Vol. LXX, No. 3; March 2011
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John doesn’t always do so well in school socially, and once again he has drawn the attention of a bully and his cohorts. With wide smiles they leer and snicker, “What an idiot, did you hear what he said?” John doesn’t know how to respond, and only succeeds in arousing his tormenters to a more vigorous attack. You watch a moment. You know where it’s going. You’re not the most popular kid yourself, and can hardly afford risking what status you have. You could easily slip out of sight; John’s back is toward you. Courage—you take a deep breath, look past John into the cutting eyes of his tormentors, and walk their way.
Sarah stands in front of the mirror in the changing room. The outfit fits her body perfectly. This will definitely get some attention from the guys. Everything is just a bit too short, too low, and too tight to pass mother’s inspection, but they had been shopping all day, and this was the “in” cut for everything (everything that was cute anyway). There were a few other girls in school who had managed to push things a bit further, and her argument was ready. Courage—Sarah put the outfit back on the hanger, went over to the previous outfit she had dismissed for its plain features, and told her mother, “I think I like this one the best.”
Dave has dated Diane for a year and everything was going well. Dave still found it hard to believe that the outgoing, attractive Diane had gone out with him on their first date. As the months went by, they discovered many more things that they had grown to love about each other. She was everything to him, and just being with her had brought him far up in the ranks of the “in” crowd. The one thing that festered in Dave’s heart, however, was her attitude toward church and her lack of interest when spiritual matters were discussed. Now she had come right out and said that his church was dull, and wanted him to come to their special praise service. Did it really matter where he went to church? To take a stand now would probably make or break the relationship. Courage—“I belong in the PR church. It’s where my soul is fed. I can only hope and pray that you will feel the same way.”
A husband struggles to make ends meet as his sixth child enters school, and the tuition and church collections have stretched his salary to the limit. The answer seems to come with some job openings advertised in the paper. His wife would be well qualified. The money would easily cover the tuition, and leave plenty for some extras. The hours were even quite flexible and could fit into the schedule. Dad could help get some supper together and help with the homework and catechism at night. Lots of other people are doing it, and it doesn’t seem to be having any negative effects on the family. It was an attractive option, but it was not the solution of God’s word. A mother caring for the home and children and teaching other younger women was not just an obsolete luxury, it was the instruction of God’s word. “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.” (Psa. 128:3) With this picture before his eyes and bowing humbly in prayer, he was given the grace to say with courage “No, my wife already has a high calling. She belongs at home taking care of the children God has graciously given to me. And if she has any spare time, she has a calling to teach the younger women the spiritual art of this calling ( Titus 2), and visit the fatherless and widows (James 1:27). God will provide another way.”
These examples of courage certainly won’t gain much recognition, but that’s the kind of courage the church needs. It has been said that the CRC synod of 1924 did not have the courage to discipline Herman Hoeksema, and therefore did not do it. Synod had decided to adopt the three points of common grace, and prescribed discipline for any minister who would not sign consent. Herman Hoeksema had made it clear that he could not give his consent. There really was only one thing to be done! But to discipline is a difficult thing to do. One who must exercise discipline must face an angry reaction, broken relationships, and uproar of supporters. It is easier to ignore the problem, and hope it goes away. But such problems, if they are not met with courage, only grow and become bigger. The exercise of courage is the only sure way to defeat an enemy and survive.
The world defines courage as “standing up for your beliefs and human rights.” Some examples would be Martin Luther King, or people who volunteer for neighborhood watch programs to try to reduce and prevent crimes in their neighborhood. Another example would be taking a stand against Mom, buying the outfit you want, because you’re 18 and it’s really what you want to do. Others praise the homosexual who summons the courage to come out of the closet and declares pride for who he is. But this is not the courage God works in the heart of his faithful soldiers. This is a courage that is rooted in YOUR beliefs, and so called “human rights.”
The courage God uses for the strengthening and perseverance of his church in the world is worked by the faith and grace he alone gives to his people. It is rooted in GOD’S word and his glory. The saint might be afraid and dread making the move, but takes the necessary action because he loves his Lord, knows it is right, and desires to please his Maker. He takes the action not because he wants attention, not because it makes him feel in control, or because it simply is his personal conviction. He does it because he knows deep down that to do anything else only serves his personal desires. This is the courage that humbly does what honors God.
History provides some fine examples of godly courage. While on his way to the meeting of the Diet, an old soldier put his hand on Luther’s shoulder and repeated the memorable words: “My poor monk! my poor monk! thou art on thy way to make such a stand as I and many of my knights have never done in our toughest battle. If thou art sure of the justice of thy cause, then forward in the name of God, and be of good courage—God will not forsake thee.” (The Life of Luther by Koestlin, P. 236) And then at the Diet, Luther stated with courage “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!”
Courage was one of the predominant traits of John Knox, the hero of the Reformation in Scotland. He had work to do which needed strong and determined powers. He never quailed, even before his sovereign and was sometimes thought to be unbearably rude and uncivil. “And who art thou, that presumest to school nobles and the sovereign of the realm?” Said the Scottish Queen to him, after one of his boldest utterances. “A subject born within the same,” was his cool reply. And more than once his bold words made Queen Mary weep. As Knox was retiring once from the Queen’s presence, one of the royal attendants said in his hearing “He is not afraid of anything.” Turning around upon him the Scotch Preacher said, “And why should the pleasing face of a gentleman frighten one? I have looked on the faces of angry men and yet have not been afraid beyond measure.” This prophet has been called a coarse, rough man, who neither feared nor respected greatness; but he was in no sense a hateful man. He had a most terrific struggle with life, “wresting with popes and principalities.” Rowing as a galley-slave, wandering in exile, through bitter contention and life-long opposition he fought the battle of religious freedom in Scotland. “Have you hope?” they asked of him as he lay dying. He pointed with his finger to the skies and then died, as only heroes die, a martyr to the cause he had courage to espouse and serve. When the great man, worn out with excessive-labor and anxiety, was laid to rest, the regent, looking down into the open grave, said with words that will live forever, “There lies he who never feared the face of man.” http://www.oldandsold.com/articles29/life-41.shtml
Our homes, school boards, and consistories need men of godly courage. A battle continues to rage as it has been raging since Adam fell into sin. After every wave of enemy fire, another one comes into view, and the field upon which we walk is littered with land mines. We have no magic bullets, no secret easy passage, and no alternative but to fight. God has provided a sword and defensive armor. He has given us the spiritual life and demands that we fight his battles. Learning the tactics and building stamina requires constant exercise, observation and study of others, and a strong covenant relationship with God. Let us promote godly courage as much as we can, and encourage one another when we fall.
Aaron is a member of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore.
Dear Covenant Parents,
Few subjects deserve greater spiritual attention than the education of our children. As guardians of the sacred Reformed faith, we confess the blessed truth that Jehovah establishes his covenant with us and our seed. In a wonder of sovereign grace he purposed to save us and our children in their generations in Jesus Christ. These are “the children which God hath graciously given” (Gen. 33:5) to us his servants. In giving to us covenant seed the Lord entrusts us with the high calling to raise them up according to his ways. This is covenant privilege of the highest kind, for in raising covenant seed we proclaim together with the psalmist, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).
Scarce attention has been given to the education our covenant children receive in Singapore. It has become a norm for most parents in our midst to send their children to government schools to receive a public education. On average a covenant child receives such an education the moment he reaches nursery age and continues all the way until he reaches university and beyond. This accounts for almost 20 years of his life. Thus the building blocks of a covenant child’s life are in many ways established by the government.
