Learn about the heritage of the Reformed Faith especially from the Synod of Dordt.
This pamphlet combines under one title what once were three separate pamphlets. Each of those three pamphlets in turn consisted of the text of an address by the late Homer C. Hoeksema at a 'Rally' held under the auspices of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. The first two were Reformation Rallies held in the old Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, MI, one in October of 1965 and the other in October of 1966. The third was held in South Holland, IL, in January of 1967.
After each lecture the Mission Committee of the PRC made the address available in printed, pamphlet form. The pamphlets, however, have long been out of print. Rediscovering them, and noting their relevance to the ecclesiastical scene today (some 25 years later), the Evangelism Committee of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church decided to reprint them under one title, 'Faith of Our Fathers Living Still''' and distribute them again for the benefit of those true sons and daughters of the Reformation who recognize that all is not well in Reformed Zion.
Indeed, if it was true in 1967 that grave dangers threatened the Reformed churches, how much more so today! This pamphlet therefore sounds a clarion call to all to whom the Reformation heritage remains precious above all else. The 'massive crisis' which Hoeksema saw looming for the Reformed churches 25 years ago is surely upon us. And the very real question for churches and denominations in the Reformed community today is whether they 'will continue in and according to that Reformed faith or not.'
We therefore echo the words of the author, in his Preface to the second pamphlet: 'It is my humble prayer that the King of His church may use these lines to awaken and stir up the true children of the Reformation, so that they may in these days of increasing apostasy heed their reformatory calling, and so that thus the church may be preserved in and called back to the precious heritage of the Reformed faith.'
Southeast Protestant Reformed Church
Beloved Children of the Reformation!
I address you as such because it is exactly my purpose to appeal to you in your capacity as heirs of the glorious heritage of the gospel, the faith once delivered to the saints, as preserved and passed on along the line of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. I do so, too, because by the grace of God I count myself a son of the Reformation, and count the churches who have called this rally as Reformation churches in the full and pure sense of that term. I am Protestant! And I am Reformed! And therein lies the point of contact between you and me.
We celebrate this year the 448th anniversary of an event that constituted the outburst of the Reformation-flame that set the whole Christian world ablaze. That event was the nailing of the ninety-five theses to the door of the castle-church in Wittenberg by Dr. Martin Luther, who had been roused to righteous indignation at the shameful selling of indulgences for the purpose of raising money for the pope's treasury. That event was but the outburst of the Reformation-flame that had first been kindled in Luther's own heart when he came to know, by way of the Scriptures, the blessedness and the peace of one who is justified by faith only—justified by a wonder of pure, sovereign grace. But that outburst of the Reformation-flame kindled the blaze of faith and fervour, of love and obedience to the Scriptures, of self-denial and cross-bearing, that has warmed one generation after another in many lands down to the present time.
No, we do not believe in hero worship. The world may have its heroes, and worship them. If we would do the same, we would thereby become unfaithful sons and daughters of that very Reformation that marked the end of the church's bondage in the sixteenth century. For neither Luther, nor Zwingli, nor Calvin, nor any of the lesser lights that shone in the firmament of church history at that time, or since that time, were the prime movers of the movement that has meant the church's liberty. On the, contrary, we all know that they were merely instruments. They were instruments prepared and called by Jesus Christ, the King of His church, by Him who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks and keeps the seven stars in His right hand.
Hence, we commemorate with thankfulness and with the purpose of renewed dedication the work of God, the God of our salvation, in preserving and enriching and revealing anew the glorious heritage of the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of the gospel. And therefore I can do no better than to call your attention to:
Our Reformed Heritage
Let us consider, first of all, wherein that heritage consists. I cannot describe it for you in full in this pamphlet. For it is so rich and so great that one could write a book on that heritage and not be finished. And therefore, for lack of time, I must limit myself and try to describe for you the main aspects of that heritage briefly.
The first and most basic aspect of that heritage is the Bible.
The two great reformers, Luther and Calvin, undoubtedly differed in various respects. But on this most basic aspect of our heritage they were certainly agreed.
They agreed, in the first place, on the absolute authority of Holy Scripture. This is the principle that there is no other authority ultimately for doctrine or for life, for faith or for practice, than Holy Scripture, and that too, because Holy Scripture is the infallibly inspired Word of God. Hence, it is characteristic of children of the Reformation, as one of our creeds has it, to 'believe without any doubt all things contained in' the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. In the second place, this implies the truth of the necessity of Holy Scripture, the principle that without Scripture and apart from Scripture the truth concerning the God of our salvation can neither be known nor maintained. And, in the third place, the Reformers were agreed on the truth of the clarity, or perspicuity, of Holy Scripture. This principle implies that the text of the Bible is clearly understandable as far as the truth of God's revelation is concerned, so that any child of God, any believer, can read and understand the Bible in its clear and unequivocal meaning. Moreover, this implies that the text of Holy Scripture has but one meaning fundamentally. Besides, it implies that in the reading and interpretation of Scripture every believer is independent of any institution, that he may even oppose that institute, because all believers have the Spirit of Christ.
On these matters, I say, the Reformers were thoroughly agreed.
And in this sense, therefore, the Reformation restored the Bible to the people of God.
This is basic! For, as is plain from the last part of Ephesians 2, the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. Take that Bible away, therefore, or distort it, or deny its absolute and complete authority or its infallibility, and you attack the very basis, the very foundation, of the church's heritage!
The second and most central aspect of the contents of our Reformed heritage is the truth of sovereign, particular grace.
Again, Luther and Calvin may have differed in various aspects. They may have differed in their approach. They undoubtedly differed in their personal history. But let us clearly understand that Martin Luther with his 'by faith only' and John Calvin with his 'by grace only' were essentially agreed. That is very plain from Ephesians 2. I refer especially to verses 8 and 9: 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.'
Sometimes this central aspect of our Reformation heritage is remembered under the figure of a tulip, the TULIP of the Five Points of Calvinism, which I shall call the FLOWER OF THE REFORMATION. Let us look at that flower.
It has five petals, which spell the name T-U-L-I-P. Those petals are:
1) TOTAL DEPRAVITY. This is the truth that man, apart from the regenerating grace of God, is by nature incapable of doing any good and prone to all evil. It is the truth that the natural man cannot, and will not, and cannot will to do anything but sin.
2) UNCONDITIONAL ELECTI0N (and with it, necessarily, the truth of sovereign, righteous reprobation).This is the truth that God from eternity and in absolute sovereignty chose certain definite persons unto everlasting life and glory in Christ Jesus, and that He chose, in fact, an entire church in Christ Jesus. But along with this truth, inseparably connected with it, is the truth that God in absolute sovereignty destined the others, those whom He did not choose, unto eternal damnation in the way of their own sin and unbelief.
3) LIMITED ATONEMENT. This is the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for His sheep, thereby bringing the sacrifice of infinite value that made complete satisfaction of the justice of God with respect to all the sins of His people, and thereby obtaining for them all, and for them only, all the blessings of salvation.
4) IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. This fourth petal is the truth that God through the Spirit of Christ regenerates and by the Word of the gospel sovereignly and unconditionally and effectually bestows the gift of saving faith, of repentance and conversion, together with all the benefits of salvation, upon His elect people by a wonder of grace, a wonder that is in no sense dependent upon the will of man.
5) PRESERVATION AND PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. This fifth petal of the Reformation Tulip is the truth that God surely preserves all His people, so that there is no falling away from grace, and so that His people persevere unto the end, endure temptation, overcome it, fight the battle of faith, and obtain the final victory in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Such is the beautiful Flower of the Reformation!
