need is one who saves, truly saves, entirely and completely, for we are not merely drowning but drowned, not only dying but dead. What we need, even more than food and clothing and life itself, is someone who saves not only from the effects of sin, but who saves first of all from the guilt and power of sin. What we need above all else, is one who first atones for our sin and then makes of the dead sinner a living saint.
And that is what God gives us in Bethlehem. There in Bethlehem He provides us exactly with such a Savior, for Bethlehem’s Babe is none other than Christ, the Lord. And that means that He has been appointed and ordained by God unto the very purpose that He might redeem and save all those given Him by the Father. But it means also that this purpose will surely be realized, for He is no one less than the Lord Himself, Who even at the time of His humble birth has all things in His hand and rules supreme over all the inhabitants of the earth.
In Bethlehem, therefore, heaven and earth meet, God and man are forever united. In Bethlehem, a holy and righteous God breaks forth into a world of sin and darkness, to give beauty for ashes, life for death, peace instead of war, and hope where there was nothing but despair. In Bethlehem, God condescends to our low estate, He comes to live with the poor and the lowly, and He opens the way that poor, lost sinners may again dwell with Him. That friends, is the meaning of Christmas and the beauty of Bethlehem.
Small wonder, then, that the shepherds of old in the fields of Ephrata, said to one another: “Come, let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” For there in Bethlehem, in that lowly manger, in that Babe so humbly wrapped in swaddling clothes lies our salvation. There in the city of David, is the Wonder of God, the mystery of godliness, Immanuel, God with us.
And well may we today, admonish one another likewise, for in this war-torn world, there, and there only, do we find peace. True it is, the nations are again at war, and our young men are called to arms and must bear the sword. But even so, in Bethlehem there is peace, peace with God and our entire way, for Bethlehem’s Babe, and He alone, is the Prince of peace. To be sure, Bethlehem is beautiful, also, yes, especially today in a world at war, in which all things proclaim to us that we never rest until we rest in Him.
And yet, we so easily forget that Bethlehem is also terrible. So often we seem to think that the joy of Christmas is universal and that the Christ-child came to bring peace and happiness to all. No doubt, that was also the hope and expectation of His mother, and that she should cherish such thoughts and expectations can easily be understood. For as soon as the child is born, angels sang of His glory, shepherds and Magi came to worship Him, and old gray-haired Simeon in the temple, taking the child in his arms exclaimed: “Lord, now let Thy servant die in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” In view of this, it is not strange that Mary’s hopes were high and that concerning her child she had the greatest expectations.
But the same Simeon who caused her hopes to rise, also warned her not to become overly optimistic, for having made his beautiful confession, he turned to her and said: ‘’This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. . .an order that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
No doubt, these words must have come to Mary as a great disappointment and as a tremendous shock, for they made it plain to her in no uncertain terms, that her child would not be popular, that many would contradict him, and that they would be offended in him unto their own ruin and hurt. They foretold in very plain language, that through this child, though some would be exalted and lifted up to the very heights of heaven, yet others would fall and stumble over him into eternal perdition.
And so God would have it, for, notice, Simeon emphasizes that Christ has been set unto this very thing, which means that God has ordained him for the very purpose, that he might bring separation between the children of men, that he might separate the sheep from the goats and the good from the bad, that the one might be exalted by him and the other brought low, that for the one he might be a savor of life unto life but for the other a savor of death unto death.
And this separation which God brings about through the Christ-child, begins at Bethlehem, for there, though wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the Babe We behold, is none other than the Christ of God, the Prince of Peace, who in one person is not only a real righteous man, but at the same time is also very God. Hence, in that Babe, God places us before the question: What think ye of the Son of God?
And in the answer we give and in the attitude which we assume toward him, we reveal whether we are children of darkness or whether by grace we are children of God.
Therefore, friends, Christmas is a grave situation and Bethlehem is a serious place, for there in Bethlehem we stand before the tribunal of God, God judges us, He turns us inside out, and He lays bare the thoughts of our heart. And, therefore, if it should be true of us, that during this Christmas season we ignore and crowd-out the Christ- child, and if we think more of gifts, tinsel and tree than of him, then we stand condemned already, for thus we prove that the glittering things of this world mean more to us than the salvation and righteousness of Christ.