The call to review and examine our children’s education in the light of Scripture is desperately urgent. Many covenant parents are not sufficiently informed about the radically changing nature of education in Singapore. The public schools are no longer innocent places of learning where our children simply receive an education in the languages, arts and sciences. They have become more assertive and influential in the lives of our children, especially as they climb the education ladder. It is not groundless to say that we have allowed the education system here to shape the characters of our covenant children more than we would like to.
A generation of public education has done very substantial damage to the cause of God’s covenant in Singapore. The education system has eroded much of the spirituality in our young people. Why has the world drowned the lives of our covenant seed? Why is doctrinal ignorance prevalent amongst the young people? Why are the youth meetings declining in attendance? Why are the young people indifferent to spiritual things? Why is there a lack of desire to serve in the church? Why are our young people so engrossed in their academic and career pursuits that they have so little time for spiritual development? Why do our young choose their companions from the world rather than the church? Why do we occupy ourselves with temporal things and give little concern to matters of eternal weight?
These questions cannot be answered without admitting that our children’s education in the public schools is largely responsible for the spiritual decline in our midst. We as covenant parents are fundamentally responsible for this, for God has given us charge over the education of our children. We have subjected them to an ungodly education that has sown ungodly seeds and produced ungodly fruits in them.
Since the institution of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS) over 20 years ago, the churches have been on a steady spiritual decline. The Reformed faith has lost its distinction and vigor. Let us be very clear and honest about this. Let any who believes the contrary only examine the doctrinal controversy that destroyed our denomination a few years ago.
A serious call to reform the education our covenant children receive must be issued. It must be a call that has its basis in Scripture. It must be a call that is in harmony with our confessions. It is a call rooted in our covenant obligations as Reformed parents to raise covenant seed in the fear of the Lord. Scripture directs our attention to the truth that our children are an heritage from the Lord (Ps 127:3), entrusted to us for our utmost care and upbringing. As covenant parents we vow to teach our children the ways of the Lord, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
There is much for parents in CERC to learn from our brethren in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), who understand the critical call to raise up covenant seed. Many of their parents do this with great personal sacrifices, knowing that faithfulness to our Lord’s calling will come at great costs. Their maturity in the faith is indeed remarkable, and they have a heritage from which we will greatly benefit to learn.
I am indebted to the PRCA for all that they have taught me on this subject through their literature and especially their schools. A trip to Grand Rapids in the winter of December 2006 opened insights for me to see what Reformed schools were really all about. Far more important were the spiritual lessons they taught me. If we are to be serious about our high calling to raise covenant seed for the Lord, it is imperative that we learn from them. I would rather the readers of this paper read Prof. David Engelsma’s book Reformed Education: The Christian School as Demand of the Covenant (RFPA, 2000). It is a far better and thorough argument than this paper can provide. On this book I must rely extensively for the strength of this argument.
The idea of a Christian education has not been given much support in our midst. I think a chief reason for this is the fear of placing our children in a socially disadvantageous position. The government universities require qualifications from the government schools for enrollment. In many sectors of the job market employers give priority to those with government school qualifications. If we give our children a Christian education, they will suffer. Many will find it harder to find jobs. Career opportunities will be restricted. Promotions will be hard to come by. Incomes may be meager. From a social and material viewpoint, our children will suffer loss.
Persecution is also inevitable for our covenant seed if we place them on the path of a Christian education. Our children will suffer scorn from the world. They will be mocked at for studying in the school of Christ rather than enjoying the academic pleasures of this world. They will be ridiculed for wasting their talents to the cause of God’s kingdom instead of developing them to gain the riches of this world.
Nevertheless, our covenant duty must stand firm. It is our most sacred obligation to raise up covenant seed in the ways of God, and Scripture is crystal clear that God’s ways are often accompanied by suffering. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer. Our children are not excluded, for they are also members of God’s covenant as much as we are.
The subject of a Reformed education has weighed heavily on my soul throughout the years of my public schooling. The desperate wickedness of a public education and its sinful influences that threaten to destroy covenant young people struck me forcefully during these years. I am absolutely convinced that we in CERC shall have little to speak of the Reformed faith if we further subject our children to another generation of public education. The young people are the future of the church. For this reason the education they receive from infancy onwards ought to prepare them for God’s kingdom. There is only one kind of education that covenant children must receive—a covenant education.
It is my prayerful hope that the covenant parents in CERC will realize that raising covenant seed demands covenant education. I am much encouraged by the present growing support in our midst to give our children such an education. Great will be their reward. May the Lord use these words to promote the cause of a covenant education to our parents to the end that they may see the wonders of Jehovah’s blessings upon them and their children.
With love for God’s everlasting covenant of grace, Aaron Lim.
The Lord willing, the remaining parts of this essay will be included in 6 subsequent installments.
Nate is a member of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. He wrote this paper for the scholarship essay answering the question, “How does the modern day Christian live in this modern world without pitching his tent toward Sodom?” He is an aspirant to the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
It doesn’t take much of a glance around us to see the wickedness that abounds. Murder, rape, and stealing are just a few examples that even those of the unbelieving world are appalled at. There are also sins of fornication and adultery, murder of the unborn, desecration of the Lord’s Day, and blasphemy, to name just a few that are innumerable in the world. The world sees nothing wrong with these sins, and many churchgoers and religionists also willfully commit them. There are many ways in which the world seeks to justify these sins, as well. The churches of our day appear to be blending in with the world more and more, but this is not the word of God to us as his children.
We are surrounded by this wickedness in our neighborhoods, workplaces, grocery stores, everywhere it seems. We do not have the option that Lot had. In Genesis 13 we learn that Abram and Lot had to separate because of strife between their servants, but he did not have to put himself in the middle of the wickedness of Sodom. We as Christians are placed here in the middle of the filth and wickedness of this world. We certainly are not in this world by accident or fate. We have been placed here by the eternal, determinate counsel of God. The Confession of Faith, Article 13 says, “We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he governs them according to his holy will…” We, as Christians, must not seek to remove ourselves from the world as many sects have done, and still do today. In John 17:18 Christ prays “As Thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them.” How are we sent, and what are we, as individuals, to do?
We, as 21st century Christians, cannot choose a physical land of Canaan to separate ourselves from the influences and temptations of the world; rather, God has instituted the church to which God’s children must join themselves. In I Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul teaches us that we are one body, and that each individual member is necessary for the body. We must not leave the body of believers as Lot and Abram separated (Genesis 13:11). Lot chose for himself the fertile plains, and in doing so made a conscious decision to place himself in the middle of the wickedness of Sodom. As Lot separated from Abram, he moved away from godly company. The direction Lot took teaches us why there was strife. It was because of greed on his part. It was sinful for Lot to separate from Abram, and there were serious consequences for Lot. Our attitude toward the church must be one of personal need, and we must be willing to sacrifice for it. The Confession of Faith, Article 28 says,
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person, of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it, maintaining the unity of the church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.
This article goes on to speak of the consequences of separating from the church and the sacrifices that may be required for joining it. This article is not speaking merely of church membership, but of attendance, and participation as well. We will not know wickedness, unless we know the commands of scripture. Attendance to the preaching of the word is vitally important for holy living. Reverend Hoeksema in his Reformed Dogmatics, states, in light of Romans 10:14, 15, “Through the preaching, therefore, you do not hear about Christ, but you hear him” (Dogmatics, 637). At this point, each one of us needs to critically inspect our own lives in light of scripture. Do we confess with David in Psalm 26:8 “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” Do we diligently frequent the house of prayer? We must find a college, and then later in life, an occupation that does not take us away from the pure preaching of the Word. Our vacations need to be planned around worship with the body of Christ. We should be so repulsed by the wickedness of the world (and much of what calls itself the church), that we are driven to God’s house! If we take ourselves away from the preaching, we take ourselves away from Christ! Sometimes, even under the preaching of the Word, God’s people so grievously fall into sin that we need to hear a word of rebuke from fellow members. Even then, we may stubbornly persist in that sin so that we need the admonition and discipline of the church by the elders. We must not expect our fellow members or our elders to be responsible for our souls (as they truly are), if we choose to separate ourselves from the body of Christ. In that situation, they have no means to shepherd our souls. We must not look at this as some sort of restriction, but a blessed privilege. So we must seek the pure preaching of the word. But, all the knowledge of God’s Word that can be attained through hearing it preached is worth nothing unless it is ours personally and we live in light of it.
