Vol. 77; No. 13; April 1, 2001
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Table of Contents:
Meditation - Rev. James Slopsema
Editorial - Prof. David Engelsma
Search the Scriptures - Rev. Martin L. VanderWal
Ministering to the Saints - Rev. Douglas J. Kuiper
Feature Article - Prof. Russell J. Dykstra
Feature Article - Rev. Barry L. Gritters
In His Fear - Rev. Daniel Kleyn
Day of Shadows - Homer C. Hoeksema
News from Our Churches - Mr. Benjamin Wigger
Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. Luke 27:47
What astonishing things had just taken place!
In just a few hours Jesus of Nazareth, the great teacher and miracle worker whom many hailed as the Messiah, had been arrested, tried in three different courts, publicly condemned to death, and then crucified. From middle morning to middle afternoon He hung from a cross between two malefactors. And then He died, commending His spirit to the Father.
Our attention is now focused on the Roman centurion in charge of Jesus' execution. Crucifixion was a Roman execution, handled by Roman soldiers. It was normal to assign four soldiers to each person crucified. Since two others were crucified with Jesus, there would be twelve soldiers in attendance. Due to the significance of the situation, this execution was supervised by a centurion, captain over a hundred. It could well be that he was accompanied by more Roman soldiers.
In response to all that happened, the Roman centurion made a very unusual confession. He glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous man."
Imagine! A Roman centurion making such a confession!
Now when the centurion saw what was done .
The Roman centurion had been eyewitness to much that had just happened. He had, no doubt, witnessed the charges brought against Jesus before Pilate by the Sanhedrin. The Jewish leaders had charged Jesus with high crimes against the Roman state - forbidding to give tribute to Caesar; declaring Himself to be king. The centurion had been present when the leaders of the Jews had manipulated their own people to demand the release of the notorious Barabbas and demand the crucifixion of Jesus. Certainly the centurion observed the astounding meekness of Jesus before Pilate and His own people. In the face of verbal and physical abuse Jesus opened not His mouth, except to plead for forgiveness for those who engineered His death. The centurion stood in awe of the terrible darkness that descended upon the whole land for three terrifying hours just before Jesus' death. And the centurion certainly felt the violent earthquake that rocked the vicinity of Jerusalem at the exact moment of Jesus' death.
The Roman centurion saw what was done.
This means more than that he was eyewitness to the astounding events that had just taken place. It means also that he perceived and understood what had really happened.
And what had really happened?
What had really happened was that Jesus had been innocently condemned to death through the manipulation of the Jewish leaders.
Interestingly, Pilate had seen Jesus' innocence. He saw that for envy the leaders had delivered Jesus to him (Matt. 27:18). Twice, therefore, Pilate proclaimed that he found no fault in Jesus. He did everything he could think of to convince the leaders and the people to give up their unrighteous case. Finally, when he caved in to the demands of the people for fear, he washed his hands before the crowd. Pilate had seen.
And now also the Roman centurion saw. As a centurion he dealt with the criminal class often. He knew the makings of a criminal. Jesus was no criminal. Jesus had been executed for crimes not committed. The centurion saw this.
But the centurion saw more. He also saw the response of God to the travesty of justice that had just taken place. A terrible darkness had descended upon the whole land and stayed for three long, terrifying hours. Then there was the earthquake that tore apart the countryside the moment of Jesus' death. These were obviously signs of judgment. These signs of judgment were the voice of the living God, spoken against those who sought and carried out the murder of the righteous Jesus. Even the crowd that demanded Jesus' crucifixion and that stood there to witness Jesus' demise sensed this. For they crept from the scene of the cross smiting their breasts (v. 48). The centurion saw this too. The living God had spoken words of condemnation to those who took the life of the righteous Jesus.
The centurion glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous man."
The centurion was so impressed and overwhelmed that he was compelled to give expression to what he saw. The Jewish leaders, the Jewish people, and even the Roman governor had that very day condemned Jesus as one worthy of death. But the centurion boldly dissents. Certainly this was a righteous man. And what the centurion meant was that Jesus was all along righteous and law-abiding. A righteous man had just been condemned and executed!
And the centurion glorified God.
To glorify God is to praise Him, to acknowledge His greatness and virtue.
This is what the centurion did. We are not told what the centurion said. In light of what he saw, we can safely conclude that he praised God for His power demonstrated in the darkness and the earthquake. And he most surely praised Jesus' God for His righteousness, as He obviously took Jesus' side against His enemies.
What are we to make of this confession?
Some like to think that this confession came from a heart that had been converted at the cross. In fact, church tradition has it that all the Roman soldiers present at the cross were converted at this time. However, much as we would like to think that this happened, we do not read of such a conversion. And it would be highly unlikely that all the soldiers (at least 12) would all be converted at this time or ever.
But neither does the confession of the centurion require a conversion.
There are times when God reveals His power and virtue so magnificently and forcefully that even the ungodly are forced to acknowledge and praise Him. Think of how the Lord God was praised in the Old Testament by the likes of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. Consider the glowing words spoken by Cyrus ( Ezra 1) as he allowed the Jews to return to Canaan. Yet none of these beautiful words of praise came from a converted heart. And think ahead to the final day of judgment, when even the ungodly will be forced to acknowledge the goodness, wisdom, and righteousness of God.
So also can we understand the confession of the Roman centurion. So obvious was the righteousness of Jesus that the centurion was compelled to confess it. So clearly and powerfully had God revealed Himself that words of praise come forth from the mouth of the pagan centurion.
Shame on the Jews and their leaders for not acknowledging the same. But their hearts had been hardened by the gospel of Jesus. They responded therefore by beating on their breast in consternation.
How significant is this confession of the centurion!
Our Lord was accused by the Jewish leaders and officially condemned by the Roman government for high crimes against the Roman state. If these charges were true, then the Christian religion and our faith in Jesus is vain. For who can believe the teachings and claims of a criminal? How many impostors have not lost credibility once their true character comes to light? More importantly, how can the execution of a criminal be of any value for our salvation. We need a Mediator who cannot only bear the wrath of God for our sins but walk in perfect righteousness for us. This a criminal cannot do.
Satan would like nothing better than to convince the world that Jesus, our Savior, is just such an evildoer, a pretender who finally met his just end at the cross.
For the sake of our faith and the salvation of His church, God was very careful to make clear that Jesus was innocently condemned to death by evil men.
So evident did God make this that even the Roman centurion in charge of Jesus' execution was forced in amazement and fear to acknowledge it.
And so the confession of the Roman centurion serves a twofold purpose.
First, it puts to silence all those who would to this day blaspheme the Son of God and the true religion by calling Jesus an impostor justly executed for his crimes.
Second, it serves to strengthen our faith in Jesus as our Savior. By faith we believe that Jesus is the Mediator of God who in His perfect righteousness has fully covered all our sins. But our faith in Jesus' perfect righteousness is strengthened when we see that even the ungodly who witnessed the horrible events of Jesus' death were forced in their unbelief to confess this truth.
Let us then in true faith cling to the righteousness of Christ and find in Him all our salvation.
The November 2000 issue of the Calvin Theological Journal carried an important article on the third point of common grace, which the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted as dogma in 1924. The title of the article is "Common Grace, Theonomy, and Civic Good: The Temptations of Calvinist Politics (Reflections on the Third Point of the CRC Kalamazoo Synod, 1924)." The author is Dr. John Bolt, professor of theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, the seminary of the CRC. The preceding four editorials in the Standard Bearer have been the SB's acceptance of Dr. Bolt's invitation to the Reformed community to discuss the third point, and the doctrine of total depravity that the third point raises, in light of his article.
Bolt proposes a bold and intriguing reformulation of the third point. His proposal is a belated attempt from the side of the CRC at an "open and honest dialogue," something "that did not happen in 1924." Bolt thinks that his proposal sets forth a position that both Louis Berkhof and Herman Hoeksema could live with.
The thrust of the reformulation is to account for the seeming good works
of unregenerated people, not in terms of grace but in terms of providence. The key lines
are the following:
We do acknowledge that God in his providence does maintain all people as his image bearers who continue to keep "glimmerings of natural light, whereby they retain some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discover some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining orderly external deportment." (Canons of Dort, III/IV, 4). These deeds of outward conformity to God's ordinances do not make unbelievers inwardly virtuous or good before God; they render unbelievers inexcusable (Romans 1:20; Canons of Dort, III/IV, 4).
The reformulation in its entirety and the third point as it was originally formulated by the CRC can be found in the February 1, 2001 issue of the SB, page 198.
Bolt explains his reformulation in these words:
The first step would be to remove the term grace from any discussion of the ongoing vestiges of the image of God in fallen man and the gifts and virtues associated with the image. Restricting the notion of grace to the soteriological realm honors Hoeksema's concerns and would suggest that the expression "good works" also be restricted to the Heidelberg Catechism's understanding of "only those that proceed from a true faith." The material content of this issue could then be placed in the doctrine of providence where it is free from all confusion with soteriology. Both sides would then clearly affirm total depravity, that even the best of human deeds are polluted with sin, and that apart from saving grace no one willingly does good.
The Christian Reformed theo-logian's explanation of the seeming good works of the unbeliever in terms of providence rather than in terms of grace is a real breakthrough in the discussion. Hoeksema always charged against Abraham Kuyper's and the CRC's theory of common grace generally that it confuses providence with grace. In his question-and-answer treatment of Abraham Kuyper's theory of common grace, which the CRC made binding dogma in its three points of 1924, Hoeksema asked, "But does not Kuyper confuse the operation and effect of God's Providence with that of His grace?" Hoeksema's answer was: "In as far as he [Kuyper] ascribes the preservation and development of created things after the fall to God's common grace, he certainly calls grace what is merely God's providential care and government" (The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1947, p. 310). A little later, considering the appeal by the CRC to Article 13 of the Belgic Confession in support of the second point's teaching of a restraint of sin, Hoeksema observed: "As is usually done by the exponents of the theory of common grace, synod confused grace and providence. What is merely God's omnipresent power it presents as God's omnipresent grace" (pp. 366, 367).
