It is a privilege and a great delight to me that this evening I may deliver the inspirational address at the opening session of the Convention of Protestant Reformed Young People. The task assigned to me is wholly a pleasurable one. I take it that this convention is proof of the fact that in our churches there is a flourishing society life, particularly now with a view to young people’s societies. And this is a good sign. It shows that our young people are interested in the church, the things of the Kingdom of God, the cause of the truth as we believe and profess it. Catechism is, of course, of first importance. But the difference between catechetical instruction and the activities of our societies is that the former is compulsory, while in the latter one participates of his own free choice. That our young people evince an active interest in the life and activities of their societies reveals, therefore, that they take a personal interest in the things of the Kingdom of God. And this is a hopeful sign. For you represent the church of the future. Besides, a well conducted young people’s society, or, wherever this is possible, young men’s and young ladies’ society may, indeed, be a power for good in the church. Catechism serves the specific purpose of indoctrinating the youth of the church and preparing them to make confession of their faith and to assume their covenant obligations. But our societies may serve the wider purpose, through mutual edification, to prepare their members to take their place in the church and in life in general as Christian men and women. You will understand, then, that when I look upon this convention as a tangible proof of the fact that our young people are taking an active interest in the things of the kingdom of God, in the truth as we profess it, it is altogether a pleasure to me that I may deliver the opening address of this second convention of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies.
There is still another, a more specific reason why I take particular delight in addressing you tonight. I am reminded tonight of a similar occasion at which I delivered the inspirational address. It is some twenty years ago that I spoke at the opening of the Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Societies, the first meeting of that federation. I had helped to organize it. I was its first president. And I had the honor of being the first editor of its publication, The Young Calvinist. But that federation did not spring into being until after the Christian Reformed Churches had existed for more than half a century. When I compare that occasion with the present one, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude to God. It is only about fifteen years ago that we were expelled from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Churches. And we were very small. Our enemies predicted, the wish, no doubt, being the father to the thought; that we had but a very short time to live. And when I recall all this, and then look upon this gathering of young people, having come from far and near, representing the young people’s societies of several of our churches; when I consider that after so short a period of our separate existence we may already meet as a convention of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies that are very much alive, I am inclined to exclaim: “what hath God wrought!”
My task for tonight was assigned to me: I am supposed to speak on the theme of this convention, “Attitudes.” I find this somewhat difficult just because it is the convention theme. During the course of this convention there will be other speakers who are asked to speak on specified topics that are, however, all related more or less directly to the general theme that constitutes the subject of my address. In order not to conflict with them I will, therefore, have to be careful and confine myself to some general remarks. I shall try, therefore, to be as specific as possible without colliding with the other speakers of this convention. And I will try to make clear to you, that, in the sense in which we now speak of “Attitudes”:
- Principally there are but two possible attitudes.
- In actual life one meets with various attitudes.
- We must strive to cultivate the proper attitude.
1. The word attitude in its simplest and original meaning denotes a physical concept. It means posture. Thus, we can speak of the attitude, that is, posture, of a person, the attitude of an animal, the attitude of a statue. But as the posture of the body often reflects the disposition of the mind and heart of man, the word attitude is frequently, if not most generally, used to denote this mental or spiritual disposition with respect to some object. Hence, we speak of one’s attitude to war, to politics, to Christian education, to woman’s suffrage, to religion, etc. It is in this latter sense that we use the term in our speech tonight; and that especially with regard to the things of the Kingdom of God as represented by our Protestant Reformed Churches: our church, the truth, our doctrine, the “three points,” the activities of our churches, our mission, our societies, the Standard Bearer. Attitude as I use the term, therefore, denotes the mental and spiritual disposition as reflected in our actual life, with respect to the specific things for which we as Protestant Reformed people stand.
