The Canons of Dordt are often considered heavy stuff. Pretty doctrinal. Not easy to understand. Good for ministers and the more mature members of the church. But some think it to be out of reach for the common pew-sitter—and especially for young people.
It is true that the Canons of Dordt are doctrine, that is, teachings. The Canons set forth the answer of the Reformed fathers to the error of the Arminians concerning God’s work of saving his chosen sinners. It is true that there are places in the Canons where the presentation and argumentation might require some deeper thinking. However, for the most part, the teaching of the Canons is understood without a lot of difficulties.
It is true that among the authors of the Canons of Dordt were men of great intellect. They obviously worked hard to be very clear and precise in their answers to the crafty arguments of the Arminians. This they did with their feet on the ground. They never forgot the responsibility to write in such a way that the normal member of the pew could understand. (This is true in spite of the practice of that day to write in very long sentences.) This they accomplished by being biblical. The Canons are full of phrases from the Bible. And this enabled them to communicate truth reflecting scripture’s simplicity and practicality.
I have been assigned the task of presenting the practical application of the third and fourth heads of the Canons. This section of the Canons treats scripture’s teaching of man’s corruption and God’s manner of saving his chosen sinners. There is so much that I would like to say about this. I really think that I could write quite a few Beacon Lights articles on this subject. But to keep things simple I’d like to focus on what I believe to be the most practical article of Canons III, IV. It is Article 15. In a very clear and powerful way, this article best presents the practical implications of the teachings of God’s sovereign work of saving his people.
It does this in three ways.
First, there is the simple statement with which the article begins: “God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any.”
Second, in the middle of the article, it states that anyone who receives God’s grace “owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever.”
Third, the article concludes by describing the proper perspective anyone who receives God’s undeserved grace should have to others. “With respect to those who make an external profession of faith, and live regular lives [show amendment of life], we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner. For the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. And as to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.”
Let us look at each of these three parts.
“God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any.”
There is the thinking that God ought to save all men. Or there is the thinking that man has the right to be saved. However, man (Adam) consciously and purposefully refused to give loving obedience to God. In committing such a grievous sin against God, Adam forfeited for himself and all of his descendants all the excellent gifts with which he was created. As a result, he and all his children are spiritually blind, perverse in judgment, wicked, rebellious, and horribly stubborn in heart and will, and most impure in his affections. Every human being is conceived in sin. We are by nature children of wrath. We are incapable of doing any saving good. We are constantly prone to do evil because we are spiritually dead in sin. We are slaves to sin.
With regard to such sinners, God is not obliged to save. Rather he is obliged, in his righteous justice, to punish every human being.
That any human is saved is solely because of God’s grace. Grace is a love undeserved and unmerited. Everyone who receives grace is undeserving of it. And everyone who receives God’s love is to live his own life aware that he does not deserve in any sense to receive God’s favor. It is grace—undeserved love. God is under no obligation to confer grace on any human.
This clearly implies that man does not and cannot merit any favor with God. If the works of man merited with God, then God would be obliged to man. This is what Romans 4:4 means, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” Salvation is not by works. It is by grace alone without works.
This first practical application of the truth of divine, gracious salvation is intimately connected with the second practical application found in Article 15. “He therefore who becomes the subject of this grace, owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever.”
That anyone is saved is to be wholly ascribed to God! The salvation of spiritually dead sinners has to be a divine work. Sinners who are graciously saved owe God an eternal debt of gratitude!
The knowledge of gracious election affords to the children of God reason for daily humility before God and for rendering grateful returns of ardent love to him who first manifested so great a love towards them. Every recipient of grace is moved to thankfulness. This is also the thought of the third part of the Heidelberg Catechism. The ones God is pleased to save are obliged in gratitude to live a life of thankfulness. The gratitude of one saved by grace is seen in loving obedience to God’s commandments and in sincere prayer.
The third practical part of Article 15 is at the end of the article. “With respect to those who make an external profession of faith, and live regular lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner. For the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. And as to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.”
The first two practical applications of the truth of divine, gracious, particular salvation found in Article 15 lead to the third practical application of this truth. Everyone who is powerfully and irresistibly saved by grace alone walks humbly with his God and with his neighbor. As our love for God cannot be separated from our love of the neighbor (the second and great commandment is like to the first), so our walk with God in humble gratitude cannot be separated from our humble walk with those humans God puts in our path.
It is very interesting to see how our fathers would have the humble, saved believer look at his neighbors, namely, as either those who make an external profession of faith (with a corresponding walk of life) or those who have not yet been called. Very interesting indeed! The neighbor is not to be viewed as unregenerated, for the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. Correspondingly, the neighbor is not to be viewed as reprobate, for the knowledge of whom God elected and whom he reprobated is part of the secret things which belong to Jehovah our God (Deut. 29:29). Instead, our fathers, following the example of the apostle, would have us view our neighbors as either to be spoken of in the most favorable manner or as the objects of our prayers.
With regard to those who make no profession of faith, our Reformed fathers declare that we are to pray for them. We may not stand aloof from them, criticizing and condemning. We may never give the impression to our non-professing neighbor that we would never do what they are doing. Instead, one way in which the command to love our neighbor is to be expressed is that those saved by grace will be praying for their ungodly neighbors. Notice that the wording of this article is almost like a warning: we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ. We did not save ourselves. Nor do we keep ourselves saved. It is all divine, sovereign grace—the undeserved and unmerited love of God
And because they know that that the grace which saved them and which keeps them saved is that powerful grace of the Almighty Creator, they pray to him for their neighbor. He created the physical creation by calling it into existence. He spoke, and it was done. He called everything into existence as if it already existed.
As he did and does in the physical creation, so God performs his spiritual work of re-creating. He calls spiritual life into existence and keeps it in existence. He alone calls the things that are not as if they were!
Notice that the powerful reason for this most practical application of the doctrines of grace by the recipients of grace is humility. Humility is seeing oneself as unworthy of God’s favor or of any good gift from him. Humility is the very opposite of pride, of haughtiness. Humility knows that he has done absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor and be saved, and he never forgets it. In every relationship and every situation, humility characterizes the child of God.
The Canons of Dordt do present the beautiful doctrinal teachings of scripture. But they also powerfully present the practical implications of such beautiful doctrine.
Get to know the Canons better and better. The better you know them, the more you will appreciate not only the truth of scripture contained in them but also the practical implications of these scriptural truths.
There were two earthquakes that took place within the span of three days. The epicenter of both was near Jerusalem. The first earthquake occurred late Friday afternoon (Matt. 27:51) and the second took place early the following Sunday morning (Matt. 28:2). The first marked the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God (Matt. 27:54), and the second announced his resurrection from the dead.
In this article, we would like to consider the first earthquake. Two very striking and miraculous events took place with this earthquake. First, the thirty-foot-high veil of the temple was torn into two pieces with the tear beginning at the top of the veil and going down to the bottom. Second, certain graves were opened, but the bodies remained in the opened graves until the second earthquake. When the second earthquake took place, the bodies in those opened graves arose from the dead.
We would like to focus our attention on the second result of the first earthquake: the opening of certain graves. First, let us consider six important details about this miracle. Second, we will consider five things which the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring to light about this most unusual event.
The first detail has to do with earthquakes in general. Earthquakes are very significant works of God. They express God’s judgment by destroying things of this earth. Earthquakes also announce God’s great renewal of things. Consider Hebrews 12: 26–27. Earthly things are removed (destroyed) by earthquakes, but also there are things which remain. We learn which things are lasting by looking at what remains after an earthquake. The greatest earthquake will accompany the great fire which ends this present world. By showing what remains, this final earthquake will announce what is eternal. All prior earthquakes proclaim that eternal life in Jesus Christ is coming.
The second detail we are to note is that this first earthquake that took place at Jesus’ death opened graves. We have to understand that in that day graves were different than they are today. Today’s graves are made out of holes in the ground. But these graves which were opened were often cut out of a stone wall. Imagine the face of a cliff with a hole cut into it, which led into a larger cut-out room. A human would enter by bending down low or by crawling into it. The entrances would be closed by large stones which were cut into the shape of wheels. This stone wheel would be set in front of the grave opening. When setting in front of the opening, the gravesite would be closed, but when rolled to the side, the grave would be open. The women who wanted to anoint Jesus’ body wondered who would roll the stone away from the door of the grave (Mark 16:1–4). When the first earthquake took place, the stones which had covered the grave entrances rolled to the side, resulting in several graves being opened.
A third detail is that only specific graves were opened! The graves which were opened were the graves of “saints.” When scripture identifies these dead people as saints, we are to believe that they were holy ones who had been living in the hope of the promised coming of the Messiah. They were fellow-saints of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25–38). That they lived in the hope of the Messiah is what set them apart. They had died and had been buried in graves.