Providence is God's almighty and everywhere present power upholding and governing His creation (Heid. Cat., LD 10). Providence is related to God's work of creation. The Creator maintains the world He has made and directs it to the goal that He has for it. Creation differs from salvation. The power of providence is distinct from the work of grace that delivers men and women from the guilt and corruption of sin.
Bolt is right to explain the seeming good of the ungodly from the providence of God. God upholds His creature man after the fall, maintaining him as a human with a mind and a will, who has some knowledge of God and who knows the difference between right and wrong (Rom. 1:18ff.; 2:14, 15). The image of God was lost in the fall, not man's humanity. This humanity is what the Canons refer to when they speak of the "glimmerings of natural light" in fallen man (III/IV, 4). Man did not become a devil. In eternal hell, reprobate man will not become a devil. Providence upholds man in his humanity.
Providence gives fallen men and women physical life with its earthly powers and abilities. Providence then enables unregenerate people to live in God's ordinances, e.g., family, government, and labor, in such a way that they observe the laws of these ordinances outwardly. They can discover what these laws are. They can readily perceive that observance of these laws benefits themselves, those whom they love with a natural love, and even the human race. Some of these people then exert themselves to be monogamous in marriage, hard-working in industry, and submissive and loyal in the state.
The providential power of God also restrains sinners and the outbreak of sinful deeds in society. The power of God governs the entire course of the development of sin in the world as part of the world's movement toward the goal that God has set for it. But providence restrains sinners and sin. Satan desired and worked to produce Antichrist already during apostolic times (II Thess. 2). Providence restrained him in the interests of God's timetable. The false church in the United States would love to destroy the true church and kill the saints. Providence at present keeps it from doing so.
This restraint by providence is something radically different from the restraint taught by the second point of common grace. The second point teaches a restraint of sin by a gracious operation of the Spirit in the soul of the unregenerate. This gracious operation keeps him from being totally depraved, makes him ethically good in part, and finally produces works that are truly good. That the CRC erred in its doctrine of a restraint of sin by common grace is plain from the very article of the Belgic Confession that it appealed to in support of the doctrine. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession does teach God's restraint of wicked men. But the sentence that affirms His restraint of "all our enemies" also mentions the devil: "He [our Father] so restrains the devil and all our enemies." Would anyone argue that God restrains the devil by a gracious operation of the Spirit within him? Article 13 is the Reformed confession of "Divine Providence."
To the realm of providence belong civil government and its service of God. Recognition of particular governments as instituted by God in the power of His providence is the reason why Reformed Christians submit to governments as lawful authority and honor their officials. Recognition of the state as the authority, submission to it, and respect for the officials of the state have nothing whatever to do with the state's being Christian or with any supposed common grace working in the officials. The Roman empire and its Caesar, whom the apostle called the saints at Rome to submit to for conscience sake in Romans 13:1-7, were neither godly nor noticeably influenced by common grace. But they were ordained by God in His providential government of His world. This-the providential ordaining of Rome as civil government-was the basis of the Christian's duty to submit. "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1). This was the sole and sufficient basis for submission.
The attitude of the Reformed Christian toward civil government is a
major concern of Professor Bolt. This comes out in the sub-title of his article: "The
Temptations of Calvinist Politics." Bolt wonders whether the denial of common grace
by the PRC does not have the effect that they question the legitimacy of all civil
governments that are not avowedly Christian.
It seems logical to conclude that some affirmation that unbelievers are capable of a certain civil righteousness is necessary, in a participatory democracy at least, for a Christian believer to acknowledge the legitimacy of a state that is clearly not Christian, not explicitly in accord with God's law . By the same token, if one denies that unbelievers are capable of any civic righteousness at all, it seems logical to conclude that full acceptance of a civil order would be possible only if the magistracy were composed of believers who ruled by the light of divine revelation; that is to say, a theocracy. Concretely, then, if the reasoning reflected above is correct, one would expect that the Protestant Reformed Churches, and their theological tradition from Herman Hoeksema on, would have profound sympathies for the theonomist position.
Unlike the church, civil government is not an institution of grace, whether special, common, or otherwise. It is an institution and agency of providence. Regardless that governments are non-Christian, pay no attention to the laws of God in Scripture, and are in the hands of ungodly men, governments are the minister of God (Rom. 13:4, 6). By the power of His providence, God uses them to order, and keep order in, society. As an agent of providence, civil government restrains the dissoluteness of men (Bel. Conf., Art. 36). This has nothing to do with a gracious operation of the Spirit in the souls of the unregenerated citizens. Civil government has no such power, to purify souls. The power of the civil state is the sword. With this sword, it prevents the open outbreak of revolution, murder, theft, and the other crimes that would plunge society into chaos. The appeal of the CRC to Article 36 in support of its theory of a restraint of sin by common grace was foolish. Hoeksema remarks somewhere that the CRC Kalamazoo Synod of 1924 could not tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and a policeman.
John Bolt's reformulation of the third point in terms of providence is a breakthrough in the discussion of common grace, because providence is, in fact, the explanation also of other things that are attributed to common grace. Nor is this limited to the CRC. I refer particularly to the good gifts that God bestows on the reprobate wicked in this life: rain and sunshine; food and drink; health; family; friends; earthly peace; musical ability; and more. The prevailing opinion in Reformed and Presbyterian churches is that these gifts are blessings that God gives to the ungodly in His grace.
If blessing is in things and if earthly prosperity is proof of divine favor, the poverty of the Christian must be a curse, expressing God's hatred toward him.
Psalm 73 teaches that, when God loads the ungodly with prosperity, He is setting them in slippery places, so that they will be destroyed forever.
The good things of earthly life that the reprobate ungodly enjoy are not blessings of common grace, but the bounties of providence. The gifts are good. In them, the ungodly ought to see the goodness of the Creator. For them, they should be thankful. But blessing, in God's favor, or grace, is quite distinct from good things. The Heidelberg Catechism points this out in its explanation of the fourth petition: "neither our care nor industry, nor even thy gifts, can profit us without thy blessing" (LD 50). Gifts are one thing; blessing is another.
Romans 8:28 teaches that poverty, cancer, bereavement, persecution, and death, in themselves evils, come to those who love God in the divine favor and with God's blessing.
Removing the seeming good of the unregenerate from the doctrine of common grace and placing it in the doctrine of providence in the third point of common grace has implications for the first and second points of common grace as well. Since the good works ascribed to the ungodly in the third point are the fruits of the gracious operation of the Spirit spoken of in the second point, Bolt's reformulation of the third point necessarily implies that the teaching of a gracious operation of the Spirit in the ungodly be elided from the second point. But the source both of the gracious operation of the Spirit taught in the second point and of the good works of the ungodly in the third point is the favor, or love, that God is said to have for the reprobate in the first point. If there is no gracious operation of the Spirit in the ungodly producing good works, the favor of God in the first point would seem to be at best superfluous.
The entire doctrine of Kuyperian common grace, as adopted by the CRC in 1924, must be reconsidered.
Are John Bolt and the CRC ready to do this?
Is virtually the entire Reformed community ready to do this?
Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
There was the greatest difference between our Lord Jesus Christ and the scribes and Pharisees. This difference could already be seen in the preaching of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. John rebuked the scribes and Pharisees that came to his baptism, and commanded them to bring forth fruits meet for repentance (Matt. 3:7, 8). Since John was the forerunner of Christ, it might well be expected that Jesus would be just as opposed to them.
And so it was. As this gospel account unfolds, it reveals a sharp antithesis between Christ and these teachers of the law.
As such, it could very easily be thought that Jesus was opposed to the law itself. It was in that way that the scribes and Pharisees tried to bring shame upon Jesus. They tempted Him to deny, in one way or another, the law of God given through Moses. They were certain that He opposed the law itself.
The passage of Matthew 5:17-20 demonstrates that such is far from the case. The whole earthly ministry of Christ supports the law of Moses. Christ Himself supported the law far beyond anything the scribes and Pharisees dreamed. He came to fulfill the law in a way impossible for these other teachers. He taught the law in a manner which exceeded their ability even to grasp. Put in the language of the text, He came not to destroy but to fulfill the law. He taught the commandments, setting forth a righteousness which infinitely exceeded the righteousness proposed by the scribes and Pharisees. For, His righteousness was the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Their righteousness was not.
There are three basic concepts that our Lord Jesus Christ teaches in this Scripture. The first is His self-identification with the righteousness of the law. The second is the teaching of that law in relationship to the kingdom of heaven. The third is the relationship between true righteousness and the entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
The first of these concepts is by far the most fundamental. Christ came into the world not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.
That fulfillment has two distinct aspects to it. The law and the prophets identify righteousness in general, the things that God requires of all men. These requirements pertain both to what all men must do and what they must be before the face of God. This righteousness Christ fulfilled perfectly. He walked so perfectly according to all the commandments that He could cast the challenge before even His enemies, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46). The opposite challenge, which He gave them earlier, they could not counter. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7).
Even here, Christ distinguished Himself from all the scribes and Pharisees. With all their teaching of the law, they did not fulfill the law at all. In fact, with all their work they tried to destroy the law. This becomes obvious over the course of Jesus' earthly ministry. In their attempt to destroy Jesus, they attempted to destroy the very righteousness identified by the law and the prophets. "Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?" (John 7:19).
