Vol. LXII, No. 2; February 2003
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The Christmas lights have dimmed, the New Years celebrations have died down, and now come the red hearts, roses, and romance that flits here and there. Many become a bit uncertain and apprehensive as they attempt to master this elusive concept and fall into love with a special someone. Others seem to have found it, hold on to it, and live in contented bliss. And yet others who once thought they found it, have grown indifferent and uninterested, apparently thinking that love is but an illusion for fools. God reveals to us the truth about love so that we can live in contentment and the enjoyment of this love now and to eternity.
The evolutionist who scorns the one and only God sees love simply as one of the powerful chemicals within the body that has developed over the millions of years. It is a chemical combination that serves to guide our species toward the production of offspring most fit for survival. Love is a chemical that happens to shuffle the gene pool to make the human race strong. Love is a chemical that brings temporary blindness to the tremendous responsibility and work that comes after love irresistibly draws two together and the children are born. If those chemicals had not developed, then nobody would ever bother with reproduction and all the work of raising children and maintaining a strong well supplied home until the children were ready to go on their own. Everyone would hoard their resources and not spend vast amounts of time and money changing endless diapers and feeding the howling mouths. The “wise” evolutionists today have figured out many ways to enjoy love with minimum responsibility by keeping the number of children minimal and using money to pay someone else to do the dirty work.
Sure, love can be cruel when it raises the hopes of those less desirable humans only to slam them back down when they are rejected. But that is life—the survival of the fittest. Love selects the strongest traits of humanity and rejects the rest. If the weak and less desirable were easily swept together in love, then the human race would only grow weaker. Love for the evolutionist is simply a very enjoyable carrot that urges humanity on along the pains-taking processes of perpetuating its own kind. Love is a treasured prize which ensures that mankind will continue to dominate the world and receive all the glory.
The concept of Valentines Day, by the way, fits in quite comfortably with this evolutionary view of love. Stoke up the fires of love now and then to keep the evolutionary process healthy. Nothing could be more dangerous than a dying out of love. Everyone would seek only the pleasures that come with a lower price and no children would ever be born and raised to be healthy and prosperous adults.
This evolutionist explanation of love is a big lie. God has revealed to His people the truth about love. Love is, in fact, an attribute of God, not merely a created substance. “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). The concept of love is a profound truth having to do with the very essence of God and applied to redeemed man in a multitude of ways.
As with every truth, Satan and fallen man with him take the truth, reject the parts they don’t want, and turn the rest of it in such a way that it says the opposite of its created purpose. Love is an attribute of God that brings all the glory to God, but fallen man uses it for his own glory. God gives His love to man to make him fit for eternal life, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). But fallen man imagines that love is something that makes the human race fit for a meaningless everlasting life on this earth. It is true that the desires we have within us are a part of the picture of love, but even this must serve to give God the glory, and not man.
We are sinners, and therefore we are very quickly caught up in the lie of the devil when it comes to love. When what is sometimes called “romantic love” seems to elude us, we must not begin to dwell on the lie of the devil and think that we are of little value. Rather, we must cling to the truth that God reveals: God does love me, I am precious in His eyes, and He has determined that what is best for me right now is that I not enjoy the particular manifestation of love which joins a man to a woman. We do not know why. It may be that God has in his council determined that this particular love cannot be fully enjoyed until I am better prepared for it. At such a time we must pray for patience and contentment, cheerfully doing the work that only single people can do. Such a way of thinking gives all the glory to God and makes known true love for God and His people. Nothing is more precious and valuable in the kingdom of God.
When this “romantic love” bubbles endlessly around others throughout their high school days and the wedding day comes soon, or when at last God does bring our partner later in life, it is just as easy to get caught up with the lie of the devil regarding love. We are tempted to boast in ourselves and flaunt our love in the face of others. The evolutionary thought creeps in and whispers, “I am worthy. I now have proved that I have qualities that are better than everyone who is single. I am worthy of perpetuating the human race.” Such pride is wicked. Such pride reduces you to the beastly and meaningless evolutionary fight for the survival of the fittest. God has been pleased to create you with your particular characteristics so that you will be perfectly suited for your partner or single station in life. Some He has created to enter into this particular aspect of love earlier, some later, and some not at all. Each is being prepared in his or her particular way for the fullest enjoyment of love that far surpasses anything in this life.
Whether married or not, God gradually reveals to us through our various experiences what really is at the heart of love. We can read about love in God’s word and learn, but it really does not sink in until we experience what God says. As we grow older we are able, by God’s grace, to peel through all the layers of lie that the world presents to us and get at the truth.
I read a quote from the bulletin while at Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois, over Christmas break that states well what is at the heart of love. The quote is from Martin Luther and goes like this, “To have peace and love in a marriage is a gift that is next to the knowledge of the gospel. Love begins when we wish to serve others.” It is the last sentence that I want to focus upon. You can have all the feelings of love in the world for someone, but every shred of pride in yourself will only eat away at that love until it turns to hatred. The most fanciful romantic love quickly sours to bitter hatred and incredible misery when one is unwilling to serve. The idea that something so wonderful as the experience of love is enjoyed in the way of humility and service is foreign to evolutionary thought, yet it is the absolute truth. God tells us in 1 John 2:5 that love for God comes in the way of obedience. We must serve God just as we must serve one another. We read, “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”
That desire to serve one another without any desire to reap some benefit for oneself, does not come from the world and is totally foreign to evolutionary thought; it is truly a gift from God. In Romans 5:5 we read the same thing, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” We must pray for that gift and stop dwelling upon ourselves because the gift of humility and service is where love begins.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14).
Katie is a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church. This article was written for the 2001 Protestant Reformed scholarship.
What is the place of athletics and particularly of interscholastic sports in Christian education? This is an issue that every one of our Protestant Reformed schools has had to struggle with and prayerfully consider. This issue is not an easy one, but there are basic biblical principles that must guide us in considering the place of athletics in our Christian schools. Secondarily, one can also look to the examples of other schools; schools both of which have decided to include an interscholastic sports program, and schools that have decided against including an interscholastic sports program.
I have an interest in this issue, the place of interscholastic sports, for several reasons. First, I have been involved in interscholastic sports in college, running cross-country. For me it was a struggle to balance running, academics and devotional time, so that my quiet time with God always came first. Second, I will be student teaching in a Christian school in the fall that has chosen not to include an interscholastic sports program in their curriculum. And third, in the future, if the Lord willing, I will teach in one of our Christian schools, or else I will raise covenant children. Thus, I must formulate for myself the place of sports in the school and in my children’s lives.
Many of our Protestant Reformed schools have interscholastic sports programs. There are other Christian schools, however, that have chosen not to have an interscholastic sports program. The Christian school in which I will be student teaching has chosen not to have an interscholastic sports program for several reasons.
The principal of this school gave the following reasons for this decision. First, there is the reality of a small school and the lack of resources. This small school prefers to use its resources to strengthen their academic programs to prepare their students for a career, rather than using their limited resources to build and maintain a sports program. Second, they do not want to give their students an opportunity to find a career in sports. And third, they believe that sports should not have a primary priority in the lives of Christian people. Sports may never become an end in life.
Today in society we see that many people are consumed by sports. For them sports is an idol. In general, many people live for the sports they are involved in and soon, the game and the individual are not God centered, but rather, self-centered. Furthermore, time playing sports and watching sports often takes the place of more important things.
In addition, this principal believes that intramurals can provide the opportunity for physical activity and provide many of the benefits of competitive sports, such as camaraderie and discipline. He also believes that camaraderie and discipline can be developed in the academic areas.
Many of our Protestant Reformed schools, along with other Christian schools, have chosen to include an interscholastic program. Many of our people support these programs on the basis that they provide a great window of opportunities for many students. These opportunities involve the following: lasting friendships are formed and developed within the team; athletes learn discipline trying to balance homework, work, sports, and personal devotions; struggling academic students have an opportunity to develop their talents in sports, and are provided the motivation to keep up their grades to stay on the team. There are benefits for parents and the rest of the student body, too. Students and parents enjoy Christian fellowship and positive recreation as spectators. At these sporting events athletes and spectators alike are provided the opportunity to learn and to show good sportsmanship.