But on the other hand, if it be true of us, that as the shepherds of old, we seek cur all in Bethlehem, in the Christ of God and that all our rejoicing is in him, then it is well with us, for then the word of the angel comes to us: “Fear not, for unto you is born in the city of David, the Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.”
Indeed, therefore, Bethlehem is a beautiful place. But it is also terrible. It is beautiful for the righteous, but it is terrible for the wicked. During this Christmas season, therefore, and in our rush and pursuit of gifts, let us be warned, friends, not to trample underfoot the greatest of all gifts, for remember: This child has been set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, in order that the thoughts of many hearts might, be revealed!
Every year when our national Thanksgiving Day draws near, I am reminded of those beautiful words of the poet: “Thy Spirit, O Lord, makes life to abound, The earth is renewed, and fruitful the ground; To God ascribe glory and wisdom and might, Let God in His creatures forever delight.”
That is the case also again this year for wherever we look, everywhere we see an abundant harvest. Though during the course of the year we often criticized the weather and worried and fretted and feared, yet we stand before barns filled with the finest of grain, our store houses are bursting with supplies, and our pantries and tables are laden with the choicest of foods.
Truly, the Lord of heaven and earth was again mindful of His promise: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” He has crowned the year with His goodness. And we may indeed sing in truth: “He waters the hills with rain from the skies, And plentiful grass and herbs He supplies, Supplying the cattle, and blessing man’s toil, With bread in abundance, with wine and with oil.”
Therefore it is but proper, now as the season has drawn to a close and another Thanksgiving Day draws near, that we humbly bow before our faithful God and that we thank and praise Him for His tender care and keeping. And therefore especially at this juncture on life’s pathway the Word of God comes to us: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.”
And yet, friends, it is especially at this time of the year and at this occasion that I always feel that the calling of the Christian is one which is difficult, in fact, that it is one which is impossible for the flesh. For, first of all, there is so much for which we must be thankful, for notice, the will of God concerning us is that we give thanks in everything.
And that certainly implies first of all, that we thank Him for our corn, wine and oil, and all the things He gives us with a view to the body. For all these things are gifts from the hand of God, and as long as we dwell in this tabernacle we have need of these things for our temporal existence. Therefore every day we ask for our daily bread and on Prayer Day we pray for God’s blessing upon the labor of our hands. However, even though we need them, we do not deserve as much as a cup of cold water oil a dry crust of bread. Hence, when God supplies us with rain and sunshine, food and drink, clothing and shelter, it behooves us to acknowledge Him for all these gifts and also with these things to end in Him.
But that makes our task on Thanksgiving Day so difficult, for when it comes to these material things, God gives us so much and we live in a land of plenty. Shortly after the war a few years ago, a woman wrote from the Netherlands, “During the occupation we prayed for a pair of stockings and gave thanks for a spool of thread.” In such times one learns to appreciate and to value very highly even the small things in life. However, when we live in abundance and bathe in luxury as most of us do today, the opposite is the case. Then the danger is that we become accustomed to things and take everything for granted, and it is difficult to appreciate what we have. And yet so it must be. We must count our blessings, and name them one by one—also these blessings, many though they be, for that is the will of God concerning us. What a tremendous task!
But even so we have not said enough, for we have not only a body but also a soul, and we have been created not only for time but also for eternity. Therefore we cannot live by earthly bread alone, for we have not only physical needs but also spiritual needs, and needs not only with a view to this life, but also with a view to the life eternal. And these spiritual needs are far more important than our physical needs, for Jesus Himself once said: “What is a man profited, even though he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
But also in this respect in the bygone season our heavenly Father has made a wonderful provision. Looking back, we must confess that in the season which is now coming to a close He has again supplied us with all the spiritual blessings of His salvation. In fact, when we think of His Christ, His Church and kingdom, His Word and truth, His fellowship and communion, His guidance and direction, His presence and nearness, and when we consider the foretaste of the forgiveness of sins, of the communion of saints and of the life everlasting which is ours even today, then we must confess that His blessings are so great and so many that we cannot number them, and we must needs exclaim with the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits.” And yet, number them we must, also these blessings, and be thankful for them, for that is His will concerning us.