Now, I stated that principally there are only two possible attitudes. We are either for or against. Another attitude is fundamentally impossible. This is often emphasized in Scripture. The Lord Jesus declares: “He that is not for me is against me.” You cannot serve God and Mammon, for either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will cleave to the one and despise the other. The apostle writes to the Corinthians: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” II Cor. 6:14-16. The tree is either good or evil, and accordingly its fruit is good or bad. And he that is friend of the world is an enemy of God. It is either or. It is for or against. Neutrality with respect to the truth and the things of the Kingdom of God is impossible. Here one must choose.
What it means to be “for” is well expressed by our Form for the Administration for Baptism, which teaches us that it belongs to our “part” of the covenant that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength, that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. This declares in the first place, that our attitude to God, to Christ, to the truth and the things of the kingdom of God, is a matter of the heart and of our whole being and life: “with all our heart and mind and soul and strength” we must love the Lord our God. In the second place it teaches us that to be “for” covers all our active life: we must love the Lord our God “with all our strength.” To love the Lord our God implies that we serve Him, that we keep His commandments and apply them to every department of life. Not only in the church and on Sunday, but also during the week and in our daily life we are “for” and “walk in a new and holy life.” In the home and in the school, in the shop and office, in society and in the state, always and everywhere our calling is to love the Lord our God with all our strength. And, thirdly, this part of our Baptism Form reminds us that to be “for” implies the antithesis; for to love the Lord our God also requires of us that “we forsake the world, crucify our old nature” and thus walk in a new and holy life. You cannot serve God and Mammon, but neither can you merely serve God without assuming any attitude over against Mammon whatsoever. If you love the one, you despise the other. You are called to be of God’s party in the midst of the world that lieth in darkness. Hence, you cannot avoid the antithesis. To be friend of God implies that you assume an attitude of enmity over against sin within and without, the world and its prince.
To be “against” signifies the very opposite and this in the same comprehensive sense as to be “for.” It means that we are enemies of God with all our heart and mind and soul, with our whole being. And this inner spiritual disposition of enmity against God reflects itself in a hatred of God with all our strength, that is, in all our actual life and all its departments. And this implies that we love darkness rather than light, that we indulge in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life; that we love the world and seek after its pleasures and treasures rather than after the things of the kingdom of God; and that we walk in the old corruption of the flesh. You are “against” God and His Christ, and, therefore, “for” the world and the forces of darkness.
The question might be asked: why is it that with respect to the things of the kingdom of God there are only two attitudes possible fundamentally? And why is it, that men must necessarily assume either of these two attitudes? Why is it that an attitude of neutrality is impossible, so that one may be neither for nor against? Or why can there be no compromise, so that one is partly for and partly against, and so that he may serve both: God and Mammon, Christ and Belial?
The answer to these questions is objectively in God. God is God! He is the sole Sovereign of heaven and earth. Who is the Creator of all things, and Who made all things for His own Name’s sake. And He is One. There is no God beside Him, next to Him, under Him. The Lord our God is one Lord! And He is a light. There is no darkness in Him at all. He is good, not merely in the supreme sense of that word, but as the only Good, the implication of all infinite perfections, the Holy One of Israel. There is no division in God. There is no compromise in the sole Sovereign of heaven and earth. From this it follows that the end of your existence is in Him only. To serve and glorify Him is your sole purpose, that is, it is the end for which you are made. And He will have your all. There is no Lord you can serve beside Him. To Him belongs your body and your soul, your mind and your will, your talents and your strength, all that you are and have. Hence, it follows that your attitude to Him is either or: you are wholly “for” Him, or you are wholly “against” Him; you love Him or you hate Him with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.
And subjectively the answer to the above questions must be found in the fact that our attitude to God is a matter of the heart, whence are the issues of life. From an ethical viewpoint the heart is the center of our whole life. As our heart is so are our thoughts and desires, our longings and aspirations and all our actions. As the heart is so are we. And that heart is either good or evil. It is never both. It cannot be neither good nor evil. By nature our heart is corrupt, perverse, moved with enmity against God. And if our heart is corrupt, so are all the issues of our life. It follows that in our natural state we hate the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. From our corrupt heart we cannot partly love God and partly love sin. And on the other hand, regeneration is a radical change of the heart, a change from death into life, from darkness into life, from corruption into holiness, from enmity against God to the love of God in Christ. It is a change of the whole man in principle, hence, principally, the regenerated man loves the Lord his God with his whole heart, and therefore with all his mind and soul and strength. If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new!