But there is yet another aspect of that fulfillment which belonged uniquely to Christ. That has to do with the gospel. Moses and the prophets identified the Messiah. He would fulfill all righteousness, as the righteous Servant of Jehovah. He would make atonement for the sins of His people. He would actually purify the people of God. In this sense we must understand the words of Luke 24:27, "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." These things concerned Jesus as the Mediator, the one chosen by God to be the covenant Head and Representative of His people.
The rich grace of this fulfillment is in the combination of these two. Christ did not fulfill the law and the prophets for Himself simply as a private individual. He fulfilled it for His people. He came into this world to cover the sins of His people with His righteousness. He came to establish their membership and entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
We also understand that there is yet another aspect to this righteousness. When Christ fulfilled all the law, accomplishing the work of atonement at Calvary, this did not destroy the law. His fulfillment of the law made possible and actual another fulfillment of the law. That fulfillment is on the part of those for whom Christ died. By His Spirit, He brings them into the kingdom of heaven. As citizens of that kingdom they hunger and thirst for righteousness, and He fills them. "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4). "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).
In this regard we must consider the strict words of verses 18 and 20. With the words of verse 18 Christ indicates an overarching principle. He Himself came as subject to that principle. The law cannot be destroyed, even in its least element. Even the jots and tittles of the law are as firmly established as the very heavens and earth. Verse 20 takes that principle and applies it to the scribes and Pharisees. This application finds them wanting, even wholly destitute. Only a righteousness which exceeds theirs makes entrance into the kingdom of heaven. They are not in the kingdom of heaven.
The reason for this we find in the middle (v. 19). The scribes and Pharisees fall into the category of "least." For they break the commandments, and they teach men so. We need notice only their teaching of Mark 7:9.
When we take all these three verses together, we understand that the principle Jesus teaches in verse 19 is not relative, but absolute. Those called "least" in the kingdom of heaven are not in the kingdom of heaven at all! In light of the absolutes given in verses 18 and 20, we find it impossible to obtain a relative meaning of verse 19.
Instead verse 19 operates out of the nature of that kingdom as manifest. We can see this from the particular application of verse 19 to the scribes and Pharisees. With their doctrines and practices they outwardly obtained a name and reputation for being "great" in the kingdom of heaven. In this way we understand their being "called." They were highly esteemed in the sight of the people. Judged by men, by the outward and external, they obtained that designation. (It was of great help that they set themselves up as interpreters of the law!)
In reality, though, they were not at all in the kingdom of heaven, neither great nor least. The judgment of God according to His law had a far different sentence. The scribes and Pharisees were not only to be called "least in the kingdom of heaven" among men. They were to be considered outside the kingdom. They were simply unable to enter into it.
The stunning question remains: Who then can enter into the kingdom of heaven? The answer ought to be obvious: All those and only those who trust in the righteousness of the King. He opens wide the way to His own and conducts them into that kingdom.
The assurance of entrance and membership in the kingdom also comes from possessing that righteousness within. In verse 18, Christ identified those who are great: Whosoever shall do and teach them. These words lead us, first of all, to Christ. He is the one who has done them perfectly. He is the one who teaches them perfectly. In Him the Christian finds an open entrance to and everlasting membership in that kingdom.
That righteousness is also found within the citizens of that kingdom. They still hunger and thirst after that righteousness. Never is it enough merely to behold that righteousness as from a distance. Never is it enough to have it existing only with the King, even though it is the only ground of their salvation. These citizens also hunger and thirst to have that righteousness within them. They long to be filled with its blessedness. They desire to be the light of the world, and the city on a hill. They desire to shine with that righteousness.
That desire is also fulfilled. By His Holy Spirit Christ works within them His own righteousness. Dominated by that principle of righteousness, i.e., the new man, they begin to live according to all the commandments of God.
This righteousness, too, exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We will see this more clearly, as we proceed to examine Christ's explanation of the law. For now, it must suffice us to see exactly how this righteousness exceeds.
First, this righteousness exceeds because of the place where it exists - the heart. In many places of the gospel accounts, Christ decries the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It is mere formalism, externalism. The scribes and Pharisees He compared to whitened sepulchers: beautiful on the outside but within unclean with dead men's bones. The scribes and Pharisees were careful to wash their hands, their cups and plates, but their hearts were wholly defiled with sin. They were outside the kingdom, having no righteousness in their hearts.
How different it is for the one redeemed by Christ. The possession of His righteousness as a principle infused into the heart infinitely exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. There is, ultimately, no comparison between the two. "Love is the fulfilling of the law."
Secondly, this righteousness exceeds because of its source: the Holy Spirit of Christ. This righteousness has the character of the kingdom of God because it is the righteousness of the King of the kingdom. Since the King has worked it in His citizens, God is sure to approve it. Those possessing it may be sure that it exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
Third, this righteousness exceeds even in its outward appearance. There is an essential component of this righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees wholly lacked. The righteousness worked by the Spirit of Christ bears the stamp of humility. The wretched scribes and Pharisees were proud by self-imposed necessity. Their so-called righteousness came only from themselves. They did not receive it from another, either by justification or by sanctification. Their apparent works of righteousness were accompanied by a haughty countenance. They exalted themselves above the common people. Notice their attitude, not only toward publicans and sinners, but toward Jesus' disciples. Always they claimed superior rank.
How blessed is this righteousness of the King! He fulfills the law and the prophets. By His Spirit He transforms His redeemed into His glorious kingdom, so that they shew forth the praises of Him who hath called them, even His righteousness.
These things must give us an eager desire to hear the exposition of this
righteousness in the verses following.
Questions for Meditation
and Further Study
1. Where might we find modern counterparts of the scribes and Pharisees
in the world? In the church world? How does the proper knowledge of the law prevent us
from falling into their error?
2. Why must we maintain both aspects of Christ's fulfillment of the law?
How is His righteousness of no profit to us without His work as Mediator? In other words,
is the Jesus who is only a moral example of any benefit to us?
3. When we are taught the law of God, how do we keep from falling into these two errors: (a) when we hear the law and do it, we find some reason to boast in ourselves; (b) we must be taught that we can never keep the law in any respect? How do each of these errors do injustice to the doctrine of Christ's righteousness?
Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
In the last article we emphasized the importance of the qualifications for deacons as set forth in Acts 6:3, 5 and I Timothy 3:8-12. Anyone installed into the office, even nominated for the office, must meet the requirements found in these portions of God's Word. This is a matter of obedience to God's command regarding how to behave in His house.
As we continue our treatment of this subject of a deacon's qualifications, let us remember exactly what God requires the deacon to be. I Timothy 3:8-12 reads: "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well."
Are you struck by the high standard which God sets for one who holds the office of deacon? Examining the qualifications once more, think of how many people you know that measure up to them. The deacon must be a grave man, dignified and honorable. Deacons, are you this? Would other peoplesay this is true of you? The deacon must guard his tongue - that little member which kindles such a great fire, and which we all know we use sinfully at times. He must not be covetous - but we know our hearts are covetous by nature. Now comes the real hurdle: blameless! Deacons, are you that? And then, though perhaps it doesn't seem quite as high as "blameless," this: holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.He must be a believer - one who knows his faith, and lives it with pure conscience! Then his home life must be considered. Does he rule his home and children well? And if that isn't enough, let us scrutinize his wife. Is she grave? Does she guard her tongue? Is she a true and knowledgeable believer?
If a deacon really understands the importance of these qualifications, and takes them to heart, and examines himself in light of them, he might wonder: Is it not impossible for a man to be truly qualified? Does God set before us something that is even achievable? How can a man be these things? And what to do if he isn't?
Clearly, God holds deacons to a high standard. Very high!
No less high a standard is this, as regards the deacons' personal godliness and spirituality, than the standard to which God holds elders. One might be tempted to say, having read both the qualifications for deacons in I Timothy 3:8-12, and those for elders in I Timothy 3:2-7, that the standard for deacons is actually lower. After all, the list is shorter, and several requirements of elders are not, apparently, requirements of deacons. The fact is, however, that the standard for deacons is as high.
Notice that many of the requirements for elders and deacons are the same. Elders and pastors also must be blameless (v. 2). This is arguably the fundamental, summaryqualification for both elders anddeacons; it encompasses all the others. It is the first requirement listed for the bishops, and the lastpersonal requirement for deacons (excluding their family qualifications). If "blameless" covers everything, and if it is required for both elders and deacons, then the standard is as high for deacons as it is for elders. But other requirements are the same as well; neither elder nor deacon may be given to wine or be covetous (vv. 3, 8), and both must be firmly in control of their homes (vv. 4, 12).
That the standard for deacons is no lower than that for elders is also shown by the fact that the list for the deacons includes requirements not found in the list of qualifications for elders: deacons must not be "double-tongued" (v. 8), and their wives must meet certain requirements as well! I Timothy 3 makes no mention of the qualities which the elder's wife must possess. Not that the kind of wife an elder has is unimportant; also their wives must be godly women, meeting the characteristics set forth in verse 11. But the adding of some qualifications in the deacons' list shows that the standard for deacons is as high as it is for elder.
The reason why the standard for deacons is no lower than for elders, and the conclusive proof of this fact, is that all the offices in the church are positions of service to Christ, and that every officebearer must be like Christ. That is a high standard.
Is the standard too high? If the church of Jesus Christ follows this standard, will she ever have deacons?
Some have argued that no man in this life can attain to this standard; no man is really qualified to be a deacon. We are all sinners, and none can measure up completely to this standard.