If a school chooses to have an interscholastic sports program, it must be very careful. At the outset, one must recognize that just as religion must not be a mere “add-on” to our academic curriculum, so religion must not be a mere add-on in athletics. As in the academic curriculum, religion must be at the very heart of the athletic curriculum. Our God is one Lord and He is Lord over all. God is sovereign in every sphere of our life, thus He, as well as His precepts for our lives, must be recognized in every area of education.
Coaches and athletes alike should keep in mind a quote by Heywood Halebroun that says, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” One may not agree that “sports do not build character,” but no one can argue the statement that “sports reveal character.” How many times haven’t we seen bad sportsmanship from both the athletes themselves or from the spectators at our own schools or on TV in professional basketball? Athletes, coaches and spectators must always be cautious of their behavior at sporting events. This is primarily because God has commanded us to be “holy even as [He] is holy” (I Peter 1:16) and to live sanctified lives. We are also commanded to be Christ’s living witnesses to bear His name, and not to bring shame upon the name of Christ.
Like all other forms of entertainment and leisure, we must be led by the Spirit, participating in all things in moderation and keeping our priorities in mind. As Christian young people we must be mature in making our decisions, always asking ourselves whether or not God is truly first in our life. If God has been displaced from the first rung of the ladder of our priorities for athletics, we have made athletics an idol and we must take action. As we read in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” We should also keep in mind our confession in the Heidelberg Catechism Answer 1, “that [we] are not [our] own, but belong to [our] faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Our first priority in life must always be our relationship with our Lord and Savior.
As educators and coaches in Christian schools, we must remember that God’s Word has something to say about all areas of life; about our work, our worship, our education, and our recreation. If we are going to include interscholastic sports in our curriculum, we must apply spiritual principles. We must use God’s Word to guide us in our decisions so we are molded to His image. Our behavior must reflect that we are His image bearers. It is critical that we daily remind ourselves of our priorities: we are first and foremost God’s servants and are pilgrims in this land. We must be reminded that God is more concerned about our spiritual life than our physical life. Students must also be reminded that they must not be involved in their sports or performing their sports “through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind” (Phil. 2:3). All our activities must be done for God’s honor and glory and not for our own honor and glory.
Both supporters and opponents of interscholastic sports provide thoughtful, insightful arguments. If a Christian school chooses to support an interscholastic program, it must do so, as in all other things, under the guidelines of Christian principles. Even athletics must point to Christ and must be used as a means to serve him. This is our goal always in education; to point our students to Christ, using their talents and time for his honor and glory.
Kris is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Rev. Ronald Hanko was born in 1954 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His parents are Prof. Herman Hanko and Mrs. Wilma (Knoper) Hanko.
Until he was nine, Rev. Hanko lived in the house that is now the residence of the principal of Hope Christian School. He grew up in the area of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, though the present church building was not built at that time. His father was the minister of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, and then he took a call to the Doon, Iowa, Protestant Reformed Church in 1963. The Hankos lived in Doon until 1965, when his father took the call to the Protestant Reformed Seminary. They moved back to Grand Rapids and lived first in the second parsonage of the old First Protestant Reformed Church on Bates Street in Grand Rapids, near the old Calvin College campus, and later they moved back in the area of Hope Protestant Reformed Church.
Rev. Hanko attended Hope School until half way through third grade. Then he went to Doon Christian School (we did not have our own school there at the time) for the other half of third grade, fourth and fifth grades. When his family moved back to Grand Rapids, he went to Adams School for sixth, seventh and half of eighth grades, and he went to Hope School again for the other half of eighth grade and ninth. He spent his high school years at Covenant Christian High School.
After he graduated from high school, Rev. Hanko attended Calvin College, Grand Valley, and the Protestant Reformed Seminary for his college training. He also received his seminary education from the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Peer pressure to conform to ungodly and inappropriate behavior was always difficult for Rev. Hanko to resist when he was growing up. Those pressures are still there today for our young people and have increased due to the decline of family worship and family life.
In 1975, Rev. Hanko married Nancy Cammenga the Lord has blessed with eight children. Nancy has been a support to him, has willingly moved to many different places far from her former home and family, and has shown herself to be “full of good works and alms deeds.”
When Rev. Hanko was very young, God began to prepare him for the ministry. He was often asked if he would be a minister like his father and grandfather. He hated those questions and always denied that he would be; but when he was in high school, he began, nevertheless to feel the call to the ministry. He spoke to both his father and grandfather about it and they encouraged him. Several high school teachers also encouraged him.
When Rev. Hanko decided to enter Seminary, his parents and grandparents were pleased, but up to that time they had never put any pressure on him to do so. That was probably a good thing, since pressure from them, along with the questions of those who thought he ought to be a minister because it “ran in the family,” might have had an opposite effect. He struggled for a time after deciding to enter Seminary with his own feelings because he was unable to determine whether it was for his parents’ sake or for God’s sake that he had made the decision.
One of the more memorable events of Rev. Hanko’s years in Seminary was a humorous one. It occurred during a class with Prof. Homer Hoeksema, whom he loved dearly and whose preaching and work in the churches he misses very much. At the climax of a Dogmatics lecture, Prof. Hoeksema misspoke himself and called Adam a bird, and a little later discovered the seminarian who is now Rev. Carl Haak squatting on a table, flapping his arms and squawking.
The most memorable experience was the practice preaching sessions and the rigorous criticism of sermons at the end of those sessions. Although he can see the value of those sessions, at the time it was difficult for him to see how beneficial they were. There were a number of times when he returned from such sessions and told his wife that he was finished at Seminary.
After he was ordained in 1979, Rev. Hanko’s first charge was in Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Wyckoff, New Jersey. In 1986, his labors at Covenant Protestant Reformed Church were finished when the Lord sent him to Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas. In 1993, he was called to leave Trinity to become the missionary to Britain and pastor of the Covenant Reformed Fellowship (later Covenant Protestant Reformed Church) until 2001. Since July, 2002 he has been the pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of the Lynden, Washington, Protestant Reformed Church.
One of Rev. Hanko’s most memorable experiences with teaching the young children in catechism was teaching the miracles of Jesus to the youngest class. He asked if any of the children knew what leprosy was, and he called on the only child who had raised his hand and whose arm was waving frantically, only to hear a description of leprosy that went something like this: “First your fingers and toes fall off, then your hands and feet, and then the other parts of your body until only your head is left. Then you die.” The other children, of course, were wide-eyed at this description.
As a minister, it has been rewarding for Rev. Hanko to witness the steadfastness of God’s people in the face of adversity, and the spiritual growth of the young people.
During his ministry, Rev. Hanko says it has been wonderful to have lived and worked in so many different places. “We have missed family members, but have learned and grown though contact with many different people of God and have seen many different places. The faces and faith of many dear friends and fellow believers, some across the ocean and some in Heaven are always with us, as are the warm summer evenings in Houston sitting under the live oaks, the green hills of Ireland, the busy streets of London and New York, and the mountains of Colorado and Washington.”
While he was growing up, Rev. Hanko enjoyed reading, orchids and stamp collecting, which has an honorable history among ministers, in that Arthur Pink took it up as a hobby in his later years.
Now Rev. Hanko enjoys collecting and reading antiquarian books including theology, water-color painting, and photography.
Rev. Hanko has advice for men who are considering the ministry of the Word to be their calling. He says that they be very sure that they are called by God, since the ministry, especially in these times, is difficult, often burdensome, and with many discouragements and trials.
Concerning the thinking, attitudes, and behavior of the young people, Rev Hanko would like nothing so much as to see more spirituality on the part of the young people, especially in the area of personal devotions, preparation for catechism, and an interest in the truth.