Fourth, these dead saints experienced a real, bodily resurrection. Their souls, that had left their bodies when they died, had been immediately glorified at the moment of their death. Now those glorified souls were reunited with their raised, resurrected, heavenly, and glorified bodies. As a result, their bodies were like those of Moses and Elijah and not like that of Lazarus. Lazarus’ resurrection was a return to his earthly, humiliated body. He would die again. The resurrection of the bodies of these saints was to a heavenly glory. This is evident from the fact that they had to “appear” to be seen by people in Jerusalem. They “appeared” just as Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of transfiguration. They “appeared” just as Jesus did ten times after his resurrection and prior to his ascension. Their bodies were so glorious and heavenly that they could not be seen by earthly humans unless they made appearances.
Fifth, note that “many” arose. We are not told how many. But it is likely that there were more saints raised than we might first think. So many were raised that it is likely they appeared to most of the residents of Jerusalem.
Sixth, these saints arose with a specific mission and purpose. They were to appear! They were recognized as those who had formerly died. And they were recognized as having been raised from the dead. Their mission and purpose were that their appearances would proclaim the powerful effect of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.
There are five things about this unusual and marvelous miracle which we must consider in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
First, Jesus’ death and resurrection are inseparably connected to the opening of the graves, to the many bodies being raised, and to these resurrected saints appearing to many. When Jesus died, these graves opened. The opened graves show that the cross was victorious over death. Jesus had conquered the power of death. The Spirit inspired these events to be recorded at the time of Jesus’ death in order to show that it is a part of the power of Jesus’ death. The graves were opened by God when Jesus died. His death conquered death and the grave which is a part of death. The people around Jerusalem knew about these opened graves, but they were kept from closing them because of the nearness of the Sabbath (at sunset). If one would have looked into those opened graves on that Sabbath, they would have seen the bodies of these dead saints.
Second, Scripture records that the bodies “came out of the graves after his resurrection.” This clearly shows the inseparable connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the bodily resurrection of these saints (and the bodily resurrection of every child of God). Now is Christ risen from the dead and is the first-fruit of them that slept. Christ arose and after him those who are his (1 Cor. 15:23). Our resurrection is only possible because of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:13). Christ’s resurrection is the power of our justification (new life in regeneration), of our sanctification, and of our bodily resurrection.
Third, the open graves and the appearing saints vindicate the cause of God as represented in Jesus. The chief priests wanted Jesus dead and they had Pilate seal Jesus’ grave, thinking to end Jesus’ influence on the people. But God opened all these other graves. And when Jesus came out of his sealed tomb God raised from the dead the many saints out of the opened graves. This vindicated the cause of Jesus. This truly is the Son of God!
Fourth, this is a call for us to live holy lives. Only “saints” were raised. Not the unholy (Eph. 5:5). All the resurrected ones were known as saints. They had lived holy lives in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. Not a single, self-righteous Pharisee arose that morning. The general resurrection that will take place when Jesus comes again will be as discriminating as this resurrection was. John 5:29 declares that they that have done good will arise unto the resurrection of life and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Only the holy will know the resurrection to life—real life.
Fifth, great encouragements are given in the appearances of these resurrected saints, just as it was and is true with Jesus’ appearances. Presently, it often seems as if the cause of Christ in this world is defeated. Saints now experience afflictions, pain, sorrow, and death. But the appearances of these resurrected saints declared loudly that God’s work in them is victorious. The second encouragement is expressed in the word “slept.” The dead saints who arose had “slept.” The deaths of believers are to be viewed as though they are sleeping and they will awaken soon. So certain can believers be of the resurrection of the dead, that they consider the deaths of their believing loved ones as one who is sleeping. They will awaken. Do not despair at the grave of a believer. It will be opened and they shall arise to live forever. The third encouragement is found in the way scripture here identifies Jerusalem. It is called “the holy city.” The saints who arose at Jesus’ resurrection went into the earthly Jerusalem, identified as “the holy city.” So it is with every believer who dies. When Jesus comes again, then every saint will enter, not into the earthly Jerusalem, but into the “great city, the holy Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:10). They will live forever in the city of the great King. In this “city” they will experience the joy of a most wonderful fellowship with their Savior and Lord and with each other. The holy life and fellowship earned, established, and maintained by the Savior’s death and resurrection will be experienced by the holy ones in the new Jerusalem, the holy city.
Two great earthquakes! Two great miracles!
They are a proclamation of severe judgment on the unbelieving. And they are a declaration of a most wonderful hope for every believer.
*Rev. Van OverLoop is the pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan
Dating can be one of the most enjoyable experiences a young person can have.
It can also be the cause for some very traumatic times. Some boys fear rejection. Some girls are afraid that they will never be asked for a date. Often both are jittery because they do not know what is expected of them, so they cannot be themselves. Some boys and girls use dates selfishly, either to build their egos or to seek their own ends.
In some respects, young people treat the subiect of dating too seriously, while at other times and in other respects they treat the subject too lightly.
While dating is supposed to be an enjoyable event, it is worthy of some thought and serious consideration. “Oh, but dating is just for fun; after all, we are not going to get married.” For some such a statement is an attempt to calm their nerves. Others use this statement for an excuse to date just anybody (even someone not one “in the Lord” with them – I Cor. 7:39).
Although the actual date should be fun, some serious matters should be quietly considered prior to the date. Allow me to present three matters which show this.
- Dating does lead to marriage. I am well aware of the-fact that not all dating and every date leads to marriage. But it cannot be denied that every marriage began with dating. This is exactly why dating is not totally a play thing. This is why we should not date someone we cannot marry “in the Lord”. I Cor. 7:39 teaches us that we may marry whom we “will, only in the Lord”. It has been argued that whereas this obviously applies to marriage, it could just as well be applied to dating. There may be exceptions, where a friendly relationship leads to conversion, so that there can be union in the Lord Jesus. However, then it could be said that dating is not the proper nor the best vehicle to use for converting. The point remains unchallenged that while not every date leads to marriage, every marriage did begin with dating. Therefore, dating is somewhat serious.
- Another element that keeps dating from becoming only a big game is the fact that the future roles as husband and wife are developed while dating. This is much more true after the boy and girl have been dating together “steadily”. The one who is to be the loving head of the home does not begin to be so when he says, “I do”. Nor does the girl begin to fulfill her God-given role of Biblical submission on the day of the wedding. It is while dating that the couple begin to know each other and they “fall” into the pattern of their relationship, which pattern is carried into the marriage. This serious matter is not to be completely neglected while dating.
- And dating is serious because the devil labors to use the weakness of the flesh for his sinful ends. I am speaking here of the sexual overtones which affect every dating couple, especially if they have been dating on a regular basis. The devil uses our good, God-centered desires unto evil ends. First, we must say that the desires for sexual intercourse, as the ultimate expression of mutual love, are not only natural, but they are normal. It is the way God made Adam and Eve and all men. However, God also set this activity only within the sphere of marriage. This activity anywhere outside of marriage is unqualifiedly described by God in the Bible as sin, the sin of adultery and fornication. So God has put His command upon the place for and use of sex. But the devil works passionately to tempt us to mis-use this divine gift. Secondly, the world has made a god of sex and this undeniably has influenced the Church and its young people. Sex is sometimes the only reason some date. Many like to “pet” the god of sex and play with it or tease it, falsely thinking that they will not get burned. Thou fool, no one tampers with God’s command without inevitable and serious repercussions. So the fact of sex makes dating a serious subject.
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On the other hand, dating is not as serious as it is sometimes made out to be.
Some young people feel compelled to date, that it is required of them at a certain age. The thinking is that if you do not date, then you are not “in”. This is taking dating too seriously.
Others have the strange thinking that one date means the two people are “going with each other”. You almost need an announcement in the school paper to inform everyone that they “broke up”. One date does not lock two people together.
The key idea to remember in the discussion of the subject of dating is FRIENDSHIP. It is a time for discussion, recreation, and fellowship.
It is very important that young people, not only on dates, but also outside the scope of dating, develop friendships with young people of the opposite sex. When you get to high school you should be old enough to have rid yourself of the idea that the opposite sex has contagious diseases (in my day it was called “cooties”). Get to know each other well enough to be able to talk together without embarrassment and showing off.
The best way I can put it is to say that you should learn to get to know each other as brother and sister. (Of course I mean nice brothers and sisters, those that have good relationships.) It is very wrong to think that because someone is “like a sister or brother” they are no longer prospective dates. I have heard it said that because you went to Christian grade or high school together with someone, they could not possibly be considered dating material, because it would be like dating your sister or brother.