Perhaps, you would object, that although with respect to God and Christ it may be true that only two possible attitudes are conceivable, so that one must be either for or against, you can hardly apply this truth to one’s attitude to the specific cause and truth which we represent and maintain as a Protestant Reformed people. Here one must draw the line less sharply. Whether one is Protestant Reformed or Christian Reformed, or even Baptist or Methodist can hardly be a matter “for” or “against.” But this objection is an error. One is principally either for or against our Protestant Reformed faith. In fact, I would even maintain that the difference in attitude is here rather accentuated. The truth as we confess it concerns the doctrines of God, of Christ, of man, of salvation, of sin and grace, of our life and walk in the midst of and over against the world. These are fundamental doctrines. And they are all concerned in our controversy with the Christian Reformed Churches. One of their spokesman said in the well-known conference of the Pantlind that we had a different theology from theirs. He spoke the truth. Grace is either particular or common – it cannot be both. God either loves or hates the wicked – both at the same time are impossible. Man is either wholly depraved or he is not. The “Three Points” are either true or they are very fundamental errors. And our Protestant Reformed Churches have maintained the truth over against corruptions and errors, so that they have a right to exist as churches; or they erred in 1924 and then they are a mere sect. Hence, here one must choose. You cannot be neutral. You are either Protestant Reformed or you are opposed to the Protestant Reformed truth. You are for or against. And if you are Protestant Reformed you reject all heresies repugnant to our confession.
2. Fact is, however, that in actual life one does not meet very often with this sharp antithesis of “for” and “against.” Life seems to be different. Somehow it appears as if this uncompromising theory of the antithesis does not prove itself capable of application in reality. One is not always “for” or “against.” There seem to be many other possible attitudes one may and actually does assume. The “for or against,” the “either or” of Scripture are not practical in the world. A certain measure of compromise, of “appeasement,” is required by actual life. The man that would really bring the antithesis into practice often stands alone.
The reason for this must not be sought in the “world.” It is always world. The natural man is always “against,” even though there may be different degrees of manifestation of this attitude. He is never for Christ and the truth. But the Christian individually and the Church collectively are not always clearly and uncompromisingly “for.” This is true, not only of the Christian and of the Church today, but equally holds for the people of God as they are pictured to us in Scripture. The reason for this is in the flesh, the old nature in the Christian, and the carnal element in the Church. The Christian is a new man, a new creature, but he is such only in principle. He has only a small beginning of this new obedience that causes him to walk in a new and holy life. His heart is radically changed and therefore, he is principally “for.” But his old nature is a powerful factor still in his life. That old nature is inclined to seek sin and the world. And to the inclination of that old nature the Christian often yields. And the same is true of the Church. Not all are Israel that are of Israel. Not only is there always a carnal element that arises from the Church itself, carnal children of the covenant, but a carnal element also joins itself to the Church for various reasons, and their entrance into the Church cannot always be barred. If this were not the case I could close my lecture right here; now, however, I must call your attention to various attitudes which the flesh often causes the Christian individually and the Church as a whole to assume. I will limit myself to a few typical attitudes that are illustrated for us in Scripture.