Rev. Hanko is encouraged that there are always, by the wonderful grace of God, young people who are spiritually minded and who are not ashamed of their faith and of living by their faith.
Aaron is a membr of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It is with this introduction of the life of Jacob Arminius that we will begin a series of articles which take a look at the error of Arminianism. We begin with a brief overview of his life, mentioning mainly the facts of dates, names, places, and highlighting a few events. From there, Lord willing, we hope to examine some of his teachings and the doctrines of those who carried on his cause after his death. Finally, it is our intention to show how Arminianism is alive and well today, the various ways it creeps into the church, and how it is combated. With this in mind, we begin with a look at the life of Jacob Arminius. Jacobus Arminius was born in 1559 or 1560 in Oudewater, Holland, a town on the river Ijssel, not far from the city of Utrecht. His birth name was Jacob Harmenszoon, or Herman’s son. His mother was Engeltje Jacobsdr, or Jacob’s daughter, from Dordrecht. His father was Harmen Jacobszoon.
Arminius’ father was a messemaker (knifemaker), and likely a wapensmid (armorer) by trade. Jacob never knew his father because Harmen died either before his birth or shortly there after. The widow Engeltje had to raise Arminius along with at least two other children.
At the time of Arminius’ birth, Oudewater was under Spanish control and was Roman Catholic in faith. Being without a father, a priest with Protestant sympathies by the name of Theodore Aemilius, took an interest in the bright young boy. He became involved in young Jacob’s life and saw to it that he received an education. Arminius, as a young teenager went to a school in Utrecht. While he studied there, Aemilius died, leaving him stranded in Utrecht.
However, he caught the eye of Rudolphus Snellius, a professor from the University of Marburg, who happened to be visiting Utrecht. He noticed the ability and need of the teenager. He took him back to Marburg and enrolled him in the university there in 1575. Shortly after his enrollment at Marburg, his native town of Oudewater was destroyed by the Spanish. Killed in the massacre were his mother, all of his siblings, and many of his relatives. Jacob made the trip to Oudewater to see what had taken place when the city was yet under Spanish control. The town was liberated the following year. After this visit he returned to Marburg where he studied for another year. It was sometime during the years of his studies that he Latinized his name to Jacobus Arminius, as scholars did at that time. Arminius was a first-century Germanic chieftain who resisted the Romans.
On October 23, 1576, Arminius enrolled at the newly founded University of Leiden, awarded to the city for its staunch resistance to the Spanish enemy. He was the 12th student enrolled at the university. Mathematics, logic, theology, and Hebrew were all a part of his studies at Leiden. He finished his studies at Leiden in 1581 at the age of 22 years. Being too young for pastoral labors, Arminius was encouraged by his friends to continue his studies. It is at this time that he gained the attention of the authorities and clergy of Amsterdam. It is through this connection, that Arminius made an arrangement with the Merchants’ Guild of Amsterdam. Arminius signed an agreement to devote his life, after his studies, to the service of the church of Amsterdam. In return, his education would be funded by the Merchant’s Guild.
Arminius chose to continue his studies in Geneva, at the academy established there by John Calvin in 1559. The academy was now under the leadership of 62 year old Theodore Beza. Arminius registered at the academy on January 1, 1582. He studied there for a short time until tensions mounted between him and the authorities and a professor. In the summer of 1583 Arminius left to study in Basel. After spending a year in Basel, he returned to Geneva in the summer of 1584, and returned to his studies at the academy. When the burgomasters (the top civil authorities in the city) of Amsterdam inquired about Arminius’ progress in his studies and his behavior, Beza responded with a letter, part of which read,
To sum up all, then, in a few words: let it be known to you that from the time Arminius returned to us from Basel, his life and learning both have so approved themselves to us, that we hope the best of him in every respect, if he steadily persist in the same course, which by the blessing of God, we doubt not he will; for, among other endowments, God has gifted him with an apt intellect both as respects the apprehension and the discrimination of things. If this henceforward be regulated by piety, which he appears assiduously to cultivate, it cannot but happen that this power of intellect, when consolidated by mature age and experience, will be productive of the richest fruits. Such is our opinion of Arminius – a young man, unquestionably, so far as we are able to judge, most worthy of your kindness and liberality.
Arminius continued to receive financial support from Amsterdam and continued his studies at Geneva until 1586. After completing his studies, Arminius and a friend took a trip to Italy. They even visited Rome and saw the Pope from a great distance a way. Arminius then returned to Geneva for a few months and then reported to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1587.
Shortly after his return, Arminius was examined by the Classis of Amsterdam and became a candidate for the ministry. He visited the Amsterdam consistory and informed them that he was ready to serve the church of Amsterdam. He began preaching at evening services on February 7, 1588, as a proponent, or preacher on trial. He preached as a proponent into the summer.
On August 11, 1588, he was presented with his call and he was ordained on August 27. Arminius was now one of five ministers to serve the growing church of Amsterdam. He began preaching series of sermons on the books of Malachi and Romans. His series on Romans did not end until 1601.
In September of 1590, Arminius was married to Lijsbet, the daughter of a wealthy Amsterdam family. Once again, Arminius had family friendships and social activity, something that had been taken from him when his family and most of his relatives had been killed 15 years earlier. In July, the following year, their first son Harmen (named after Arminius’ father) was born. He died less that a month later. In those days, it was the custom to baptize babies in the church a day after they were born, no matter the season. No doubt this practice probably contributed to the premature death of some infants.
By the year 1591, Arminius reached chapter 7 in his preaching on Romans. It was his exposition of the last half of the chapter that upset some of his fellow ministers. Arminius argued that the man of Romans 7:15-25 was unregenerated. In other words, he taught that that unregenerated man has the spiritual ability to fight against his sins and actually delights in the law of God. For good reason this upset the Calvinists among his peers.
In early 1592 his views on predestination became a matter of discussion in the consistory. Evidently, his preaching had created strife among the ministers to the point where the burgomasters had to admonish them to be at peace among themselves. Some of the ministers where in favor of his views, while others, especially Plancius, were vehemently opposed to them. This admonition from the burgomasters, who were more interested in church unity than orthodoxy, brought peace for a while.
By 1593, Arminius was preaching on Romans 9. Again, some of his views were called into question. Many in the congregation began to complain about his preaching. It was evident that two parties were beginning to form in the church of Amsterdam. There were the Calvinists led by the minister Plancius, and there were the sympathizers of Arminius. Once again the matter was discussed by the consistory. And once again, everything was smoothed over so that both parties involved were able to live peaceably.
Next time, Lord willing, we will continue our look at the life of Arminius, finishing his life in Amsterdam and then moving on to his years in Leiden.
Facts about the life of Arminius have been taken from the book Arminius, A Study in the Dutch Reformation, by Carl Bangs. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1985.
Having trouble maintaining the devotion schedule you had planned for the new year? Try out the devotional section in Beacon Lights. We started with fresh devotionals for January, and now we are planning to spend a few months using the Heidelberg Catechism. Sound spiritual food is essential for the child of God, and we pray that God may use these to build you up in faith. Feel free to pull out the devotional page if you find that more convenient.
Comfort! What a needed commodity in this world! From where can we obtain comfort? Is it from a bottle of alcohol? Is it from a drug? Is it found in financial security in this life? Is it found in the “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” The answer to all of these questions is no... a thousand times no! True comfort can only be found in our Savior Jesus Christ who cares for us in all of our needs. As we begin a series of devotionals based on the Heidelberg Catechism, let us remember that in this explanation of the true Christian doctrine is found comfort. It is found for all of God’s people in whatever station of life. Let us go to the Father who sends to us the Comforter at the request of Jesus Christ. In Him we will find true comfort. Sing Psalter 281.