First of all, it is only a date, not marriage; one date will not hurt anyone, and you just might find out something pretty nice. Secondly, the apostle Paul was convinced that if he were going to get married, then the only possible prospects he could consider were those who were his spiritual sisters. Look at what he says in I Cor. 9:5, “Have we not power (the right – RVO) to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” If Paul had wanted a wife, he would have looked for one among his sisters in the church. But my point is that he considered the unmarried girls in the church as sisters. Develop, therefore, Godly brotherly and sisterly relationships with fellow-saints of the opposite sex.
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Allow me to give some brief comments in conclusion.
- It goes without saying that you would not date someone who is not “in the Lord” with you.
- This idea of developing friendships with those of the opposite sex applies not only with those you are not dating, but also and especially with the one you are dating. What else is dating for, but to get to know each other better.
- Older boys should be very careful that they do not lead the younger girls astray. They should not date the young girls to see what you can get, or give them the “honor” of dating an older guy if they will go to a movie with you.
- There is plenty time for dating in one’s lifetime. So do not start dating fast and furious when you are young, thinking that time will run out on you. No one in grade school should be pushed into dating. Although they may do so, with parental permission; I believe the parents (mothers?) to be very foolish who push and prod their grade school children to date. There is all kinds of time for that.
- Sex is out of dating. Keep your hands to home!
- Contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion, there are plenty of wholesome activities a dating couple can attend. This is also true for those not dating, but are just going out with the guys or girls. I believe that parents could do much more to help their young people think of and find these wholesome activities. Left to themselves, a young person is inclined to follow the wide and broad path that leads to sinful activities. Also, I would encourage young people’s societies and the Federation Board to continue to sponsor activities for the young people to attend all year around. Some may not be well attended, but this should not discourage those sponsoring these activities. Keep giving the opportunities and occasions for good fellowship. And parents should encourage their young people to attend these activities.
1 Corinthians 12:12–25
Gracious salvation puts the ones being saved into a relationship—a covenant relationship. This relationship is both with the Savior and with all the others saved by the Savior. Scripture often uses the figure of the human body to describe both the relationship that every saved one has with Jesus and the relationship the saved have with the other saved ones. Jesus is the head of the body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22–23; 4:12,15; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19).
A correct understanding of the relationships in the body is very important for the well-being of the body. Each member must first focus on his relationship to the Head. Then each member will have a right understanding of their relationship with the other members. A correct understanding of the relationship with one another is not natural, but a learned understanding. We never stop learning what that proper relationship is and how we are to practice and experience that relationship.
It is my observation that we usually have no problem accepting and being nice to the more severely handicapped members of the body. For example, we think that those with Downs Syndrome are so cute, and we even take pride in talking with them and being helpful to them. However, there are other members that we find it easy to mock, ridicule, bully, and look down on. You cannot easily see these handicaps when you look at them. But they are different and it is hard to be nice to them. They have little or no social skills (their handicap is social). They just don’t know how to fit in and get along. We whisper about them with our friends. We rarely make an effort to talk with them or invite them to come along with our group of friends. It is really easy to ignore or mock them. They’re different! They’re strange!
1 Corinthians 12: 12–25 informs us that God made the church to be like the human body. It is one body with many different members. The differences that exist between the various members of the body do not put any member out of the body. In the body there are free men, and there are slaves who are property of others. There are the rich and the poor. They are the smart ones and the slow ones. There are the athletic ones and those who stumble over a hair on the floor. There are fat ones and skinny ones. There are black ones and white ones.
God made all these differences. As soon as we say that God made the differences, we immediately realize that the differences do not detract from the body, but enhance it. The differences enhance both the body’s abilities and its beauty. It would not be a body if every member was a hand or a heart or a kidney. When God designed the human body ehe was thinking of the church! In God’s mind, his thought of the church as the body of Christ was before (“supra”) his thought of the human body. God made the earthly after the figure of the heavenly. Each member of the body of the church (just like every member of the human body) has an important place; each member is necessary for the whole.
There are two sinful responses that so frequently raise their ugly heads when we are talking about the relationship that the members have with each other. These sinful responses grievously affect how each of the members experience their relationship with the other members. These two sinful responses are attitudes and actions that cause division (schism) in the body (1 Cor. 12:14–25). Both of these two attitudes (and the sinful practices which flow from them) are very self-centered. This is why they are so evil.
The first sinful attitude is the conviction that I must not be in the body because I am not like another member. “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body.” “If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body.” In other words, I’m not good enough to be a part of the body because I’m not as soon as or as important as another member. Paul first gives a simple, practical, and common-sense answer: “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” Then Paul gives a spiritual answer – one that takes God into consideration. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one members, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.” The all-wise God wants the body to have a multitude of members, each different from the other, and when put together they make up the marvelous creation of a human body. No believer may say that because he is not like another believer or not as good as another believer, that therefore he is not a member of the body. Stop feeling sorry for yourself! Stop looking horizontally. Every believer has his very important and necessary place in the body.
The second sinful attitude is the declaration of a member of the body that he does not need another member. “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Stop being arrogant! No believer may look down or think less of another believer. Realize that our sinful human natures often think less of those believers who are not like us. The apostle declares that God has a contrary judgment. The body parts that seem to be feeble are both necessary and more honorable (1 Cor. 12:22). What a tremendous caution to any arrogant thoughts we might have concerning other members of the body of Christ: those who limp, those who aren’t “normal,” those who have a different skin color, those who have a different language, those who live in a different part of the world, etc.
All the members of the body of Jesus Christ are to see themselves and each other as God does, namely, eternally chosen by God, saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
This right perspective of the other members of the body begins with each member’s having the right perspective of himself. Each member must know whose he is and whom he serves. This is the beautiful language and powerful confession of the apostle Paul in Acts 27:23, “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.” A frequent lie of Satan is that I am what people (including myself) say about me, when God’s truth is that I am what God says about me. Satan’s lie is that my identity is determined by what I have done (or not done), but God’s truth is that my identity is determined by what God has done for me. It is not about who is cute or athletic. Instead we are to realize that the wise and gracious God sees you as indwelt by Christ’s Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and thus are a very necessary and important part of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:18,24b). It is all about whose I am! God chose me; I did not choose Him. God gave me to Jesus Christ. I belong to Him! I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior and Lord Jesus Christ by sovereign, gracious election and redemption. And it was completely undeserved and unearned! That is why every member must put on humbleness of mind and meekness (Col 3:12).
Only when we correctly understand ourselves will we correctly look at the other members of the body. Then we will see them as saints, as beloved of the Lord, as redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus, as God’s children. This is true of them even though they may be slow, homely, clumsy, irritable, and bothersome. That is why every member must put on longsuffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another (Col. 3:12–13).
Then we will not speak evil of any of the other members just because they look different or because they serve a different purpose in the body. Such speech (and the attitude behind it) causes division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:25). Then we will be able to suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice (1 Cor. 12:23). Then we will see ourselves in humility as the chief of sinners saved only by God undeserved love (grace). Then we will not conduct ourselves with haughtiness as if we made ourselves to differ. Then we will see the necessity and wisdom of developing the fruit of the Spirit called meekness. Then we will judge and speak of other members in the most favorable manner; and then we will forgive as we’ve been forgiven (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32).
Remember: every one saved is in a most gracious and most wonderful relationship with Jesus, the head. And every one saved is in a most gracious and most wonderful relationship with all the others who have Jesus as their head.
*Rev. Van Overloop is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, MI.
The title of this article raises a question. How can we develop love, when it is a fruit of the Spirit?
When love is called a fruit of the Spirit, then the implication is clear that the Holy Spirit is the divine agent who works in us the blessings of salvation as merited by Christ upon the cross. This work of the Spirit in us produces fruit which becomes evident in every aspect of our lives.
But the sovereignty of God does not deny and has never denied man’s responsibility. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 23).
We cannot give ourselves love nor can we give it to others. It is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ. But we can encourage or discourage this love which is within us. We can develop the fruit or we can quench the fruit of the Spirit (I Thess. 5:19).
But we, of and by ourselves, cannot even develop the fruit after the Spirit bestows it upon us. That too is the work of the Spirit. And this the Spirit does through the use of means. He does not treat us like so many pieces of rock, upon which he works. He uses us consciously, for the growth of our graces.
Prayer is an indispensable means which the Holy Spirit uses to develop love in us consciously. God would have us pray to him for the grace to grow in love.
“God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desire continually ask them of Him” (Heidelberg Catechism).