It is good that one be so acutely aware of sin, and of the corruption that remains in the nature of the regenerated child of God who has not yet been glorified. But is it true that no man in this life is really qualified for the diaconate, because the standard is too high for a sinner to attain? One practical danger of such a view is that the church will ignore the requirements of God in choosing deacons, and put men into office who fail to measure up. This will not bring God's blessing on the work of that diaconate. The theological danger is that one forgets that God has determined to give His church deacons of the sort prescribed in I Timothy 3 - qualified deacons! He will give her such, because she needs such, and He has promised such. His work of mercy will be carried out through Christ-like men.
We believe, therefore, that a man called of God to the office of deacon can attain to this high standard and can be qualified for the office. God will see to it!
How can we be so sure that God will see to it? Because from all eternity God, in calling men to this office, has determined that certain men should serve in His church as deacons, at one particular time or another in history, and in one particular congregation of His church or another. God from all eternity has determined that in the year 2001, certain men would be deacons in the congregations which make up the Protestant Reformed Churches. And in time, God, in calling men to this office, prepares them for this work, by giving them various gifts, both spiritual and intellectual. Now those men, so gifted by God, are the men who must be put into office by the church. God, in giving this list of qualifications, directs the church to the very men whom He has provided for our need, in carrying out the work of mercy.
Absolutely we believe that a man can be qualified for the office only by the sovereign grace of God. No man, in and of himself, being a totally depraved and spiritually dead sinner by nature, could ever attain to this high standard. He could not even begin to do it. He is dead! This depth of his depravity underscores the fact that any man who is qualified for this office is qualified by grace.
But God, in giving the qualifications, understood that He spoke regarding men who by nature are sinners. So He did not require the deacon to be sinless. "Blameless" is a high standard; but it does not mean "sinless" or "perfect." Were perfection required, that standard would be higher than any man in this life could reach.
A man attains to this high standard when he conducts himself in an exemplary way, lives a sanctified and godly life in every respect and in every sphere of his life, loves God and his neighbor as himself, keeps his body and soul under subjection by the power of the Spirit, and relies on God and Christ for strength to do all this.
Deacons, do you attain, by God's grace?
Ideally this high standard is one to which every Christian man, whether or not he is in the special office of the church, will measure up. For the deacon who has attained to this standard indicates that he has faithfully obeyed the law of God in all his life. To do that we are all required.
Old men and women, and young men and women, must all be sober and "grave" (Tit. 2:2-6). To be "not doubletongued" is to live in obedience to the ninth commandment, required of us all. Every saint in the church of Jesus Christ must be "not given to much wine" (Eph. 5:18). We must not be covetous, or "greedy of filthy lucre"; the eighth and tenth commandments require that of us, as does Hebrews 13:5. Every child of God must know the faith, and have a pure conscience (Rom. 10:9ff.; II Thess. 2:15; Heb. 10:22; I Pet. 3:16). All must be blameless (I Cor. 1:8; II Pet. 3:14). All women in the church are called to all godliness in Titus 2, to which we have already referred, and are under obedience to God's law. All husbands must be the husband of only one wife (seventh commandment), and rule their children and houses well (Eph. 5:25ff.; 6:4).
Of course, for reasons which we will not give in this article, some in the church who do measure up to these spiritual qualifications nevertheless are not to be considered for the office of deacon, such as women, and novices, and those who are not "proved."
But ideally, the church ought to have an abundance of men qualified for the office!
Believing Christians, do you measure up? Young men in particular, do you live as you ought? Or is it the case that, because of how you are living now, you will not be considered for office? If this latter is true of you, that is to your shame!
The standard for deacons is very high; but the standard for one who will call himself a Christian is as high, and can be attained only by God's grace.
What if there are many such qualified men in a congregation? This is generally the case in our churches, as I perceive it; and that is a reason for thanksgiving to God. Then the men who excel, the best qualified men, should be put into office. The judgment as to who is the best qualified rests, of course, with the council which nominates, and the congregation which by her silence approves the nomination and then votes from it. And those men who were not elected at that meeting, but desire the office, should continue to be godly men, realizing that God, if it be His will, could put them into office at a later time.
What if there are only a few such qualified men? Then from that group the deacons must be chosen. A church which determines to have six deacons, but finds only four men who truly measure up to the standard, should have only four deacons, rather than putting in office men who are not qualified, merely to meet their quota.
What if there are no men in the congregation qualified for the office? That would be a sad situation, indeed. If the group is not an officially organized congregation, but desires to organize, this question must be asked - are there qualified men? If not, the group should not be given permission to organize. This is in keeping with Article 38 of the Church Order, and the decisions taken by the PRC which are appended to it (a letter of request from a group wishing to organize having come to the classis, "The classis shall thereupon deliberate whether such organization is possible or desirable, observing whether there be, among the signators, persons suitable for consistory members "). If an organized congregation finds herself in a situation in which she has no men qualified for the diaconate, it is likely that she also has none qualified for the eldership. If all her qualified men happen to be elders, she ought to consider calling one or two of them to the diaconate. But likely, she has no men qualified to be officebearers; and then she must be placed under the care of a neighboring consistory (Church Order, Articles 38 and 39).
What of the deacon currently in office who does not measure up to this standard? If he was previously qualified, but while in office commits a gross sin which renders him unqualified, he must be suspended or deposed, in accordance with Articles 79 and 80 of our Church Order. If he never measured up as he should, but was put into office, he has this calling: be qualified! That is, insofar as he can and relying on the grace of God, he must put forth sincere effort to strengthen the areas in which he is weak. Failing to do this, he shouldnot be considered for the office again after his term is up.
But we must end on an encouraging note.
Invariably, the child of God sees that, due to his sinful nature, he has not obeyed the law of God perfectly, as he ought. And invariably, the deacon who examines his heart in light of these requirements will see areas in which he has fallen short, even if those areas are only in his heart. The child of God, seeing his sin, must find forgiveness for his sins and sinful nature in the cross of Jesus Christ, and must desire grace and strength to grow in sanctification. So also for the deacon. He must set an example for the whole church by being quick to confess his sins, find forgiveness in Christ, and seek the forgiveness of anyone against whom he has sinned. And he must profess and demonstrate that he daily seeks God's grace to grow in sanctification, fully expecting that he will receive that grace, for Christ's sake. In the way of doing this, he can rest assured that God will continue to use him, weak means that he is, for the welfare of the church.
Whom God calls, He will equip!
The standard is high. God knows that. And He will provide men for that office in His church.
A Summary of the Covenant Theology
of the Protestant Reformed Churches*
* In September of 2000, a conference on the doctrine of the covenant was held between the Committee for Contact with Other Churches, a committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and the Committee on Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity of the United Reformed Churches. At this conference, both committees submitted papers on the covenant. What follows is the second part of the paper given by the committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Prof. Dykstra is professor of Church
History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The Protestant Reformed Doctrine of the Covenant
The Protestant Reformed Churches view the covenant not as an agreement, nor as an arrangement by which the blessings of salvation are obtained or enjoyed, but as the relationship of friendship that God sovereignly establishes with His elect people in Christ, and that, in the line of continued generations.
The covenant view of the PRC was developed by its early leaders, especially Hoeksema and Danhof, but the development continued throughout the history of the denomination. Drawing on different ideas from the Reformed fathers, especially Olevianus and Bavinck, they redefined the covenant in its essence. Defining the covenant as a relationship of friendship changed the whole face and character of the covenant, removing any need for conditions.Hoeksema maintained that the covenant that God establishes with His people is a reflection of the life that God has within Himself. That life has not the nature of a business agreement, nor of conditions and promises among the three Persons. But their life is one of intimate love and friendship. Within the one triune God, three perfect Persons exist in perfect harmony. Yet because they are three distinct Persons, they can have fellowship, and live in infinitely blessed fellowship. They seek one another, delight in each other, and commune with each other.
The Father eternally begets His Son in love. He delights in that Son, in whom He beholds His own perfections, for the Son is begotten in the Father's own image. Likewise the Son, eternally begotten in love, delights in His Father and in reflecting the Father's perfections. They dwell in perfect friendship and love in and through the Holy Spirit. This third Person of the Trinity, third not in importance, but because He completes the covenant life, proceeds as breath from the Father to the Son with the communication of love, and back to the Father from the Son. The same Spirit searches the deep things of God, bringing eternal delight into the covenant life of the Holy God.
The thrice blessed God, though perfect and complete in Himself and in need of nothing, yet determined eternally to glorify Himself as the triune, covenant God. He planned to do this by establishing His covenant with a chosen people in Jesus Christ. His purpose was to live with them in covenant life forever, so that this people, knowing the glory and blessedness of this covenant God from experience, would shout God's praises forever. Since the covenant life is one of fellowship, God's people will continue to grow in the experiential knowledge of the infinitely blessed God for an eternity. In God's plan, the covenant would not be merely a means to an end, namely, saving His people; it would rather be itself the goal of God!
Thus God would create man a covenant creature, alone of all creatures able to know God and to enjoy friendship in a creaturely way with God Himself. And the same God determined that man would fall, violating His covenant. However, that was the God-ordained way in which man would be brought into a higher covenant life with God in and through Jesus Christ. God is wise! This covenant is perfectly suited to us as creatures. By it God's people are brought into the very covenant life of God. Yet, at the same time, all things are perfectly planned to glorify God in the highest possible way. That "way" would be down the path of the fall and death, and then salvation in Christ, the Mediator. By this means, God would lift man to a state of blessed covenant life higher than Adam ever could have had on this earth - even in the state of perfect righteousness.
We maintain, therefore, that the covenant of grace is eternal, because it arises out of the very life of the triune God, and because it was eternally established with Christ. In addition, the covenant of God is one. The covenant of grace is not a stop-gap measure to "fix" the unanticipated fall of Adam and Eve. Rather it is the eternal purpose of God in Christ, flowing out of the covenant eternally lived in God Himself, and reflecting the same blessed life of the Trinity - a life of friendship.