But even here we cannot stop and thus we have not fully accomplished our task, for all God’s work is perfect and is done in love to those that fear Him. Not only when the way is smooth and easy, but also when it becomes difficult and rough, God is good and kind to His people. Not only in prosperity, but also in adversity, He seeks the eternal wellbeing of His own, and both through bitter and sweet He leads them on to eternal glory. Hence, all God’s ways with His people and all His gifts to them are blessings, even though many of them are blessings in disguise. The Word of God, therefore, admonishes us to give thanks in everything and for all things, which means that on Thanksgiving Day there must be no sorting and sifting, no giving of thanks for this and not for that, but instead we must thank Him for everything He has sent us for our entire way, regardless whether it was sweet or bitter.
And that we must be thankful for all these things means more than to express to God a mere word of thanks. Nor does it consist in merely bringing God a gift, while our heart is still far from Him, for God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Hence, if our thanksgiving is to be genuine it must be a matter of the heart, and it must reveal itself not only in our words but also in our deeds. Real gratitude therefore really consists in this, that in all things we see the hand of God, that we are fully content in His way with us, and that with all things we end in Him. It means that we do not grouch or grumble, do not boast or brag concerning our own ingenuity, but that with all things we cast ourselves at His feet and exclaim: “All is of Thee and through Thee and must therefore also be unto Thee.” That, and that alone, is true thanksgiving. And that is the gratitude which God demands of us.
Since that is the case, I think you realize how extremely difficult it is to really celebrate Thanksgiving Day as we ought. It is so difficult, that it is altogether impossible for the world. Though they must, yet they cannot. But even for the Christian it is not easy. Especially not when we consider that we must give thanks in everything and for all things. In fact, also for him it is impossible for the flesh.
But also here the impossible with man has been made possible by God, and the secret of our strength is in Christ. For through Him we have been reconciled with God, we have been made heirs of the world to come, and we know that all things work together for our good. And by grace looking to Him, we too experience and confess that we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us, also when it comes to giving thanks. In fact, through Him it has been made possible to be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future, with our minds and hearts to rest in God.
Hence, on Thanksgiving Day, it will not be a question first of all of a nice turkey or an abundant harvest, nor even whether we are healthy or sick, but rather whether we can say with the Heidelberg Catechism: “This is my Comfort, I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
May we firmly stand in that assurance, for His Word stands: “Give thanks in everything, for that is the will of God concerning you!”
Leaves, leaves, and more leaves. . .That is what we find at present in nature round about us. Every Fall, about this time of the year, regardless where we go, on sidewalk and lawn, in the city and on the farm, it seems we find nothing but Leaves.
There is something sad about that, I always find. The same leaves which once were the life and beauty of the trees, now appear dead and withered and ready to be burned. And the trees which they once adorned stand naked and bare, deprived of their foliage and beauty.
However, there is something serious about it too, for God’s Word tells us that the things of God’s kingdom are done in parables, which means that the earthly is a picture of the heavenly and that the natural is a symbol of the spiritual.
The autumn season with its falling leaves, therefore always reminds me of that sad expression which is contained in the Scriptures “nothing but leaves”, and of the cursing of the barren fig tree.
We all know the history, no doubt. On a certain day when Jesus was on His way from Bethany to Jerusalem, he became hungry and sought fruit on a certain fig tree. For even though the time for figs had not come, yet this particular tree had an abundance of leaves, and it is well known that the fig tree puts forth its fruit before it produces its leaves. Hence, the wealth of leaves this tree possessed warranted the expectation of fruit.
But when Jesus came to the tree he found nothing but leaves. Though the tree through its leaves gave a promise of fruit, yet in reality it was barren. Though it held out a nice hope, it rendered only bitter disappointment. It professed much, but performed nothing. Hence, the tree was a huge practical lie, it is not surprising that Jesus cursed this tree and that the following day it had already withered away.
However, we must remember in this connection, that this tree which Jesus cursed, is but the symbol and picture of another tree, namely, of the nation of Israel. For often when the Bible speaks of the children of Israel, it compares them exactly to such a tree, and the reason why it should do so is plain. As this fig tree had been carefully planted by its owner’s hand, so also the Jewish nation had been planted by God Himself. And even as Jesus came to this fig tree seeking fruit, so also throughout the entire Old Dispensation God came to the children of Israel, demanding of them that they worship Him in spirit and in truth, and that they bear fruit to His honor and glory.
