* Pre-synodical sermon preached by Herman Hoeksema on June 5, 1951. The synod of 1951 was to adopt the "Declaration of Principles." I have edited the text that appears in the "Acts of Synod, Protestant Reformed Churches of America, 1951," pp. 7-19. -Ed. of Standard Bearer.
"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
II Timothy 2:19
This is usually, according to the context, understood as a word of comfort. A word of comfort it undoubtedly is and is meant to be. The text is introduced by the little word "howbeit, nevertheless" - in Dutch, "evenwel." Therefore, it depicts a certain contrast, and at the same time a concession, in the context.
The context of these words is very plain. In the immediately preceding two verses the apostle speaks of those who lead the church astray: vain babblers, heretics, who always lead the church into ways of ungodliness. He continues to say that, as always, many are seduced by these vain babblings, are led astray from the faith. Like the word of Hyme-naeus and Philetus, their heresy eats like a gangrene, like a canker. Such is the context.
We can easily understand that the text, therefore, is meant also as a word of comfort to the faithful. If the church forevermore departs from the truth, if the church on earth is forevermore led astray from the true faith, is it not discouraging for the faithful in Christ Jesus? Would they not lose their faith, their very hope, and their very courage as a church of Jesus Christ in the world? But, the apostle says in the words of our text, as a word of comfort: Never mind; do not be afraid. Things do not depend on you. They do not depend on men. No matter what men may do, no matter what men may teach, no matter how far men may apparently lead the church astray, "nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Such is the comfort.
I think we need that comfort always. I do. I do tonight. So do you. The church of Jesus Christ is forevermore in need of this word of comfort: "Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure." For it is God's foundation. Always in the history of the church, the church departs. There are but very few periods in history in which the church really stands foursquare on the foundation of which I intend to speak tonight - very few periods.
I can say this too: the more firmly the church stands on that foundation, the more narrowly those who stand on that foundation will adhere to it. In other words, it is often thus, that according as the church increases in numbers, she decreases in strength. That is history too. For that very reason, especially we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, may well take this comfort to heart: Nevertheless, no matter what may take place, the sure foundation of God standeth; and the gates of hell can never overwhelm it.
But although it is true that this is a word of comfort, the text, to my mind, also contains a word of exhortation and admonition to you, as a church, especially to the officebearers that are gathered with us tonight. The foundation of God standeth sure, no question about that. But the exhortation is implied very plainly: Build, therefore, on that foundation and on that foundation only. For only when we build on the foundation of God, other than which no man can possibly lay, can we be confident that we are really building the church, and not a human institution.
That is very important, beloved. A foundation, of course, is always important, important for the building. For the foundation in many respects determines the superstructure that must be built on it. It stands to reason that the foundation already determines the size and the strength and the shape of the superstructure. You cannot build a palatial edifice on a flimsy foundation, say, of twenty-by-twenty. You cannot build a perfectly square edifice on an oblong foundation. You cannot build a skyscraper on a foundation that is intended for a garage. The strength and the size and the shape of the foundation already determine the superstructure. For that reason, when the superstructure is planned, the foundation must be planned.
Therefore, the question is, when the apostle Paul here speaks of the sure foundation of God, what is the superstructure that is built on that sure foundation? What building is put upon, what building is supposed to be construed upon that foundation of which the apostle Paul speaks here? The apostle does not mention the superstructure. He does not say what building is presupposed here. But we can easily conjecture what must be the building which he has in mind, namely, the church of Jesus Christ. That is very plain from all Scripture. Only of the church as a building does the Bible ever speak. Scripture never speaks of any other building than the church of Jesus Christ - sometimes as a temple, sometimes as a simple building, sometimes as a house, etc. But when Scripture speaks of a house or a building or a temple, the Bible always means the church of Jesus Christ. Besides, that this is true is also plain from the next verse of my chapter. There the apostle speaks of a house, a house with many vessels. There is no question about it, that the superstructure that is supposed to be built on this foundation is the church of Jesus Christ our Lord.