That God's covenant with His people is a relationship of friendship is the clear teaching of Scripture. That is not to say that the Bible anywhere defines the covenant, any more than the Bible in any one place neatly defines and circumscribes the atonement, or justification, or any central doctrine. Yet the truth is presented throughout the Bible.
Evidence is found in the fact that already in the garden of Eden, God walked in the garden, calling His friend/servant Adam (Gen. 3:8), apparently an ordinary activity, and one enjoyed by friends. Of Enoch and Noah also we read that they walked with God. In addition, Abraham is called a friend of God (James 2:23).
God dwelt with Israel, saying, "I will establish my covenant with you and I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul will not abhor you, and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Lev. 26:9, 11, 12). The tabernacle itself was a revelation of the covenant. It is called God's house - which brings to mind a family and fellowship. The tabernacle consisted of two rooms, with God (symbolically) present in one, and the people (represented in the priests) in the other. It pictured the covenant - God and His people dwelling together under one roof.
Consider also how Psalm 25:14 describes the intimacy of covenant life with God - "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them His covenant." The Hebrew discloses the remarkable familiarity found in God's life with His people. The root meaning of the word translated "secret" is "couch" or "cushion" (d/s). It paints the picture of friends sitting together in familiar conversation, even of a husband and wife in fellowship, with their heads on a common pillow. This is about friendship. Jehovah shares His familiar conversations, His secrets, with His friends, and (note the Hebrew parallelism) causes them to know His covenant.
All this is realized in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant. For He is Immanuel - God with us. He came to tabernacle with us. And by His atoning work He realized the covenant: removing the sin and guilt that stood between His people and God, removing forever their curse, and reconciling them unto the Father. These same people are given the life of Christ from above and are recreated in His image, thus making fellowship with God both possible and actual.
The final realization of this eternal covenant of grace and reconciliation is recorded in Revelation 21:3 - "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them."
God not only teaches in His Word that the covenant is a relation of friendship, He causes us to know the nature of that friendship, namely, that it is close, intimate, and unbreakable. He has given three human relationships as pictures of the covenant life. By means of these, God not only drives home the truth that the essence of the covenant is friendship; He also gives His people a foretaste of the eternal covenant of grace.
This friendship God illustrates with the figure of friends like David and Jonathan, whose souls were"knit together"in love. We read that "Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul" (I Sam. 18: 1-4). Proverbs 18:24 hints at the same - "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
The family is also a picture of God's covenant with us, for He is our Father for Jesus' sake. God adopts us as His children, even sending the Spirit of Christ into our hearts crying, Abba, Father ( Rom. 8, Gal. 4). Recreated in the image of Christ, God's covenant people bear even spiritual resemblance to their elder brother. They very obviously belong to the family of God. And as children they have the right to live in His house, sit at His table, and have communion with each other and with God in Christ. To them is the inheritance promised, namely, eternal life.
Thirdly, the Bible describes the relationship of God to His people in terms of a marriage - the most intimate relationship experienced on this earth! In the Old Testament, Jehovah betrothed His people Israel to Himself ( Ezek. 16, Hos. 2). In the new dispensation Christ came as the long awaited bridegroom who would lay down His life for His bride, in order that He might present her "to himself a glorious church..." ( Eph. 5). The end of the ages ushers in the consummation - the eternal marriage feast of Christ and His bride, the church, in the new heaven and earth ( Rev. 17).
We ought to take notice that this conception of the covenant is in harmony with the sovereignty of God. The covenant is God's, not man's, nor God's and man's. God planned it freely as He would. He executes it as He so desires. Because God is sovereign, He freely chooses His covenant people. The covenant is particular - only with the elect, and that because the covenant is with Christ, the Seed of the Woman, and those chosen in Him. The sovereign God brings His people ineluctably into the covenant and into fellowship with Him. He does not offer the covenant life to all, not even to all baptized children.
Thus the PRC conception of the covenant is that it is unilateral - God's covenant, sovereignly established with the elect alone in Christ. The reprobate have no part in the covenant. Though some are found (physically) in the sphere of the covenant, the covenant itself is spiritual, and God realizes it only with His people.
This covenant is manifested in the line of continued generations (Gen. 17:7), though even here the lines of election and reprobation cut through families. Upon what basis then are children baptized in the PRC? The basis is not presupposed regeneration, but the command of Christ to baptize them, based on the fact that God gathers His church in the line of continued generations. As the Heidelberg Catechism points out, children, too, are included in the church and covenant of God. They must receive the sign of the covenant.
Some charge the PRC with holding to presupposed regeneration because they view their children as being covenant children until they prove otherwise. The PRC's response is that this is not presupposed regeneration, but simply the Reformed view of all members of the church, namely the judgment of love required by the Canons (III, IV, Art. 15).
The differences between this view of the covenant and the conditional covenant are obvious. For some reason, the Liberated bitterly oppose this view of the covenant. Schilder expressed his loathing of it. As noted earlier, it is today simply dismissed as an "election theology of the covenant."
To the PRC, that is no stigma. We confidently affirm that it is
Reformed. Bavinck contended that election and the covenant may not be separated, and that
to do so results in Arminianism. The PRC contend that only the unconditional covenant is
consistent with God's sovereignty and the doctrines of sovereign grace, the "Five
A Few Practical Inferences
And yet there is an added incentive for asserting and holding on to this covenant - namely, that it is our life with God - the heart of religion. What a joy to have such intimate communion with the living God! That covenant is not a cold and nearly irrelevant doctrine left undisturbed on the shelf. Those who live in constant covenant fellowship with God find that their lives are shaped by this communion. Friendship with God demands antithetical living - saying "No" to what God forbids and "Yes" to what He requires. Covenant people, knowing from experience what God has done, desire to please their holy God and Friend.
Covenant people shun friendship with the world of unrighteousness, knowing that "friendship with the world is enmity with God" ( James 4). On the contrary, covenant people seek fellowship with the saints - they are the excellent of earth in whom is their delight ( Ps. 16).
And, to bring out one last practical application of the covenant, the Protestant Reformed view and practice of the institution of marriage is profoundly affected by our doctrine of the covenant. Largely because God has revealed that marriage is a picture of His covenant with His people, the PRC insist that marriage is an unbreakable bond in this life.God's covenant with His people is sure and unbreakable, so that God will even take back His adulterous wife (i.e., Israel; see Ezek. 16, where God, having set forth the "adulteries" of which Israel is guilty, yet promises to establish His covenant). So also the marriage bond uniting a man and a woman cannot be severed by man. God alone cuts the tie through death. Hence it follows that a divorced man or woman may not remarry until the spouse dies. To do so is to enter into the state of adultery (Rom. 7:1-3). By the grace of God, the PRC maintain this position to the present. No divorced-and-remarried individuals may be members in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
It should be plain by all this that the covenant has a profound effect on doctrine and walk of life. We are convinced that Herman Hoeksema was right. The doctrine of a sovereign, particular covenant ofgrace, as a relationship of friendship is the distinctive doctrine of the PRC and the probable purpose of God for bringing this small band of churches into existence. True unity between the Protestant Reformed Churches and any other denomination is possible only and insofar as there is agreement on this vital doctrine. Since this is the case, it is good and necessary, and for us a joy, to discuss the doctrine of the covenant.
Rev. Gritters is pastor of the
Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
In my pastorate, the most heart-breaking experience I have is to witness parents lose children to rebellion. I have seen parents lose children in death. Oh, how we hurt, then. But little compares to the grief of parents whose children reject them and the Lord. They probably leave the house at age 18, anxious to get away from the parents who gave them life. Perhaps they marry an unbeliever. They spurn the warnings of the elders and leave the church, violating God's covenant, despising their baptism. Grandchildren born to them are kept away. Now, very little contact is had with their own flesh and blood- the children for whom they gave their life.
There is no greater heartache nor cross for father and mother-not the death of believing children, not the loss of job, not grinding poverty. Parents would rather lose children in death than lose them in this way. The constant knowledge when they retire each night that their beloved children are wandering in darkness makes them wonder whether Paul was in his right mind when he said: "Rejoice evermore . In everything give thanks."
My heart goes out to these parents. All of them. I pray for them often in my congregational and personal prayers.
Parents come to pastors with the good question, "Why? Is this a reaping of what we have sown?" Not necessarily. Perhaps, but perhaps not. A few things we must remember: First, there is forgiveness for parents whose own faults and failures have contributed to this rebellion (notice, I did not say "caused this rebellion," for the children themselves are responsible). When the parents recognize their own sinfulness, repent, and seek forgiveness, the Lord is merciful with regard to this sin, too. Second, no parent deserves to have any believing children, even those parents who have all their children in the church. Besides, as one grieving parent told me just recently when I talked about this with regard to his wayward child: "The last chapter hasn't been written either."
We ought to wonder: Is this sad reality increasing in our day?
Regarding that, I would caution you before you immediately answer "Yes." Ecclesiastes 7:10: "Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this." In addition, already in Luther's day these same struggles had to be faced - the troubles and evils in families regarding children, young people, and faithless mothers. One day at mealtime Mr. Luther complained: "The Jews highly esteemed children. Our women almost detest them. The reason: one does not want the burden of bearing and educating children; women only want leisure." Today, too, parents realize that parenting is a call from God that takes a mountain of effort and an ocean of grace.
You may go back further than Luther to the Old Testament, and feel the heartache of Isaac and Rebecca regarding Esau; of Abraham and Sarah over Ishmael; of Jacob with some of his wicked sons. The Lord Himself gave the prescription in Deuteronomy 21 for dealing with wayward sons and daughters, indicating that believing parents from the beginning bore the heavy yoke as they experienced that "they are not all Israel which are of Israel."