Ezekiel 36 is a chapter of the Bible which most strongly states the sovereignty of God in our salvation. Yet this same chapter also states explicitly the necessity of prayer. Start reading this chapter at verse 21. Underline every time the words “I will” appear, just to emphasize to yourself the sovereignty of God. The conclusion is “I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it” (vs. 36b). But this sovereignty of God is harmonized beautifully with the Christian’s responsibility when prayer is commanded in verse 37. “Thus saith the Lord GOD, I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”
So the development of love, as a gift of God, is through the divinely-appointed means of prayer. So start by praying to God that he will give us love and that we may grow and increase in this fruit of the Spirit.
Who is the object of this love?
God is the first object.
It is also love of Christ.
Saints are also the object of this fruit.
Other objects of this love are the house and worship of God, and the truths of the gospel.
And, in a sense, is not any man, as our neighbor, to be the object of our love?
There can and may not be any doubt but that God is the central object of this love. Because we are given love for him it follows that we will love Christ, fellow saints, the church and the truth. And loving God is not only why we can, but also how we can love our neighbor.
From the above it is clear that if we are to speak of developing this fruit of the Spirit, then we must concentrate on developing our love for God. For, having improved our love for God, we will, at the very same time, be improving our love for the other objects of our love.
When we are loving God, we are loving the truth, our fellow-saints, and our neighbor. And we are loving them in the right way.
What is the way by which our hearts may be made to love God? I John 4:19 (“We love him, because he first loved us”) shows the method of the Holy Spirit. He reveals the love of God to the heart, and then the heart loves God in turn.
If you desire to grow in love to God, use the method of meditating upon the great love of God to man. Meditate on God’s love as described in John 3:16. Consider that it is such a vast love which gives salvation, in which the only thing required of us is that we be nothing and trust Christ to be everything (and even that trust he gives us as a gift of his Spirit).
If you want to repent, do not consider your sins as much as the love of Jesus in suffering for your sin. If you desire to love, contemplate (until it breaks your heart) the great love of Jesus Christ in laying down his life for his worthless foes.
One preacher put it this way. “‘Faith cometh by hearing,’ and love comes by contemplation; it flows out of a sense of the love of Christ in the soul even as wine flows from the clusters in the wine-press. Go to the fragrant mystery of redeeming love, and tarry with it till in those beds of spices your own garments are made to smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia. There is no way of sweetening yourself but by tasting the sweetness of Jesus Christ; the honey of his love will make your whole nature to be as honeycomb.”
If we wish to sustain the love we have received, we must do the same thing. Feed love on love. God’s love for us is the best food for our love for him, for the truth, the church, and our fellow saints. If we neglect this contemplation, then our love will die out as quickly as a fire without wood. The God, who gives us the life of love, must keep us alive in it or we become loveless and lifeless.
And if our love has grown somewhat cold, we must do the same. We do not revive our love for God by doubting his love to us. Believe in God’s love, for doubting is the death of love. Only by faith can love be nourished. Believe that God loves you still. Believe in the mighty power of Christ towards sinners and trust yourself with him. And then his love will come flooding in our hearts.
Dwell upon the love of God to you, so you may feel intense love to God!
By the way, there are also many practical implications here as far as the manner of our love is concerned.
If you love God, then show it as God showed his love to you. God loved the worthless; do likewise. God loved in Christ practically, so you and I must love not in word only, but in deed and in truth. God loved to self-sacrifice, so must we.
Therefore let us love him as he loved us. Let his love be both the model and motive to us.
During my high school years, the idea of being called to serve God’s church as a minister grew and developed. The prayers changed from, “Lord, what dost Thou want me to be?” to “Lord, I think I am called to be a minister. I think I want to be one. If that is not Thy will, then stop me! Make me fail in the necessary courses or put something in my way so I cannot serve. Close the door. But otherwise, I am going to pursue it. So stop me, Lord, if that is not Thy will.” Not only did God not stop me providentially, but He continued to use my fellow-saints to encourage me in the pursuit of the ministry.
While there were no internships during my years in the seminary, the seminarians did a lot of “speaking a word of edification” I was on the pulpit over 140 times while in seminary. During the summer of 1970, I spent many weekends in Randolph, Wisconsin. Six weeks of the summer of 1971 were spent in Forbes, South Dakota which was followed by five weeks in Doon, Iowa. The God of all grace kept opening the doors, each time in answer to prayers, confirming the call which I increasingly experienced within my soul. However, I and my fellow-seminarians were very conscious of the fact that no matter how much we may have felt inwardly called, what was ultimately required was an external call which God would send our way through a local congregation.
The hours and hours of oral exams required to graduate from our seminary took place before synod at its meetings in June of 1972 at First Church in Grand Rapids. The graduation ceremony for Candidates Bekkering, Kamps, and Van Overloop was a few days later. Then we waited. Had the Lord really called us to the ministry of His Word and sacraments? Would the internal call be confirmed by an external call? For each of us that call came, for myself from Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan. Ordination into the ministry took place on a well remembered Thursday night, October 5, 1972.
Almost seven years were spent with the good saints at Hope. A very young minister was carefully nurtured by godly, experienced elders. Baptism into the ministry was by the fire of funerals. The first funeral was only eight days after ordination—an older (by comparison) saint died of cancer at the age of 61. By comparison he was older because in the next nine months there were three more funerals, of a 22 year old, then his 18 year old brother, and then of a 10 year old. Before another calendar year closed, there were four more funerals, two for a set of twins who died two weeks apart shortly after birth, and two more for beloved saints who, while still in their 40s, left their mates and children.
During the time at Hope many catechism classes were taught and pastoral calls made. One year the number of pastoral calls almost equaled the number of days of the year. Powerfully God used every experience to mature and develop me in the service of His church and people.
Also during my ministry at Hope, the consistory sacrificially took a decision to send me, their pastor, away for seven months, in order to meet a need presented by Synod and the Committee for Contact with Other Churches. Those seven months were spent at a small, Presbyterian congregation in Christchurch, New Zealand. Sue and I still remember the long, wearying flights with four young children to and from New Zealand. The experience in New Zealand was powerfully used by God to teach me the breadth of the body of Christ and it instilled in me a desire to teach to others the rich Reformed tradition in which I had been raised and often took for granted. This experience undoubtedly played a role when, a year later, I had to consider the call from South Holland PRC to be a home missionary in Birmingham, Alabama. God was pleased to use a weak means. And every step of the way He used to equip me further. Included in that which God used to further develop me for the ministry were children. During our almost seven years at Hope the VanOverloop family had grown from two to five children.
The seven fruitful years of growth and development spent at Hope were followed by five years of missionary work in the deep South from 1979 to1984. God used new experiences to bring further development during these years. Birmingham is located in what has been called the Bible Belt, where churches of the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist denominations filled the towns and dotted the countryside. But there was not a congregation with “Reformed” in its name in the whole of the state of Alabama. So this was different (read “difficult”) work. But it was most enjoyable work. It was work which taught me patience. It is with good reason that the Scriptures frequently draw a parallel between the work of preaching the gospel with that of the farmer who sows the seed and then waits, praying that the Lord of the harvest will cause the seed to sprout, grow, and bear fruit (cf. Mark 4:26-29). It was while we lived in Alabama that God added a sixth child to our family. And God graciously continued to use these experiences to develop me in the ministry. I was growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. And God was increasingly teaching me love for His church.
After five years of labor in Birmingham the calling church, the Domestic Mission Committee, and the Synod decided that it was time to move the home missionary and his family to another area. Good interest in the Reformed faith had been found in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. This was located much closer to the calling church, about an hour away from South Holland. While I was in Birmingham and in the northwest suburbs of Chicago the consistory and congregation of the calling church proved to be excellent caretakers of the spiritual and physical well-being of myself as their missionary, of my family, and of the saints to whom I was ministering.
The work in the northwest suburbs was different still. There I, the missionary/pastor, and the saints who formed the core group learned together that God required faithfulness in all evangelism efforts. We were not to be weary in well-doing. Be faithful and He would bring the increase. From 1984 until 1989 we labored together, using every lawful means available and within our means. God slowly and surely brought others who joined the mission. In March, 1989 the mission effort became an organized congregation of thirteen families.
Normally that would have meant another move for our family (which now numbered nine, as the seventh child was given of the Lord). But the new congregation, which took on the name, Bethel Protestant Reformed Church, extended a call to me to be their first pastor, which I was led of God to accept. The work of evangelism never slowed down as many efforts to reach out into the community with the precious Reformed faith continued. But now there was another emphasis to my work. Now I was to help the congregation rule itself. As a missionary I had worked toward their development so they could be self-governing, not needing the supervision of a calling church or of a missionary. Now I was the pastor of this new congregation, and together I and the new consistory sought to do things decently and in good order. We sought to learn the Church Order, which now was our rule for good order.