And even as the fig tree made a nice promise, put on a big outward show, so it was also with the nation of Israel. They sacrificed daily, made loud profession and long prayers, and were so strict in keeping the outward letter of the law, that in some respects they even did more than God demanded of them. But when God came to them seeking fruit, He found nothing but leaves. Though they drew nigh unto Him with their lips, yet their heart was far from Him. Though they appeared to love God and His people, yet in actual life they devoured the houses of orphans and widows. Though they had a form of godliness, yet they lacked the powers thereof.
And, no doubt, it was because of this deplorable condition in Israel, that Jesus cursed the barren fig tree. In the cursing of this fig tree, Jesus warned them and gave them a picture of what they could expect, if they failed to bear fruit and yielded nothing but leaves. But in spite of the warning, the nation went on as before, and we all know the result. Shortly after the fig tree was cursed, God’s curse also came upon the Jewish nation. Their temple was razed, their city destroyed, their land given to others, and even until this present day they are scattered over the whole earth.
And yet, if we should see no more in the cursing of the barren fig tree than this, then I’m afraid we would miss the main part of the lesson, for Jesus cursed this fig tree not only as a warning for Israel, but also as a warning for us. For we too have been brought into being by God Himself, and the very purpose of our existence is that we might bear fruit. Hence, even as God came to His fig tree seeking fruit in the old dispensation, so He comes also to you and me today. And woe to us if we too have nothing but leaves. Then our end will be even worse than that of Israel, for we have both the fig tree and them to learn from. The one lesson we must learn therefore is that we are here not for ourselves but for God’s sake, and that God is interested in fruit, not merely in leaves.
And O how we need that lesson today! For we are living in an age in which many are very pious and religious outwardly, but their lives plainly reveal that inwardly they have no love for God and His cause whatsoever. They have their names on the church roles and bear the sign and seal of baptism, but their religion is nothing but an outward show, for a life of sanctification and self-denial they despise. And many others, though they are very zealous in God’s cause and kingdom and have a leading role in God’s church, nevertheless resemble the Pharisees, of old, for they are haughty and proud at heart and base their hope of salvation not on what God does for them, but on what they do for God. And such “fruit” is obnoxious even in the sight of men, and it certainly is in the eyes of a holy and righteous God.
The fruit He desires consists first of all in a broken and contrite spirit and the confession that our only hope of salvation is the cross of Jesus. For by nature we are all bad trees. Hence we must learn to see and confess that there is no good in us and that Jesus’ cross is our only hope of deliverance. And that confession must reveal itself in our work and play and in everything we do and say, so that our lives truly become God and Christ-centered, and we find our all in Him.
And that fruit is possible only when, even as Christ Himself tells us, we abide in Him, for without Him we can do nothing. To really bear fruit therefore, by a living faith, which is the gift of God, we must be engrafted into Christ and live out of Him. Only in the measure that we live close to Him, is His strength made perfect in our weakness, and can we truly be fruitful trees in the garden of God.
Hence, in the final analysis the fruit which we bear is not our gift to God, but God’s gift to us, for we love Him only because He first loved us, and He it is that works in us both to will and to do. Therefore it is not strange that God is so concerned about fruit, for by means of it the stream returns to its fountain, and God is glorified in and through His own work. And for the same reason it is not strange that it is so terrible to have nothing but leaves, for God seeks His own glory, and anything and everything that comes short of that, as leaves, must needs be burned.
May this fall season with its many leaves therefore spur us on to be faithful, in order that in the day of Eternal Harvest, it may not be true of us: nothing but leaves!
The Passion season is again with us, that wonderful time of the year when in a special way we commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour. And just a few more weeks, and another Easter Day will dawn, when “Torn the lips of old and young alike, we hear the old yet ever new refrain: “The Lord is risen indeed!”
Thus, as church of the living God, we commemorate the work of our Lord which was accomplished in our behalf more than nineteen hundred years ago. Thus from year to year, we pause for a moment as it were, to remind ourselves in a special way of His atoning death and glorious resurrection. And thus every year, especially during the season of Lent and Easter, we stand face to face with a mighty contrast: the amazing cross and the open tomb!
