Summary of a talk given by Rev. Herman Hoeksema the evening of February 4, 1936. The title of this article suggests our motivation in publishing it.
The word pertinent signifies proper, appropriate. I will bear in mind, therefore the occasion which is a gathering of Christian, Protestant Reformed Young People. In classifying these questions there is some arrangement and limitation necessary. If that were not done there would be no end to the possible pertinent questions that might be asked. Also, because there must be order in all things, even in asking questions, I have determined on the following order in presenting these questions to you this evening.
First, I shall ask questions that pertain to your personal life in relation to God. These are first because they are most important. Secondly, questions that pertain to your relation to the Church in which God gave you a place. Thirdly, questions pertaining to your life in the society to which you belong, or ought to belong. And lastly, I shall ask questions that pertain to your personal life outside of the Church and the society.
With reference to the questions pertaining to your personal life before God. These are most important because our life before God determines all the other aspects of life. Under this heading I might ask many questions, but I will limit myself to just two.
Do you pray? I mean do you know, in your life in relation to God, in the first place the need of particular times when you seek God’s face in the true spiritual sense of the word? When you not only seek, but find His fellowship. That often takes time. It is quite impossible in our strenuous life to just jump out of the world into the inner closet and find God. That means that there are in your life moments, times (shall I say Hours?) that you devote to being alone with God. That is what I mean when I ask the question, “Do you pray?” I don’t doubt that you pray, but do you in that sense of the word lead a life of prayer?
In the second place, whether under the influence of this seeking and finding God’s face at stated times, God is in all your thoughts. That ought to be the result of hours of fellowship with God. That God is in all your thoughts. Is God in all your thoughts? That is, wherever you be and whatever you do and in whatever company you find yourself. You will have to admit not only that this is a pertinent question, but is extremely important for our whole practical life as long as we are in the midst of the world, that God is in all our thoughts, that we never forget Him. If God is in our thoughts we will cease from doing, or let me rather say, refrain from doing many things that we do when He is not in our thoughts, and we will do many things that we fail to do when God is not in our thoughts.
The second question under this heading is this: (under the heading pertaining to your personal relation to God): Do you read the Bible? Now, of course, if I leave the question in a general form there is no one here that will say no. I don’t mean it in that way. I don’t mean whether you read the Bible in your family worship in the home. I do not even mean whether you study your Bible. It is very possible to go through the routine year after year and it is even possible (I know that; has been my experience) to study the Bible without reading it. It may seem strange but it is possible to make the Bible the subject of our earnest study and investigation without reading it. I mean, do you have times when you are all alone, that you pick up the Holy Scriptures because you feel the need of your soul to have God speak to you? That is something else than merely studying and explaining it, which by the way is very good. There should be times when we turn to the Word of God for the purpose of having it speak to us and thus having it work in us. You know the Bible is not a scientific book but above all it is the fountain of the water of life and it is the bread of life. Do you spend times, moments, with the Bible alone and place yourself before the Scriptures in order to let the Word of God speak to you for your spiritual nourishment, comfort and assurance? You must answer, of course. I can only ask. The second group of questions, I said, concerns the relation which you sustain to the Church in which God has given you a place and name. Also that is extremely important and I am sure that its importance is not always realized as it should be. I can tell that by many indications. The question is, what is your personal relation to that particular Church in which God gave you a place; and God gave you a place in that particular Church in which you are a member, whether by baptism or otherwise. The particular Church is the Protestant Reformed Church. Now that it is important to ask ourselves a few questions with regard to it, is first of all due to the fact that the Church is essentially the body of Christ; that there are in this world many institutions that claim to be manifestations of that body of Christ; in other words, there are many Churches. That among these many Churches there are many that have totally departed from the truth and are not worthy of the name of Church and that there are just as many, I dare say the majority, that have largely departed from the truth. According as the Church departs from the truth in its confession and conscious knowledge of the truth, the Church has departed from Christ. Now, it is your calling that you take a conscious stand with respect to the question, to what Church you must belong. You cannot let that question be determined by accidentals. You may not let it be determined by circumstances, by someone else, by friendships, fellowships, or maybe by development of the course of your history. You cannot. You must—it is your duty personally to be a member of that Church of which you are convinced that it is the purest manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world. If you don’t you help and aid and abet the false Church in its development.
Now, with a view to that I am asking a few questions. In the first place, are you, as far as it may be expected of you, developing in the direction of being a member of the Protestant Reformed Church by conviction? Is your answer perhaps that it is merely the way it happened and it may change any time perhaps? or would you say, “No, I am a member of the Protestant Reformed Church because of the conviction of my heart”. That is an important question. And there are a few questions that are intimately connected with it. First of all the question, of course are you acquainted with the truth as God has entrusted it to our care and are you developing in the direction of becoming acquainted with the truth, or do you think it sufficient that the minister and consistory and a few others are acquainted with that truth? Do you know the truth? In the second place, do you know its history? In the third place if you are by conviction a member of the Protestant Reformed Church, do you love that Church or does your love probably spread to many other Churches. Under that heading one more question: Do you attend the services which God has instituted, and do you attend them as you should? How do you prepare for the services? Perhaps by being someplace where you ought not to be until late Saturday night? I heard recently that such was the case with some of our people—bad preparation for the services on Sunday morning. Do you then so plan to be in places until late Saturday night and then probably sleep as long as you can on Sunday morning and hurry through preparation and then come to church; do you expect that in that way you are fit to meet God and worship Him and seek His truth? When I ask whether you are properly attending services, I mean, do you before the service prepare yourself for the service in prayer? Do you pray for yourselves, for me, who am called to bring to you the Word of God? Do you pray for yourselves and for the influence of the Word of God upon your heart? And when you attend services and God has heard your prayer, what do you do when you come out of Church? Does the Devil wait outside of Church to pick away the seed that has been sown, and is your first concern to speak about the things of the world, or do you talk about the things that pertain to God’s kingdom, about the truth, about the preaching, about the Word of God? Those are questions concerning the Church which you must ask.