Let us take careful note of this beautiful flower, and notice that it is a flower; it is one. If you pluck one petal off, or injure it, you do not only spoil that one petal and destroy its beauty. But by plucking off a petal, that is, by denying one of these truths, or by damaging a petal, that is, by compromising one of these truths, you spoil the entire flower! You spoil its beauty. You leave the flower incomplete. The whole flower will surely wilt and die!
Our Reformed fathers—let me say in parentheses—saw this very clearly, particularly with respect to the petal of Unconditional Election. They expressed this somewhat differently, by saying that election is the heart of the church. They meant by this that in all the life of the church and in all the structure of the faith, of the truth, the pulse of election must beat strong! If it does not, you may be sure that there is heart trouble! And heart trouble is serious: it can be fatal!
But permit me to carry that figure of a flower farther for a moment. For, after all, there is something rather tragic about a mere cut flower. Let us note that the stem on which that flower is borne is the Word of God. And the bulb, or root, which produces that flower is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, the Christ of the Scriptures, in all His fullness. And the ground out of which it is produced is the eternal, sovereign good pleasure of the Triune God.
Finally, let me stretch that figure of a flower one bit farther, in order to picture to you the third aspect of our precious heritage. Out of that flower develops fruit, fruit that redounds to the glory of the God of our salvation.
For the Reformation emphasized anew and further developed the truth that is also taught in Ephesians 2: 'For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them' (v. 10). It emphasized anew the calling of God's people unto spiritual separation, the calling to be pilgrims and strangers in the world, the calling to be and to shine as lights in the midst of darkness. It stressed and taught anew the calling of God's people to put on no unequal yoke with unbelievers. It called upon God's people to fulfil their part of the covenant of grace, as being of the party of the living God in the midst of the world. In a word, it stressed the calling of God's people to live and to walk in every sphere of life as those who have all things in common with the wicked, except grace.
And the purpose of this emphasis on the peculiar calling of God's people in the midst of the world is exactly that they might show forth the praises of Him that called them out of darkness into His marvellous light!
Such is our Reformation heritage!
Let me briefly emphasize the preciousness of that heritage.
That heritage is precious because it means, as our Reformed fathers often said, that God is the Beginning, the Middle, and the End of all our salvation. It is precious, too, because for the people of God that pure, unadulterated faith once delivered to the saints means solid, immovable assurance and comfort, comfort that is founded on the Rock of our salvation. That heritage is precious because it is the very essence of that only comfort in life and death of which our famous comfort-book, the Heidelberg Catechism, speaks.
That, then, is our heritage.
It has come down to us in the Scriptures.
It was preserved and emphasized anew in the Reformation.
It was transmitted at the expense of reproach and persecution, loss of goods and of wealth, of name and place and of very life, transmitted in the face of fierce enemies, from the Reformation, along the line of the famous Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-1619, through the Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands, and again through the separation known as the Doleantie in 1886.
And I tell you that I, that we, of the Protestant Reformed Churches, having and loving that heritage, as a gift of God, in all its purity, without reservation and without adulteration, count it a high privilege and responsible calling of God to remind you, as children of the Reformation, of the preciousness of that Reformation heritage!
Today, when one looks about him on the ecclesiastical scene, he is inclined to lament with the prophet of old, 'How is the gold become dim!'
Indeed, dating back to the time of the Reformation there are many, many churches. Historically, there are many would-be sons of the Reformation. But there is very, very little esteem any longer for that precious heritage!
Moreover, it is plain to see that there are grave dangers threatening. No, the cause of God is not threatened! God will certainly maintain His own cause. Whether He maintains His cause through us, or through others, He will surely maintain it. Of that you may be sure. Never fear! But there are dangers threatening us and threatening our generations in the possession of that heritage, dangers against which we, by the grace of God, must fight!
Let me briefly mention some of those dangers which threaten. They are easily recognized, and you will know from their very mention whether or not they are threatening.
There is, in the first place, the danger of ecumenicalism, which has all regard for outward unity, but no regard for the real unity of the church in Christ, namely, unity in the truth and unity in confession.
Secondly, there is the danger of the denial of Scripture. In our pseudo-scientific age this threatening danger becomes manifest, for example, in various attempts to deny or to compromise the Genesis record. Or it becomes manifest in an outright denial of the infallibility of the Scriptures. Another manifestation of this threatening denial of the authority of Scripture is the astounding degree of doctrinal tolerance that is prevalent today—a tolerance that can recognize as 'Christian' the most blatant contradictions of the truth as it is revealed in Scripture.
In the third place, there is a very real danger of anticonfessionalism. This danger becomes manifest in the attitude that calls our confessions, the very embodiment of our heritage, archaic documents, good for another age but out-of-date today. It becomes manifest in the attitude that refuses to abide by those confessions, that calls for new formulations, and that sometimes engages in the most open contradiction of those confessions.
There is, in the fourth place, the deadly danger of Arminian free-willism. From this quarter have always come the most consistent and the most dangerous attacks. This has been true everywhere, but especially on the American ecclesiastical scene. Arminianism always aims at the destruction of the truth of sovereign grace and sovereign predestination. It always takes the form of a generalizing of the gospel. It proclaims a grace of God for all men and a Christ for all men. I warn you that it seeks to cut off every one of the petals of the beautiful flower of the Reformation! Our Reformed fathers considered it so dangerous that they composed an entire creed, the Canons of Dordrecht, against this heresy; and they pledged every Reformed minister of the gospel to exert himself to expose these errors of Arminianism and to warn the children of the Reformation against them.
A fifth threatening danger is that of apathy. This apathy among those who are historically the children of the Reformation assumes in our day especially three forms. There is the apathy that arises from and becomes manifest in total ignorance and indifference with respect to the truths of our heritage and the preciousness of that heritage. A second form of ecclesiastical and doctrinal apathy finds expression in the slogan, 'My church, right or wrong!' And yet another form of that same apathy finds expression in the motto, 'Peace at any price!'
Finally, I would warn against the danger of world-conformity. We live in an age when it seems that Christians are very loathe to be a spiritually separate people and very eager to make common cause with the world, to imitate the world, in almost every sphere and relationship of life. One wonders how it will be with such Christians in the age of the final manifestation of the Antichrist, when men shall not be able to buy or to sell unless they have the mark of the beast in their right hands or in their foreheads. And remember: Scripture tells us that the end of all things is at hand!
With regard to these things, what, we may ask, is our calling? In general, I would state that calling as follows.
First of all, as far as the churches of the Reformation are concerned, their only salvation ecclesiastically is not to compromise when that heritage is concerned. They must actually be what they are, that is, Reformed!
Secondly, as far as the children of the Reformation are concerned (the members of those churches of the Reformation), their solemn calling in the midst of the world and in the midst of the church—and, if need be, over against the church—is to manifest themselves as faithful sons and daughters of the Reformation. And how shall they so manifest themselves? If they are indeed sons and daughters of the Reformation, they will count their Reformation heritage precious above all else; and as a result they will hold fast to it, hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints—again, without compromise!
In particular, this implies several elements.
In the first place, it is the sole calling of the church to preach the Word and to expound the Scriptures, and that too, without any human admixture and adulteration, and in full harmony with our Reformation (our Reformed) confessions.
The children of the Reformation, in the second place, have a very personal responsibility and calling in this respect. They are called, for one thing, to know, to be convinced of, and to be thoroughly founded in and to stand in the truth of our heritage. They are called, too, to preserve and to maintain that truth of our heritage, the only truth of the Word of God and of our confessions, over against every attack that is made upon it.
Moreover, as children of the Reformation you are obligated to call the whole church—and particularly your own church, if need be—to repent and to return to the truth. And in this respect the children of the Reformation must be willing to be militant, to fight, and, if need be, to exercise their God-given right of reformation in the church.