In order to enjoy the comfort afforded to us by God, we must have knowledge of three things. First of all we need to know how great is our sin. If we are honest, this is not difficult. We see our sin daily in all that we do. This is a fact that all of God’s saints have realized. Secondly we must know the way of deliverance. What a great comfort it is to us to know that God has given to us a deliverer to do what we can never do! Jesus Christ has delivered us from our sins by His death on the cross. We need nothing else. In fact, there is nothing else. Finally we must be thankful to Him who has delivered us. Even as we are thankful to those who help us in this earthly life, we must be thankful to God for providing us a way of deliverance from our sins. This is the life of sanctification that each of us must walk. Sing Psalter 378
As we seek to examine our knowledge of our misery, we must find a way of knowing that misery. God provides a mirror for us to examine ourselves in order to see how miserable we truly are. That mirror is His law. In that law we find out how wretched we are by nature. We also find out that we by ourselves become more and more miserable each day. This mirror is perfect. It has no flaws or aberrations to obscure our lives. Looking into that mirror will give to us a clear picture of ourselves. This is a comfort because we find that nothing that we can do can provide deliverance. We will know that deliverance must come from elsewhere. Sing Psalter 42.
In this question and answer we find the summary of all the law of God. If we would implement these two summaries in our homes, in our work, at school, and in all places, we would need no other rules or regulations. By serving God in all that we do with all of our being, we will show our love to Him and keep all of His sayings which He has commanded us. By showing love to our neighbor we will not be tempted to harm him in physical and other ways. We will help the neighbor. By loving God and the neighbor, we will find great comfort in our lives. Sing Psalter 321
When we look into the mirror of God’s law do we see a person ready to win any beauty contests? Do we see a person ready for man of the year awards in any or every category? The answer is sadly no. What we see is a rotten, putrefying, stinking, cesspool of filth and sin. We find a person who hates God and will try to do any thing to get around His laws. We find a person who will do all to gain advantage over the neighbor whether that be a husband, wife, child, sibling, fellow believer, fellow worker, fellow student, or one with whom we come into contact. We must hide our faces in shame at our reflections in that mirror. We may ask, “How is this a comfort?” Of ourselves it is not, but if it drives us to Christ which the law will do, then we will find utmost comfort every day of our lives. Let us look into the mirror of God’s law and find Christ. Sing Psalter 103.
In the last Lord’s Day we saw how wicked we are. In this Lord’s Day the writers first of all ask how we were created. We read that on the sixth day God created man male and female, looked at His creation, and pronounced it good. God made us in His own image in true righteousness, holiness, and with the ability to know God. From this creation man was able to love God and live with him perfectly. This is hard for us to comprehend in our sinful state, but it gives us great comfort to know that because of Christ’s work on our behalf we will once again reach this state of goodness in heaven. Sing Psalter 14:1, 4-7.
Man did not stay in that perfect condition in which he was created but rather he fell into utter desolation. The original sin of Adam and Eve has been transferred to every human since then. This is the source of our hopelessness which we find within us. Is there no hope, however? Yes, there is. As we continue on through the catechism we will find that God has provided a way of deliverance for His people. From the deadness of our natures, we are revived by the Spirit and will once again dwell with God in perfection. Let us eagerly await that day which we will not find in this vale of tears but rather find in heaven. Sing Psalter 140.
Yesterday we alluded to the hope that we have within us. Notice that in today’s question and answer we find that hope. That hope is found in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit within us. Notice that the framers of the catechism do not leave anything for us to do. If that were the case, we would fail seeing the corruptness of our natures. If there was one thing that we had to do, our corrupt nature would prevent our salvation. But we have the hope of the Spirit with in us. By that quickening Spirit we live and have within us the hope of eternal life. Sing Psalter 287.
Now we come to the section of the catechism where various objections are raised to the will of God for mankind. God is called unjust or unfair in all the way He has purposed to lead mankind. Here we have the denial of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. If you deny this doctrine, you deny all of what God has done. God is good; God has created man good; man, by his own willful disobedience, plunged himself into sin and all of its accompanying evils. On this Sabbath Day we should ponder God’s goodness, and not be quick to label Him unfair. By doing this we can receive the comfort that is afforded to us by God’s good way for us. We must be thankful that God is sovereign. If we are not, we will never find comfort in this life or the life to come. Sing Psalter 61.
We like to ignore the truth of this question and answer. We like to think and hope that God will not chastise us for our sin. We like to think that Adam’s original sin has escaped God’s all-seeing eye. We cannot cheat in school and expect to escape God. Oh, we might “get away with it” in man’s eyes, but God sees and knows all. He will bring His just wrath upon us for our sins. Worldly men like to think that there are no consequences for their deeds. Do you know what, people of God? We are no better than they, are we? But we are not without hope and comfort. The writers are leading us to the comfort that God has provided for us. Let us strive to avoid sin, and in that way we will be pleasing to God. Sing Psalter 9.
Just when we think all hope is lost, we read the words that God is also merciful. No, He does not ignore our sins. They must be paid for. We cannot sin with importunity and expect to escape His justice. Scripture is very clear about this. But God is merciful! What a glorious comfort that is! But before we get carried away with relief, the catechism still reminds us that God’s justice must be satisfied. We must see that from Adam’s original sin to our daily sins, God has been watching. Because He is a just God, He will require justice. While all seems to leave us in bitter despair, we must remember the answer of Lord’s Day 1 which outlined for us the comfort that God has given to us. Sing Psalter 362.
Now that we know the depths of our misery, we are ready to find out about the way of deliverance God has given to us. Once again the catechism reminds us that God’s justice must be satisfied in the matter of sin. This truth can never be ignored. Many in the world, and sadly it is true of us, would like to forget this fact. But it is true. There is abundant evidence of this in Scripture. This section of the catechism opens with the necessity of satisfaction either by ourselves or another. Sing Psalter 214:1, 4, 6 and 7.
Now the question is asked, “Can we satisfy God’s justice ourselves?” If we think we can, than we delude ourselves. For us to satisfy for ourselves is like trying to pay off the national debt by ourselves. We daily sin even as the leaders in our country continue to spend money. Even if we try to do good, our goodness is no better than filthy rags. Can you clean a floor with a muddy, stinking, sloppy rag rescued from a pig pen? It would be ludicrous to even try. Yet by nature we think that we can pay for our own sins. This is the error of works righteousness. Let us continue to see where the catechism leads us in this matter of satisfying for our sins before the judgment seat of God. Sing Psalter 83.
Now we must ask the question if there might be another of one of God’s creatures which can atone for our sins. First of all we are brought to the realization that because man sinned, man must pay for that sin. When we run up a debt with a business, normally we are responsible to pay that debt. Secondly we find that no mere creature is able to bear the burden of God’s wrath for sin. This is so because first of all because of how great that burden is. Daily we increase that burden in our lives. Whether we are at home, at school, or at work, the fact remains that we sin. Secondly God’s wrath is great because He is God and we are but creatures. No one has the ability, even though some have tried, to stand up to God. Our deliverance thankfully must come from someone with more ability than we. I say thankfully because of ourselves we would fail. Sing Psalter 365.
Now we find the answer to the problem of our deliverer. We need a mediator; that is, someone to go between God and us, who is acceptable to God. No where in the created world can such a one be found. This mediator by definition must be very God and very man. This man must be sinless, and he also must be divinely powerful. Again it looks hopeless. Where can someone with these qualifications be found? Once again we must recall the comfort outlined for us in Lord’s Day 1. We have such a mediator. We will find out about him in subsequent Lord’s Days. Sing Psalter 358.
As we come to a complete realization of who our mediator is, we have also reached the Sabbath. Today of all days we come face to face with our God. In order to do so we must be right with Him. Because we are sinful human beings we need a mediator. This mediator must have the qualifications necessary for the positions. He must be man because man has sinned. He must be perfectly righteous in order to bear the wrath of God for the sins of all the elect. In this world we sometimes have a “do-it-ourselves” attitude. As we come face to face with our God today, we must realize that we cannot do it ourselves. We need Christ. As we worship let us think of the awesomeness of the relationship between God, Christ and us. Let us bow in humility before our God. Sing Psalter 292: 1, 2 and 5.