In the summer of 1994, I received the call from another new congregation which was looking for its first pastor. For the previous ten years God had been pleased to use me to be His instrument to nurture a new congregation. Now He made known His will to use me in a similar work. Much of the work was similar (nurturing and developing, growing together in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ), but whereas the work in Bethel was almost exclusively with those who had not been members of the PRC, the work at Georgetown was with those who had been members of the PRC. The Georgetown congregation was a daughter of Hudsonville PRC.
For the past seven years (1994-2001) at Georgetown PRC the work of serving Christ and His church has been the source of continued joy. Preaching, teaching, pastoral work within the congregation, and the opportunity to lend a hand in denominational work keeps one busy. The work can be wearying at times, but for the most part the work itself is a source of joy. It is always amazing to me that God, in His wisdom, ministers to me through every opportunity He gives me to minister to others. Through every part of the work of the ministry I am being molded and shaped, and thus prepared for the next thing God is pleased to use me. That God is pleased to use just an earthen vessel is increasingly the reason for gratitude.
Weakest means do fulfill His will! Nothing is impossible with the Lord. This is what must be considered by the young men who think they might be called to the gospel ministry. Young men who wonder whether God would call them to the ministry must examine themselves whether they have (though never to the degree that we ought) a heart for God, for the church of Christ as manifested in the Protestant Reformed Churches, and for the souls bought by the most precious of all blood. They must pray earnestly for God to give them this love, and that God will graciously cause this love to develop. Undershepherds must love. The sheep in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America are just that, sheep. Their nature is to wander, to butt each other, to be easily anxious. But they are God’s sheep, bought with the highest price He could pay—His own and only begotten Son.
This characterizes the young sheep too. God has given to me a love for our young people. I believe that in most ways, today’s young people are not different from what their parents and grandparents were. The times in which we live today have not essentially changed (there is nothing new under the sun). Nevertheless the forces of evil are much more open and blatant in their attacks. This is not, therefore, a time to be at ease in Zion. Constant and watchful effort must be put forth by those shepherding the lambs, just as it was for their parents and grandparents. And I am convinced that every effort must be put forth to urge our young people to grow in grace, i.e., to know ever more intimately their Savior and Lord and all He has done for them. This growth in grace arises from a growth in the knowledge of Him—Who He is and What He has done. They must know what it is to be loved first. And, in response, they must love Him, the truth of His Word, and the church of His Son.
God uses weak means to accomplish His will. My life and work in the ministry are a testimony to that. God calls and uses whomever He will. And He equips, and never stops equipping, even as He uses them. He gives abilities in the measure He wants and He gives opportunities for those abilities to be used. God opens and closes doors. My life is a testimony of these truths. It is truly amazing!
I believe that this is true, not only for the ministers, but also for every young person. Our usefulness in the church of Christ depends not so much on the native intelligence God is pleased to give to us. Rather it depends much more on the fact that God is pleased to use us, and that He develops us for His use every step of the way. Our calling is to strive to love Him, to love the truth of His Word, and to love the Church of His Son. As we strive to fulfill those obligations of gratitude, God will use us for good. Weakest means fulfill His will!
God gave Gordon and June Van Overloop a baby boy on February 13, 1949. I was baptized by the Rev. Gerrit Vos as a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church.
For the first four and half years of my life I lived on 84th Street in Byron Center, Michigan (just a block away from the present location of the Protestant Reformed Church in Byron). At that time the efforts to establish a Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center had ceased, and those in this community who desired to be Protestant Reformed traveled to the northwest about ten miles to attend the Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville. Love for God and His Church overcame any obstacles created by distance.
When it was time for my elementary education to begin my parents saw the need for a move. There were no bus routes from Byron Center to Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School in Walker. For them this move was necessitated by their love for God and for their children. As well, they were very conscious of the vows they had made at baptism, namely, to see their child “instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine…to the utmost of their power.” They would do whatever it took to have their child properly educated. So my parents moved to Hudsonville, to a house on 32nd Avenue (just two blocks from the present location of the Protestant Reformed church in Hudsonville). There was a long bus ride to Hope School on a route which included stops as far west as Beaverdam, but that would not stand in the way. An interesting note is that the bus driver during my eighth and ninth grades was a young man who was in his last two years in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. His name was David Engelsma.
When I began attending Hope, there were only four classrooms. During my years at Hope God blessed the school with good growth, so that the school expanded a couple of times. My first teacher was Miss Jessie Dykstra. Teachers who later had to put up with me were Miss Delores Mensch, Mr. Jim Jonker, Mr. John Buiter, Mr. Lamm Lubbers, and Miss Agatha Lubbers. Strong memories exist of a solid education, with a Protestant Reformed basis. This education was also a part of the means God used to prepare me for the ministry.
After graduating from Hope School in 1963 I attended Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, from which I graduated in 1966. Then it was on to Calvin College, where I enrolled in a pre-seminary course of study. Studies at Calvin ended after only two years there. At that time there was much concern about the education received in the colleges. So the Synod and the Theological School Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches urged the men who were taking pre-sem courses in college to come to the Seminary. The seminary professors, Prof. Homer Hoeksema and Prof. Herman Hanko, agreed to teach the remainder of the pre-sem requirements for these collegians, as well as all of the regular seminary subjects. As a result of this plea, in September of 1968 I began attending classes at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The seminary was situated in the basement of old First Church, located at the corner of Fuller and Franklin in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The four years spent in the Protestant Reformed Theological School were good years, filled with activity. First, there was the hard work required by the professors. They worked hard, and they expected the seminarians to work hard. The love the professors had for God, for His truth, for the church, and for the Protestant Reformed Churches was a love they sought to instill into their students. A great education was given, which fully equipped one for the ministry in our churches.
In addition to getting an education, I got a wife. During the first of those four years, I courted Susan Swart, the oldest daughter of Bill and Ruth Swart, who were members of First PRC in Grand Rapids. In the summer of 1969 we were married by Rev. Gise Van Baren. The marriage was another powerful means the King of the Church used to equip me for the ministry. Before graduating, the Lord blessed our marriage with two healthy children—still another means in God’s all-wise hands to equip and develop one to be His servant.
How did it happen that I thought to become a minister? At first, I did not think it likely, nor possible. My earliest memory came through brief comments made by Rev. Vos during catechism classes. Not often and not a lot, but a seed sown. I remember that my reaction was to blush and say, “Never.” But the seed of the possibility of the ministry was sown, and God watered that seed. Maybe having a seminarian for a bus driver was a way God reminded me of the seminary and ministry every day for almost two years. My parents encouraged all of their six sons to consider the ministry or teaching. They saw the great need in the churches and schools they loved—a love they sought to instill into their sons. The churches and schools were frequently in their prayers, so it was natural that they urged their sons to consider whether the Lord would call them to serve Him in these ways. And Rev. Vos continued, in his inimitable way, quietly to sow various seeds in my mind and soul that maybe the Lord wanted me to serve in the gospel ministry. In the ninth grade a profile had to be filled out, which profile was to be used in the Hope Echoes, the school’s annual. In response to the question about an intended career, I remember thinking about becoming a preacher, but I felt it would be too bold to say this. So instead of putting down “preacher,” I wrote “teacher” (though that too was written with trepidation). I can remember that when some of my classmates discovered what I had put down, a couple of them expressed themselves in agreement and one said what I had not dared to write, “What about becoming a preacher?” This was a God-given encouragement needed by one so hesitant. This was positive peer pressure. (To be continued in the next issue.)
People often pray for children.
Young couples often talk about how many children they want to have when they get married.
That a married couple would include such a petition in their prayers is good. Their act of asking God for a child indicates that they see themselves as dependent on God. They ought not simply to assume that they can have children or that they will have children. Sometimes, God, according to His infinite wisdom, closes wombs, preventing conception and/or birth. The fact that a married couple would pray for children indicates that they are very conscious that nothing is to be assumed and that it is the Lord Who opens and shuts the womb.
Does God allow us to pray for a child or for children? On the one hand, we do not find in the Scriptures a specific command to do so, as we do for daily bread or for the forgiveness of our sins. But on the other hand, nor do the Scriptures forbid us to pray this petition.
That we are not commanded nor forbidden indicates that we may pray for children, but that we must be careful. We may not demand that God give us a child or a certain kind of child. Also we must be careful concerning why we want to pray for children. Why do we want a child or children in our marriage?