I know: such a course is not easy, and it is not pleasant, and it is not popular today. There is far too much of the attitude which would leave these matters to certain 'leaders' or to leave differences involving our heritage at the level of mere discussion and propaganda. But the sons and daughters of the Reformation must do more than that. They must let their voices be heard ecclesiastically!They must not fall victim to the pessimism that gives up and that says it is hopeless to maintain and to fight for that heritage. I tell you that if that had been the attitude of Luther or of Calvin or of our Reformed fathers of the past, there would never have been a Reformation! And if that attitude continues to prevail today, and sons and daughters of the Reformation are fearful to speak out ecclesiastically, then that heritage will soon be gone and forgotten. It will be forfeited!
And, finally, it is the calling of the children of the Reformation to seal all this by a spiritually separate walk in the midst of the world. They must be willing to walk as strangers and pilgrims in the earth.
There are three things I wish to mention in conclusion.
In the first place, our Protestant Reformed Churches stand ready to give to any who will stand foursquare on and for the heritage support, counsel, and, if need be, ecclesiastical shelter. We will exercise fellowship with you in the unity of the faith. We have and we love that heritage of the Reformation in all its purity. I say this not in pride, not in boasting. For what we are and what we have as churches is by the grace of God! We have nothing of which to boast, except in the Lord.
In the second place, let me sound a word of caution. Your actions as sons and daughters of the Reformation affect not only yourselves, but they affect your generations. They affect your children and your children's children! And remember, the church in its generations has never yet stood still, either in the line of the truth or in the line of error.
Finally, let me sound a word of encouragement in the struggle, the encouragement of our Lord Himself. That word is this: 'In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!'
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
May God grant this! Amen.
Beloved Children of the Reformation!
In this pamphlet I wish to write not only to you, but about you. This you may have gathered from my subject already. It is not my chief purpose to deal with the Reformation and the Reformers, however necessary and instructive that may be. It is rather my purpose to write about the children, the spiritual children, of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, in the historical line of which all Protestant churches, to one degree or another, stand. And all that I have to say may really be summed up under the one main question: who and what are the Children of the Reformation?
However, my purpose in talking about you to you is practical. That practical purpose is: self-examination.
There are, I would say, four kinds of children of the Reformation. In the first place, you could speak of historical children of the Reformation. They belong, probably by birth, to some church which historically is an offshoot of Protestantism. But they do not care about their relation to the Reformation, and they probably even resent it and certainly are not concerned about it. In the second place, you can speak of traditional children of the Reformation. They belong to a church which to some degree still confesses the great truths of the Reformation and of our Reformed heritage; but they are themselves dead and utterly unconcerned about their Reformation heritage. They probably even chafe at its supposedly narrow restraints, and frequently they openly express themselves as desiring to get rid of those restraints. In the third place, there are slumbering children of the Reformation, who are at heart true children of the Reformation. But they have become drowsy or have even fallen fast asleep; and they are, therefore, themselves in great danger because they are out of touch with reality. They are, moreover, also instrumental in bringing the church in the midst of the world into grave danger. Such slumbering children must, of course, be awakened—and they will be, too, if they are true children of the Reformation. Finally, there are the true, lively, alert children of the Reformation, to whom their heritage is dear, to whom their heritage is a matter of a lively faith, and who strive to live and to manifest themselves in the midst of the church and in the midst of the world as children of the Reformation, unabashedly and without compromise.
With respect to the above fourfold classification, let us each one ask himself the question: who am I, and what am I?
If we are anything but that last class that I have mentioned, may we be pricked into recognizing ourselves for what we are, and pricked thereby into repentance before the face of God. And if, by the grace of God, we may belong to that host of God who are the true and live children of the Reformation today, may we be encouraged and heartened and moved to an ever greater faithfulness and zeal.
With that practical purpose in mind, I call your attention to:
The Children of the Reformation
I would say, briefly, that a Reformatory heart is a heart that is gripped by what has come to be known as the 'material principle' of the Reformation. It has become rather common to speak of that material principle. With reference to Luther that material principle of the Reformation is said to have been the truth of justification by faith, or, more simply, by faith only. And in Calvin's case, which is essentially the same, we say that that material principle came to a fuller and richer expression in the term 'by grace only;' or, more specifically, in the expression, 'the absolute sovereignty of God;' or, more specifically still, 'the truth of God's sovereign, particular grace,' summed up in the well-known Five Points of Calvinism.
But put that way, in terms of a 'material principle,' I think the matter is rather cold and formal and abstract; and it does not really explain very much. It does not tell us what actually happened in the Reformation. It does not tell us what is essential to all reformation, also today, and what is characteristic of the children of the Reformation today. Hence, I would take you back for a moment into history, in order to face this question and find an answer to it: what is it that actually happened in the Reformation, and what is essential to all reformation?
This is illustrated in the case of Martin Luther.
We may ask the question: what moved Martin Luther to do what he did? What moved him to break with the church in which he was born and baptized and brought up? That is a serious matter! To break with one's church is never an insignificant thing, except for those indifferent natures like an Esau or a Gallio. What moved Luther to break with the church which was his spiritual mother, and apart from which—according to the doctrine of the day—there was no salvation, so that to a faithful and true son of the church eternal life or eternal death depended on one's connection with that only church as an institution? What moved Luther to break—though that church was the only church that existed at the time, so that if he broke, it was incumbent upon him to conceive of and to establish something different in its stead?
The answer to this question lies in the personal history of Martin Luther himself, first of all.
There was a tremendous break in the personal life of Luther which lay back of his break with the church.
Luther had a problem, a deep problem, a soul-problem. That problem was: how can my sins be forgiven? How can I be justified before God, so that I may have eternal life? That was his question!
To that question the church answered him: you can obtain forgiveness and peace by self-denial and self-torment. And Luther himself says: 'I tormented myself to death to make peace with God.' But he found no peace.
The church answered: you can find forgiveness and peace by making a pilgrimage to Rome and doing homage to the pope. He went thither as early as 1511—in vain.
They answered: you can obtain forgiveness, and thereby peace, by buying indulgences, signed declarations of the church, of the pope, guaranteeing forgiveness and deliverance from the torments of purgatory. No doubt, as many others did, Luther tried that too in—vain.
And then, having been urged to read the Bible by a town preacher at Erfurt, and with the question of his soul ever more urgent because of the sudden death of his friend, who was struck by lightning, and because of a dangerous illness that had attacked himself, Martin Luther found at last in a cloister, under the dust, safely locked to a chain, a volume of Scripture. And there he found the answer to his question for the first time: 'The just shall live by faith!' He did not yet realize it. As yet he had made no personal application of that truth; he did not, in fact, until after his visit to the seat of Roman supremacy. There at Rome he was astounded and shocked by the corruption of the church; and he returned home deeply hurt and thoroughly dissatisfied in his soul, pondering all the time the question, 'How can I be justified before my God?'
Then it was, finally, that those old words rushed back to his soul, now in their full force and significance: 'The just shall live by faith!'
Right there and then, justified by the faith that is in Jesus Christ, Martin Luther had become a different man, far different than he himself was aware of at the moment. The break had been accomplished—the break that was necessary, should a public rupture with the church ever be realized. It is that break in Luther's soul, in his heart, in his personal life, that accounts historically for all that followed.
The same was true of John Calvin.
The manner was a bit different, and the form of that break may have been different. There was more than one reason for this; but we need not enter into these reasons at the moment. (We must remember that Calvin did not stand at the beginning of the Reformation, but he stood in the light of Luther.) But the manner and the form and the circumstances were such that they caused John Calvin to see and to develop as never before the truth that God is God the truth of the sovereign God of our salvation, the truth of the God of sovereign, particular grace.