The third group consists of questions that pertain to your relation to the society, and I group those questions into two classes and address them to those who don’t and those who do belong to the societies. So let me ask first of all, do you belong to a society? If you don’t, my question is, “why not”? Do you have a good reason—and I mean by good reason, a reason which you can give before the face of God. Are you sure that your reason for not belonging to a society is not that your interest in the discussion of the Word of God and things pertaining to your spiritual welfare is lax? You see it is not important in itself whether you do or do not belong to a society; but it is rather an important matter whether your failure to belong to a society is to be accounted before God. It would be rather sad don’t you think so? if you would examine yourselves and ask the question candidly that you find the reason why you don’t belong is that you have no interest in the discussion of the Word of God. What do you do and where are you when our societies meet? Are you quite sure that it is not because you have no interest in the fellowship with your own people and that perhaps you have more interest in the fellowship of others. Are you quite sure that that is not the case? If you do belong to a society, do you attend every time you possibly can? When you are a member you have the duty to do so; do you feel that duty? There is nothing worse for society than when it has members on the books and not in the meetings. That is disheartening, discouraging, paralyzing. So that the question is an important one: are you there every time, whenever you can be present? In the second place, when you are present, are you prepared? In other words, do you come to the society meetings to give as well as to receive and to take? Do you know that the two are inseparable? Do you know that you cannot expect to receive if you do not give and put forth no effort to give? If you make no preparation or study of the portion of the Word of God that is discussed, if you are never ready when your turn comes to deliver something for the program, do you know that it is absolutely impossible that you should receive anything? You sometimes hear our men and women say, “there is nothing to society, you don’t get anything out of it”; let me turn around and ask, “do you bring anything there?” Society is not something that gives you something; society is as rich as the sum total of the efforts of its members. It is not an institution outside of its members; a society is you and society benefits you according as you make it, and is as strong and rich as you make it, and it fails to give according as you fail to do your share.
Finally, the last group of questions concern your life in the sphere outside of Church, of the society, that is, as I said what in general we might call the world. Now you all live more or less, to a greater or smaller degree in the world. You cannot escape it; you must be in the world. Some come more closely in contact with the world, others less. But you live in the world; besides you live in the home, (you have your leisure time). You have your friends, companions that are necessarily related to you as members of society. So in regard to that broad life, I am going to pick out a few questions. Here the questions are many, but I am going to limit them to three or four.
In the first place, in that world, where ever you may be, do others know that you are a Christian? Not that you belong to a certain Church and go to Church on Sunday, but is your conversation and walk in that broad world such that you leave the testimony of Christ, or are you unfaithful and maybe worse than silent. Do others know that you are a Christian because you let them know it in your conversation and walk. That first of all. In the second place, what do you do with your leisure time? You have a good deal of leisure time. Let me pointedly ask that question. Which are your recreations, your amusements, as they are sometimes called? An important question, because the amusements reflect the state of your soul and reflect back upon your soul. They influence you. You are not found in worldly places, are you? It is not true of you what we sometimes hear said of others, to their shame, that you attend dances, movies, and parties of all kinds, and that you spend your God-given moments in the service of the flesh. Let me connect that question with the very first question I asked: do you pray? Is God in all your thoughts? Answer that question in this connection.
In the second place, I can make that question pointed by asking: what do you read? Do you read stories—very well, I have no objection to them—I do too sometimes. I think it is well occasionally to read a story, providing it is a good story. It gives you relaxation just to stretch yourself and abandon yourself to a good story. But is that the rule? Do you also read that which is to the upbuilding of your spiritual life? For your growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord? Amusements and reading make a deep impression upon your souls and you are living in the period of formation and development in which you still are impressive and to a certain extent passive. Under what influence do you subject your young minds and souls, whether by amusements or reading.
And finally, my last question is this, who are your friends? Your companions? The companions which you choose, also your friends, reflect upon your own attitude and personal life as I have tried to put it before you in these questions. One of the Reformers said, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”. Who are your friends? When you choose friends and companions do you bear in mind your God-given place and the truth that has been, entrusted to you? And not only does the choice of your friends reflect upon you, but your friends influence you just as you ought to influence your friends. Are you the companions of them that love the Lord and love His truth, or is your fellowship in the midst of them that love the world? You will have to admit that you will have to answer them—I could not. But they are questions that ought to be in your mind and conscience. Labor with them and sincerely answer them before the face of God.