Ezekiel 16:49 tells us of Sodom’s iniquity. We read “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Pride is the epitome of all sin. Pride exalts itself against laws and lawgivers. The Sodomites had much time that was spent for selfish indulgence. They withheld from the poor and were a very materialistic society. The situation in Sodom was a lot like that of our own society. It seems as though, in our day, the only reason anything is given to the poor is for self gratification and glorification. Sexual perversions and abominations abound. There is much laziness. Although we can look at a lot of sins ‘out there’, we must focus on our own lives. Much of our time is wasted on some kind of irrelevant entertainment. This is our form of ‘abundance of idleness’. It is easy to say that the movie theatre is a den of iniquity, but many of us take that into our own ‘family’ rooms in the form of a television. And even if we are careful about what we turn on, the godless filth and perversion of the commercials is enough to make one shudder. When we gather together as friends and families we must not spend our time drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and chattering mindlessly. Vexed with wickedness? No, we are numbed to it. We even entertain ourselves with it. This is how we pitch our spiritual tents toward Sodom. We are told in II Peter 2:7 that Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of Sodom. He sat in the gate and saw their deeds. He did not participate in the unlawful works of Sodom, and we must not take part in the unlawful deeds of our society either. We must diligently walk in godliness, keeping ourselves from pride, and preferring others before ourselves.
Lot endangered his own life by receiving the two angels into his home and refusing to allow the men of Sodom to carry out their plan. He was willing to give of himself for their safety. Giving of ourselves until it hurts is true giving. We have that example from the widow in Mark 12:41-44, who cast in the two mites even though she was poor. The church of Christ today is filled with altogether too much materialism, and the desire for entertainment. We must truly strive to occupy our time with edifying activities rather than entertainment, and here are a few examples. We must be given to Christian hospitality, as Lot was. Family worship, singing included, is a necessary part of our spiritual growth. We must make it a priority to prepare for and attend our societies. Daily, personal Bible study and prayer are imperative. We must live faithfully in our households with love for one another. Let the children observe the godly examples of their parents and older siblings, rather than learning from the television. Read good books and periodicals. Space fails me to go on, but the heart of the matter is that every aspect of our lives must be dictated by the Word of God. Our lives must be visibly different than those of the world around us. Then we will have the courage to speak with those around us.
Lot did speak with those around him in the city of Sodom. He had a place among the elders of the city in the gate. When he rebuked them for their wicked desires, their reply is recorded in Genesis 19:9. “And they said, Stand back. And they said again, this one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.” Lot’s stinging word of sharp rebuke infuriated the men of Sodom. We may not stand by silently and watch wickedness carry on, either. That is approval by silence. Rather, scripture commands us to ‘judge righteous judgments’ (John 7:24). We must say with Peter and John after they were threatened in Acts 4:17-21, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”. We must take special note, for we cannot speak about ourselves. Rather we speak that which we have seen and heard, namely, Christ. We have seen! We have heard! Not objectively, but personally. Christ was crucified, he died, he arose from the dead, and he is ascended. He is our hope! But, speaking this will cause us to be rejected. This is to be expected. I John 3:13 tells us, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” If we live our lives in godliness, we will not be accepted. Our lives will be difficult, especially in the last days, but we do not rely on ourselves for wisdom, faith, or spiritual strength.
We are set apart from the world by God’s sovereign grace. God has made us different from the world, and he maintains that difference. It is impossible that we, if we are regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit, would not practice the things God has commanded in his Word. Salvation begins with God’s grace, given to the elect and only to the elect, for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit applies salvation to us, and also conforms our desires to God’s word. Because good works are a privilege of salvation, they cannot earn anything towards our salvation. God is sovereign over our salvation. But, God is also sovereign over the wicked. Most of Lot’s family was destroyed because of their love of Sodom. Only Lot and two of his daughters were left. His house was destroyed, and he lost many possessions. Lot’s two daughters sinned wickedly as well, and by their father, produced reprobate children, Moab and Ammon. These were all consequences of Lot’s sinful decision to move toward Sodom. God decreed the sin of this righteous man, as well, to bring glory to his name. Ruth the Moabitess is the great grandmother of David, and Christ was born from the line of David. According to God’s counsel, this had to happen so that Christ could be born! God, the decreeing cause of sin, works all things to the salvation of his elect. Our sins are not excused, but, rather, they are paid for in Christ. Christ says in John 10:27, 28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” God is truly praised when we live in this world as strangers and pilgrims, vexed with the wickedness that we live in the midst of. Let us pitch our tents with the true church of Christ.
Hoeksema, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966
Quotations from the Confession of Faith, or Belgic Confession, can be found in The Three Forms of Unity and the Ecumenical Creeds Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, reprinted 2002.
Quotations from the Bible are taken from the King James Version.
The Fourth Man is available at www.beaconlights.org starting with the November, 2000 issue on page seven. Book reviewed as a church history assignment by Lanae, a Junior at Trinity Christian High School in Hull, Iowa.
The Fourth Man, written by P. S. Kuiper and translated by Rev. Cornelius Hanko, tells the story of the Afscheiding in the Netherlands. Afscheiding is the Dutch word for “separation.” In this tale we are given the story of a separation from the state church from the perspective of different families in the Netherlands. Overall this story describes the struggles and hardships that these Dutch men went through in order to form a true church of God. Essentially, the struggles that these men went through are the same struggles that the church has had to go through in the past and will always be going through until Christ returns.
The story begins with a young boy Maarten (Martin) Boelhouwer at school. The one boy that Maarten does not like is Toon Bollebakker. Toon’s father is a deacon in the state church, and the Bollebakkers are wealthy which Toon likes to brag about. The story moves on to a poor boy named Koen Splint who works at a weaver’s mill where many others in his family work, including his father who was called “Pious Evert.” The story then shifts to four men who were part of the secessionist movement, who break a wheel while traveling near the Boelhouwer’s farm. The men go to the Boelhouwer’s, get the wheel fixed, and in the meantime convince the Boelhouwers to join the secession. Once again the story goes back to Koen, whose father writes to the deacons at the state church telling them of their financial troubles. Toon’s father, the deacon at the state church, comes to assess the situation but offers no financial aid. Koen’s father then turns to the Secessionists, leaves the state church and gets fired, but the Secessionists help him get work. The story then moves on to Rev. Buddingh and Jan Donker who make a dangerous trip to Hilversum for the reverend to preach. Constable Van Huizen sees them, goes to the town mayor, and they both barge in on the worship service. The Secessionists get in trouble. A few days later the two policemen come to Gijsbert Haan’s farm where the Secessionists are gathered for worship and start attacking them with a mob. Most of the group gets away before they are hurt too badly. After this the members of the Secession movement are tormented by many people no matter their age. Finally, eleven years later, the Secessionists only option is to leave the Netherlands and come to America where they can receive freedom of worship.