So the sorrow is nothing new. But the evil does increase, even as the New Testament forewarned. "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shallrise up against their parents, andcause them to be put to death" (Matt. 10:21). II Timothy 3:1 warns that in the "last days perilous times shall come men shall be disobedient to their parents, unthankful, unholy ." A mark of the evil of the last days will be the rejection of parental authority by the children and young people.
What is the remedy for this? What weapon does God give against this? What of our children? Believing parents ask these questions because we love our children! We care for them. We desire their good. We do not want them to stray, to perish! How do we raise them? These are urgent, critical questions in these evil days. Are there more important questions for God's church than these?
The Christian faith answers: Godly parenting in an ungodly world, in
the consciousness that we are, as it were, the hand of God upon our
children. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it that way. In its explanation of the ten
commandments,the Reformed faith puts in themouths of the youth (and all
who are "under authority") the confession that "it pleases God to
govern us by their hand." The hand of the parents is, as it were, the hand of God.
On Divine Business
Believing parents must recognize that they are the "hand of God," and teach their children so.
No individual text says it so simply, but the whole concept that God has His representatives on this earth, in many different spheres of life, indicates that the Catechism's figure of speech is apropos. "Our Father who art in heaven" shows that we are parents in order to reflect the Fatherhood of God in heaven. Why did God create families with fathers, mothers, children? To teach us about Him. We represent the Fatherhood of God. When children submit, they must not only see their parents, they must see God and Jesus Christ in them. (See also Eph. 6:4: Obey your parents in the Lord ." Gen. 18:19: "For I know him that he will command his children ." God powerfully knew Abraham, with the result that Abraham taught his children in the Lord, for the sake of the Lord. And Deuteronomy 6 is the instruction of the Lord to parents to teach the children on God's behalf.) Everyone under authority is under Jesus Christ (see Eph. 6:5, 6, too).
It is as though God reaches down with His hand, and rules His children through each of the different positions of authority (husband, elder, employer, government, father).
So, we're on His errand in this business of child-rearing, not ours! We are not free-lancing! We do not write our own job-description! We are under authority! Indeed, children are under us, but we are under God!
That is true for all authority. For that reason, every time the one in authority is instructed regarding his duty, the Lord adds this warning: Remember, you are there on behalf of another. As one metrical version of Psalm 82 puts it: "Let rulers fear their Ruler; their Judge let judges fear." Thus, the only purpose that the children are under us is for the Lord. We are servants of the Lord!
Failure to remember this is ruinous! Then the young couple decides to have children with this mindset: "How we want to have children! Surely, it will enrich our life!" But they must ultimately say: "We will accept our responsibility of parenthood in obedience to Jesus Christ, not for our own ends, but as a calling of God, under God."
Remembering this, we are humbled: That is awesome. We are servants of God. Every failure in rearing children is sin against Him! Refusal to do right will be judged by Him. In the end, we are answerable to no one but Him.
Remembering this, we are confident. We stand here as
representatives of another. What fear they must have who do not understand this. They are
on their own! But we stand in behalf of the Lord of the church and the One who loves the
children, who says: "I commission you to care for them."
For the parents alone to be aware of this is not enough. They must be sure that the children know this. The main duty of children is to recognize that, too! Ephesians 6:1 is written for them. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord." So the Heidelberg Catechism is written as their confession: "It pleases God to govern us by their hand." Whenever children see (hear, submit to, etc.) us, they must think: "God put them over me."
It is the parents' calling to remind them of this, with regularity. Let this become part of the daily consciousness of the children. "Dad and Mom are not here for their own sakes, but for God's! What they do, they do for Him." How can parents convey this?
You are not permitted to go to the movies. Why Dad? Because God has committed you to our care, and we are responsible to Him. The final reason is not that this is what we like for you, but that this is what the Lord wants for you. His Word says .
Your curfew tonight is . Why Dad? Is it because we like to be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour? No! For God's sake: God commands us to watch out for your soul. We must give account (Heb. 13:17). And because .
Your discipline for breaking the rules will be . Why Dad? Is it because you hurt our feelings? Because we don't like what you're doing? No! God instructed us to do this - spank you, ground you, etc.Not to do so would be for us to disobey God.
We send you to a good Christian school, make sure you know your catechism every week, and take you to church twice on the Lord's Day. Why Dad? Well, not because we like to follow tradition, or because that's what almost everyone else does, but because we have a solemn obligation to God to train you up in His fear. And this is the way .
God help believing parents to be faithful "hands of God."
(next time: Goals and objectives of Christian parents)
Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First
Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
Understanding that our money is not our own, but God's, we use it first of all for the causes of His kingdom. This use of our money comes first in priority as well as in order of actual giving. We give cheerfully, liberally, privately, and regularly. In this way we seek first the kingdom of God, also with our money.
How, then, are we to use the rest of the money God has given us?
Again we must use the sanctified wisdom we have in Christ. All our money should be used wisely.
First of all, we must be wise with regard to earning money. We must work hard to make a living. We may not be lazy, going through life depending on others when we could easily be working. We are called to work diligently with our hands in order to support ourselves, our families, and those who have need (Eph. 4:28).
At the same time, however, wisdom demands that we not become consumed in working for the "almighty dollar." One extreme, as we said, is laziness. But the other extreme is to spend so much time working that we have no time or energy for our family or for the church.
We must be wise also in how we handle our money; wise in saving and spending. This is the difficult part. This is where we must constantly remind ourselves to seek God's glory in all that we do. Our lives must be God-centered, not "me-centered." We must not earn and save and buy just for the sake of satisfying self.
It certainly is not wrong to spend money on ourselves. It is not a sin to own a nice house, an up-to-date computer, or a new dress or pair of jeans. Money is a good gift from God. Thus the things we buy with money, so long as they are legitimate, are also good gifts from God. Every gift from God is good if it is received with thanksgiving and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer (I Tim. 4:4, 5).
Important, however, is one's attitude of heart toward the things he or she purchases with money.
The child of God must use his money as one who is a pilgrim on this earth. He realizes that what he has is not his own. And he realizes that whatever he accumulates on this earth will not go with him into eternity. For that reason he does not set his heart upon the things he purchases in this life. He contemplates spending and actually spends his money with his eye fixed on eternity.
We often fail in this regard. We spend money on things because we want them. Our heart is set upon the earthly, not the heavenly. A newer and larger house, or some other earthly possession, becomes the all-consuming goal in our lives. We spend long days at work in order to be able to make the payments. We seek happiness and satisfaction in earthly things. In the process we turn something we "want" into something we "need." Money becomes a god.
In deciding how to spend our money, the question we must ask is this: "Do I have the causes of God's kingdom as my first priority? Have I given first to God? Have I done so cheerfully and liberally? And are there causes of God's kingdom that are suffering and to which I should be contributing?"
It is difficult to be a good steward of money in today's world. This is especially so because of the ungodly philosophies of the world that influence us, perhaps more than we realize.
The world is covetous and greedy and makes money a god. Always one has to have more of it. The goal is to be as rich as possible. It is not simply good enough to keep up with the neighbors, we have to bypass them.
The advertisements of today scream out, "If you want something, get it! There is no reason at all why you shouldn't. You deserve it." This is even drilled into the minds of children. And, sad to say, parents are helping their children live by these worldly notions.
What follows from this way of thinking is that one is easily enticed into purchasing things he cannot afford. It is true that we live in affluent times. Few are truly poor. But this does not mean that men and women can afford all the things they want. Many cannot. Yet that does not stop them from purchasing those things. All that is needed, they think, is the ability to make a payment. If one wants something, nothing should stop him from getting it!
Behind it all is the pervasive notion in society that the more you have, the happier you will be.
You and I are attracted to this way of thinking. That is because we ourselves are, by nature, covetous, greedy, and discontent. Money and the things it can buy have a strong appeal. Very easily we become materialistic. We imagine that money and the power it has will guarantee happiness in life. And so we surround ourselves with all our possessions, glow in our enjoyment of them, and boast of them to others.
On account of how tempting money is, we need to be reminded of what Scripture has to say about it.
First of all, God tells us that money does not satisfy. This is contrary, of course, to human wisdom. But divine wisdom declares, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfieth not?" (Is. 55:2). The rich fool mentioned in Luke 12 did not understand this. He imagined that his soul could be fed and satisfied with earthly wealth. He literally told his soul to feed itself with earthly goods. How mistaken he was. Notice too the words of Ecclesiastes 5:11, "When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?"
Secondly, the Scriptures teach us that money is dangerous. Now Scripture does not say that money is evil. It is from God and it is a good gift from Him (James 1:17). But Scripture does teach that money and wealth can be dangerous.
One of the dangers of money is that it tempts us to forget God. Agur pointed that out when in his prayer in Proverbs 30:9 he asked God not to give him riches. He understood that if he were wealthy he would be tempted to say, "I have no need of God!" Wealth tempts one to deny his need of God.
Another danger of money is that it deceives. Riches lie (Matt. 13:22). They promise happiness and success, a life of ease and of freedom from worry. Riches say to us: "If you only have enough of me, you will be fully satisfied and be able to avoid all life's problems." But this is, of course, a lie. The rich are no happier than the poor.
Money is also dangerous because we are tempted to love it. And the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). One who loves money is one who has the desire and drive to be rich. He wants to gain money in every way possible, and he intends to keep it for himself. He makes money a god. And this leads to many other sins.
The love of money is a serious threat to one's soul. Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us, "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). Christ also stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:24).
The Scriptures therefore warn us again and again against laying up treasures on earth. It is pointless to do so, for these treasures will perish. But it is also dangerous to do so, for these earthly treasures draw one's heart away from God. One cannot serve God and mammon.