We say a contrast, for the cross is the symbol of suffering and shame, but the open tomb of glory and honor. The one speaks of death and the curse, the other of life and favor. The one spells utter defeat, the other glorious victory. The one caused tears and sorrow, the other gave songs in the night.
And yet, here too, there is unity and order and all God’s work is perfect, for the amazing cross and the open tomb belong together. The one is the way to the other, and without the one the other cannot be realized. In fact, they are so closely related that without the gloom of Calvary the joy of Easter is impossible. So that also here we are confronted with the words of the Saviour: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
And well may we take those words to heart, especially today as we approach Good Friday and look forward to Easter. For Easter is indeed a day of great joy and gladness. In a world of gloom and sorrow it spells hope and comfort and speaks of life in the midst of death. For we live in a world in which sin and death and the curse surround us on every hand, and seemingly nowhere is there a way of escape. But the open tomb proclaims to us: “Fear not, for behold, He is risen!” And in those few words we have the entire gospel of our redemption. For they tell us that because He is risen our sin is gone, the curse has been removed and that death has been swallowed up in victory. They proclaim to us that by a wonder of grace the things impossible with man have been made possible by God, and that through Him the risen Christ is become the life-giving Lord, in whom in principle the word has been realized: “Behold, old things have passed away, all things have become new.” Small wonder, then, that on this day the church sings glad hallelujahs and that she boasts of the life of her King.
And needless to say, the real joy of Easter, therefore, does not consist in the displaying of gifts, and flowers and pretty Easter togs, for these have nothing to do with the meaning of this day, and generally they serve only to hide its true significance. Instead, it consists in glorying in the resurrected Christ and in beholding Him as the God of our salvation. It consists in the assurance that He is our personal Lord and that He is risen in our behalf. It means that we lose ourselves entirely in Him and in the blessed thought that our guilt is gone, that our death is conquered and that His resurrection is the sure pledge of our own blessed resurrection. That, friends, is the real joy of Easter.
However, that joy can be obtained not by joining the Easter parade, but only in the way of the cross. That was true even and first of all for the Saviour Himself. Since He bore the sins of His people, and since God is holy and righteous, for Him there was but one way to the joy of Easter and that was by the way of His death. Even a grain of wheat tells us this. For except it fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. So, too, it was necessary for Him to die in order that by His atoning death He might become the true vine and might hear much fruit.
Besides, it was God’s purpose exactly through Him to confound the wise, to make foolish the wisdom of man and to manifest before the eyes of all that He is the wonder-working God Who brings forth life out of death and changes the curse into a blessing. And that could best he shown through the cross which to them that perish is foolishness, but unto us that are saved is the power of God unto salvation. Hence, also because of this, the cross was a must, and Jesus could come to the glory of the resurrection only by the death of the cross.
And no different it is for us, for God is still the same. And His goal ever remains: nothing of man, lest any man should boast. Therefore Jesus once said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, let him take up his cross, and follow me.” Therefore we must renounce all that is of self and crucify our flesh. We must lose our life in order to find it. So that also for us the way to the open tomb begins at Calvary.
Not, of course, that in the literal sense we must die as Jesus died and thus make atonement for sin, for in that respect Jesus did it all. But it does mean that Jesus’ cross must become the only hope of our salvation. At the foot of that cross we must cry out with the publican of old: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And from the heart we must ever confess: “Nothing of myself I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
And only in the measure that we do, can the joy of Easter be a blessed reality in our lives, for in the wisdom of God, also for us the relationship between Christ’s cross and resurrection is such, that the one is the way to the other, in order that no flesh might glory in His presence. Hence, he who is a stranger at Golgotha must needs be a stranger at the open tomb, and only those who celebrate Good Friday can experience the joy of Easter.
And the truth of this, and that this order of God cannot be broken with impunity, we see realized plainly in the world round about us, especially in the Easter parade and in the manner in which the world celebrates Easter. Since the children of this world have no eye for sin, they despise Christ’s suffering and do away with His cross. But when Easter comes their “joy” is confined to the things that perish. Because they did away with Good Friday, they do not understand the meaning of Easter. Because they were blind for the beauty of Calvary, they are strangers at the empty tomb.