In this story are many struggles that the members of the Secessionist’s movement went through because they felt that the state church was falling away from the Word of God. We can think especially of the time when the two policemen followed by a mob attacked the group which was gathered for Sunday worship. Then also we can think of Koen’s father losing his job because he left the state church. Another instance of this was Maarten getting beat up by Toon and all his friends. Also men from the Secessionist movement were put in jail for ridiculous reasons. Finally, it became so bad for these people that they left the Netherlands and came to America. However, as the people prepared to leave for America, Maarten’s grandfather made a very wise statement, “Maybe you will find freedom there, but not perfection.” Now we, generations later, can see the truth of that statement. America has followed in the footsteps of the ungodly.
This brings us to the realization that not only the church in the Netherlands, but also the church of all ages is engaged in the fighting against apostasy in the church. Paul started the New Testament church out on the correct paths. Over time the church veered off these paths and God’s people had to fight to continue the true church. Then again the church would veer off the old paths, and God had to call out men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin to bring God’s church back to the truth of God’s Word. Yet not long after the Reformation, as we read in the story, the church in the Netherlands (and more churches in Europe) left the old paths and again a reformation had to take place. Finally, many churches came to America so that they could have religious freedom, and America was a fairly conservative nation. Yet, slowly, all these churches began to depart from the Word of God, and now, centuries later, we see that America is running away from these old paths. America wants nothing to do with the Word of God and mocks and scorns those that do. Each time the church turns back to the old paths it is always a bitter struggle for God’s people.
Even in the history of the Protestant Reformed Church we can see these patterns continued. First, the Christian Reformed Church started. Then as they began to veer off the path, the Protestant Reformed Church was formed. Since the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church we continue to struggle to keep apostasy out of our churches (i.e. year of 1953). We know that the two reasons for the veering off of the old paths are man’s sinful and depraved nature and the work of Satan.
When we look at what has happened in the past to the church we may become dejected. For when we look to the past it seems inevitable that soon there will not be a true church of God. However, we must not despair. In Revelations 2:7 we find comforting words for the church, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto to churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” So the church of God must look to the future when Christ will come again. The church will be the perfect bride of Christ and will no longer depart from the Word of God. Instead the church will perfectly glorify and magnify God.
The Fourth Man is an encouragement to the Christian. As we see the courage that these people had, it encourages us also. We must give thanks to God for keeping his remnant church in the past and look forward to the day when he shall send his Son on the clouds of glory to bring his church into perfect fellowship with him.
Some may say today that this portion of Scripture has no relevance in today’s world. We have no business praying for the confounding and even the demise of those who oppress us. They point out that Christ says that we should love our enemies. That is their mistake. The Psalmist calls for vengeance upon God’s enemies, those that use his name and attributes in a wrong way. We have the right and even the duty to pray that God vindicate his most holy name. We have the right and even the duty to reprove those who use God’s name and attributes in a wrong way. When we do this, we will find that there is a blessed reward for the righteous from the righteous judge who watches over us. Sing Psalter 156.
Here we have another Psalm in which we are reasonably sure we know its circumstances. David is trapped in his own house by Saul’s men. He turns to God in prayer for deliverance against those ungodly men. Is this our reaction when we fall into trouble at others’ hands? Do we kneel down in prayer for deliverance, or do we try to work our way out of the problem by our own strength? Or, worse yet, do we join the wicked to prey upon others? Here again, we find another imprecatory Psalm for our instruction. Let us listen to its words, and let us learn to pray for the defeat of God’s enemies. In this way we will find the refuge and strength we need for any time of trouble. Sing Psalter 157:1-4.
Notice the first words of the first two verses of this section. First of all you have the word “but”. That word signifies that there is some sort of change coming in the passage. In the previous verses David exposes the wickedness of those who hate him for Christ’s sake. In verse 8 we see that he knows that God will laugh at their attempts to put him to scorn. Verse 9 begins with the word “because.” David knows why he can wait upon Jehovah. Jehovah is his strength and defense. Do we wait upon our God in the same way? Do we sing of his power and mercy even in the morning when we do not know what the day will bring? Let us call upon the name of our God often because he is our help and our salvation. Sing Psalter 157:5-9.
Once again David shows to Israel and to the church of all ages what must be the proper response of the child of God when he is in distress because of enemies of the church. Because God has claimed for himself a people, he will always be their help and their shield. We can and must always display the banner of truth that he has given to us. This banner will lead us in the fight of faith throughout our lives here on this earth. After David asks the question of who will lead him, he answers it the only way that it can be answered. Because the help of man is vain, we must rely on our only deliverer God Almighty. Through him we will do valiantly in all battles. Blessed be the name of God who is truth. Sing Psalter 158.
Notice the progression in this Psalm. David starts out with a prayer because of the sorrow he feels in his soul. He quickly realizes that the only cure for that sorrow is the house of God. In that house he knows that God keeps his promises, and in thanksgiving he breaks out into singing. Can we say that this is our experience? When we are feeling low, do we go to our God in prayer? Do we realize that peace comes when we attend the house of God twice each week? Then do we break out into singing? God is our shelter; he will protect us under his wings. Therefore let us seek him in prayer and in his house each Sabbath. Sing Psalter 159.
Do we wait upon our God for salvation? Or are we caught up in this world of “do it yourself”; you cannot trust anyone? David saw that waiting upon God and putting his trust in him alone was the only way of spiritual blessedness. When we wait upon God and put our trust in him, then we will know that all things will work out for good. But we will have to learn that they work out for good in God’s time and not ours. Let us wait upon God because he is our help, our defense, and our salvation against all which might oppress and oppose us in this world. Sing Psalter 161:1-4.
In situations that confront us in this world, we always have two choices. We can put our trust in the sovereign God, or we can put our trust in something else. That something else might be in ourselves, another man, some sinful deed, or something of this earth. If our choice is from the second list, we are going to be sorely disappointed. As David says, “Power belongeth unto God.” If all power is in him, our trust should be in him to deliver us out of any of life’s situations. There is a final comforting thought in the Psalm. Not only is power of God; so is mercy. Because he is a merciful God, he sees us in Christ and rewards us on account of Christ’s blood. What an expression of mercy! Sing Psalter 161:5-9.
The Psalmist is encouraged by two different ways of communicating with and worshipping Jehovah. First, there is the formal worship of attending the house of God. When the Psalm was written, David was in the wilderness. He had no possibility of going to the official place of worship. This was not his doing but God’s. David looks at the physical wilderness as a picture of the spiritual wilderness in which the absence from God’s house left him. Secondly, there is the worship of private meditation or devotions. David drew from that strength and we should too. They are not a substitute for the official worship. They need to be used as a supplement. May we ever seek to worship our God at every opportunity. Sing Psalter 164.
We can easily separate this Psalm into two parts. The first is verses 1-6; the second is verses 7-10. Notice the dividing word that begins verse 7. The first part of the Psalm is a prayer that David may be avenged of his enemies. His focus is on enemies that wound him with the tongue. While we might think, “words can never hurt us,” often the opposite is true. Not only do they wound us internally, but they also can have an affect on our external state. We have but one recourse. We must go to our God in prayer in the confidence that he will deliver us. After such a deliverance we will be glad in him, trust in him and glory in him. Let this be our confidence as we live our lives in this wicked world. Sing Psalter 165.
Who in this world can praise God? Only those whom he has chosen in his love and tender mercies. This idea is worthy of our thought every day. Our sins themselves make us unworthy to praise him. However, Christ has made it possible to praise God every day of our lives. God has chosen us and calls us to worship him each week. But he also calls us to worship and praise him every day as well. He is our salvation and we can have the confidence that he will hear us wherever we are, and whenever we cry unto him. Sing Psalter 166.