But what took place in Calvin's case was essentially the same as it was with Luther.
Just ask the question: what was it that moved John Calvin? What was it that moved him to risk his life already in France, his homeland? What was it that moved him to forsake all, to flee his fatherland, and to go to Geneva? What was it that moved him to listen to William Farel's urgings and to stay at Geneva to teach and to preach? What was it that moved him in the face of the Libertine enemies at Geneva to protect the sanctity of the table of the Lord with his own body, even in the face of the sword? What was it that called him back to Geneva after he had been banished and that moved him to bum up his life and all his energies in the cause of the church and the cause of the academy there at Geneva?
The answer is the same.
It was the truth of the gospel: the gospel of justification by faith; the gospel that God is absolutely God, the sovereign; the gospel that salvation is of the Lord, of free, sovereign grace! That truth of the gospel, that faith of our fathers, that material principle of the Reformation, as it is called, had a grip—a singular, exclusive, all consuming grip—on their hearts! It made them say, in the language of Psalm 46: 'The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge!' It made them say in the language of the forty-eighth Psalm: 'This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death!'
And the same is true of any reformation that ever was or that ever will be. It was true of any reformation that took place in biblical times in the old dispensation already. It was true of the thousands upon thousands in Europe who were awakened through the instrumentality of a Luther and a Calvin. It has been true ever since the Reformation in all the minor reformations that have taken place when Protestantism developed and when departures from the faith began to make their appearance, down to the present, where we stand today!
Let us analyse this for a moment with application to ourselves as children of the Reformation.
It means, in the first place—and this is central—that the work of reformation, all reformation, is not first of all the work of men, but of Almighty God, the God of His church. This distinguishes, in principle, all reformation from revolution. Revolution is always the work of men, mere men, sinful men. Reformation is always the work and accomplishment of God, who through His Spirit and Word calls and prepares the reformers, whether they be the leading lights of any reformation or whether they be the 'little people' of a reformation. God calls them to a superhuman task, a task that no mere man can accomplish.
That is the only way you can explain the Reformation. It was not because Luther was a hardheaded German. It was not because John Calvin was a hot-blooded Frenchman. It was not because our Dutch forefathers were stubborn Dutchmen. It was not because they were rugged individualists with a new idea. It was because God Himself apprehended them in their hearts with the irresistible conviction of the truth of the gospel, so that it became all-important to them. That is the essence of reformation.
That means, in the second place, that the children of the Reformation have a reformatory heart and that this reformatory heart is a single heart. They are not double-hearted. A doublehearted man, the Bible tells us, is unstable in all his ways. He is a man who halts between two opinions. Such a man can never have a part in reformation. From the heart are the issues of life. And if a man is double-hearted, he is double in his thinking and double in his willing and double in his desiring. The result is that today he seems to be for God's cause, and tomorrow he appears as being for the cause of the world. Today he stands for the truth; tomorrow he flops over to the lie of human philosophy. Today he stands for the kingdom of God; tomorrow you find him joining the world in the vain attempt to cleanse the well by washing the pump-handle. Today he stands with you; tomorrow he stands with the opponent. And especially in times of stress, when opposition becomes strong, when the enemy threatens, when self-denial is demanded, when it becomes mandatory to suffer in the cause of Christ, a double-hearted man will ultimately not go along with you. That is definitely not the stuff of which children of the Reformation are made.
Children of the Reformation are single-hearted. They have a heart that is single for good. That, you understand, is a regenerated heart, a heart that is born from above, a gift of sovereign grace. That is a heart, too, that has been grafted into Christ, that lives by faith out of Christ. It is a heart that has said farewell to the devil and to the kingdom of the devil and to the methods of the devil and to the lie of the devil, in order to cling to Christ, the revelation of the God of our salvation. It is a heart that has been gripped, apprehended, by the grace of God, by the faith of the gospel, a heart that is single with love for God's kingdom, for His cause, for His church, for His truth, for His precepts. It is a heart that is dominated exclusively by one principle, controlling all of a man's thoughts and all his desires, and all his strivings and all his actions.
For as a man's heart is, so is he! Such are the children of the Reformation!
It is sometimes said that the formal principle of the Reformation is the authority of the Word of God, of the Scriptures, and its twin principle is the office of all believers. And this is true.
But again, when you put the matter of the principle of the Reformation in that form, there is something abstract and very formal and cold about it. It does not quite express the idea of reformation; nor does it express the real character of children of the Reformation.
We must understand that reformation inevitably involves conflict. You can never avoid that. There has never been a reformation without conflict. In the second place, reformation not only involves conflict; but in one degree or another, to one extent or another, reformation involves necessarily conflict with authorities, primarily church authorities. This also is inevitable in all reformation; you cannot avoid it. And the question is: is that right? Is it right to stand in conflict with the authorities in the church? Is that not revolution? What is the difference in this respect between reformation and revolution?
It is important to know this difference!
It is important to know because if there is one thing of which we, as children of the Reformation, must be absolutely certain, it is this, that we are not revolutionaries. We must be certain that when we are engaged in the work of reformation, we are engaged in the work of God, not the work of man. It is important to know this also from the practical point of view in this respect, that as a child of the Reformation you will exactly be accused of being a malcontent, a rebel, a troubler of Israel (as Ahab accused Elijah), a policeman, a narrow-minded, bigoted, stubborn, sectarian, heresy-hunting troublemaker! You had better believe it! As surely as you are a child of the Reformation, you will hear that! What are you going to say? What is going to be your position then? What is going to be your assurance?
There is no doubt about it: revolution is always wrong, and reformation is always right! And you had better be right!
To see the difference, I ask you to go back with me once more to the history of the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
When once that break was accomplished in Martin Luther’s own soul, it was but inevitable, you understand, that when that shameless monk, Tetzel, came to town selling the pope’s indulgences, Martin Luther was going to nail his ninety-five theses to the door of the castle-church in Wittenburg. That was inevitable, as soon as that break took place in his soul. And that nailing of the theses was an act of protest and an act of reformation.
Yet that was not the actual break, historically. The actual break did not come immediately then, but some time later. It took time.
First the attempt was made quietly to persuade and to soothe the aroused Luther. His righteous indignation was not to be allayed. Then the attempt was made to squelch him by high-handed methods and by threats. There was also a lengthy attempt to defeat him by debate: and there were the famous debates between Luther and a certain Von Eck. All those attempts only served to sharpen Luther and to bring his reformatory consciousness to clearer development and his awareness of the truth and of his own righteousness to clearer light, as his writings in the period from 1517 to 1521 plainly show. Finally, the papal bull arrived, condemning Martin Luther as a heretic and banning him and his teachings from the church. When it arrived, Martin Luther announced that he would burn it in the public marketplace. And when the set time came, he went out at the head of a procession of his students, and he did so: he burned it. Thereby he plainly showed that he was fully conscious of his position; and by this act he very graphically demonstrated that his conscience had been liberated from the yoke of the papacy and that he acknowledged the authority of the Romish institute no more.
If you would know why, then you must go along with me to the Diet of Worms. In that august assembly were gathered the pope and the emperor and all the great and noble of church and state. On a table are piled Luther's books, his alleged heretical writings. And when he is placed before the demand to recant, he answers by asking for time for consideration. This was a crucial moment, both for Luther and for the Reformation. But soon he returns. He speaks at length to the Diet. And finally he challenges them to prove either by Scripture or by sound arguments derived from Holy Scripture that he was wrong. And, that being impossible, he spoke clearly, his voice ringing through the assembly hall, the famous words: 'Here I stand. I can do nought else. God help me. Amen.'