But naturally the question arises: the church from what aspect? You can speak of the church from more than one point of view, of course. Especially is the distinction well-known between the church as organism and the church as institute. That distinction is well-known to all that have attended catechism among us. When we speak of the church as an organism, we simply mean the individual members of the church from the point of view of their organic relation to Christ Jesus as members in His body, as branches of the vine or of the olive tree. That is the church as an organism. But the apostle in the words of our text certainly does not refer to the church as such. That also is very evident from the next verse, where the apostle makes the distinction between the house and the vessels in that house. The vessels in that house are undoubtedly the individual members, maybe also the officebearers. But at any rate, the house is the church itself, in distinction from its individual members.
Therefore I maintain that when the apostle here speaks of the foundation of God that standeth sure, he had in mind the superstructure of the church as a well-established institution, a well-built house. He has in mind the church with its offices, the church with its ministry of the Word, the church with its overseers, with its offices of mercy, the church with its sacraments of baptism and holy communion, the church with its exercise of Christian discipline, the church with its keys of the kingdom of heaven. That aspect of the church, the church as an institute, well-established, well organized, is meant by the superstructure which must be built on the foundation of which the apostle speaks in the words of my text.
The question is, however: what is meant by the foundation? Also that, the apostle does not further define. Very many answers have been given to this question as to the foundation of God that standeth sure, of which the apostle speaks in the words of my text. In the first place, there are those who say that the foundation of which the apostle speaks is the faithfulness of God, or the promise of God. Or, even more generally still, the foundation, according to some, is simply the Christian religion. Still others, like Calvin, for instance, claim that the foundation is God's eternal election, on which the church is founded and based. Many commentators claim that the foundation and the church are identical: by the foundation the apostle means simply the church, and nothing else. By the church he means the foundation, and by the foundation he means the church.
Now we can rule out many of these interpretations, because they have nothing to do with Scripture. When people say that the Christian religion is the foundation, for instance, it is very evident that that is a mere conjecture, very vague and very general, rather modern, and that certainly the church cannot be based on a vague idea as the Christian religion whatsoever. Nor can the promise of God or the faithfulness of God be the simple foundation on which the church is built, because the Scriptures teach us otherwise. Surely, the promise of God is very important, and the faithfulness of God is very important. But never is the promise of God and never is the faithfulness of God presented in the Bible as the foundation on which the church stands. That is also impossible, as we shall see presently. Besides, beloved, when Calvin says that the election of God is the foundation, namely, the truth that God from all eternity has known and chosen His people unto salvation, then also that is evidently a mistake, because that election is not the foundation but is one of the seals attached to the foundation: "having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his." That is election, of course. But that is not the foundation, but only one of the seals of the foundation. Besides, that the foundation is not the church ought to be self-evident: the church is not the same as the foundation.
Therefore, when we give an answer to the question, what is the foundation of which the apostle here speaks, we must turn to Scripture. Scripture speaks very clearly as to this foundation, in many places, of which I will mention only one, namely, the text in Ephesians 2:20: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building (that is, evidently, according to the context, the building of the church) fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
Therefore, according to Scripture, it is very plain that the foundation - to speak in general - is the truth as it is in Christ. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the foundation that is laid by the apostles and prophets, that is, Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the truth that has been delivered, proclaimed, revealed through the instrumentality of prophets and apostles. Therefore, we may certainly say that the foundation is the truth as it is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ, the incarnated Son of God, who revealed to us the fullness of the Father, first of all, throughout the whole dispensation that preceded Him; then, centrally, during His entire sojourn in the world; and finally, more fully, through the apostles and prophets of the new dispensation; Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, who was delivered for our transgressions, who was raised the third day for our justification, who was exalted at the right hand of God - that Jesus Christ, that fullness of the revelation of Jesus Christ, who revealed Himself in all His fullness to us, particularly during the years one to thirty-three A.D., in the world. That Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the foundation that is laid, that is, that is revealed by the prophets and apostles of Holy Scripture.
One more element, otherwise we can never, never understand the foundation, nor ever have anything to do with that foundation. That same Jesus Christ, who so objectively revealed the Father, and who objectively became the chief cornerstone of the foundation of the house of God - that same Jesus Christ became Christ subjectively through the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That also belongs to the foundation revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. Without that Spirit there is nothing. Without that Spirit the stone is not even laid. Without the Spirit of Jesus Christ we can not be cemented on that stone - there is no building, nor is there really a foundation. But the Spirit is the Lord. The Lord is the Spirit. The Lord became the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Through that Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, through Christ Himself, as He now returned to us and dwells in His church, through that Christ-subjective the Christ-objective became the foundation on which the church is built forever.