One of the reasons we praise God is that not only is he the creator of all things, but also by his providence he causes all things to continue to exist. This is a great comfort to us. As we look around the world of nature, and this alone should encourage us to do so, we can see how great our God is. He cares for us in our needs just as he cares for the plants and animals that he has made. As we see the seasons change every year, we have a concrete message from God that he cares for us and that he is worthy of our praise. Let us sing along with creation the praise of the creator. Sing Psalter 167.
Notice the four commands that begin this Psalm. We are called to make a joyful noise, sing, say, and come and see. We do the first three because of the results of the fourth one. When the nations saw God’s works they had an attitude of fear in that they were afraid of Israel’s God. When Israel saw those works, they should have had an attitude of fear that is being in awe of those works. What is our reaction when we see the works of God? Do we confess that they are God’s works? Do we break forth into singing, praise, and worship. Our God is great in the heavens; let us fear him in all his works. Sing Psalter 173.
After directing us to speak well of God and praise his name, the Psalmist now turns to the works of God in our lives. He focuses our attention on God’s sovereignty and providence. God directs not only our spiritual lives but also our physical lives. The writer obviously went through some hard times in his life, but he is able to confess that those times were for his good. He knew the same truth as Paul confesses in Romans 8:28. This must be our comfort when we go through trials. The trials are from God, he will bring us through them, and He turns them for our good. Sing Psalter 174.
This Psalm closes with words that we all need to hear and to which we all must heed. After considering many things, we must never forsake the going into God’s house for worship. The only possibility of not going to that house is when God prevents us from attending his worship services. This he does through sickness, the infirmities of old age, or works of necessity or mercy. We need to worship him in the manner in which he has prescribed in his Word. In his house of prayer, we offer our prayers to him with a right heart. When our hearts are right, we can do this in the confidence that he will hear and answer our prayers. Let us not neglect the means of grace he has given to us. Sing Psalter 175.
The word bless means “to speak well of.” We see it used three ways in Scripture. For example in Psalm 103 we call upon our souls to bless the Lord. Jacob when he greets Pharaoh blesses him. And as we have it in this Psalm we ask God to bless us. We want his blessing upon us so that he will be known among the nations. Do we think of that when we encounter God’s blessing? Do we spread the “good news” to those who are around us both near and far? In spreading the gospel we hasten the day that God’s name will be known throughout the world and hasten the day of Christ’s return. Bless us, O God, for Thy name’s sake. Sing Psalter 173.
Here we see God avenging his beloved covenant people before the face of enemies. The enemies are driven away, and God’s people are left to praise our majestic God. We do this, of course, by singing his praises. There is no better way to sing those praises than to use the words that he has given to us. Verses 5 and 6 show the compassionate God who is ours. He takes care of his people who are oppressed in this world. Orphans, widows, and those without families are brought into his gracious care. Let us thank him for the undeserved goodness that he showers down upon us every day. Sing Psalter 179.
After showing to us why we should sing God’s praise in a general way, the Psalmist now shows us from Israel’s history why we should praise Jehovah. Israel’s was a typical history; it pointed ahead to Christ and his work for the church. Israel’s traversing of the various wildernesses is a picture of the life of each one of us. We have our wildernesses and troublesome spots in those wildernesses. Israel coming to live in Mount Zion is the picture of our going to heaven to live in the New Zion and the New Jerusalem. There is also a picture of Christ’s ascension as he goes before us preparing our place and giving to us all the benefits of salvation. Let us rejoice, people of God, and let us sing songs of thanksgiving to our King! Sing Psalter 180.
Our life on this earth is a battle. It is a battle against sin and Satan. In this battle we look for a leader to rescue us from these foes. That leader is God, the God of our salvation. He will wound those enemies who, because they are his enemies, fight against us. What is the result of those victories? First of all, the enemies must know that God is God. They must know that we are his particular people. Secondly, God’s people speak well of him in their songs and in their prayers. Is this our prayer life? Is this the subject of our songs? Sing Psalter 181.
This Psalm concludes with a continuation of the battle between God’s people and Satan’s forces. We see a description of those forces in verse 30. They are described as spearmen and bulls seeking to hurt and destroy God’s people. God’s victory over such a force is so great that all will bow the knee to God. This will not be in obedience but in submission. God’s people react to the victory as well. Their reaction is that of singing God’s praises to him who gives to them victory over Satan, his forces, death and hell. This is the confession in this Psalm and is also Paul’s confession in I Corinthians 15. Take time to read that chapter and let it guide your praise of Jehovah. Sing Psalter 182.
David, as a type of Christ, pens these words that not only accurately describe the depths of Christ’s suffering, but also are words which the disciples remembered that showed to them that he was the Christ. Like David we must look at the sins that we commit, confess them, and turn to Christ, our deliverer. David, ever the humble one, is worried that God’s church will be adversely affected by his sin. Do we show that concern for those around us? David knew that he must draw near and wait for God in his distress. Do we? Let us patiently wait for our deliverer to take us from this valley of the shadow of death. Sing Psalter 184.
David, as the type of Christ, prays in this Messianic Psalm for deliverance from the hands of his enemies. Christ prayed for another way, if possible, but ended his prayer “Thy will be done.” We, too, must pray. We must never think that we are able, by our own strength, to rescue ourselves from any dire straits that we may be facing. Our heavenly Father and our elder Brother will deliver us. Christ knows our needs as he faced them on our behalf. God’s lovingkindness is good; his mercies are everlasting and endless. Let us go to him daily in prayer and seek the deliverance that only he can give. Sing Psalter 185.
This Messianic Psalm is also imprecatory by nature. Again, we must remember that imprecatory Psalms are not Psalms seeking revenge, but those who seek the glory of God’s name through the destruction of those who hate that name. When Jesus faced the hateful mobs in Jerusalem, he, too, prayed that his Father’s name be glorified. His Father answered him just as he will answer our petitions. From the vivid description of the reprobate’s demise, comes the still small voice of verse 29. Let us humble ourselves and invoke God’s name to the end that we may praise him forever. Sing Psalter 186.
As the Psalmist concludes this Psalm, he gives a grand declaration of praise to God. He realizes, as we must, that our singing is a means of gratitude to God. It is such a means that it is better than all the works that we can do. We see this, in verse 31 where the Psalmist says that praise is better than sacrifice. This praise also serves other purposes. It gives to others encouragement in their situations. It builds up the church, as we know that God will hear that praise. Finally in the confidence that God will preserve his church, he proclaims his hope in the covenant promises that God has given to us. May this be our attitude as we seek our God daily. Sing Psalter 187.
This Psalm is similar to words written at the end of Psalm 40. Speculation is because the end of Psalm 69 appears to be written at the end of David’s life that this is another Psalm written as David was fleeing from Absalom. Whatever the circumstances, David needed to pray the same prayer that he had prayed before. Those needs still needed to be brought to God’s throne of grace. While our prayers are not to be repetitious, quite often we have the same needs day by day or week by week. Let us follow David’s example and bring those needs to God in prayer. Sing Psalter 188.
Here again we have a prayer of David as he faced opposition in his life. David learned the lesson well of trusting in Jehovah and going to him in prayer. Notice the various attributes of God mentioned in these verses. We can go to God in prayer with utmost confidence because he is willing and able to deliver us from all tribulation. Our prayer lives must be carried out with that confidence. We must pray in faith as the chief means of thankfulness to God for the great deliverance from our sins. Let us approach God’s throne of grace in the confidence that we will find mercy in our times of need. Sing Psalter 190.
Notice how this section begins with that little word “but.” It does not matter in what situation we find ourselves, we can hope continually in Jehovah. And in hoping in him, we can praise him daily. Most of us have been taught from our youth about the great Jehovah. As we age we see clearly the meaning of those lessons. However, we never quit learning about God. David realizes that he has work to do even when he is old. Parents and grandparents, our work is never finished. We must continue to show the youth around us God’s great praise. Sing Psalter 191.