We must be careful why we want to have children. There are right reasons and motives, and there are wrong reasons and motives. It is so easy to want children for ourselves. Sometimes it is wrongly thought that children make a home. Sometimes it is wrongly thought that children make a marriage. Some want a child to carry on their family’s name or reputation. If we consider the depravity of our human nature it is very easy to pray this petition in a wrong way. It is so easy to pray for children selfishly.
So we may pray for children. However, we must pray this petition with care, striving to have the right motives and the right purposes. In fact, the concern that we pray this petition correctly will often itself be a petition: “Help me to pray correctly.” And we must realize that we must always submit our will to God’s will. Always, concerning petitions which are not commanded of us, we must add “if it be Thy will.” We must recognize God’s sovereignty and His wisdom. He alone is able to give a child or children, and He alone knows when and how to give a child or children, or not to give any.
A beautiful example of praying correctly for a child is Hannah. The history of her prayer is found in I Samuel 1 and 2. Although I wrote above that we may not demand of God a certain kind of child and that we must always submit our desires to His will, Hannah did neither. She did not add, “if it be Thy will” and she was very specific in her request.
Although God had “shut her womb” (I Samuel 1:5), Hannah was bold to ask for a child. In fact, she did not just ask for a child, but a specific kind of child – a son. She wanted a boy. Further, she did not just ask for a son, but for a special kind of son—a Nazarite. A Nazaritic vow was a vow of separation from sin and of devotion to God. Hannah wanted a son who would take a Nazaritic vow for life, and thus serve “Jehovah all the days of his life.”
Notice, first, that Hannah knew that if she was going to have a child, it would have to be because God gave one to her. She considers the prayer for a child to be a legitimate request. And so may we. It is not wrong to pray for a child.
Notice, secondly and more importantly, that we must have the right motives for such a request. It is natural (according to our sinful human nature) to ask just for ourselves. This is a matter of pride on our part. Some couples wrongly feel that they are incomplete in their marriage without a child. Some women wrongly believe that they are not real women if they have no children, concluding they are a failure. (In both cases, this is an imposition put on God’s institution of marriage and on womanhood.) Others simply want to satisfy an instinctive craving for a child, to have one, to hold one, to nurture one. Such couples and such women cannot find an example in Hannah.
While Hannah was very bold, she was not selfish. That Hannah was not selfish is evidenced in her willingness to give up her child to the care of Eli as soon as possible. She was willing to let go of her child as soon as he was weaned. This shows that Hannah was not selfish.
And Hannah was not jealous that her husband’s other wife had many children. Hannah did not ask for many children, but only for one. She was not interested in beating a rival, or in increasing the population. Hannah only wanted a spiritual seed.
And Hannah was not making a contract with God: if I am given a son, then I will give him back. Such a contract is contrary to the relationship of human with the Divine. And Hannah knew that. She calls God “the Lord of hosts,” which name indicates God’s infinite greatness, majesty, and rulership over every creature in the universe. And, on the other hand, she knew herself to be God’s “handmaid.” With this name she said that she was insignificant and unworthy. She knew herself to be unworthy of a child, let alone one which would fear God and deliver Israel from its enemies. Such is not the attitude of selfishness, of wanting something for herself. Instead of making a contract, Hannah was making a promise. She made a request of God, and she told her Lord that if He gave, she would return.
Why did Hannah make such a promise? Hannah’s prayer for a child was occasioned by her consciousness of the needs in Israel. Consider the situation in Israel at this time. First, “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” because there was no king in Israel. Such is the case today, especially in America. Wickedness in the days of Hannah was everywhere. Also, there was no prophet in the land, so there was no vision or revelation from God to guide and encourage His people. To make matters even worse, horrible evils were being committed by those who were in the position of priests of God. We read that the sons of the High Priest, Eli, were committing terrible sins and were doing so in the place of worship. In the position which represented devotion to God there were men who were horribly evil. The wicked in Israel seemed to be destroying everything that was truly spiritual. It seemed that God had forgotten His people and His promises to His people.
Hannah was truly conscious of this spiritually distressing situation in the church of her day. She saw the great need for the pure Word of God to be brought in all the power of God, to convict and to bring to repentance. She wanted a son whose life would be devoted to God and whose life would cause others in Israel to repent and to believe. She wanted God’s people to be delivered from the oppression of the enemy, both in Israel (Eli’s sons) and outside of Israel (the Philistines). She wanted a God-fearing son whose devotion to God would occasion a spiritual revival in Israel.
When we consider praying for children, we have to be careful. We do well to look to Hannah as an example of such a prayer. Hannah’s example does not allow us to pray simply to overcome barrenness. And Hannah’s example does not allow us to ask for a child so we can be satisfied or fulfilled.
* * * * *
Why do you pray for a child?
Does your petition have anything to do with the good of the church of Jesus Christ on earth? Is such a motive too lofty? Absolutely not!
Do you see the need of the Church of Jesus Christ of the next generation for godly members—sons and daughters who will become faithful and godly members, upholding the glory of God in the way they do their job, in the way they conduct themselves toward their fellow- saints, in the way they act towards their neighbor, in the kind of homes they establish? Yes, some sons will be teachers, elders, deacons, ministers, and missionaries. And we have to see the need for men who are willing to bring the Word of God to the ends of the world, boldly proclaiming the holy God and the Gospel of salvation? But as much as the Church of tomorrow needs faithful proclaimers of the Word, it needs faithful hearers and doers of the Word.
Is the future of God’s cause on earth your concern? Is this why you might pray for children? It ought to be! Then we are not selfish in our request. Then we are mortifying our selfish desires. Tremendously important in helping us to pray for children correctly is the fact that we must be praying for the Church of today more than we are praying for children. We must be conscious of our serving willingly and cheerfully the cause of God in all of our life. After all, any children the Lord may be pleased to give us are going to learn from our example more than from our words. They must see that the Church of God is of primary importance to us. They must see that we are striving to serve the Lord with our all. And then, if the Lord is pleased not to give us children, we will find it easier to accept and go on, ourselves deliberately and cheerfully serving the Lord without children in our home or with adoption. But our goal and purpose will be the same.
Then the faith and spirit of Hannah lives on. It lives on in spite of all the materialism of our age. It lives on in spite of the power of sin within every believer.
As sinful believers let us consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11). The knowledge of this truth enables us to strive mightily to develop and maintain right motives for everything we do, including the desire for children.
Pray for children! ♦
What is dating? Why date? What are some of the reasons for dating?
What should we do on a date? How far may we go in our touching and kissing? Where do we draw the line? How do we know where to draw the line?
The theme for this Young People’s Convention declares the fact that you are spiritual and that the world is carnal. Do you realize that the future of the Reformed faith depends, to some extent, on your living in the awareness of the difference between yourselves as “spiritual” and the world as “carnal”? This difference is called the “antithesis.”
Therefore, a discussion of who to date and how to date is really an application of the antithesis. That means that we, the “spiritual”, may not unite with the “carnal” in our marriages, and therefore in our dating. And it means that we do not unite ourselves to carnality. The carnal world has greatly influenced the church concerning sex, dating and marriage.
Who do we date?
Dating is of recent origin. Nobody “dated” as we know it. It is a relatively recent, Western cultural development. That is why the Bible says nothing specifically about dating. That does not keep us from using Scripture, for there are several general principles we find in the Bible which do apply to dating.
I would describe dating as the middle ground in the process of finding a suitable mate. It comes between fellowship and engagement.
It is my experience that you young people send conflicting signals about the seriousness of dating. One signal is that dating is just “for fun,” and the other signal is that it is pretty serious. Sometimes you determine which signal to send by what can be used for your advantage at the moment and which will confuse your parents the most. The first signal is usually sent with the mouth. Other times, it is very evident that even while you say one thing with your mouth (“just fun”), you act quite differently and treat the whole matter as very serious. For example, if Bill had just one date with Josephine, then they are “going together,” and no one else should dare ask Josephine, because she is “going” with Bill. Another example is the tears that are shed and the feelings that are hurt.
I and your parents want to respond to both signals you send our way. It may sound like we are contradicting ourselves because you will hear us say that dating is serious business and that it should be for fun. We mean both. And we are not really contradicting ourselves because we are only responding to the two different signals you send. When you act as if dating is pretty serious and sometimes “fall” head over heels in “love”, then we say, “Take it easy;” “don’t get so involved in just one, look around;” “date in groups;” “don’t be alone.” But when you say that dating is just for fun, then we say, “Be careful because dating does lead to marriage.” When I hear, “O Dad, it’s just for fun,” then I say, “But dating is the only thing that leads to marriage.”
Because marriage is the goal of dating, you may not date a person who cannot be a life-long mate. Why do you want to go out with an unbeliever, or with someone whom you know you could and never would marry? Date any personally suitable church-going member of the opposite sex who is in the covenant of grace and is growing in that grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
How ought we to date?