There is your answer.
That is the same principle that you find in Calvin and in all reformation down to the present time, the principle that has always moved and attracted the faithful people of God in times of apostasy and reformation. It is the principle of obedience to the absolute authority of the Word of God.
What does that mean?
It implies much more than a mere acknowledgment of the doctrine of the inspiration and infallibility and sufficiency of the Scriptures. The latter is important: for this is fundamental doctrine. But this is not enough.
Reformatory obedience means that in all your doctrine and with respect to all your practice, or life, you are obedient to the supreme authority of that Word of the Scriptures only. Reformatory obedience means, in the second place, that you apply to everything—in your personal faith, in your life and walk, in your church and its preaching, in your school and its teaching, in your ecclesiastical assemblies and their pronouncements and decrees—apply stringently the test of the Word only. It means, in the third place, that what stands that test you approve, and that whatever cannot meet that test you reject and disapprove. And it means, in the fourth place—because all this brings you into conflict—it means that whenever it becomes a choice between bowing to the authority of that Word or bowing to the authority of the institute of the church, even if ultimately that means that you must break, as Luther did, with a given institution, you always resolutely choose the former and reject the latter.
You see why, do you not?
When things become a question of obedience to the authority of the Word of God, they become a question of obedience to GOD! That is why Luther did not merely say, 'I will do nought else,' or, 'I do do nought else,' but, 'I can do nought else.' It was impossible for him!
This reformatory obedience is the inalienable right, by grace, but also the sacred calling, of every true child of the Reformation!
This already means that the child of the Reformation exercises discernment.
Discernment means that you understand the times. Discernment means that you are acquainted with what is going on, that it does not go past you. You make it your business to know what is going on. Discernment means, in the second place, that you are acquainted with the views and the ideals, the movements and the tendencies and the aspirations, and the conditions and spirit of the times and of the events of the times. And discernment means, in the third place, that to those events and that spirit and condition of the times you apply the test of the Word of God, and, applying that test, are able to pass judgment with a view to the spirit of the times. It means that you are able to answer the question, 'Is that a right spirit, or is it a wrong one? Is it in harmony with the Word of God, or is it opposed to it? Is it something I must go along with, or is it something that I must oppose?' That is discernment!
Such discernment is necessary.
If Luther had not understood his times and seen that there was something thoroughly corrupt in what Tetzel was doing, if he had not seen that his mother church was altogether wrong and that he, Luther, was right, there could have been no Reformation. There would have been no ninety-five theses. There would have been no burning of the papal bull. There would have been no solemn declaration at Worms.
The same is true today. Discernment determines whether one will go along and help with the tendencies of the times, or whether he feels it his calling to oppose, even though he must stand all alone.
Such discernment is not so easy to exercise.
I know, in the fundamental sense, principally, it is very easy. It is easy because we have a clear test, the test of the perspicuous Scriptures, which even the simplest child of God can apply. It is easy, too, because the truth of the gospel, as over against the lie, is always very simple and clear. It is not involved, but simple, very simple. And it is easy, too, because all God's children—not just a Luther or a Calvin—all God's children have the anointing of the Holy One, and principally they know all things.
But from a practical point of view, such discernment can be very difficult. It is easy to look back upon the past. We can look back today and see very plainly that Luther was all right and that Rome was all wrong. But when you are in the present, and when there is a certain spirit pervading everything, and when the tide is against you, and when perhaps your leaders fail to lead you, or even mislead you, and when the majority goes along with the current of the times, and when they taunt you and reproach you for being 'narrow' and insistent—then, I say, from a practical point of view, when sometimes virtually the whole church can be arrayed against you, discernment and the exercise of discernment are not so easy. But say it you must: 'I am right. I am right because I have the Word of God on my side.'
From that point of view, these are dreadfully serious times!
If you have discernment, spiritual discernment, if you have eyes to see, you will soon perceive that all is not well in Zion today by any means, not any more than it was 449 years ago. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that is fast becoming ashamed of the authority of the Word of God and fast becoming addicted to unbelieving criticism and human reason. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that has, for the most part, become tired of that beautiful and sharply defined heritage of the Reformation; a church that has become either thoroughly modem or vaguely evangelical and universalistic—frequently in the name of that insidious excuse of 'relevance' and 'communicating to the twentieth century man.' You know, the twentieth century man is no different than the man of the sixteenth century essentially. He is just as totally depraved. He is just as much in need of pure, sovereign grace!
If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that is 'ecumenically minded'—interested not in the unity of the faith, but in union—and that increasingly sacrifices its Reformation confessions upon the altar of church union. You will behold a church that hankers after the World Council and after Consultation on Church Union. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church today that despises the day of little things, that is interested in bigness, in a power-structure, in having a place in the ecclesiastical sun, that desires recognition from the world. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that makes common cause with the humanistic social gospel of modernism which even the world will embrace, a church that finds its interests and its calling in international affairs, in politics, in poverty programs, in civil rights and civil disobedience. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that has forsaken the spiritual isolation of the absolute antithesis, that has erased the lines of demarcation between church and world, between light and darkness, in virtually every sphere of life, and that finds much 'good' in this world, and that—on the pretext of 'witnessing'—is more conformed to this world than transformed according to the mind of Christ. If you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that is cooperating in the building of a kingdom of the false prophet of Revelation 13, rather than seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
In a word, if you have eyes to see, you will behold a church that is essentially shot through with Pelagianism. And if you do not know what that means, it means simply this, that everything revolves about man, not about God. Nor need you look far afield to discover these things today. You can discover them right in the Reformed community—in your own churches and in your own church denominations.
From the above it is plain that the third main characteristic of a child of the Reformation is that he is militant, that he is marked by a reformatory militance.
Children of the Reformation are militant!
Luther was militant. Calvin was militant. They took a stand. They protested. They protested even at the expense of being cast out. Well, we are Protestants. We are Protestants—only today we have largely forgotten our name. To be Protestant means that you not only hold the truth yourself, but that you protest! You are a protester! It means that you stand foursquare over against the lie and against all corruption in the church.
This implies, briefly, that you recognize that there is a battle to be fought. The church is militant! It sees that the world is not a playground, but a battlefield. It always has been; and it will be to the end of the age. We must not listen to those in the church, plagued with a sickly tolerance of everything but the truth, who cry, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. In the second place, militance means that you are ready for the battle: a battle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. It is a battle that requires not human might, but the power of the Spirit and the whole armour of God the armour of which, according to Ephesians 6, the girdle of the truth is the unifying element. And do not forget, let me say in parentheses, that the buckle of that belt is the truth of sovereign predestination. That holds the belt together. This militance implies, in the third place, that you keep rank. You are not a number of scattered soldiers, but you stand shoulder to shoulder with all everywhere who profess like precious faith with you. You stand in the unity of the faith.
If such militance means internal conflict in your church, so be it. If it means separating and affiliating yourself elsewhere, thus let it be. That is not my point now. My point is that we must be reformatory!If that means that you seek our fellowship and counsel and leadership, then I want you to know that we extend that fellowship to all who hold the Reformed heritage dear. But again, that is not at present my point. I want to emphasize that militant children of the Reformation stand in the unity of the faith, whatever the manifestation of such unity is and whatever the consequences may be.
In conclusion, let me point out two things.
The first is this: I have brought you in this pamphlet nothing but the truth of the Word of God. Let me point you to but one passage. There is a striking parallel between the description of the children of the Reformation as I have given it and the scriptural picture of the 'host of God' that came to David at Hebron, according to I Chronicles 12:32 and 33. You read of them that they were men which had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; they were expert in war, with all instruments of war; they were able to keep rank; and they were not of a double heart.