Commentators disagree on the author of this Psalm. While some say it is David writing to Solomon, others say it is Solomon’s work. No matter who the author is, you can definitely see a Messianic character throughout. Christ the King will bring peace to this world of sin and troubles. This peace is not found in worldwide peace as we know that will not happen until his second coming, and he gathers his own to him. This peace is the peace found in the believer’s heart no matter in what circumstances he may find himself. God’s people have peace as they know that Christ is ruling over all things. Let this be our comfort now and in the days to come. Sing Psalter 193.
As we continue this Psalm of praise for Christ and about Christ, we see that his kingdom is a worldwide kingdom. Not only shall his people come from all nations of the world, all nations of the world shall bow their knee before him. Their obeisance will not be in love but in acknowledgement of his sovereignty. The second half of this section gives to God’s people, who are often the poor and downtrodden, utmost comfort. Christ is their champion. He will avenge their distress in the day that he comes to gather his own unto himself. Let these words be upon our lips and hearts as we live in this world of sin and evil. Sing Psalter 194.
Most of us in the Protestant Reformed Churches sing one of the versifications of verses 18 and 19. As we sing these words do we contemplate their meaning? Does the fact that Christ’s name will endure forever bring to us utmost comfort? Are we moved by the knowledge that men from all nations will speak well of our Lord? Are we jealous and zealous for the name of Jehovah God who has done the wondrous thing of giving to us salvation through the death of his Son? Do we glorify him wherever we are? Do we glorify him no matter what the time is? This is what we, the redeemed, must do. Let us sing this doxology with meaning and let us live out of its truths. Sing Psalter 195.
This Psalm of Asaph is one that the Christian should turn to often during his lifetime. It helps to answer the question, “Why?” Notice the premise with which the Psalmist starts. God is good to his people—to those with clean hearts. This truth he knows. It is the next word, “but,” that shows to us his frame of mind. God is good to those who have clean hearts, but mine is not. He then recounts the troubles that he finds himself in. Some of the troubles are undoubtedly real; some are probably imagined. Is not this our lot in life? As read these words, we need to go back to verse 1 and remember it. Sing Psalter 201.
When we left the Psalmist and ourselves yesterday, we were in the depths of despair. “Woe is me,” was all that we could say. That frame of mind continues in these words. We even say, “Is God even watching?” Pretty soon we begin saying, “I did this, and I did that, and look where it got me.” Finally when we reach that lowest point, God forces us into his house. That is where we find solace for our woes. Then we remember that God is sovereign and that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” The wicked will get their reward, and God will give to his people the reward of comfort and peace by his Holy Spirit. Sing Psalter 203.
As the Psalmist finishes this Psalm of self-examination, he realizes that he was foolish to question God. He had left the realization that it was God who gives to him the victory over sin, doubt, and even the wicked. He realizes that God has not left him, but he has left God. When this becomes his and our understanding, then the peace that passes understanding will flood our souls. Even when we faint, God is our strength. He will bring us through this valley of the shadow of death and will take us to glory. It does not matter your age. We all must walk in this way. When we say, “it is good to draw near to God,” we will be able to trust him no matter where he leads us. Sing Psalter 204.
Joshua is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
So far we have seen God’s work of grace in the lives of five young church fathers: Timothy, Athanasius, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus. Now, there is one more tale that must be told. And this tale might very well be the most outstanding of all. This is the story of the Afscheiding, the Reformation that took place in the Netherlands beginning in the year 1834. This is especially the story of the wonder of God’s grace through six young men who led this Reformation.
The situation in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands in 1834 was bad. Real bad. In name this was the church of the great Protestant Reformation and that “most holy synod,” the Synod of Dordt (1618-19), but in actuality there was not even the slightest resemblance. In the two hundred years between the Synod of Dordt and 1834, the church had become lazy in doctrine and in discipline, and she had become thoroughly liberal and apostate. This was all solidified in 1816 by the king of the Netherlands, William I. William replaced the Church Order of Dordt with a new order that gave him power in the church. He put the church under the control of the Dutch government and made all appointments to the church’s broader gatherings. He also had the Formula of Subscription rewritten so that the Reformed Confessions, especially the Canons of Dordt, would only have to be adhered to if the ministers judged them to be faithful to the Bible.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> For example, if a man cooked up the nonsensical notion that the doctrine of election and reprobation taught in the Canons was not found in the Bible, he could preach against that doctrine and still be considered a faithful Reformed minister.
Things were bad indeed!
The time was ripe for reformation.
It was then that God began to raise up the man that would spark this Reformation: Hendrik de Cock. De Cock attended the Reformed seminary in Groningen and was ordained into the ministry in the Reformed Church in 1523. It is indicative of how bad things were in the Church that De Cock became a Reformed minister without ever reading the Three Forms of Unity or John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. But he did. After his ordination, De Cock served two different congregations before accepting the call to serve the congregation in the city of Ulrum in 1829.
It was here in Ulrum that God worked a powerful change in the life of this liberal minister. In God’s providence, de Cock came across the Institutes in a fellow pastor’s study and read it vociferously, and he also read the Canons of Dordt. He was also influenced by one of his simple yet faithful parishioners, a man by the name of Klaas Kuipenga. Kuipenga told de Cock these memorable words: “If I must add even one sigh to my salvation, then I would be eternally lost.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> God used all these things to work a mighty change in de Cock, and soon his congregation noticed a change in his preaching. He preached the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation and all the other grand truths set forth in the Reformed Confessions. Soon hundreds of spiritually-starved saints were flocking across the Dutch countryside to Ulrum to hear the pure gospel of grace preached.
De Cock’s preaching did not go unnoticed by the authorities for very long. The local government officials were very nervous about so many people gathering in the church Sunday after Sunday. The church officials were upset too, especially because de Cock was preaching against the heresies that had overtaken the church. What finally touched them off was de Cock’s practice of baptizing infants of those who were not members of his church and his outright refusal to sing hymns because of his firm conviction that they brought Arminianism into the church. De Cock was eventually suspended from office, and the broader church assemblies began the process of deposing him from the ministry altogether.
De Cock humbly submitted to his suspension for over a year. During this time he was not allowed to preach to his congregation but had to sit quietly and watch while liberal ministers occupied his pulpit and filled the people with their lies. When Hendrik P. Scholte, a minister who was sympathetic to de Cock, came to supply Ulrum’s pulpit on Sunday, October 12, 1834, he was not allowed to preach in the church. A service was held in a nearby field instead, but this was the breaking point. De Cock could keep silent no longer. On Monday, October 13, 1834, de Cock and his consistory signed an “Act of Secession or Return,” separating themselves from the apostate state church and forming again a true, instituted church of Christ.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Prof. Hanko captured the humble beginnings of this reformation well:
The reformation of 1834 in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands began in a dark and smoke-filled consistory room of a country church of no importance where five men gathered to sign a single sheet of paper to protest what had happened to their minister.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The next day the majority of the congregation in Ulrum signed the document. The Reformation was now officially underway.
At first, de Cock and the congregation at Ulrum were alone, but it did not stay that way very long. Scholte was the next to follow, only two weeks later. Scholte had been educated at the bastion of liberalism, the university at Leiden. He was well aware of the heresies taught by his professors and often skipped their lectures. While at Leiden, he gathered around him a group of spiritually-minded students which became known as the “Scholte Club.” Together they learned the Reformed faith and encouraged each other to remain faithful to it. In the Club were all the future leaders of the Afscheding: Antony Brummelkamp, Simon van Velzen, Albertus C. Van Raalte, and Georg Frans Gezelle Meerburg. All of these men except Van Raalte were ordained as ministers in the state church. By 1835, they had all left and joined de Cock.