A wrong view of dating is to consider dating individualistically or selfishly. If dating is simply and only a means to personal fulfillment and romance, then dating itself is sin. If the idea is, I spent a lot of money on her, so I have the right to…then dating is sin!
Another wrong view of dating is to see it romantically. “Romance” is defined as that which is without basis in fact, fanciful, not practical, dominated by thoughts and feelings of idealistic love and courting. If the guys are more inclined to view dating individualistically, then girls have the tendency to see dating through “romantic eyes.” This is opposed to spirituality, which is objective (while certainly includes feeling) and God-centered.
If dating is romantic and individualistic, then God’s Word is placed under feelings. But God’s Word must govern our feelings and emotions. The bed and dating are not to be separated from Christ’s dominion in your life.
They are to be under His dominion.
Do not quickly conclude that there is no romance in being spiritual. Take the time to read the following passages to learn that the opposite is true: Song of Solomon 1:2b-4a,10,11,15a; Gen. 29:31, 35 ); romantic love does not justify everything.
We must have a Biblical view of dating, of sex and marriage, and a Biblical view of purity.
Human sexuality is a wonderful part of God’s creation of man. Consider the fact that Adam and Eve’s sinless holiness is described as an unashamed nakedness (Gen. 2:25). This clearly implies that no part of God’s creation is to be considered sinful, bad and dirty. Human sexuality has been created by God to be a powerful and mysterious force (Song of Solomon 8:6,7). Sexual desires are one of the strongest desires God has created (Prov. 6:25ff). While these desires are strong enough in themselves, their intensity is increased by the prevalence and popularity of the sin (“everyone is doing it”), especially today!
Man’s fall into sin greatly affected also this aspect of God’s beautiful creation. Just as Adam and Eve’s sinlessness is described as unashamed nakedness, so the consciousness of sin came for them through the awareness of their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Their beautiful sexual powers were subject to sin and were now “lusts of the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). “Lust” is the wages of sin (God’s sentence): cf. the gross sins into which God pushes the willful sinner (Romans 1). Now sexual desires, while in themselves good, are often expressed in perverse and sinful ways. Now sexual sins reveal the deceit and irrationality of sin in a powerful and unique way. And now these sins show great weakness of even regenerated hearts.
God has redeemed sexual desires from shame, but only in the union of those who marry in the Lord. Sex is only allowed in marriage: Heb. 13:4; I Cor. 7:2,7; Matt. 5:27-30. Then sex is most beautiful and wonderful, especially when scars from the past do not come into the bedroom. The seventh commandment is not “dated.” It is as relevant today as it was 3000 years ago. You see, God does not change.
The issue is really not only sexual purity, but also that of the Lordship of Jesus Christ”. The question to be answered is not, “Who am I?”, but “Whose am I?” I Cor. 6:19b,20 teaches that we are not our own; therefore glorify God in your body.
Sexuality is a gift of God, a good gift. He has given you this gift not to be used selfishly or romantically. Body and soul, you are not your own. So use this gift for Him. First and foremost we must save ourselves for God.
EFFECTS OF PREMARITAL SEX
It is beneficial if we consider what happens if we disobey God. If we misuse His good gift of sexuality, are there consequences?
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
The girl feels used and cheated, for she has “lost” a most precious possession: her virginity. “Lost” is not the right word, because she gave it away cheaply. Virginity is a gift God gave her and she can only give it away ONCE. After that she can never get it back, and she can never give it to anyone else. Today very little is said about the pricelessness of virginity. To the contrary, TV, movies, romances make virginity cheap. However, I am convinced that girls do prize it, but they give it away out of pride. They do not want to be “odd,” or they want the feeling NOW, or they use sex to get love.
The “man” (I put that word in quotes because such a male is not a real man) too “loses” something. He gives away cheaply a priceless gift. He loses the gift of a proper understanding of the holiness and mystery of sexuality (a matter “too wonderful” – Prov. 30:18,19). When he uses a girl as a sex object (no matter how much he tells her that he “loves” her), then he has lost a sense of that mystery and glory which is meant to be highly prized. Premarital sex is entering into a holy of holies in a degrading and profane manner, violating the will of God. And the only reason for rushing in is so terribly selfish!
I have been asked, “But what if we are engaged to be married? Is it not alright then? We are really committed to each other.” All reasons for premarital sex are selfish: for fun or self-gratification, the desire to be loved (a most powerful force), the fear of what the other party will think. To those who have asked me this question, my answer is in the form of a question: Can you justify it with an open Bible? Do it, if you can do so to the glory of God. Besides, early sex steals from the intensity and wonder of the act (as we save dessert for last and we save presents for Christmas Day). In addition, do not forget that not all who are engaged to be married get married. Then if you fulfill your selfish desires together before God says it is alright, you will later enter into marriage with scars. Remember, God will not be mocked. Do not be deceived.
SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE?
What is to be our motivation?
Our motivation may not be one of fear: fear of being found out, fear of pregnancy, fear of a disease, fear of the opinions of others.
A proper motivation is that of love of our neighbor: my neighbor’s wife or daughter. Also my neighbor whom I must love can be my future wife, or my parents, or my future wife’s parents, both of whom I would hurt terribly when my sins were discovered.
However, the main motivation is to be that of love of God and the salvation He freely has given. Loving God out of gratitude for all He has done for me, drives me to strive to please Him in all of my conduct, including my conduct with my date.
If God created the sexual desires and they have now become powerful lusts, are they controllable? God has provided an escape from the tyranny of lust. There is hope for both those who desire to maintain the gift of the purity He gave. And there is hope for those who have already violated God’s pure gift of virginity. First, the power of God’s sovereign grace removes the guilt of all sin, and it delivers us from the filth of sinful flesh. We can no more get our virginity back (even though we shower and dress) than we can remove a hole after pulling out the nail. But God graciously cleanses. This is not a sin which cannot be forgiven. Sexual sins and temptations must be treated like all other sins and temptations. They are part of the normal, sinful Christian life. Where there is sin, there must be repentance accompanied with the prayer for forgiveness and for God’s grace to pursue holiness. Then there may be the assurance of God’s gracious forgiveness, and the assurance that He will give us the grace to walk in holiness. We cannot retrieve our virginity, but we can retrieve our chastity and purity before God.
Secondly, the Spirit of Christ brings with salvation deliverance from sin’s power and the gift of self-control (called “temperance” in Gal. 5:23). Sexual energies and desires are controllable. As powerful as they may be, they can be controlled. The Bible teaches that we are not helpless before these lusts, for “Christ strengtheneth us” (Phil. 4:13). We can break with sinful self-indulgence. And we are called to move progressively toward Spirit-filled self-control. Jesus spoke of some who were eunuchs for the kingdom’s sake (Matt. 19:12). We must practice self-denial, just like our Master.
The way to fight this sin and temptation is to “flee” it (I Cor. 6:18), just as Joseph did. This temptation cannot be met with firm resistance. To be “brave” before this sin is to be a fool. The only way to be faithful to God in regard to this sin is to flee. To control sexual desires, realize that you need more wisdom than Solomon had as well as more wisdom than he used. This admonition has the clear implication that we must be very careful not to overestimate our self-control or spirituality. Rather we are admonished to “make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” One of the best ways not to make provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts is to “be alone with others, never all alone.” Another way is not to date so frequently.
We fight the temptations of this sin by making a conviction to be pure before we date. This means that you must draw a line as to how far you will go.
Ì would not say this except I have seen how fast some of you “operate” and I have heard how some of you talk about those of the opposite sex. For many of you it does not seem to take very long to get from learning each other’s names to the giving and receiving of hickeys.
We need to draw a line because the Bible attaches physical attraction and intimacy with romantic love between a man and a woman (read the Song of Solomon). We cannot have developing romantic love without having increased pressure toward consummation. It is abnormal to become more and more intimate mentally and emotionally, and not want to consummate that union. We are walking on hot coals if we keep getting closer and closer together when not ready to marry.
We need to draw the line before we date because wavering at the outset often results with falling in the end. In obedience to your Saviour and Lord, draw the line and make a commitment not to go over it.
Finally, realize that you can stop what you are doing. If what has been said earlier pricks you, then realize that you can stop what you are doing, by putting the relationship in submission to the will of God. It is not that God wants to deprive you of something that is good for you. Real love will say, “No! I will not go further.” Real love is restrained and controlled until God says, “Yes.” Besides, it can be argued that it is better (more powerful and beautiful) when it is restrained.