After establishing that our mediator must be very man, the Catechism now goes on to instruct us in the fact that our mediator must be very God. What a comfort that He who redeemed us from our sin is not a mere man. We know that if left up to us we would be left in our misery. We also know that no mere man could atone for the sin of the elect. Therefore we must always be grateful for the sacrifice that Christ made when He came to this earth and suffered during the thirty-three years that He lived among us. Isaiah 53 is good for us to read often so that we can be comforted by the sacrifice Christ made for us. The fruits of righteousness and life are ours only by this sacrifice. Sing Psalter 253:1, 8 and 9.
We read the Christmas story quite often during the month of December, and then if we are not studying it in school or society or reading it for devotions, it does not get read again for a whole year. It is important for us to see that our salvation begins with the incarnation of Christ. It would probably be good for us to study the Christmas story some other time than in December. We would then get more out of the meaning of Christ’s birth. We would then understand more who our mediator is. Christ was more than a baby; He was as we read wisdom, righteousness sanctification, and redemption. As we look to escape the misery of our sin, let us find the comfort that is given to us in the Christmas story. Let us do this without the influence of tinsel and all of the other trappings of December 25. If we do, we will find a great comfort for now and in the life to come. Sing Psalter 47:1, 2, 5 and 6.
As we finish this Lord’s Day which introduces to our mediator, we are asked a common question. “How do you know this?” We must respond that we know this by faith. We know this is true because God has told it to us in the Word. This Word was revealed from Paradise until the incarnation in the various forms enumerated in question 19. Today we too must look to that Word “which was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We must “behold His glory.” This means a study of God’s Word daily. In order to have the comfort afforded by the Spirit we must see what the Spirit says to us. Fathers, we need to do this with and for our families. Adults, we must darken the society room door often. Young people and children, you must pay attention wherever that Word is taught to you. This may be at home, at catechism, at school or at society. By doing this we will partake of the comfort wrought by Christ. Sing Psalter 337.
Now that we see who our mediator-redeemer is, we must see for whom He came. This Lord’s Day makes it plain that Jesus is the redeemer only for a select group of people. These people are the ones the Father gave to Him. To be an elect child of God means much. First of all, according to this answer, we are engrafted into Him which means that He gives to us life. Secondly, we receive all His benefits. These are too many to enumerate here, but they are considerable. How do we obtain all this? Not by our own means, it is sure. We obtain these benefits only in a true faith. What a comfort it is for us to know that being counted with the elect has many benefits! We must remember this as we pray. We must thank our heavenly Father for that which He has given to us in Christ. Sing Psalter 239.
Young people, have you publicly confessed your faith before God and His church? If not, are you working toward that end? If so, are you living out of that confession? As we saw in the last question and answer, true faith is the means by which we receive the benefits of salvation. According to today’s reading, one of the responsibilities of having that faith is to confess it. We must be waiting for the day when we take our place in God’s church on this earth. Confession of faith is an important step in our lives. It is one which will give to us a comfort found no where else in this life. Parents, we too must make sure this is important to our young people. We do it by example as well as by helping them obtain that knowledge and confidence that makes up the true and living faith. This is not done by our merits but only by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Sing Psalter 73:1, 5 and 6.
Can we obtain true faith by believing only part of the Bible? Absolutely not is the answer of this part of Lord’s Day 7. We must believe all of the Bible, from creation, to the fall, to the flood, to the incarnation, and to the hope of eternal life. We may not pick and choose what we believe and what we wish to omit. All of the Scriptures outline the plan for salvation which God has ordained for His people. To snip out one little word is to destroy His masterpiece. This is important to know as we live our lives. Many would leave out part of the Bible. We must stay away from that kind of teaching and hold all of the Scripture precious as the way to our salvation. To do anything else will leave us without comfort. Sing Psalter 20.
The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism now incorporate the words of the Apostle’s Creed to show us what we must believe. Some would say that this is not Scripture and therefore should not be given such a place of importance. To that we answer that the Holy Spirit uses the writings of faithful men to guide the church in the knowledge of Scripture. This creed and others help us see what God will have us to know about His work of salvation for us. As we consider the articles of this creed, let us thank God for such men who fought the battle of faith so that we might know from whence is our salvation. Much can be found within these few lines. Many battles have been fought over their truths. Thanks be to God for this means of instruction. Sing Psalter 27.
The authors of the Apostles Creed, whoever they may be, make a very logical division in the creed. The authors of our Catechism take this division for their creed. In doing this we may see that not only God is a God of order, but we may learn about Him in a very orderly way. In using the work of the persons of the Trinity, we are enabled to see how they relate to us. We see the covenant in this work as well. Our creation, redemption, and sanctification are covenantal in nature. Let us cleave to this fact for our comfort. Sing Psalter 391.
The doctrine of the Trinity is often seen as one of the most difficult to understand. More than one catechism instructor has stated this fact. How can one God be three persons? Some have tried to solve the dilemma by denying the truth of the Trinity. This is no solution, as Scripture clearly states from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 that this doctrine is fact. The only way we can clearly understand it is by faith. Faith gives to us to acknowledge the truth of this doctrine. Faith gives to us to see in Scripture and in our lives the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In believing the doctrine of the Trinity, we bare witness to the sufficiency of the work of God in our salvation. Sing Psalter 242.
What a wealth of knowledge and comfort is found in this Lord’s Day! Do you love your earthly father for what he does for you? How much more should we love our heavenly Father who is our creator and the sustainer of our lives. Our earthly fathers are weak pictures of our heavenly Father. He is our creator. Do we fully comprehend what that means? Many in the church world ignore this reality. If you think that is possible, take a Bible and cut all references to God‘s work of creation from it. Don’t miss any. If you took my ludicrous suggestion, you would have a tattered and torn Bible which would be rendered all but useless. But yet that is what many wish to do by denying the doctrine of creation. Without creation there is no salvation. What comfort is there in that? Consider this Lord’s Day all day today. I think we will be brought to our knees to confess “O God, how great Thou art!” Sing Psalter 285.
This Lord’s Day is one we wish to ignore often. We want to account for incidents in our lives to be products of chance or of our own doing. That is foolish. When we fall into that error, we have fallen into the error that all heathen societies have. Maybe we ascribe to God good things that happen to us, but certainly not bad. Those are accidents or bad luck. To do this is to deny the sovereignty of God and then to deny Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word. The doctrine of providence is one which we must hold dear. We must see that He, in a fatherly way, cares for us by His providence. If we do this, then we will feel the comfort of His hand in our lives. This is the comfort for which we must seek. It can only be found in the God of providence and not the god of luck. Sing Psalter 86.
Is it said of us that we are patient in adversity? Do we see the hand of God in the car crash that sends loved ones to the hospital or even the grave? Do we see being out of work coming at the hand of God? Are we thankful to God in our prosperity, or do we try to take credit for what we have ourselves? These are the basic questions found in this Lord’s Day. To summarize them is this: Do we believe in the sovereignty of God? That is a sobering thought. To say yes means that we confess that God oversees every action in our lives. To say “no” means that our salvation is in doubt. Providence is a comfort to every child of God. Let us lay hold on that comfort and live every day in it. Sing Psalter 169.
Bill is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article was written for the 2002 Protestant Reformed scholarship.
An intriguing question has been raised by the 2002 Protestant Reformed Scholarship Committee: “Why isn’t the position of minister desired by more young people?” This question supposes two things: 1) That the number of young people who desire this “position” is inadequate. 2) That more young people would desire the ministry if something changed in our behavior, either as parents or young people.
The simple fact of the matter is that we do not know if the current number of young people who desire the ministry is adequate or not. This might seem to be the case, given the number of vacancies in Protestant Reformed Churches, growing mission fields, and expected retirements. Neither do we know why more young people do not desire the offices. Certainly, many factors might contribute to the suggested deficiency in the number of young people who desire the ministry: a general lack of spirituality in the churches, increasing worldliness among our young people, or a diminishing respect for the minister among parents which infects the children, to suggest a few.