One of the most striking and frequently assumed is the utilitarian attitude. This is a big word, but the meaning of it may be very simply and concretely expressed in the question: does it pay? They that take this attitude always ask themselves the question: How does the application of the truth affect my life in the world, my natural well-being, my name and position, my wealth and influence? They are people who are “for” Christ and the truth, for the Protestant Reformed faith and cause, as long as this attitude does not come into conflict with their earthly position and carnal desires. They are practical people, not men of principle at all. They certainly dare not lose their life in the world. Rather than lose the world they would lose their own soul, though it is their deliberate attempt to save both. If the cause of the truth requires sacrifice they forsake the cause. And if their carnal interests conflict with their calling in the cause of Christ they deny the latter and pursue the former. A fine illustration of this attitude you have in the men of Succoth and Penuel at the time of Gideon. You know the story. The Lord had wrought a glorious victory and a great deliverance in Israel through Gideon and his brave band of three hundred. They were pursuing the Midianites in the land across the Jordan; it had been a strenuous day and the men were faint. Faint, yet pursuing! And Gideon asked the men of Succoth and later those of Penuel: “Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.” But the men of Succoth and Penuel answered: “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?” You see, these men “played safe.” They wanted to see results first. They were afraid that Gideon might fail, and that the kings of Midian might return and take revenge upon them if they aided and abetted Gideon and his men in their pursuit. They wanted to be sure that they did not risk their own necks, before they would take sides! You know Gideon’s reply to these miserable curs. He promised the men of Succoth that he would tear their flesh with thorns and briars of the wilderness when he would return and the Lord had delivered the kings of Midian into his hand; and he threatened that upon his victorious return he would break down Penuel’s tower. Judges 8:4-9. And I for one would like to have been present when Gideon’s thorns and briars lashed the backs of those wretched cowards who preferred their own safety to the victory of God’s cause! Always one finds these utilitarian bargainers. If they belong to us, they are Protestant Reformed only in as far as their faith and confession do not conflict with their earthly position and carnal ambitions. As soon as this conflict arises they easily depart from us.
Then there is the attitude of selfish pride and ambition. They that assume this attitude would let the things of the kingdom of God revolve around the glory of their own ego. They want to be the greatest, and do not understand that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he who can humble himself as a little child. You may find this class of people very active sometimes in the affairs of the Church and the kingdom of God in the world. They are zealous. They usually have capacity for work, too. They are able and willing to take the lead. But their zeal is largely motivated by the desire to realize their personal ambition. They are in it for their own glory.
We find this type of attitude illustrated in the pride of Ephraim in Gideon’s time once more. He had taken the initiative against Midian, as he was called to do so by the Lord. And Jehovah had given him and his men a glorious victory. And only after the decisive battle had been fought and the Midianites had been routed, did he call upon the men of Ephraim for help in the hot pursuit. And we read in Judges 8:1 that the men of Ephraim “did chide with him sharply.” They said: “Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites?” They were hurt in their pride. The Lord had wrought a great salvation in Israel, but for it they cared little; what concerned them was that the glory would go to Gideon, not to themselves! Of course, they had had abundant opportunity to make the attack upon the host of Midian themselves, had they had the faith and the courage to do so. But they had failed. But now salvation had been wrought through Gideon and his band, they chide with him, because they were far more concerned about their own honor than about the cause of God! A very dangerous attitude this! People that take this attitude in the Church, in society, in respect to any activity in the kingdom of God, are always a menace. In this frame of mind one is ready to sacrifice the cause of God to her personal ambition and pride!
There is, in the third place, the attitude we might describe by the French phrase: “laissez-faire,” the “let it run” attitude. We find some such attitude illustrated in what Scripture tells us about Gallio, the deputy of Achaia, in Acts 18. You recall the incident, no doubt. There was an insurrection of the Jews against Paul, and they brought him to the judgment seat. But Gallio refused to be judge in the matter and drove the Jews away from the judgment seat. They, the Greeks, making the best of the occasion, took Sosthenes and beat him right in the presence of Gallio. And then we read characteristically: “And Gallio cared for none of these things.” He assumed the “laissez-faire” attitude. Just let it go! Well, one finds Gallio’s in the church. They are, perhaps, among the most regular members of the church. Faithfully, they attend public worship and contribute to the needs of the church. They never cause trouble. But they are inclined to avoid trouble and strife at all cost. They see and admit that the church is apostatizing, departing from the truth and becoming worldly-minded in life and walk. But they “care for none of these things.” At all events they will do nothing about it. They do not like trouble. They love peace. The truth of the matter is really that they love their own leisure and tranquility more than the things of the kingdom of God. If it were left to them you would never have a secession in the church on earth, a reformation would never be started, the church would be permitted to go to destruction in the way of apostasy. A fitting example of people of this frame of mind and attitude is, according to my opinion that often lauded scholar of Luther’s day, in whose honor, to the shame of that Dutch city, Rotterdam erected a statue, which even escaped the destruction caused by the German air raid. I mean, of course, Desiderius Erasmus. Well he knew the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. But he loved the leisure of his study too much to do anything about it. Laissez-faire!