Each of the members of the Scholte Club was different. Scholte was the unquestioned leader of the group and was the first to join with de Cock. But he was very independent and taught erroneous views on certain points which led to his deposition from the Afscheiding churches in 1840. Scholte eventually immigrated to America and set up a colony in Pella, Iowa. The group remained fiercely independent and died out with their leader.
Brummelkamp was a more moderate man who was always trying to keep the peace between the reformers. He was also one of the ones who worked with the state church to gain acceptance for the Afscheiders. He was one of the first professors appointed to the Afscheiders’ new seminary in Kampen, but it was largely due to him that the error of the well-meant offer of the gospel entered these churches.
Meerburg was another peace-loving man, so much so that he has been called “the Melanchthon of the Secession,” after the peace-at-all-costs friend of Luther, Philip Melanchthon.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Meerburg’s influence was limited because he died already in 1855.
Van Raalte was never ordained in the state church, but he was examined and approved by the first synod of the Afscheiders held in 1836. Van Raalte eventually left the Netherlands with a large group of followers and set up a colony in Holland, Michigan. He played an important role in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches and is worthy of special note.
Van Velzen was by far the most orthodox of the group. When de Cock died in 1842, van Velzen became the unquestioned leader of the Seceders. He was the greatest theologian of the reformation and maintained an unconditional covenant and the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation. Two interesting facts about van Velzen: first, he and Brummelkamp and Van Raalte were all married to sisters from the de Moen family and therefore were brothers-in-law; second, at eighty-three years of age he presided at the synod of 1892 when the Afscheiders and Abraham Kuyper’s Doleantie merged into one denomination.
Together, these men brought God’s spiritually-starved people out of the corrupt state church and filled their souls with the bread and water of life. They preached the gospel. They rejected hymns. They refused to allow the government to interfere in the church. They restored the precious heritage that is the Reformed confessions. In so doing they were kicked out of the church where they were born and raised. They were mocked and ridiculed by their former colleagues. They were heavily fined, beaten, and even imprisoned, all for the sake of the truth. Yet they refused to give in. They knew the people needed to hear the comforting gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was truly an amazing work of God in these men!
This work of God is even more magnified when we consider how old these men were. As one historian wrote,
Viewed from a historical distance, they tend to be pictured as men with long white beards. The assumption that they were venerable fathers is enhanced by the fact that their movement was a conscious return to long-cherished confessions and traditions. It may well come as a surprise, then, to learn that the average age of these six leaders at the time of the secession was twenty-seven years.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
None of these reformers was an old man. De Cock was the oldest of the group, and in 1834 he had just reached the ripe old age of 33. Scholte was the next oldest at 29. Meerburg was 28; van Velzen was 25. And Brummelkamp and Van Raalte were only 23. These men could hardly grow a beard much less sport a “long white beard”!
These men were young. Very young. Too young, if judged without faith. Today, they would just be entering seminary, not leading a reformation. But God was pleased to use these weak means. By using these young men, God’s Name was the more magnified and glorified. He used the weakest of means to fulfill his purpose. What a wonder he performed in The Netherlands in 1834!
Come to God’s house to worship Him
With reverence and with awe:
For great and holy is His name
And righteous is His law.
Our earthly cares are put aside
That in His love we may abide.
Since we such sinful creatures are,
It’s not an easy task
To rid our minds of mundane things
And in His presence bask.
But heav’nly riches then we claim,
With joy exalt His holy name.
Rev. Miersma is an emeritus minister of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
They’re only games, aren’t they? Everybody plays them, from young children to adults. They’re just fun entertainment!
Well, let’s take a closer look to see if these statements are true. First, we gain some wisdom from the story of the frog in the pot on the stove. It becomes acclimatized to the temperature as the water is heated up very slowly, but doesn’t get out because it has grown comfortable to the heat, a bit at a time, until it’s too late—it’s cooked! Keep this in the back of your mind as you continue reading about the growing problem of video game violence.
The $15 billion (and growing) worldwide video game industry is booming because of supply and demand. Producers keep a close eye on the market, and feed it! There are many good interactive games out there to play in areas such as education, pro sports, and simulations, which don’t capitalize on violence.
There is, however, an ever-growing flood of violent and evil video games on the market. They range from mild violence to the most savage, brutal, bloody, gory, repulsive, diabolical and obscene things imaginable. Remember, the player is an interactive participant in this - no one forces a player to take part in these violent, insidious games; they eagerly want to participate! After all, they’re just fun entertainment, aren’t they?
Players often start with what would be tame games, then become bored after a while and get hungry for something with more challenge and excitement. In time these games also lose their thrills and you’ve got it! Off they go to find another game that will outdo all the others. They find one that is quite violent and evil, but it’s cool and pumps the old adrenaline up, and is intense, but really exciting and challenging, with lots of levels to conquer.
One afternoon, while working up a sweat from playing the game so hard, a thought pops into a player’s head: “I really shouldn’t be playing this! It has so much violence and evil in it.” God commands us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.” I Thessalonians 5:21, 22
King David said, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psa. 101:3 a). For a minute or so he feels guilty, but then reasons “The game isn’t really that bad! It’s just a game after all! Everyone plays them!” So he pushes God’s commandments out of his mind, and continues to fight the enemy, not realizing that the real enemy of his soul, Satan, the great deceiver, smiles! Satan has just won another victory in that player’s life. Players don’t realize how acclimatized and desensitized to violence and evil they have become.
For the professing Christian, if he is playing these games, the worst thing he can do is try to be the judge of what is, or what is not OK to play. He has already shown that he is not able to make God-honoring choices by the violent and evil games he has and plays.
For the Christian, God’s Word is the source we must turn to for guidance. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16, 17). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16 a). If God’s Word does not speak specifically concerning a subject, it does in principal and very clearly. “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23 a).
After dinner one night a player is browsing through the latest video game magazine (which is full of violence and evil) and wow! He finds that a new game is out and rated highly, with fantastic graphics, seemingly no end of challenges and thrills. It also rated the game as extremely violent and evil. The graphics in many of these new games can be so incredibly lifelike that many players must upgrade their computers with more powerful 3DFX video cards to be able to play them. A good force-feed joystick and speaker system is a must to get the full impact of the dramatic effects. All this really helps to pump the adrenaline up!
God commands us to, “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9 b). “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12 b). “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).
Games like Max Pyne, Half-Life, Ghost Recon, Red Faction, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein are a few among a vast number that are incredibly violent, gruesome, bloody, with gut-wrenching killings imaginable throughout them. In the most violent level of Mortal Kombat, players can decapitate an enemy; rip a beating heart from a victim; or tear a foe’s head off, pulling out his twitching spinal cord with it. Some players say, “They wouldn’t play games like that!” No! Well look how far along the road of violence and evil they have already come, and for many, they are already engrossed in these games. Their minds are full of this bloody violence! It doesn’t matter if they are killing space aliens, or people, or playing Dungeons and Dragons, etc., to God it’s all gross sin and evil; they need to REPENT and STOP IT! They need to trash all those wretched games that are taking them farther and farther away from the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God. The same goes for TV, movies, videos and music that fill their minds with violence and evil. It is impossible to walk with the Lord while they are involved in these things.
Jesus came to save sinners out of their sin—not in it! They will never have peace and joy in the Lord unless they repent! Remember, Satan is the great deceiver and can give them a false sense of well being to deceive them. This is why it is so important to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jam. 1:22). This is not an option. It is a command!
Players need to stop trifling with salvation, sin and hell; there are eternal consequences involved. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (I Sam. 15:23 a).
Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31 b, 32). Perseverance in obedience to Scripture is the fruit or evidence of genuine faith. Real disciples are both learners and faithful followers.
Next month, the Lord willing, we will give further attention to this topic.
Stephen is a member of First Protestant Reformed Church of Edmonton, Canada.
In our last article concerning freewill, we dealt with several repudiations of this erroneous doctrine. In this article, we will be dealing with an argument the Arminians have against the total sovereignty of God. Many Christian Churches teach Arminianism today, and thus, it is a very dangerous doctrine for us and our young people, since it is so popular. Saved by Grace by Ronald Cammenga and Ronald Hanko says this concerning Arminians “The principal teaching of Arminianism is that man has a freewill.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Their teaching of freewill is one of the grave dangers of the Arminians, because they say man can accept God by himself. A few denominations that call themselves reformed, that teach the doctrine of Arminianism in some form or another are the United Reformed Church, Christian Reformed Church, and the Canadian Reformed Church. The argument the Arminians pose against the Calvinistic teaching of God’s total sovereignty is that God is sovereign over creation, but man’s will is exempted from that sovereignty. That being said let us take a closer look at this argument.
The first thing that we must notice from this argument is that it is not biblically based. There are many verses in Scripture that clearly state God is in complete control over man’s will. Indeed, examples can be found all over Scripture of God hardening the wicked. For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the people of Israel depart from Egypt. In Exodus 7:3, we read “And I (speaking of God) will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” To point out another example, in Deuteronomy 2:30, we read of how God hardened the heart of Sihon, king of Heshbon. “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.” To further prove that God is sovereign over all things, including man’s sin we must look at Isaiah 63:17, “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.” It is the sovereign will of God working behind man’s sin. That is how sovereign God is! Yet another verse also proves this fact; in Romans 9:18, we read, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Thus, it is a biblical fact that God is sovereign over creation, contrary to what the man made doctrine of Arminianism teach.
The second thing we must realize is that the doctrine of freewill is not based on the creeds, which we confess and believe. We will first look at what the Belgic Confession says of God’s sovereignty. In Article 13, we read this, “We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment.” Nothing can happen in all of creation, including whether or not man can accept God by his own will, without God willing it to happen. Therefore, the Arminians are wrong when they say that man by his own determinate will can accept God. In the Heidelberg Catechism, we also read of how God is sovereign over creation. We find in Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 27, that God upholds all, by his divine providence. “What dost thou mean by the providence of God? Answer. The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.” God is sovereign over all creatures and nothing happens by chance as Lord’s Day 10 states. Therefore, as the Belgic Confession and heidelberg Catechism prove, God is sovereign over all creation and thus, must be sovereign over man’s will as well. From this, we can conclude that the Arminian doctrine of freewill is completely against Scripture and we must cast it off by God’s grace as a dirty rag.
Now there are several objections to the doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty. Some would say, if God is sovereign, he is the author of sin. To those who say this, we must reply biblically; James 1:13 –14, states this, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Man is tempted by his own sinful nature, but God still sovereignly guides his sin as we stated already above in a preceding paragraph. God does not force man to sin, but he does it by his own sinful nature. Also, we must remember that God is a holy God, knowing no sin. Isaiah 6:3 states this about the holiness of God: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” God can do no sin, because he in infinitely holy. Therefore, God is not the author of sin, although he still sovereignly guides man in his sinful deeds.
Another objection to the sovereignty of God is that if God is sovereign, man is not responsible for his sin. This is not true, for when Christ went to the cross it was sovereignly determined by God, but the wicked men who crucified him are responsible for it. We read this in Acts 2:23, which says, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” The wicked men who crucified Christ are responsible for killing Christ, not God. Also, the apostle Paul deals with this objection in Romans 9: 19 –20, by saying “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” This verse clearly proves that God is not responsible for man’s sin, but man is responsible for his own actions. When man sins, he must not blame God for his sin, for he himself is responsible. In addition, God always sovereignly guides the sinner in such a way, so that he is always responsible for his own actions. Therefore, this argument does not stand up to a true analyze of Scripture.
As we have shown in this article, God is totally sovereign, even over man’s will. This is biblically based for God hardens man’s heart. Both the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession also prove this truth. In addition, we have shown that the objections, which many men would bring up against God’s total sovereignty, are not founded upon the pages of Scripture. Rather, they are just man’s invention. Thus, God is completely sovereign over the whole creation, including man’s will and therefore, we must declare the Arminian doctrine to be a heresy.
Connie is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In the splendid red robes of an archbishop in the Holy Roman Empire, Rabanus Maurus stood next to the king of Germany. The king was clothed in his royal cape as well, a scepter in his hand and a crown upon his head. Other bishops in all their finery stood in rows on either side of Rabanus and the king. Rabanus leaned on the curved, golden handle of his archbishop’s staff. He looked around the room at other clergymen of the church who were called to come to this Synod of Mainz. Then he lifted his chin and stared at the lone monk standing before them, a man accused of teaching terrible heresies.
The archbishop raised his hands to pray and begin the meeting. It was October 1, 848, and a chill wind blew outside the cathedral that the men were gathered in.
They took their seats. A list of charges were read against Gottschalk, the man accused of heresy. Several bishops shook their heads as the list was read. One or two looked on Gottschalk with a hint of pity. Then in his simple priest’s garment, Gottschalk rose to answer the accusations.
He faced the king and the bishops. His shoulders were straight. His voice was deep and clear as he spoke. “Men of Synod, I am grateful for this opportunity to set before you exactly what I believe, and I do so in the joyous conviction that it is in accordance with the one doctrine of the church.”
Gottschalk’s arguments were grounded in Scripture. Gottschalk explained how predestination is one decree of God, but it is one decree with two aspects: election and reprobation. It is a double predestination.
Gottschalk spoke of how God is unchangeable. God does not look ahead into the future to decide what to do. He does not change his mind like that. God decides what will happen in the future! And so God decided who will go to heaven and who will go to hell even before the world began. God is God.
And if God is God, He does all that he wills to do. He saves only those people who he wants to save. Christ died only for them, the elect. Not one child of God is lost. The cross did all it was supposed to do!
Gottschalk showed how all these things fit together. It was indeed “the one doctrine of the church” that he set forth. If any man of Synod did not like what this monk had just said, no one doubted his faith and courage.
But many men at the Synod did not like what Gottschalk had confessed. The archbishop, who led the Synod in its decisions, gripped his staff until his knuckles were white. Rabanus Maurus had arguments of his own. In the end, this Synod of 848 condemned the monk and priest named Gottschalk. What he taught was heresy. The church said so. The archbishop said so. Synod was over.
Gottschalk did not know what would become of him now, but he knew this better than all the rest of the men at Mainz that day: God’s will had been done. God is God.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> For a more detailed history of the Formula of Subscription, see the excellent series of editorials by Prof. R. Dykstra in the Standard Bearer, vol. 86, no. 7-11.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Quoted from “The Covenant Doctrine of the Fathers of the Secession,” in Always Reforming: Continuation of the Sixteenth-Century Reformation, ed. David J. Engelsma (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), 101.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> A translation of this document is found in Always Reforming, 45-47.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Herman Hanko, Portraits of Faithful Saints (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 1999), 348.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Peter Y. De Jong, “The Dawn of a New Day,” in The Reformation of 1834: Essays in Commemoration of the Act of Secession and Return, ed. Peter Y. De Jong and Nelson D. Kloosterman (Orange City, IA: Pluim Publishing, 1984), 30.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> John H. Kromminga, “‘De Afscheiding’ – Review and Evaluation,” Calvin Theological Journal 20 (April 1985): 44.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Chapter 2, page 50.