And in the second place, this: yours, children of the Reformation, is the victory! You may go under in this world. Your lot will be reproach and shame and sacrifice and even persecution. But the victory is sure! The church is surely preserved! For the Lord of hosts is our God; and the God of Jacob is our help. We are more than conquerors. Amen.
Beloved Brethren and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ!
I would like to begin with just a few words about my approach to the subject matter of this pamphlet. In the first place, I want to say that I address you as heirs and lovers of the heritage of the Reformed faith. In the second place, that also holds for myself. I address you as one who counts himself, by the grace of God, an heir of that heritage and a lover of it. And in the third place, as far as my approach is concerned, I write as a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and as such, as a member of what has come to be known rather generally as the Reformed community, and as one who is concerned about the crisis in which that Reformed community at large finds itself today.
I also wish to say a few words by way of introduction about my subject. Then I would like to have it understood, first of all, that to me the Reformed faith is the faith of the gospel, and that too in its purest and most richly developed form according to the Scriptures. That in itself already makes the subject worthwhile. That makes it worthwhile in the deepest sense of the word because that means that the cause of God's church, the cause of God's Zion, the cause that is incomparably bigger and of greater significance than any human institution of the church, is at stake in the consideration of this subject.
My subject, as is plain, also presupposes the idea that the Reformed faith is in crisis, that it faces a crisis. It presupposes therefore the thought that this is a time to speak out, not to keep silence. That is the nature of a crisis. It is a time to warn. It is a time to counsel, and advise, and let our testimony upon the basis of the Word of God, our witness, be heard. That also presupposes that we believe that we have something to say, and that we have something that should be heard, and something that should be heeded. And that, by the grace of God, I certainly believe with all my heart.
With that in mind, I ask your attention for the subject, ''The Reformed Faith in Crisis.' And I call your attention to this subject under the following divisions:
The Reformed Faith in Crisis
What do we mean by that? I would describe that Reformed faith, in the first place, from a formal point of view. I cannot describe that here in all its details. It is far too rich and too all-embracing in its scope. It involves the whole body of the truth of Scripture. And to study it and set it forth in full would take far more than this one pamphlet. And therefore, I will limit myself to the chief aspects of that Reformed faith and to the salient features of that faith both from a formal and a material point of view. What is the Reformed faith? What is characteristic of it, first, then, from a formal point of view?
Certainly the outstanding feature of that Reformed faith is the fact that it is confessional. That Reformed faith has been embodied since the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century in several creeds or confessions, some of them called Reformed, some of them called Presbyterian. They are creeds or confessions that were developed and set forth by the churches of the Reformed persuasion according to the lands in which that faith came to expression. I am sure that for most of us those creeds are the creeds of our Dutch Reformed heritage, our three great Formulas of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, our comfort book; the Belgic Confession, the 37 Articles of Faith; and the Canons of Dordrecht, sometimes known as The Five Points of Calvinism.
Those confessions are the official declarations in which the Reformed churches set forth systematically what they believe and hold to be the truth of the Word of God. By those creeds we set forth our faith in distinction from and over against all the world, and in distinction from other churches, in obedience to the divine calling to let our light shine as His church and to give constant expression to our faith. By those creeds also—and that should never be underestimated—our distinctive heritage is preserved and handed down through the generations of the church, in order that those generations may grow up and be instructed according to that same faith. And by those creeds our unity is expressed. Our confessions constitute the bond of union, on the basis of which Christians of one belief unite, and churches of one faith and one confession unite. It is characteristic therefore of confessions that they are binding: binding not upon the conscience, because it is part and parcel of the Reformed faith that there is nothing that can or may bind the conscience, except the Word of God as we have it in the Scriptures in their entirety. But confessions become binding through the free and voluntary obedience to and subscription to those confessions both on the part of office bearers in the church and the members of the church.
That brings me to the second aspect of that Reformed faith from a formal point of view. AsI have already suggested, those confessions, in turn, have their authority and their binding power only from the Scriptures. That is the deeper aspect of the Reformed faith from a formal point of view. That implies the truth, in the first place, of the absolute authority and the absolute infallibility of the Scriptures as the verbally inspired record of the Word of God. And that is based, therefore, exactly on that truth that Scripture is the infallible and the inspired and the inerrant Word of God in its entirety, from beginning to end. That means that it is characteristic of the Reformed faith, as one of our Reformed creeds puts it, to 'believe without any doubt all things contained' in the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testament. That is fundamental! Scripture in its absolute authority and infallibility is fundamental to all the faith. Without that Scripture and apart from that Scripture, there is no knowledge of the truth of the God of our salvation possible. That implies, too, the truth of the clarity, or as it is sometimes called, the perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures are understandable, and the Scriptures are one in their meaning; and those Scriptures are open and plain to any believer. You do not have to be a theologian to understand the Scriptures. The Scriptures are plain and they are simple. Any child of God can understand the Scriptures and read the Scriptures, fundamentally. And finally, that implies the truth that according to the Reformed faith it is the calling and the duty of believers to be in unconditional obedience to those Scriptures. The Scriptures are the only test for all of faith and all of life. They are the only and absolute authority before which we bow without reservation; the only authority upon which also the authority of any confessions in the church is based and from which it is derived. And we must remember that according to our Reformed faith that calling, that duty to bow before the Scriptures, means that we so completely bow without reservation before that Word of God that if it comes to a choice of bowing before that Word or bowing before the institute of a church, we always choose the former. That is Reformed!
You understand, of course, that this really forms the foundation of the entire Reformed faith. This is the ultimate basis. That is Scripture too! The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. Take those Scriptures away, and you take that foundation away. Distort those Scriptures, and you distort that foundation. Deny the authority of those Scriptures, the infallibility of those Scriptures, and you attack the very basis, the very foundation of the faith.
With that in mind, let us turn now to the question: What is that Reformed faith materially?
And again I say, I cannot possibly mention all that belongs to the material of that faith. There is no time for that. But I want to try to emphasize as pointedly and as clearly as possible what especially distinguishes the Reformed faith from every other faith. What distinguishes the Reformed faith from Modernism, for example—Modernism, which still calls itself the church, Modernism which nevertheless denies all the fundamental truths of Christendom, the Bible, the Vicarious Atonement, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? And still more specifically, what distinguishes that Reformed faith from orthodox Christianity in general—orthodox Christianity, which in general may still confess the great truths which I mentioned a moment ago, and which may still pride itself to a degree on being what is called Fundamentalist or Evangelical? What distinguishes that Reformed faith from Lutheran faith? What distinguishes it from Methodism, from Dispensationalism, from Baptist faith, from Arminianism? What distinguishes it even from Roman Catholicism, which still to a certain extent holds to some of those fundamentals? That is the question!
In distinction from all of those, our faith is Reformed! And that it is Reformed means, in the first place, that it holds to the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of His people. That is characteristic of the Reformed faith: that it holds to the truth of sovereign, particular grace, without reservation. At the very heart of that truth is the truth that has many, many times come under attack and which is in crisis again also today, the truth of predestination, sovereign predestination, election and reprobation. Our forefathers in the Reformed faith many times called that doctrine the heart of the church. It is central! It is controlling! But the whole of that truth of sovereign, particular grace has been spelled out in the well known TULIP, or Five Points of Calvinism.