Closely related to those we just mentioned are those who assume the attitude of self-complacency and cold indifference. They are people that are really well satisfied with the goal that has been attained, with the actual condition of the church, no matter what it may be. They have no ambition, no zeal for the cause of the kingdom of God. They are self-satisfied. You can never persuade them to do anything in the interest of the church. They are not members of any society, and if they are they might better not be. They take no part in any activity. Their biblical picture you may probably find in the condition of the church of Laodicea. Its members are described as being neither cold nor hot. While they consider themselves rich and enriched and as having need of nothing, the Lord judges that they are naked and wretched. They are nauseating to Him and He threatens to spew them out of His mouth. Also, this sort of people you usually meet with in the church wherever it exists. And there is no need of saying that they are never an asset to the church. You can do nothing with them in any sphere of the church’s activity.
Fifthly, I must call your attention to a type of people that assume the attitude of what is often erroneously styled “broad mindedness,” the latitudinarian attitude. They are really not broad minded at all, but rather lacking in definite and well established convictions. They halt between two or, perhaps, between a dozen or more opinions. They are Protestant Reformed merely in the sense that they happen to belong to a Protestant Reformed Church, not because in their conviction that church is the purest manifestation of the Body of Christ in the world. Yes, they can agree with the doctrine of the church of which they are a member, but they can see the good of the “Three Points” too. They do not like sharp lines. Their sympathies are very broad. And they hate controversy. They like to bury the hatchet. They do not like us to assume the attitude that we know it alone. We ought to have due respect for the opinions of others. There is some good in every view, no matter how far it may be beside the truth of the Word of God. The attitude of these people is not unlike that of the people of Israel in the old dispensation, who served Jehovah, but also worshiped the gods of the nations round about. Thus it was, for instance, at the time of Elijah. But the prophet must have nothing of their “broad minded” attitude and urges them to make up their mind as to who is God. No longer must they halt between two opinions. It must become either or. If Baal is God, very well: let them serve him then; but if Jehovah is God let them worship Him alone. If the “Three Points” are the truth, very well: embrace them and confess them openly, without a pretense as to being Protestant Reformed; but if they are errors, oppose and reject them as being repugnant to the truth of which you are convinced!
The last type of attitude to which I wish to call your attention in this connection is that of the double minded man. He is, of course, very closely related to the type just mentioned, yet he is also distinct from the “broad minded” man. James mentions this type when he speaks of the double minded man that is unsteady in all his ways. It is the attitude of those that are never sure whether they would serve the world or confess the Lord in word and walk. They divide their devotion. On Sunday, they are with the people of God, on Monday they are friends with the world. They sway to and fro. And as it is with their walk, so it is with their attitude toward the truth. One never knows where they really belong. They are members of the Protestant Reformed Church, but they often talk as if they belong to the camp of our opponents. They are as two-faced as they are double-minded. They are people who in their double-faced attitude are a shame to any church of which they happen to be member. They should, of course, be persuaded, if at all possible, to make up their mind and then go where they belong.