The Lord of the harvest and the great Shepherd, however, does know these things. He knows all things—both our needs and what is necessary for the provision of them. That is why we are commanded to be often in prayer, making our requests known unto him and seeking his will in all things. With the firm conviction in our hearts that we receive what we need, even as we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, we should first bring our concern for ministers before our Lord. With this in mind, we humbly offer the following prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven, we petition thee as the Lord of the harvest and the great Shepherd, whose field and flock extends to the ends of the earth and throughout history. Lord and Shepherd, give unto thy church gardeners to labor among the crop and pastors to tend thy flock. We need them.
We need caretakers because of who we are. In thy great wisdom thou hast created thy people as tender plants, sown as tiny seed that must grow unto the day of harvest. We develop only by thy continual care through means of faithful gardeners. If not tended, we will die in this dry and thirsty land. Our hard hearts must be cultivated, the seed sown, our thirsty faith watered, and our growth nourished. The young shoots among us must be shaded from the oppressive heat. Dead growth must be cut off and choking weeds pulled out. O Lord in thy mercy, grant unto us caretakers to man the plow, disseminate the seed, water the roots, protect the buds, and wield the pruning hook—all by thy Word. Grant us such men lest we languish.
Thou hast made us as sheep dependent upon loving shepherds. We require shelter from the storm of controversy, warmth from the bitter winds of false doctrine, and sustenance for our spiritual development. We cannot find the green pastures and still waters on our own, but must be led there by one who knows the way. And when led there we do not remain, but wander off on our own, looking for richer fields, tastier drink, and prettier barns. We are easily fooled by false prophets dressed as sheep, and our little lambs skip through the meadows oblivious to the hungry eyes peering from the thickets. Our wounds need bandages and our diseases, medicine. The burdened require tender affection. O Lord give us pastors to feed thy flock, who work under thee, the great Shepherd, to gather the lambs in their arms and hug them tight to their bosom, and to gently lead the mothers with their little ones. We need such men lest we be scattered, devoured, or starve.
Keep us from hirelings, those miserable scoundrels, who do not love us tender plants and fractious sheep, but ambitiously pursue their own glory; who do not nurture thy people, but are the occasion for uproar and schism. Save us from the calloused hands of pompous shepherds who are no part of the flock themselves, but only use us for their own gain; who sheer the sheep, and feed them noxious plants and turbid water; who run when the wolf comes; who allow the lost to starve, the cold to shiver, and the injured to fend for themselves. Lord keep us from such men.
We petition thee, our Father, because thou alone art able to provide us with true pastors. We are instructed that they must possess certain gifts to do their work. Besides the required natural abilities, they must be blameless, not self-willed, not soon angry, no winebibber, brawler, or one greedy for gain. They must love hospitality and good men, be sober, just, holy, temperate, and hold fast the faithful word—able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Who has ever seen such a man, except thou hast by thy grace fashioned, set aside, and sustained him for thy church? We pray unto thee, to work mightily by thy Spirit to instill such gifts into men as future ministers of the Word.
They must be developed through covenantal instruction by God-fearing parents and diligent nurture by their spiritual mother, the church. Only thou art able to provide for such training. Grant that we who are parents be faithful in the rearing of our children, and train them in the way that they must go, believing that any of our young men may be called by thee to be ministers of the gospel. May we eagerly support covenantal education and the seminary of our churches, not merely monetarily, but chiefly with prayer. Grant that thy church always have pastors to nourish its young, from which comes our future shepherds.
We petition thee, O Father, because thou alone art able to bring young men to a conscious realization of this calling to the ministry. We know that thou dost give unto every man his work, but grant that those whom thou hast chosen may know in their hearts that they have been called to be pastors. They must know, for they are entrusted with the most serious of duties—duties from which they would otherwise shrink: the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Work by thy Spirit, that men receive such a call in the depths of their soul, and respond by dedicating their lives to such a noble calling.
We know, O Lord, that thou hast always provided for our needs, both as individuals and as churches. We are concerned that we have enough pastors to do the work that seems so evident to us. Let it not be that we are withheld ministers because we have not petitioned thee our God. Let it not be because we do not feel the need. Let it not be because of our pride. We confess that we often think we are great oaks which can survive on our own. We look at our roots and think them planted deeply enough—scarcely meditating on how they got there and upon what water they drink. Our wispy branches seem like mighty boughs that no wind could ever shake. We rather like the weeds from time to time, and the dead branches seem useful. As sheep, we often bite the hand that feeds us or cut the pastor as he tends to our wounds. When lost, we run farther away. But all this is precisely why we need pastors—servants who love us exactly because we are tender plants and stubborn sheep. Give unto us pastors who love thy people, and who are called and equipped to work in thy fields. We need them, O Lord. Amen.
Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Randolph Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin.
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. Isaiah 58:13-14
The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. Mark 2:27-28
In the last article we began our explanation of the fourth commandment by emphasizing that this commandment remains in effect today. Some people claim that Jesus Christ fulfilled the fourth commandment, and made it unnecessary for us to keep the Sabbath day holy. But God still requires us to observe a day of rest. To walk the Way of Thankful Obedience, we must keep this command of God also.
This rest which God commands us to enjoy is not simply the rest from earthly labor. Do not mistake me—rest from earthly labor is certainly a part of the rest that is commanded. The fourth commandment reads: “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work…” (Exodus 20:9, 10). And God requires us through Isaiah to turn away our foot from doing our pleasure on His holy day—by which He means not only the recreations we might enjoy, but any earthly work we might desire to do.
However, God commands us to rest from earthly labor, in order that we might have the time to enjoy the rest which God primarily intends us to have—the spiritual rest and peace which we experience by drawing near to Him; delighting in Him; praising, serving, and loving Him; and enjoying the salvation which He gives us in Christ.
In that connection, we ended last time by asking the question: how, practically, must we keep the Sabbath day holy? What must we do on Sunday? What may we do on Sunday? And what is forbidden us to do on Sunday? Let us now answer these questions.
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The “must” is stated in Scripture, and summarized for us in Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism. We must go to church, hear the gospel preached, use the sacraments, join in heart with the congregation in public prayer to God, contribute to the relief of the poor, and support the ministry of the gospel and schools with our offerings. These are not options for us; they are required by the fourth commandment and other passages of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25; I Timothy 2:1; I Corinthians 16:2).
The “must not” is also stated in Scripture. The fourth commandment itself forbids us to do any earthly labor on Sunday, and Isaiah 58:13 forbids us from doing anything in which we find pleasure. This does not mean, of course, that we may not enjoy the things we do on Sunday; the child of God does enjoy worshiping his God. But it means we must do what God requires of us, and not do anything that would indicate we serve ourselves. Earthly labor and earthly recreations must be set aside. Man needs the sabbath rest.
In this way the commandment is so often broken today. Sunday finds people enjoying recreations—camping, boating, basketball, football, snowmobiling—as though Sunday is a day for oneself. Sunday finds people working, restaurants doing brisk business, shopping center parking lots full. These things are not pleasing to Jehovah God. He demands that we remember His day, to keep it holy, and put aside all our earthly pursuits.
Young people, bear this in mind. Seek God’s grace to keep all that is common and earthly out of your sabbath days. Work is not wrong in itself; it is good. Recreation is not wrong in itself; it is good, in moderation, and for the right purpose. But on Sunday, all of this must be set aside, for God’s honor and glory!
We may not make laws beyond what Scripture allows us, regarding what we may not do on Sunday. But we are not going beyond Scripture to say: put your earthly work aside, and put your earthly goals and plans and hopes and recreations aside! We have six days to do all these other things, but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord our God!
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What then may we do, according to Scripture?
First, we may perform any work of necessity. Preparing food; milking cows and caring for other animals; doing work which absolutely is required to be done, such as being a policeman or fireman—these things are permitted us. Jesus taught this by asking the Pharisees who murmured because He healed a sick man on the sabbath day, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11). By asking this, Jesus was not telling the Pharisees that to pull the sheep out of the pit on the sabbath was wrong, but He was telling them that if pulling one’s sheep out of the pit on the sabbath was proper, so is healing the sick.