As stewards of God's good gift of money we must take seriously the warnings of Scripture concerning this gift. This is especially necessary because we are living in the last days. Soon the Antichrist will come and establish his kingdom. Earthly prosperity is exactly what he will offer. That, according to Revelation 13 and 18, will be the whole appeal of his kingdom. If we make money a god, we will be easily deceived by him. We must take heed to ourselves lest we also be tempted.
Money is a good gift. But we are easily tempted by it. The pressure is there to make money our goal in life. Perhaps this pressure is directed especially at young people. They are told to pursue education with a view to a career that will provide plenty of money and thus earthly success. All time and effort must be put into this. They are even pressured into moving away from home and from the church in order to attain their financial goals in this life. Young people, money is not everything. In fact, it isn't much at all. Don't be deceived by it.
The true believer has no reason to be concerned in life. With the psalmist he says, "Jehovah is my shepherd, I shall not want." With the apostle Paul he confesses, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). And he seeks first the kingdom of God in the confident assurance that God will add all these things unto him. God will supply him with exactly what he needs in order to serve his God in this life and to be led, as a pilgrim, to his eternal home.
Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The first section of Genesis 6 is devoted to a description of the growth and development of the first world in wickedness, as that world went madly about filling the measure of iniquity and became ripe for the final judgment of God upon it. We must remember, however, that the Lord of heaven and earth works His own work in history, and that this work, positively speaking, is the maintenance and realization of His everlasting covenant of grace. It is the work of the salvation of the church, which is accomplished in and through the judgment of the world. The latter is always characteristic of the work of salvation: Zion shall be redeemed through judgment. The judgment of the world is the salvation of the church. Even, therefore, as the wicked world hastened, under the judgment of God, unto destruction, so the Lord in and through the processes of history was hastening to save His church.
To this aspect of the history of the prediluvian world our attention is called in the last part of Genesis 6, beginning at the eighth verse. From verse 8 to verse 12 we have an objective account of Noah and his family and of the position which Noah occupied in the midst of the wicked world. Beginning at verse 13 and extending to the end of the chapter, the account takes the form of an account of God's speaking to Noah, telling him of His purpose with respect to that violence-filled world in which Noah walked with God, instructing him concerning the building of the ark, assuring him of His covenant purposes. Thus, finally, very simply and directly the history of the first world is carried up to the point of the Flood with the words, "Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he."
In the light of the rest of the Scriptures, it is plain that in this brief account of Noah and of the Lord's dealings with him, especially as that account is furnished against the background of the description of the wicked world, we have the further realization of the enmity and the conflict which were announced in the protevangel. In other words, this is not merely factual background material leading up to the events recorded in Genesis 7. But we have here the historical account of the continuation of the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, a conflict which is due to the work of God's own grace, and a conflict which ends in the victory of the covenant seed in the Flood.
The history of Noah is taken up very abruptly and briefly in verse 8. There is furnished no information concerning the details of his life; neither is there any data concerning the time and dates of his life. With these the Scriptures are not concerned. As far as the few details which are furnished are concerned, these are limited to the period of 120 years immediately before the Flood, while the ark was being prepared. The other details are not important.
What is of importance concerning Noah in the world in which he lived is stated in just five words in the original: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." It would be difficult indeed to conceive of five words concerning Noah - or any other man - and his place in history more important than those words.There is no more blessed and no more significant statement to be made, not only about a man's personal history, but also about his place in history as a whole, than that he found grace in the eyes of Jehovah!
This is underscored by the fact that this statement stands in sharp
contrast with what immediately precedes it. It is introduced by "but." In the
preceding you read that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every
imagination of the thoughts of his heart was onlyevil continually. You read that
because of this the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, that it grieved Him
at His divine heart. And you read that the Lord determined to destroy man and all things -
to undo that which grieved Him. Then you read: "But Noah...." There you
have the entire antithesis. Noah was not wicked. The Lord was not sorry that He had made
Noah. The Lord did not determine upon Noah's destruction. Noah found grace in the eyes of
the Lord. He is the exception of grace!
Noah's Finding Grace in the Eyes of Jehovah
The Bible uses this expression rather often, so that it is almost proverbial to speak of finding grace in someone's eyes. Yet it is a very beautiful and significant expression. It denotes, in general, that there was a gracious attitude in God's heart toward Noah.
To understand this, we should notice, in the first place, the significance of the "eyes of Jehovah." The eyes certainly denote the power to see, on the one hand: the power to receive an impression of and to perceive the world round about us. But there is another aspect to the eyes: they reveal what lives in the heart. The eyes are the main element of the face. In the eyes is reflected what lives in the inmost heart. In the eyes is reflected the joy or the sorrow, the pleasure or the displeasure, the courage or the fear, the love or the hatred, the delight or the anger, the favor or the disfavor which live in the inner man, in his inmost heart.
When Scripture here speaks of the "eyes of Jehovah," this is no empty figure of speech. Nor must we imagine that the Lord God really has no eyes, while man, the creature, really has eyes and sees. On the contrary, Jehovah has the eyes; and the eyes of the creature are but a finite reflection of God's power of sight. In that light we must understand this expression to mean, on the one hand, that the Lord sees perfectly; and, on the other hand, that the Lord's eyes reflect perfectly and reveal what lives in His infinite, divine heart. In God's eyes, therefore, is expressed the idea of revelation, the reflecting, the making known, the conveying of what is in His heart. If you can read God's eyes, you can read what is in His heart with respect to you.
In the second place, the Scriptures teach us by this expression that the Lord beheld Noah, that as He looked at him and upon him there was grace in His eyes; and that this grace in Jehovah's eyes reflected what was in His inmost heart toward Noah. When the Scriptures speak of grace in God's heart toward anyone, this implies that there is a favorable attitude in God's heart toward that person. Thus, God was favorably disposed toward Noah. There was in God the desire to seek Noah and to do him good, to bring him into His fellowship, to bless him, to make him good and beautiful and blessed like Himself, and thus to cause Noah to taste and experience that the Lord is gracious.
There is still another element in this idea of God's grace, namely that when the object of that grace is a sinner, then the grace of God reveals itself as forgiving and delivering, that is, as undeserved, forfeited favor. Then the freedom and sovereignty of that grace of God appears and is emphasized by the state and condition of its object. Always God's grace is free and sovereign. Always it has its basis in God only. But when the recipient of that grace is a sinner, who has forfeited every possibility of that favor and who in himself deserves wrath and disfavor, then the freedom and sovereignty of God's grace stand in sharp relief. Thus it was with Noah. A sinner in himself, who deserved nothing but God's wrath, even as all the others, he found grace in the eyes of Jehovah.
In this light we can also understand that the name Jehovah is used here. There is a most beautiful connection. For this name emphasizes that God is the I AM, the independent and unchangeable One. He is the God who is unchangeably faithful, too, in His covenant lovingkindness and His grace toward His people in Christ Jesus. The favor, the desire to seek, the purpose to bless and to forgive and to deliver which shone in God's eyes toward Noah were eternal and unchangeable, the sure mercies of the faithful covenant God.
Now we are informed by Holy Writ that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This means more than that God was merely gracious to him. It tells us something about Noah and about the attitude and walk of Noah in the midst of the wicked world.For this expression presupposes, in the first place, that there was a longing in Noah's heart for God's grace. It implies, secondly, that there was a seeking, a searching, on Noah's part, to see whether there was any grace in the Lord's eyes toward him. It means that Noah was desirous to look into Jehovah's eyes, and that he earnestly longed to discover that those divine eyes were upon him in favor. It tells us that in the midst of the wicked world of that day there was one thing which was all-important to Noah, important above all else, so important that he could not do without it, namely, to find grace in the eyes of Jehovah. This implies, too, that it was Noah's desire and striving to be pleasing in God's sight, to walk in the path of His commandments and to do His will. For only such as are pleasing in His sight find favor in His eyes. Thus in this brief but significant characterization of Noah, he appears as an altogether singular character in the midst of the world of his day - the seed of the woman in the midst of the seed of the serpent.
Moreover, Noah found what hesought. Neither must we imagine that this finding grace in the eyes of Jehovah is some vaguely mystical thing which had no concrete reality in Noah's life. For the Lord's eyes, in as far as they reflect His inmost attitude to a man, are, of course, His revelation. When there is grace in the eyes of the Lord toward a man, it means that God makes known unto that man His grace, His purpose to save him and to bless him.It means that God causes that man actually to taste His favor, to know it by experience. This is precisely what God did to Noah. You can read of this in the context. God spoke to Noah. He made known to Noah His secrets. He revealed to him His covenant. The Word of His grace was, "But with thee do I establish my covenant!"
This Word of God's grace to Noah stands in stark contrast with what God revealed to him concerning the wicked world, "The end of all flesh is come before me.... Behold, I will destroy them with the earth." While toward the wicked world, who cared not for Jehovah, who were altogether unconcerned about finding favor in God's eyes, who went on in their wickedness and rebellion against God, who were even hardened in their wickedness through the striving of the Spirit, there shone no favor, but only wrath and consuming anger in God's eyes, Noah had the assurance of God's favor, a favor which would surely save him to the very end.
It was this assurance, which he sought and found and laid hold upon by
faith, that sustained him through all his experiences in the midst of that madly wicked
world, through all the mockery and reproach which he endured while he walked with God in
the midst of that world, while he preached righteousness, while by faith he built the ark,
and while by word and deed he condemned the wicked world.
The Reason for Noah's Finding Grace
In order to understand correctly the significance of the fact that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we must consider the cause, or reason, for this grace and for Noah's finding it. Did Noah find grace in the eyes of the Lord because he was better than all the world, or was Noah better because of God's grace? Which was first? Or, to put the question more directly: who was first, God or Noah?