They are briefly: Total Depravity, in the first place, the truth that man apart from the regenerating grace of God is by nature incapable of doing any good and prone to all evil. That is Total Depravity, no matter what may be said nowadays under the name of Total Depravity that is not really Total Depravity. Total Depravity means that the natural man cannot, and will not, and cannot will to do anything good, to do anything but sin. That is man! That is characteristic of the Reformed faith, because it is of the essence of the Reformed faith that according to it man is nothing, and God is all. In the second place, there is that truth, already mentioned, of Unconditional, or Sovereign Election, and with it necessarily the truth of sovereign, righteous Reprobation. The truth that is, therefore, on the one hand, that God from eternity and solely because of His own divine good pleasure chose certain definite persons, and chose, in fact, an entire church, an entire body, unto salvation and unto everlasting life in Christ Jesus. And this includes the truth, on the other hand, that God in absolute sovereignty destined the others, the reprobate, unto eternal damnation in the way of their own sin and unbelief. In the third place, the truth of Limited, or Definite, Atonement, that is, the truth that Christ laid down His life for His sheep only, thereby bringing the sacrifice of infinite value that made complete satisfaction of the justice of God with respect to all the sins of all His people, and of them only, and thereby obtaining for them all the blessings of salvation. In the fourth place, there is the truth of Irresistible Grace, the truth that God through the Spirit of Christ actually saves that elect sinner, who is in himself totally depraved, and capable only of sin—God makes of that sinner a child of God. He does that all alone. He does that when He regenerates that sinner, unconditionally, irresistibly. He does that when through the Word of the gospel and by the power of His Spirit He sovereignly and unconditionally and effectually bestows the gift of saving faith. That is God's work, not man's. He bestows the gift of repentance and conversion; that is God's work. He does that when He bestows upon His people sovereignly, and imparts to them as conscious partakers of it, all the benefits of salvation. That is a wonder of grace, pure, sovereign grace, in no way dependent upon the will of man. And, finally, there is the truth of the Perseverance of the Saints, that is, that the sinner, totally depraved in himself, unconditionally elected from eternity, redeemed and atoned for by the precious blood of Christ, and irresistibly called out of darkness into God's light, is preserved by that same grace and perseveres to the very end. God preserves His people, so that there is no falling away from grace, and so that His people persevere unto the end and endure and overcome temptation and fight the battle of faith and obtain the final victory in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is the first fundamental feature of that Reformed faith materially: the truth of sovereign, particular grace.
That is not all. There is another truth that is, if anything, still more distinctive as far as the Reformed faith is concerned, but a truth that is very, very much neglected and forgotten in our day. I refer to the truth of the Covenant of God. Reformed theology and Reformed faith is covenant theology! That is a central and characteristic truth of the Reformed faith. It is very little thought of and very little taught in our times, and still less understood and appreciated in our times. There is very little covenant consciousness in the church nowadays—in the Reformed church at large also. Very little! There is very little proceeding from and living out of that truth of God's covenant. But it is a very precious truth. It is not very precious as long as you conceive of the covenant as a sort of an agreement or contract between God and man. That is not really the covenant at all. The Reformed truth of God's covenant means that God establishes and realizes His eternal covenant of grace as a covenant of friendship with His people in Christ Jesus, with believers and their seed, in the line of continued generations.
And the relation between that and the previous truth which we mentioned is this, that this covenant is established and realized with God's people and in God's people by absolutely sovereign, particular grace. There are others outside of the Reformed faith who hold to these Five Points of Calvinism, but they cannot hold to them successfully and permanently because they do not at the same time hold to that fundamental Reformed truth of God's everlasting covenant of grace. That is why ultimately, historically also, Baptist doctrine, for example, ends in Arminianism, even though it may begin with Calvinism.
The third fundamental truth which follows from these two is the truth of the absolute antithesis, another forgotten and neglected truth in our day. The antithesis is between light and darkness, between the truth and the lie, between the church and the world, between the believer and unbeliever. That truth, characteristic of the Reformed faith, means that as a covenant people, in the first place, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them. And it means, secondly, that God placed that people, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, in the midst of a world that lies in darkness. And He gives to that people the grace and the calling to be His people in that world, that is, to be in principle a spiritually separate people in that world. We have in us as the people of God, a new heavenly life, the life of regeneration. And the world, in the midst of which we live, lives and moves and acts out of a principle which is the very opposite of that, the principle of sin, the principle of enmity against God. So that, as God's people in the world, we have all things in common with that world, except grace. That is the Reformed truth. We are a separate people, pilgrims and strangers in the earth, to be and to shine as lights in the midst of darkness. As such—and there you have the practical aspect of that truth, something else that is more and more forgotten and neglected and denied in our day—we have the calling and the sacred duty to put on no unequal yoke with unbelievers and to make no common cause with the world in any sphere of life. We have the calling to walk as of the party of the living God, and to live and walk in every sphere of life out of but one principle, the principle of regeneration, the principle of the new life.
That is our faith, that is our Reformed faith, objectively.
Let me conclude this part of my subject by emphasizing that that objective Reformed faith is for the Reformed believer the object of faith. That is not something that leaves him cold, something that is of no importance. He believes it! He believes it with all his heart! And he believes it with all his heart to be the truth of the gospel, according to the Scriptures.
And if you are at all alert to things ecclesiastical, you certainly cannot fail to be aware today that that Reformed faith is in crisis. That is a rather generally acknowledged fact today in the church, churches of the Reformed community. That is not just my claim. And that is not just the claim, or the particular hobby of the Protestant Reformed Churches. There are many, many others that recognize and begin to recognize that too. There are those who seek a change and who seek a broadening out, and who are having a part in bringing about the present crisis; and they recognize that there is a crisis developing and that they are bringing it about. They talk about the winds of change in the churches. And there are also those who are genuinely concerned about the dangers and the crisis. We live in an era of change, rapid change, change also in the sphere of the church and change in the sphere of the Reformed community. There is an air of expectancy in the church; there is something brewing, something that must happen; and at the same time there is an air off ear and of recognition that all is not well in Reformed Zion. There is a crisis.
The idea of a crisis is that it is a crucial point, or a crucial stage, of longer or shorter duration, at which it is determined whether or not a certain state of affairs shall go on or not. Thus, for example, we can speak of a crisis in the economy. Let us say there is economic prosperity. That builds up to a crisis. And at that point of crisis it is determined whether that economic prosperity shall continue or whether there shall be a crash and a depression. That is the idea of crisis.
So here there is a crucial point, a crucial stage at which it is determined whether or not that Reformed faith shall continue. That crisis implies, of course, that there are opposing forces, and that there are contrary tendencies operating in the Reformed community, tending to bring about that crisis. Those opposing forces and tendencies are present for a longer or shorter period of time, and they build and build and develop; and finally a crisis is reached, a crucial point. It comes to a head, and a determination is made, and a decision falls. The future is decided, one way or the other.
There have been many such crises in the history of the church. This is not the first one.
I like you to understand, too, very clearly that in the deepest sense of the word there is not, and there cannot be a crisis for that Reformed faith as such. That Reformed faith is the truth; and that truth is surely going to stand, whether it stands with our standing in it, or whether it stands without our standing in it, that truth is going to stand. There will always be God's truth, and there will always be God's church in the world to the very end, with us or without us, with or without your church or mine. That is the truth of the Scriptures, and God will preserve it. That is not dependent on us. That is our hope and our comfort in the time of crisis too. God maintains His cause. Do not worry about that!