Second, we may perform any acts of mercy on the Sabbath day. This is the point that Jesus was teaching the Pharisees in the incident just referred to. For He said in verse 12: “How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” Acts of mercy would involve caring for the young, the aged, or the sick—including work in a nursing home or hospital.
Third, the sabbath day is a proper day to show love for fellow saints, enjoy fellowship with them, and help them in their needs. How might such love be shown? By visiting fellow saints, or having them in our homes. Even more, by visiting those who are sick, or poor, or led through some other trial. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 2:27).
Fourth, to spend time privately growing in the grace and knowledge of God is a proper Sabbath activity. To pray and study God’s Word by oneself or with other saints; to work on one’s catechism or other Bible study projects; or to read good literature which helps us understand God or His truth, is all proper. Often we neglect these activities during the week, being so busy. On Sunday we have an opportunity to do these things, because we have set aside our other labors.
At this point, a word of caution is in order. We should never think of the things which we may do as a substitute for the things we must do. We need the rest of the Sabbath, which rest is that of enjoying fellowship with God and His church. We should never think that private study of Scripture, a nice walk in the woods while meditating on God, or visiting others, is a substitute for going to church. If our working at a job of necessity or mercy would require us to miss church too often, then it is not proper, and in fact is detrimental to our spiritual life. When we do work on Sunday in such a job, we must remember that we are still required to keep the Sabbath day holy—to meditate on God as we go about our work; not to go out to eat for lunch or go out with the guys after the shift is over. The sabbath is made for man! We must enjoy the Sabbath rest every Sunday.
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When one diligently keeps the Sabbath day holy, one will find that the day goes by rather quickly. There is plenty to do on Sunday that is proper and pleasing to God; and if we do that which is right, we will have little time to do what is wrong. In this way we will show that we delight in the sabbath day.
Prof. Hanko is a professor emeritus of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The doctrine of God’s everlasting covenant of grace has always been the doctrine uniquely characteristic of the Reformed faith as it developed in the Netherlands. This doctrine has never been merely an abstract tenet of dogma, but always remains in the lives of God’s people, a very precious confession of the truth. As a matter of fact, many of our readers can speak at length about the covenant lines into which they were born. They can trace their spiritual ancestry back over many generations. Rev. Ophoff used to speak in school of what he called “Gereformeerde Gevoelhoren.” I suppose that the translation of this expression would be, “Reformed Antennae,” but by this expression Rev. Ophoff meant that a person who is born in a covenant home and brought up by covenant parents develops over the course of the years these Reformed antennae. They are the antennae which one finds on bugs, and which are used by these bugs as feelers. A bug, as he feels his way along with his antennae, makes these antennae quiver every time it meets with a foreign object. By means of this rather expressive metaphor, Rev. Ophoff meant to convey the idea that a child born in a covenant home and brought up under the influence of covenant instruction, is able to develop a sense for the Reformed faith which it is almost impossible to gain in any other way. He believed deeply in the importance of covenant instruction from infancy on. He believed so strongly in this that he maintained that it was next to impossible to develop such sensitive Reformed feelings unless one was instructed in the Reformed faith from days of earliest childhood. There is a great deal of truth in this. There is no substitute for covenant instruction.
This truth of which Rev. Ophoff spoke is a truth which was characteristic of his own life.
It seems as if the story of George Ophoff has to begin with the story of a man by the name of Gerrit Klaas Hemkes. Gerrit Hemkes was the maternal grandfather of George, and the story begins with him because of the influence of this man on George during the latter’s formative years.
A brief sketch of the life of Rev. Hemkes is given in the “Semi-Centennial Volume” of the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church.1 We quote the sketch this volume presents concerning Rev. Hemkes.
Gerrit Klaas Hemkes was born in the Netherlands on May 6, 1838, at Hallum, in the province of Friesland. He had a religious training and feared the Lord from childhood. When still very young, he was afraid that he had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. The attacks became so severe at times that he would forget his play and seek a secluded spot, there to present his troubles to the Lord and to pray that out of His fullness God would supply all things needful. In his 16th year the Lord delivered him from this burden, and he became conscious of his salvation in Christ.2
It is striking to note that this maternal grandfather of George Ophoff was born four years after the Secession in the Netherlands under DeCock, Van Raalte and others. In fact, the parents of Gerrit Hemkes were members of the Churches of the Secession. Apparently, they had separated from the apostate State Church along with one of the leaders of this movement. They were, therefore, among those who were deeply concerned about the spiritual deterioration in that church which only 200 years before this had fought so valiantly against the errors of Arminianism. They were, therefore, part of that important movement by which God preserved the cause of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands.
There were among many of these churches of the Secession certain mystical elements. And it seems, from the paragraph quoted above, that the family of Gerrit Hemkes was not entirely immune to these mystical tendencies.
Soon a desire to study for the ministry came to him, but his parents had no means with which to aid him. Through the help of kind friends, however, he was enabled to study for two years with the Rev. Kreulen of Hallum. Then he was given support from the Student Fund of the Friesland churches and received a thorough course at the Gymnasium of Franeker. Here he was brought under the influence of the Rev. K. J. Pieters, pastor of the Franeker Church at that time. He sat at the feet of prominent men such as Dr. Junius, the rector, and Verwey, the “conrector” of the school.
After five years at the Franeker school he was graduated, delivering an oration in Latin on “Oedipus Coloneus.” (This was a tragic play by Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright, produced near the end of his life and published after his death about 400 B.C. It is interesting to note that even in those days Latin was so thoroughly mastered that the graduates of the schools could speak in Latin. H.H.) He then proceeded to Kampen and was graduated from the Theological School in 1865. After passing a successful examination at Enumatil, he became pastor of the church at De Leek, in the Province of Groningen. He also served the church of Stads-Musselkanaal in the Netherlands from 1873 to 1874. Then he received a call from Bunde, Oostfriesland, Germany, where he served from 1874 to 1877. Here he also had the opportunity to give instruction to two young men who desired to study for the ministry.
In 1877 came a call from Vriesland, Michigan, and after due consideration it was accepted. Here he labored until 1884. In 1883 he became assistant professor at our Theological school in order to relieve Prof. Boer somewhat in his arduous tasks. During this time he received aid from other pastors in supplying his pulpit in Vriesland. In 1884 he was appointed regular professor, at first with Prof. Boer giving instruction in many branches both in the literary and theological departments, and later especially as professor of church history. He was faithful in his work, and loved by his students. Especially did they enjoy the many stories told in connection with his work in the classroom.3
One of these stories has come down to me, by what means I no longer recall. It was told me, and the story may be apocryphal, that one day Prof. Hemkes was strolling across the campus of Calvin College when he was seen by three students who decided to try to play a joke on him and see, if possible, whether they could embarrass him. After hurried consultation amongst themselves, one of them came up to Prof. Hemkes and said to him, “Good morning, father Abraham.” The second one hastened up and said, “Good morning, father Isaac.” The third one followed immediately and said, “Good morning, father Jacob.” Pausing only for a moment, Prof. Hemkes turned to the students and said in a most serious voice, “Young men, I am not father Abraham; nor am I father Isaac; nor am I father Jacob. However, I am Saul the son of Kish, and I think I have just found my father’s asses.”
Prof. Hemkes was quite a storyteller in his own right. Especially the children loved to hear him tell his stories, for he included in the stories all the motions and expressions necessary to convey the full impact of the tale, even if this meant laying aside his professorial dignity and crawling all over the floor.