But, thanks be to God, by His grace, there is also another people, a people which knows its sin, and because of it, seeks its salvation in a cross. And therefore during the Passion season, and to an extent during every season, with their minds and hearts they follow the Man of Sorrows. They follow Him to the bitter end. They follow Him from the mean stable to the accursed tree. In fact, they follow Him, even as the women of old, to Joseph’s garden. And when the morning of Easter dawns, now even as then, the Word of God comes to them: “Fear not, for behold, He is risen.” Risen indeed! Risen also for you. And needless to say, friends, theirs and theirs alone, is the true joy of Easter.
Indeed, therefore, the amazing cross and the empty tomb belong together, for the one is the way to the other, and without the gloom of the one the joy of the other cannot be attained. And well may we beware, lest we strive to put asunder what God hath joined together.
May we be content therefore to have it thus. And during this Passion season, may we put first things first, in order that on Easter morning, we, too, may see Him, not as the Man of Sorrows, but as our Risen Lord.
There was a time when the question: “Do you read?” was very much out of place. In the past, after the supper hour, the family would get together around the fireplace in the living room and spend the evening reading. Those were the “good old days.” Today, however, in our world of hustle and bustle it seems that that time is past. Reading has almost become a forgotten art. That is tragic to say the least.
For did you ever stop to think what a marvelous and beautiful art reading really is? It enables you, from a few sheets of paper with some scratches, dots and little hooks on them, to learn what is taking place hundreds of miles away, what happened thousands of years ago, and what is to be in the days to come. It makes it possible for you to acquaint yourself with the history of the world, the battle of the church and the unfolding of God’s counsel right in our home. It gives you the key to the entire past, present and future of heaven and earth and all that they contain, and it brings them, so to speak, right to you in your living room on a sheet of paper in a language you understand. Reading is an amazing and wonderful art. The man who cannot or desires not to read, is to be pitied.
And as such reading is a gift of God. Language, our ability to understand and interpret it, the press and everything that makes our reading possible, are given us by God. However, He has given them for His own name’s sake. God has made reading possible for us not in order that we might be able to amuse ourselves or enjoy a thrill during our leisure time, nor first of all that we might be good housewives, farmers, businessmen, etc., but in order that we might trace His hand through the ages, might see the realization of His covenant in history and might give His name eternal praise and glory. God must be all in all. Unto that end the man of God must be thoroughly furnished.
To serve that purpose reading can be a wonderful influence, for reading has a tremendous influence upon our lives, often apparently even more than the things we hear. It is for that very reason that the world is filled with all kinds of literature. Satan, Hollywood, the man in business, everyone seems to be aware of it. And it is also evident in the church. As a rule, at house visitation, in society life and otherwise, it does not take long to discover who buries his talent of reading and who makes use of it. Fact is, reading is so essential that the church cannot be strong without it.
Therefore many a Christian home today presents a very discouraging picture, one which causes us to fear for the future of the church. For many a home today has degenerated to a place where people merely eat, drink and sleep. There is no time for reading, except for an occasional glance at the “funnies”, markets or the war news. And the usual excuse is: a lack of time or no interest. As though that could ever stand as an excuse! No time for one of the most important things in life? No interest in the welfare of our soul and the glory of our God? How tragic! Especially today when the foundations of the earth are trembling. If ever, then today, we must arm ourselves with the whole armor of God. And to do that we will certainly have to exercise the art of reading.
But then we must be sure to read the proper material and select our books with caution and care. We must read only those books which serve to edify and equip us for our task. We have but one calling in life and that is to testify of the light and to condemn darkness. Therefore every book that fails to prepare us for our battle and assist us in our task is of no value to us but is empty and vain. And we may well think twice before we read it, for many of those books only serve to make us shallow and sensual. To the Christian soldier comics, confessions and romances, western and detective stories are of no avail. And these are legion today. Much of today’s literature therefore stands condemned and the Christian young man and young woman must choose between the good and the bad. But in making this choice they will never really have a problem, for in the measure that they are truly Christian, they will always find an abundance of material that is proper and edifying.
And in the measure that they earnestly and prayerfully read it they will stand in the evil day. In the face of all danger and opposition they will have courage to say: Thus saith the Lord!
Do you read?
Thus spake the shepherds of old in the fields of Ephrata. Having heard the glad tidings of the Saviour’s birth, they could not refrain from going to Bethlehem in order to see the thing that was come to pass. And well may we, too, exhort one another today saying: Come, let us go even unto Bethlehem!