But the crisis or turning point concerns us very really. It is a crisis with respect to that Reformed faith for the so-called Reformed community. And from that point of view that crisis involves the question whether we and our children, whether our churches and denominations, belonging to that Reformed community, will continue in and according to that Reformed faith or not. That is the question in the crisis. That crisis is a point, or a stage, at which it will be decided whether that Reformed faith is held at all any more, or not. It will be decided whether we continue even in name and in general Reformed profession in our ecclesiastical life, or whether we abandon that faith in its essentials and its distinctiveness and depart farther and farther and farther, until finally we end in modernism outright. I say such a crisis, if it has not been reached in some cases already, is fast approaching! The seeds, the germs of a crisis like that may have been present for a long time. They usually are. But today as never before there is a massive crisis approaching. There are forces and tendencies more numerous in the church than ever before. And I speak of the Reformed community! There is development and change more rapid than ever before. You can hardly keep up with it. And what is especially characteristic is that those opposing forces and tendencies arise not from outside the Reformed community. They are always there. But they arise within. They arise in high places, places of leadership and influence. They arise in the seminaries, in the pulpits, and the journals of today.
The evidences of it are manifold.
There are doctrinal evidences. Scripture is attacked. That is one thing. In the Reformed community Scripture is attacked in its inspiration, in its infallibility. There are many, many attacks like that going on from many angles. Covert attacks, and in some cases, open denials! In close connection with that is another evidence. Creationism versus theistic evolutionism has become an issue in the church. That is a bad sign. It forebodes crisis. It does so because for the Reformed faith in the deepest sense of the word that is an undebatable issue; and at the same time it is an issue that involves Scripture very, very closely and intimately. To adopt evolution you have to throw the Bible away. In the third place, in the Reformed community sovereign, particular grace is under open attack; and that open attack goes on undisciplined and unstopped. It is taught that God loves all men, and Christ died for all men; and the gospel purposes and the church purposes to save all men that come under its preaching.
There are other symptoms, symptoms of what I would call ultra-liberalism. It arises in the colleges, in the seminaries, and the churches of the Reformed community, even to the point of bowing to higher criticism, unbelieving higher criticism of Scripture. With that, of course, goes this, that the authority of the confessions is flouted, openly contradicted. Those confessions are archaic, old fashioned; or, to use the favourite word of the day, they are not relevant! They are too narrow! And the attempt is under way to change them, to revise them. In the sphere of ecclesiastical action we have an evangelism that is thoroughly Arminian and conducted at the expense of the truth. Or, you have, on the other hand, that ultra-liberalism which more and more imitates the social gospel. That, by the way, is not something new, but it is presently being reemphasized and modified, and it is being introduced as something rather new in the Reformed community. And with that goes, of course, the fact that the church is not content to preach, and especially is not satisfied with expository preaching. That is largely a lost art—distinctive Reformed preaching and teaching that is expository, that expounds the truth of Scripture, and builds up the church, and sends the church home with a solid comfort.
And with that goes a symptom that is well known to you all, and that is making rapid strides in our day, the symptom of ecumenicalism, the attempt to merge all into one great world church of some kind or other. This attempt is not marked by discussing and deliberating upon the truth, but by ignoring it and by discarding creeds as walls of separation, and by neglecting discipline, and by leaving all free to believe and to live as they please. It is marked by emphasizing so-called practical Christianity, and world improvement, and world involvement, and philanthropy, and world peace. It is represented in our day especially in movements like the World Council, which should never be an issue for a Reformed church. They have no business there. It is represented by a movement like COCU, Consultation On Church Union. Those things are not new, of course; but that the Reformed community is more and more becoming involved in them, that is a new development. And be warned! Those things stand in the sign of the beast and the false prophet of the Book of Revelation! That movement moves in the direction of Antichrist!
And with all that goes the fact that to a large extent in the church, in education, in the home, in labour and industry, in politics and economics, in amusements and art, and what is commonly called culture, there is world conformity. The art of Christian separation according to the principle of the antithesis is largely a lost Christian art today. And you do not have to look far to find evidences of that.
What is our calling then?
Negatively, we certainly must not assume the ostrich attitude, putting our heads in the sand, and trying to convince ourselves that everything is all right, and everything is going to turn out all right; just do not pay too much attention to it. That is wrong! Certainly our calling is not either to have the dyed-in-the-wool attitude: 'My church, right or wrong!' There is not any church loyalty, any loyalty to a certain institute, that may ever go as far as that! You take that stand, and you will surely end up ultimately with your church all wrong. Depend on it! Remember this, too: the Reformed faith is larger, is more important, than any particular institute! Nor must our attitude be—and that is a very common thing today: 'Well, after all, all these things are not for us laymen. Let us leave it to our leaders, to the clergy; they know best.' That is wrong! It is your church and your faith that are involved. And, above all, it is wrong to take that attitude of unconcern and neglect, because it is the cause of Christ that is involved, and the truth of God. We may not neglect that! Nor must you take the attitude according to which you are very troubled; and you complain, probably complain that you come home from church nowadays with practically nothing; and you probably propagandize a little bit. But for whatever may be the reason, you really do nothing. You take no stand, and you take no action. Nor, as far as the older generation is concerned, may your attitude be that of Hezekiah, ''There shall be peace in my time.' Maybe there will be, maybe. But what about your generations?
What then must be our stand?
Maybe there are some of you that think I am going to say: 'Well, you had all better become Protestant Reformed!' I would to God you were! I mean that! But that is not my point. I do not want to leave that impression at all. That is not my purpose. That is not the purpose of our churches. Surely, it is not our purpose to try to get a few members—even though it is true that the denomination to which I belong does not itself face this crisis. We do not have it. But the situation is much too serious to make it a question of simply some proselytizing.
There is a spiritual principle involved here, and a spiritual course of action, that the lovers of the Reformed faith must understand. And whatever practical questions may be involved in it will take care of themselves then.
There is one thing that you and I must always do as Reformed believers, without any compromise, without any reservation, no matter what the consequences may be. And that is: we must seek the true church!And we must let that be the controlling thing in our ecclesiastical attitude and life. We must not seek simply our church—whatever that is, whether that is the Reformed Church in America, or Christian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed, or any other. We must not seek simply that. There is a principle here the church! And that means that the principle at stake here is the Reformed faith.You and I must insist upon and judge things in the church according to the marks of the church which our confessions mention: the pure preaching of the Word. That is the chief mark. The church must preach! It must preach the Word! And it must preach that Word purely! And in connection with that the other marks stand: the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. That is our Belgic Confession on the church.
Operating out of that principle, our calling is to stand shoulder to shoulder with all everywhere who profess that precious Reformed faith. If that means internal conflict in your church, then let it be! That may not stand in the way. If that means ultimately separation, and even re-affiliation, then let it be! That is not the question. The question is: do you seek the church, God's Zion? If it means that you look to us for fellowship, for counsel, for leadership, then I like you to know that we extend that fellowship to all who hold the Reformed faith dear. We must stand, stand in the unity of the faith.
For where that faith is, where those marks of the church are, there Christ is. Where they are not, there Christ is not. Where they are corrupted, the church must repent or perish! And where they are kept purely and held high, there Christ is, and Christ commands His blessing in life that is unending.
May God grant to you and me that we may hold fast to these principles; that, if we have at all departed from them, we may return; and that holding fast, we may experience His blessing. Amen.
Homer C. Hoeksema was born in Grand Rapids, MI on January 30, 1923. He was the second son of Herman Hoeksema and born during the turmoil of the Common Grace controversy which led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
He graduated from Calvin College and then the Protestant Reformed Seminary. He served the Protestant Reformed congregation at Doon, Iowa from 1949 to 1955 and later the Protestant Reformed congregation at South Holland, Illinois from 1955 to 1959.
In 1959 he was called to serve as professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary, a position he held until his emeritation in 1989. He taught the departments of Dogmatics and New Testament studies. He served for many years as the editor of The Standard Bearer and wrote various significant books--the main one, a study of the Canons of Dordt titled: The Voice of the Fathers.
He was taken to glory on July 17, 1989.