I am not going to set forth rule upon rule. Rather it is my intention to leave you in the custody of your conscience as awakened by the Word of God. You must judge whether you are aroused, whether you are committing adultery in your heart.
Do not forget that the woman at whom you look to lust after in your heart (which is adultery) can be your girlfriend – cf. Matthew 5:28).
Consider that you can come to wedding night without ever having kissed and not lost anything. Many have lost much who kissed on the first date and kept going from there.
By the grace of God, hold fast to God’s Word, striving to be pure as the Lord our God is pure. Purity or chastity is losing your life (your desires) for Jesus and having the promise of finding it (Matthew 16:25). Be willing to lose your life (of sexual satisfaction) for the sake of Christ. It is worth saving yourself. And He gave you His Son to redeem your soul and body, both of which are His (I Cor. 6:19,20). God’s gift of virginity you can give away only once. Keep it for your God-given mate.
Believe God’s promise of joy and fulfillment. Great shall your reward be in heaven.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” Proverbs 11:30. The emphasis of this speech will be on the positive. We will strive to determine what the Bible means when it speaks of a “soul winner.” We have assumptions, namely those of the Reformed faith which maintains God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s absolute depravity.
First, let us consider the idea of “winneth”.
Sometimes “win” is used in a bad sense, as in games of chance (lottery), or in games of sleight of hand. It is sad, but some try to win in religion with trickery. They use any and every means to get people to attend their church or Sunday school. This makes religion a game in which the participants are busy trying to get people’s attention so they can save their souls. Many times, these think that it is they who actually win or save souls.
The Bible uses the word “win” in a better sense, as in war, in wrestling, or in love (win the heart or affections of the loved). We may rightly assume that the Bible uses the word “win” in this better sense in Proverbs 11:30.
When we apply the word “win” to souls and come up with the expression “winning souls,” then too there is much misuse. However, the expression “soul winner” is legitimate in spite of its wide misuse. It is legitimate, first, because the Bible uses it. Any term used in the Bible we should be free to use. Secondly, the phrase “soul winning” is a legitimate expression just because the Bible supports the concept it expresses. The disciples were commanded to be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), called to catch their fellow-humans in the Gospel net. The believing wife is commanded to live in submission to her unbeliever mate, for such a conduct may be used of God to “win” the unbeliever. (1 Peter 3:1). James informs us that “if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19,20). Jude 23 commands us to “save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” A text which uses language very similar to the context of Proverbs 11:30 is Daniel 12:3, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” The classic passage is the language of Paul, I Corinthians 9:19-24, where he speaks of “gaining” and “saving” some.
This language of Scripture is reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism, which states that one reason for doing good works is “that others may be gained to Christ” (question 86).
What does the Bible mean by the use of this language?
To win a soul is to free that soul from the captivity of sin and of the devil and to bring it into the service of righteousness. It is much more difficult to win a soul than to win a battle or a city. A Christian soldier must know how to sap a prejudice, how to undermine a hatred and how to kill unbelief in the name of the Lord. The soul-winner comes into close quarters with the devil within men when he fights against their love of sin, their pride, or their despair.
To “win a soul” refers to conversion. It can refer to the initial turning away from sin to faith in Christ and into the service of God. But much more frequently a soul is won or converted in the sense of daily or continual conversion: sorrow, repentance, apology.
How do we “win” souls?
The great prevalence of unbiblical ideas of winning souls makes it necessary for us to say first how winning souls is NOT done. It is NOT accomplished by my thinking that I must have the powers to persuade or turn a soul. It is NOT thinking (really, we should say, fearing) that the ultimate responsibility for whether an individual will be saved is mine. This is often what is thought, but it is very wrong.
The way in which the soul winner operates is not unusual. The soul winner simply conducts himself as all believers are commanded to do. The context to Proverbs 11:30 makes it clear that this is the Bible’s answer. The soul winner wins souls by living out his faith.
Proverbs 11:28 provide the first big clue when it says that the “righteous…flourish as a branch”. The “righteous” is one to whom the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed and imparted. This righteousness is manifested in his conduct. Specifically, the context shows that the “righteous” are righteous toward God, not trusting in riches (28a), but in trusting Christ for righteousness and for loving care. Also, they are righteous in their conduct toward neighbors: example, honest, virtuous, words seasoned with grace, etc.
Such righteous persons “flourish as a branch”, bearing fruit, which fruit is “a tree of life”. It is this tree of life which wins souls. This passage makes a parallel between “tree of life” and “winning souls.”
The tree of life in both paradise (Gen. 2:9; 3:24) and in heaven (Rev. 22:2) is the source of spiritual strength to believers. The expression, “tree of life” is used concerning wisdom (Prov. 3:18) and fulfilled hope (Prov. 13:12) and with regard to the believer in Proverbs 15:4; 12:28; and 10:11. The believer, walking in righteousness, is a tree of life because he exerts an influence which is quickening, refreshing and happy. In the wilderness of this life, God uses the believer’s righteous walk as a positive influence on those around him.
The righteous win souls by means of their righteous conduct. The righteous preach with their conduct and conversation. Our life illustrates what we say we believe. We are practical preachers (living out the preaching we hear). Just as we all first look at the picture and then at the print in the newspaper, so outsiders consider first our lives and then our doctrinal positions. And then, after learning what we believe, they look to see if we practice what we preach.
The godly wife wins the soul of her unbelieving husband with the wisdom of a conduct characterized by meekness and sobriety (I Peter 3:1). One saves his fellow-sinner from death with the wisdom of the patient energy of faith and love (James 5: 20). No Christian is to live unto himself, but for his or her fellow-saints (Rom. 14:17-19).
The righteous talk with others of the truth, because God is so worthy to be known and because they love their neighbor (love for the neighbor is chiefly concern for his eternal state and for his spiritual wellbeing). When timidity would prevent us from talking to others, then we must think of God’s worthiness and of our neighbor’s worth, rather than of ourselves.
A very important aspect of the walk of the righteous is that they strive to bring others to hear the Word preached. Do so with the prayer that your minister’s sermon may be blessed. Before and/or after the service talk with visitors. The preacher may have missed the mark, so you should try not to miss it; or if the sermon struck, you make it go deeper. Seek to impress upon them the truth which the sermon put into their ear.
Soul-winners must be masters of the art of prayer. You cannot bring souls to God, if you do not go to Him yourself. When you are much alone with Jesus, you catch His Spirit, and are fired with the flame that burned in Him. Prayer reveals the wisdom that only God can reach the heart. So we pray every time we witness, asking God to bless our witness.
* * * * *
Is he who wins a love wise? Is he who wins a ball game wise? Maybe. But it is certain that “he that winneth souls is wise.”
God’s grace must make one wise to capture a soul. This is the wisdom of using the best means to gain the highest end. Jesus said that “wisdom is justified in all her children” (Matt. 11:19), so wisdom is proven with souls won. Wisdom is the best use of the knowledge that only God can change the heart and that He almost always uses means. For example, wisdom uses the knowledge of God’s Word that most children of believers are won through covenant training.
God Himself does not win souls without wisdom (He exhibits His infinite wisdom). In God’s wisdom, the ability to glorify God in the eternal and perfect bliss of heaven is the highest end for man. To that end, the means God has determined to be best is Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 1:23,24). In salvation, there is as much wisdom of God as in His creating the universe. There is the wisdom of a perfect harmony between His Spirit and the activity of the sinner’s heart and conscience. His wisdom is seen in that the Spirit makes salvation and its benefits desirable to the sinner. Further, the wisdom of God is seen in that the way to Jesus is faith, and the best means to attain that is the preaching.
Those who win souls will evidence and reflect God’s wisdom. They will show the wisdom of seeking the highest good of their neighbor. Their wisdom will be seen in using, not the means the world would recommend (drama, music), but God’s selected means: the preaching and our witnessing of the truths learned in the preaching.
Wisdom will be that of listening to the ones to whom we desire to witness. We will not bring the same pat answers in the same manner to everyone. Rather we will listen in order to learn the background and perspective of the person to whom we are witnessing or preaching. It was wisdom for Paul to become as a Jew to the Jews, as weak to the weak, and all things to all men that he might by ALL means save some. Note well Paul’s declared reason for this wisdom: “this I do for the gospels sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Cor. 9:23).
Wisdom is the desire to bring God’s Word to the person in the most effective manner. Wisdom is recognizing that the one witnessing must not stand in the way of one coming to faith, to repentance, or to a richer knowledge of the truth. Wisdom is recognizing that though nothing is impossible with God, the Holy Spirit usually uses the best means.
Be wise! Win souls!
Turn souls to see Christ (for the first time or anew) through the power of Holy Spirit.
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