For the time is again at hand that we are about to celebrate Christmas. And again it will be a Christmas in a world at war. Undoubtedly, most of us had cherished the hope that before another Christmas rolled along the war would be won. But such, however, will not be the case. Our nation is still at war and as yet the end is not in sight. Therefore, many of us still have another strange Christmas to say the least. In view of this and all the suffering and bloodshed, misery and grief in the world today, we cannot help but ask: but can we truly celebrate Christmas during a war such as this? Is it not foolish in such times to wish one another a “merry” Christmas? Is the true joy of Christmas possible today?
In answering these questions it all depends what our conception is of a happy Christmas. And we may say immediately that if our conception of a happy Christmas is the enjoyment of the things that are seen such as tinsel and tree, banquets and friends, prosperity and earthly peace, then to be sure, we will have a sad Christmas indeed, and that not only this year but every year. For I am sure that if those things must make us happy then we shall never be happy. In reality, they have nothing to do with the true joy of Christmas whatsoever. Real Christmas joy is independent of them altogether. From a certain aspect, therefore, the true joy of Christmas is always triumphant.
For that reason it is not a question first of all whether we are rich or poor, whether we dwell in a land of war or peace. But rather the question is whether by the grace of God we have the faith of the shepherds and whether we exercise it by going to Bethlehem. For true Christmas joy consists in this that we go to Bethlehem and in living faith behold the marvelous thing which God has brought to pass. Not out of curiosity, not to change the stable to a palace, but to marvel, worship and adore. For there in that humble stable lies the Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord. There lies the Prince of Peace, who brings forth life out of death, grants riches for poverty and gives peace while the battle still rages. Yes, there in that lowly manger lies Immanuel, in whom heaven and earth meet and in whom God and man are forever united. Therefore, to stand in that stable in living faith, to behold the humble manger and the swaddling clothes, to feed upon the amazing love which they display—that is life. To stand in Bethlehem upon His grace—that is the joy of Christmas.
Well may we sing of the beauty of Bethlehem. She may be small to be numbered among the thousands of Judah, yet to us she is the greatest and most beautiful of them all. Especially today, when on the dark background of sin, destruction and war, her beauty is seen as never before. For even as the darkness of night brings out the beauty of the stars, so too the beauty of Bethlehem becomes apparent in the measure that the night of sin becomes dark. Today, when the night of sin is exceedingly dark and Bethlehem shines in splendor and glory, where could the Christian better go than to Bethlehem? What could be more blessed and glorious, for there in Bethlehem is the only haven of rest and fountain of peace. However, he must go in faith, otherwise Bethlehem will be foolishness to him and the outcome will be utter disappointment.
Thus it becomes evident that, on the one hand, in the final analysis the true joy of Christmas depends on God and His grace. For without faith the true joy of Christmas is impossible and faith is a gift of God. But for this very reason, on the other hand, we may say that for the people of God’s good pleasure this joy is sure. For we know that to them He gives grace to believe and that His grace is sufficient for them in every circumstance in life. Wherever they are and whatever their way may be, He enables them to live by faith and to seek their salvation in Bethlehem. And thus they enjoy His favor and peace.
Therefore, dear reader, it is evident that as far as a truly happy and blessed Christmas is concerned, it is not a question first of all whether your way is smooth or rough, whether you are on the home front or on the battlefield, whether you sit in an easy chair or in a wet foxhole. True, we all look forward to the day when peace shall be restored and when we can again celebrate Christmas as in the past. But the main question for the present is whether we go to Bethlehem. That is always essential, not only in peace and prosperity, but also in war and adversity. And by the grace of God it is possible in both, however, as a rule it is most difficult in the former. Whether it be in war or in peace, whenever we go to Bethlehem in faith we receive the peace which surpasses all understanding.
As the Christmas season again approaches, may it be true of you and me, that by the power of God’s grace we seek our comfort and peace in Bethlehem. In the measure we do, in spite of the suffering and agony of war, we shall sing with the angels: Glory to God in the highest, for on earth there is peace in the people of His good pleasure. With the shepherds of old we shall return praising and glorifying God, not because we enjoy suffering and war, but because we know that in the Babe of Bethlehem we are more than conquerors.
Come, let us go, even unto Bethlehem!
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