3. These are some of the outstanding types of different attitudes mentioned in Scripture and exemplified in the actual life of the people of God in the world. No doubt, other types could be described than those we characterized above, but these are sufficient to show that the only two possible attitudes of “for” and “against” are not always clearly manifested by those that profess to be of Christ. And it also proves that here we have a calling, a task to perform. I mean that as a church and as a people, particularly also as young people, we should be careful and diligent to cultivate the proper attitude. What this attitude is we have, in general, already indicated. It is that we love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and with all our mind and soul and strength. It means that we assume an attitude of opposition over against the world and the flesh, and that we walk in a new and holy life. Specifically it implies for us as a Protestant Reformed people, that we embrace the truth we profess with all our heart and mind and soul, that we consistently reject every heresy repugnant thereto, and that we are faithful to this truth in profession and walk.
If we analyze this attitude I would say that it implies especially three things: single heartedness, wholeheartedness, and steadfast heartedness. It implies single heartedness because the Lord our God is one Lord. God is one, Christ is one, truth is one. It follows that the only proper attitude we may assume with relation to this one God, this one Christ, this one truth is that of single heartedness in confession and walk. It implies wholeheartedness, because God is God, the Lord, the sole Sovereign of heaven and earth, and His Anointed, our Lord Jesus Christ, is at the right hand of God, and has a name which is above every name. And He is our Lord. We belong to Him with body and soul, for time and eternity. Hence, there can be no division in our devotion and obedience. Whole-heartedness, and therefore, complete consecration of our whole mind and will and all our powers in every relation and in very department of life, is the only attitude that may be assumed toward this one Lord of all. We must serve and confess Him always and everywhere. And it implies steadfast-heartedness, because God is Jehovah, the eternal and immutable One, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, and the truth is unchangeable. Hence, we must be steadfast and unmovable and not be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, assured that our labor shall not be vain in the Lord. And in all this we stand antithetically over against the world and the powers of darkness, fighting the good fight even unto the end, that no one take our crown!
This only proper attitude we are called to cultivate. When I say this I do not mean that this only true attitude is merely a matter of cultivation, but of regeneration, of the efficacious operation of the Spirit of Christ and the grace of God in our hearts. The natural man cannot see the kingdom of God. He certainly cannot reform himself and cultivate the only proper attitude over against God and His cause in the world. You cannot train a natural man to become Protestant Reformed. But the Christian, he that is in Christ Jesus and has become a new creature in Him; who principally stands in the right relation and proper attitude to his God and the things of the kingdom of God; but who has but a small beginning of this new obedience, while he is daily tempted by the flesh, the world and the devil, – that Christian has the sacred calling to watch and pray and fight that he may assume and maintain the only proper attitude of being single heartedly, wholeheartedly and steadfastly “for” and never “against.”
How this may be done, you ask? In answer to this question, I would emphasize in the first place that instruction in and study of the truth is paramount. We must study the Word of God. We must be founded in our Reformed doctrine. This is all important. The ignorant Christian is a weak Christian. The more we grow in the knowledge of the truth, the stronger we will become spiritually, the more firmly rooted will be our convictions, the better we will be able to oppose all false doctrines and reject all heresies. In the second place, I would emphasize that we should study the Word of God prayerfully, and that our whole life should be in the attitude of prayer. Mere intellectual knowledge is not sufficient. It must become spiritual knowledge, so that we spiritually discern, love and appropriate the truth of God in Christ. This can be realized only through the grace of the Spirit, which God will give unto us in the way of prayer. Thirdly, I would emphasize the necessity of close fellowship with the church in which you have a place, faithful attendance of public worship, employment of the means of catechetical instruction, exercise of the fellowship of the saints, active participation in society life. And here I would emphasize that our societies, also our Young People’s Societies, may be a power for good in this task of cultivating and keeping the right attitude. May they always keep this purpose before their consciousness as the ideal after which they strive. And may this convention serve as a means to strengthen us in the determination to cultivate that one and only proper attitude: to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, forsake the world, crucify our old nature and walk in a new and holy life! Be ye therefore steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor shall not be vain in the Lord!