Arminianism will answer: Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord because he was better than all the rest. Noah was first. God foresaw from eternity that Noah would be better than the rest of men, that Noah would believe, that Noah would be desirous of His favor; and so God also looked upon Noah in time as He foresaw him from eternity, and showed him favor. Thus, the grace in the eyes of the Lord was really caused by Noah. The grace in the eyes of the Lord was a matter of Noah's goodness and worthiness and a matter of his own accomplishment. As far as the meaning and significance of this history is concerned, this means that this is the history of man and of human accomplishment, not the wonderful work of God and the manifestation of the wonderwork of His grace.
But this is not according to reality. Noah was not better than the wicked world by nature. By nature he was a child of Adam, born in sin. He also, like all of mankind, was inclined to all evil. Even as he is portrayed here in Genesis he was not without sin. That in verse 9 he is described as a just man and perfect in his generations, a man who walked with God, does not at all mean that he was without sin and that he was in himself a worthy object of God's favor.
In the first place, those expressions have in general somewhat the same meaning as the term "saints" in the New Testament. They point to a fundamental spiritual difference between Noah and the wicked world. Noah was of the seed of the woman; the wicked world represented the seed of the serpent.
In the second place, whatever of goodness and righteousness and of "walking with God" there was in Noah was itself the product, the fruit, of the grace of God, not the cause.
In the third place, we know from subsequent history, namely, the incident of his drunkenness, just how imperfect Noah still was in himself. Now we must remember that God cannot be pleased with anything imperfect. He is the holy and righteous God. Nothing less than absolute perfection pleases Him. If one is to find favor in His eyes, therefore, he must indeed be perfect, one hundred percent perfect. But such perfection Noah did not have in himself.
The truth of the matter is that God indeed saw Noah from all eternity.
He saw him and chose him in Christ Jesus, and ordained him to be made like unto His Son.
As God saw Noah in Christ, He saw him as perfect, spotlessly perfect, and thus as the
object of His favor. Thus God looked upon Noah in time: in Christ, the Great Seed of the
woman who was to come - never separated from Him. Thus it is that Noah was perfect before
the Lord and the actual object of His eternal and sovereign grace! Thus the historical
appearance of Noah in the midst of the wicked world is clearly the revelation of the fact
that God maintains His own covenant and realizes His own promise. In Noah, the product of
sovereign grace, the protevangel is realized, "I will put enmity between thee and the
woman, and between thy seed and her seed...."
The Result of Noah's Finding Grace
The result is, as we have already suggested above, that on the scene of history Noah appears in the midst of all the wickedness of the world of his time as a righteous man, perfect among his generations, walking with God as His covenant friend. For from grace flows grace. Even as Noah was the object of God's favor, so he was the recipient of the blessings of grace. Grace operated as a power within him, delivering him from the power of sin, creating in him a new heart, producing in him a hatred of sin, a seeking of redemption and of forgiveness and righteousness and life, making him walk with God. He found grace in God's eyes, and he experienced that grace in his heart. Thus he was, by grace, perfect in his generations and walked with God. In all the world of his time, he was the exception of grace.
He had the victory. He was saved. Not only was the conflict which had been announced in the protevangel realized in Noah, but also the victory. God was displeased with the world, but He loved Noah. He was sorry that he made the world, but He rejoiced in Noah. He determined to destroy the world, but to save Noah.
We must not overlook the fact, in this connection, that in verse 9 of this chapter of Genesis a new section is begun: the generations, the toledoth, of Noah. Significantly, the preceding section (the generations of Adam) is closed by the statement, "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." And the new section is that of the "generations" of Noah. The line of the history of God's covenant, therefore, runs over Noah. The "generations of Adam" end in the victory which was realized in Noah in the Flood, the consummation of the prediluvian period - a victory of grace. But that consummation is not the final consummation of all things. It is not the final victory. Hence, even as at the end of this period Noah stands out as the exception of grace, and through grace receives the victory, so the line of the history of God's kingdom and covenant as it continues and is, in a relative sense, begun anew, runs over Noah and his seven, the church that is saved through judgment.
Significant it is, too, that in the opening section of the "generations" of Noah (6:9-22) mention is made for the first time in the Scriptures of God's covenant, and that, too, in a most beautiful way: God speaks with Noah as Friend to friend, and makes known to him the secrets of His covenant, His purpose to save His people and to destroy the wicked world. Nor must we overlook the fact that this covenant purpose is the controlling idea here. This is important. There is a certain tendency - possibly due to the fact that in connection with the history of the Flood there is a large measure of apologetics and polemics centering on the "historicity" of the Flood - there is a tendency to overlook the positive and fundamental significance of the history itself. That positive significance lies in the fact that with Noah God establishes His covenant, and that He does so all alone. If, in the light of the Scriptures, we are careful not to lose sight of this, but to construe all of the historical data and details connected with the Flood in terms of this great wonderwork of God, we will not approach the whole subject of the Flood with all kinds of doubts and problems.
In the first place, this is true as far as the historicity-question is concerned. The simple fact is that if one denies that this part of the Scriptures furnishes an account of history, but relegates this account to the sphere of the myth, he does not merely deny a set of historical facts and events and details; on the contrary, he denies the very gospel itself: "But with thee will I establish my covenant."
In the second place, if we understand that here we have the account of God's maintaining and realizing His covenant, and that this is the great work of God Himself, carrying out the Word of the protevangel, we will approach the entire subject of the Flood not with the doubts of unbelief, but with the certainty of faith. We will not begin with the question, "Could it be true?" or, "How could that possibly havebeen?" But we will begin with the certainty of faith, the certainty that whatever the Scriptures tell us here is true, because with the God of the eternal covenant of grace all things are possible.
Mr. Wigger is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
The council of the Hope PRC in Walker, MI formed a new trio of the Revs. B. Gritters, C. Haak, and J. Slopsema for minister-on-loan to our sister churches in Singapore. Plans called for a special congregational meeting on March 11, at which time a call would be extended to one of these men. (The call was extended to Rev. C. Haak - GVB)
Since receiving their last decline, the congregation of the Lynden, WA
PRC has extended a call to Rev. C. Terpstra to come over and help them. With him on that
trio were the Revs. K. Koole and R. VanOverloop.
The Theological School of our churches recently sponsored a public
lecture at the Southwest PRC in Grandville, MI. On February 22 Rev. Eugene Case, pastor of
the Presbyterian Church of Woodville, MS, spoke on "The Spirituality of the Church in
Southern Presbyterian Theology."
In late February Rev. R. Moore, our churches' missionary to Ghana, went to Nsualtre to give a speech to a group that is using our materials to teach their children catechism, and are also studying the Bible from the point of view of the Heidelberg Catechism. Rev. Moore went there not only to speak but also to encourage the group in the love of the true faith according to the Word of God, and to investigate the possibility of this area becoming a location for future mission work for our churches.
Rev. Moore also writes that the trip lasted a couple of extra days
because his car needed a new head gasket and he was not able to return home as planned. He
also writes that the bad mosquitoes seem to like him (are there any good mosquitoes?),
since he has malaria once again, but he also cautions us here in the States not to make
too much of it, since malaria is very treatable today.
Members from the Doon and Hull, Iowa PRCs, along with men from the Edgerton, MN PRC, make up the membership of a group known as the Reformed Witness Committee. Besides sponsoring area lectures and other related activities, they also sponsor a Bible Study during the school year at nearby Dordt College. The members of this Bible Study, as well as any other interested young person, were recently invited to a discussion of drama. Prof. H. Hanko, author of the pamphlet "The Christian and the Film Arts," and who was in the area to preach, had agreed to meet with them to lend his expertise to the question and discussion. They met at the Hull PRC on Sunday, February 25.
Rev. G. Eriks, pastor of the Loveland, CO PRC, along with Mr. Dave
Poortinga, continue to lead a Bible Study at the prison in Florence, CO. A recent bulletin
from Loveland indicated that seven men attended the last study and they had a lively
discussion on "Judging." Continue to pray for these inmates as they strive to
live as Christians in that ungodly environment.
Friday evening, February 23, and Saturday morning, February 24, members of the Georgetown PRC in Hudsonville, MI took part in what has become their annual Winter Retreat. As in the past, this year's retreat was held at Camp Geneva, on the ice covered shore of Lake Michigan, north of Holland.
About 120 people from Georgetown met Friday evening to hear their pastor, Rev. R. VanOverloop, speak to them on the theme, "The Christian Life." Also included in that evening's activities were discussion groups and singing. Then again on Saturday morning Georgetown was able once again to hear Rev. Van Overloop speak to them on that same theme. This was followed by a whole group discussion to round out the weekend.
Rev. B. Woudenberg, one of our denomination's retired pastors and now a member of the George-town PRC in Hudsonville, MI, has been leading a new Bible Study in Georgetown on the book of Romans, based on a series of sermons by Rev. Herman Hoeksema in the mid-thirties that were written down by Mr. Martin Swart.
The council of the Hudsonville, MI PRC continues to sponsor a separate worship service each week which may, the Lord willing, lead to the organization of a new daughter congregation later this spring. For the first three weeks of the proposed eight-week trial, the group averaged in size somewhere between 40 and 45 families, with over 30 of those coming from the Hudsonville congregation.
Where this all will lead, only the Lord knows, but I believe the new group would like to bring something regarding organization to the May meeting of Classis East - which means there is a lot of work to do, and many families have to decide soon on their future church membership. Do we stay in our current church home or join the new group? - never an easy decision to make.
Food For Thought
"The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God's people -strengthened by preaching and sacraments - go out of the church door into the world to be the Church. We don't go to church; we are the Church."
- Ernest Southcott
Last modified: 05-Apr-2001