In 1905 he became emeritus, but still went out preaching. His last sermon was delivered in Allendale, in which he spoke on “The Fullness of Christ.” In March 1916 he fell, breaking a leg at the hip. A stroke of apoplexy, paralyzed the other leg, and made it difficult for him to use his hands. In this condition he lingered along for three years. Finally diabetes set in, and he died December 4, 1920, not having lived in vain. This not only those of his parishioners still living can testify, but also the students who were favored with his instruction. Of this his many writings both in the Netherlands and here in America are a testimony. For four years he was editor-in-chief of De Wachter and for 40 years one of the editors of our Yearbook. His was indeed a life well spent, and a great blessing to many.4
I have in my possession a story which was written by Rev. Hemkes at the time he was minister in the church of De Leek. At the time Rev. Hemkes was editor of the “Yearbook” of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands (De Gereformeerde Kerk). The story is biographical and tells of an incident which took place while Rev. Hemkes was a student at the theological school in Kampen. It is a long story. We give here some interesting excerpts.5
It was in the unforgettable winter of 1865 that Gerrit Hemkes spent his Christmas vacation in the old town of Franeker, Friesland, among his relatives and friends.
Several days before his departure he thought of his trip back to Kampen with very little enthusiasm. He was not very fond of sitting in a stagecoach all the way from Franeker to Zwolle and then taking the train to Kampen…. When someone told his that the Zuider Zee…was frozen over and safe to skate on, he became joyfully interested in a trip on skates back to school.6
The question now was how to obtain permission from his aged parents, who were still living at this time, to make this somewhat hazardous trip. He could see possibilities with his father who was a man of courage. On the other hand, to get the approval of his mother, who was always very careful for the safety of her children, was a problem. Nevertheless, he was able…to convince his mother that it was much better to go to Kampen on skates than by stagecoach.
[Because of other problems] it so happened that instead of leaving at 5:00 a.m. he did not go until 9:00. He went with his brother and his brother’s wife.
They skated on the canals which led them toward the Zuider Zee. It was indeed a very delightful and beautiful winter day and the sun shown clearly over snowy landscapes. The ice was smooth and in good shape and they had no trouble with the wind. They glided along in single file with good speed and enjoyed themselves as they went. After having been on the ice for a little less than an hour the brother’s wife began to have trouble with her skates. They were not tied tightly enough, so they stopped to remedy the situation. They resumed skating, but soon there was more difficulty with the same skates. It became apparent that ankles were the problem and progress was slow. By the time they arrived at Lemmer it was 2:00 in the afternoon. They stayed there for a short time and then after bidding farewell to one another, the brother and his wife went northward and student Hemkes headed south where he would soon begin to skate on the Zuider Zee.
(The trip) was not without danger, especially when he had to jump over small streams of water about a yard wide which had not been frozen over. However, he continued to make progress. Toward 4:00 he rode past the town of Vollenhoven.7 At this place he had to go through a great number of skaters in order to continue on his way. He figured that from there to Kampen would take him about two or three hours. This he could have done if everything had worked out well....
As he skated, thoughts went through his mind as to how things might be in Franeker and in Kampen; also to which of his studies he would have to give the most time in order to pass his examinations. All of a sudden he became very much upset by a gathering fog which made it almost impossible for him to see. He could not find any scratches on the ice to indicate that others had been there before. He got down on his knees but was unsuccessful in feeling scratches where some might have passed by. Now he became filled with anxiety…. It was a terrible thing to be all alone on this wide expanse of ice. He resumed skating for a few moments and then again he got down on his knees and poured out his prayer in child-like fashion to his God. In all earnestness and trust he knew that the Lord is just as much present on a wide expanse of ice as in his comfortable family circle…. We can believe him when he said that in such dire circumstances one feels himself entirely dependent on the Lord. Knowing this, gave him comfort and trust because he knew he was not alone. The Lord was with him.
After a half or three quarters of an hour…he wondered what the solution to his problem might be. He continued to pray for deliverance when suddenly he thought he heard something. What was it? He listened sharply and heard people calling to each other. Now he also began to shout with all his might. The people noticed that a lost person was shouting and they shouted to him, “Come this way.” He skated in the direction of their voices. A feeling of indescribable joy welled up in him that he was being delivered from such a dreadful situation….
“Where in the world do you come from, friend” asked the fishermen of Vollenhoven. “I come from Franeker and from Vollenhoven and wanted to go to Kampen” he replied. “Well then, you were a tremendously long distance out of the way,” they said, after the manner of fisherman. “Ten minutes ago we would not have given you a penny for your life. Did you not see the holes in the ice where the fishermen caught their fish?” He said, “No” “When we heard your cries we called back to you to be very careful. You had more help than your own. If you had gone a short distance toward the west from where you were you would have found yourself in the open sea.
After giving each fisherman a reward and thanking them heartily for having, through God’s direction, helped the lost skater to find his way and to be rescued, he asked, “How far am I now from Vollenhoven?” “You can make it in half an hour,” they answered. Hemkes noticed a young man standing there on skates and asked him if he would show him the way to Vollenhoven for two quarters. “Gladly,” said the young man. “I had to go there anyway.” They arrived in Vollenhoven shortly before 6:00. He went to an inn, smoked a cigar and had coffee and a sandwich. At 8:00 he asked for a bed and went to rest….
The next morning as he traveled the rest of the distance to Kampen, he was able to see how great the danger was from which he had been delivered. He thanked God from the bottom of his heart and said, “It is wonderful in my eyes!”
George Ophoff stayed with his grandfather a number of years during his college days. But to this we shall return.
1 This volume was published by the Semi-Centennial Committee of the Christian Reformed Church in 1926.
2 Such religious experiences were frequently sought among those who belonged to the churches of the Secession. They were frequently the result of a wrong conception of the covenant and of conversion.
3 This is also quoted from the publication of the Semi-Centennial of the CRC.
5 The story was written by Rev. Hemkes, even though he tells it in the third person.
6 As close as I can figure, it was about 25 miles from Franeker to the Zuider Zee along canals. The Zuider Zee was a large inland sea, now separated from the ocean by a huge dike. It was directly south of Franeker. It was approximately 25 miles across the Zuider Zee to Kampen, which was on the east side of the Zuider Zee. Huge polders, drained since World War II, have reduced the size of the Zuider Zee considerably. In fact, the name of the Zuider Zee is now De Ijselmeer.
7 Vollenhoven, on the east side of the Zuider Zee, was still about 16 miles from Kampen.
Gene is a husband and father from the Randolph Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin.
The clock ticks down, the time is near When our risen Saviour shall appear. Beware sweet daughter, watch out young son, The world cries out, live just for fun. God’s word tells the story plain and clear: The Son of God will soon be here. The devils plan is oh so sly; Don’t let the action pass you by.
God’s promise made so long ago: To His children it must go Seek not the world and all it’s woe. Flee from sin; set yourself apart. Seek the Lord, with all your heart And from you He will not depart.
When the devil comes with his sly plan Remember you can’t serve God and man For one you’ll love and one you’ll hate There’s no time to negotiate. Black is black and white is white, You know what’s wrong and what is right.
Seek first the kingdom that’s above. Flee from the world and it’s false love. The day of judgment is so near. The signs are getting oh so clear. Watch and be ready, don’t be deceived. As in a cloud He was received, He will soon on the clouds appear. The day of Christ will soon be here.
Connie is the mother of 5 children and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Pawing, pounding, prancing—the stallion ran across the brown and barren ground, galloping for the sheer joy of it. For who could stand in its way? The other creatures of the wilderness fled before his beating hooves. He was a mass of moving, fearless muscle. He raced to rival the wind.
* * * * *
God spoke to Job of the horse:
“Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear…He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage…and he smelleth the battle afar off… (Job 39:19-25).
What a creature is this horse God has made! It is able to gallop to speeds over 40 mph. It is able to pull up 550 pounds of dead weight at a rate of 1 foot per second (the “horsepower” that machines are still measured by today). What majesty and might it displays! And who are we? Did we give it its strength? Did we give it its courage? Can we run as far or as fast?
God makes each creature for His own purpose and glory. But even though the might of a horse is indeed a glorious thing, is that what God truly delights in?