That is the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is the true cornerstone.
The only foundation!
Nothing else will ever do!
That foundation of God standeth sure, because it is the foundation of God. On that foundation of God, of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, revealed by the apostles and the prophets, as we have it in the Scriptures - on that foundation (on that foundation that is not dubious in outline, so that no one knows anymore what is what), on that clear and strong and well-defined foundation we must build.
That is your calling. That is your calling as a church. That is your calling especially as officebearers. That is your calling as synod in these days that lie before us. That is all. You have no other calling. You must build on that foundation.
That foundation we do not have to define anew. That foundation is defined for us already by the church in the past. That well-defined foundation we have, according to our sure conviction - or, what must be our conviction - in our Reformed confessions. We must build not in general on the Scriptures. That is all right, to build on the Scriptures, but we do not have to ask anymore, God be thanked, we do not have to ask what, according to Scripture, is that foundation. That has been defined in the faith which we confess.
Still more, we cannot even say that it is sufficient for us that we build on the foundation of our confessions. Even those confessions have been defined by our Protestant Reformed Churches in very clear outline. We do not believe in the Three Forms of Unity, for instance, as the Christian Reformed Church believes in them. We do not! Nor do we believe in the Three Forms of Unity as they are interpreted in the old country. We do not! We believe - and that is the basis on which the synod must stand throughout its session - we believe in the Three Forms of Unity as they are accepted and explained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches in distinction from those that have departed therefrom. That is our calling. Well-defined.
If I may make a declaration, beloved, (I do not mean the "Declaration of Principles," I mean if I may make a personal declaration), I do not hesitate to confess - such is my conviction - that the truth which has been defined and expressed by the Protestant Reformed Churches is the purest delineation of the sure foundation of God that standeth! No other truth can even be compared with it. If we do not dare to say that, we are not Protestant Reformed. On that basis we must stand, definitely.
For that foundation of God is first of all the foundation that delineates and defines and establishes the whole superstructure. The whole superstructure is defined by the foundation. The ministry of the Word in our churches, which is the church (the purest manifestation of the church of Christ in the world is by far the Protestant Reformed Churches) - I say, the ministry of the Word in the Protestant Reformed Churches must be based on that foundation. Whatever is not built, in the ministry of the Word, upon that foundation builds not on the foundation at all, but builds something else, builds next to the foundation. So it is with the whole institution of the church in our midst. So it is with the office of elders and deacons. So it is with the office of admonition and exhortation. So it is with the administration of the sacraments, about which there is so much ado in our day (and, let me emphasize, about which always there was much ado in the church of Jesus Christ, always; it is nothing new, there is nothing new in the phenomenon that we are again talking about the sacraments, that has been a bone of contention for many centuries). But also regarding the sacrament of baptism, as well as the sacrament of communion, we must build foursquare on the foundation of God, of which we confess that it is present for us in the Protestant Reformed truth, nothing less.
The same is true, of course, of the question of membership, the question of the keys, the question of discipline, the question, "whom shall we draw into the walls of our churches and who shall be excluded?" We must not be afraid of that. Of course, we must not. We must stand and decide and determine that all those who are within the walls of Zion within which we live shall stand on that same foundation of God that standeth sure, and which is according to our deepest conviction the Protestant Reformed truth, or it is nothing.
So it is with the whole church.
That foundation of God standeth sure.
I say once more, beloved, what a comfort! What a comfort that the text here says that that foundation standeth sure, that that foundation has nothing to do with us. Notice that the text establishes and expresses and defines and emphasizes the firmness of that foundation three times really. The text says: The foundation of God standeth. It standeth. It emphasizes that standing by saying also in the original: The foundation of God standeth sure. Principally it emphasizes that whole certainty and surety and firmness of the foundation by expressing that it is the foundation of God. That is why it standeth, and that is why it is sure - because the foundation is the foundation of God. God has laid that foundation, beloved, not we. God laid that foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, from before the foundation of the world, that is, He laid that foundation even before He conceived of the world: Christ is the first thought of God. Oh, I know, that is "supra." But let it be "supra," then; that is all right; I'm not ashamed of it; that is Scripture. Before the foundation of the world, before God conceived of the foundation of the world, He established Jesus Christ. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He laid the foundation of the church. Can there be any doubt? Can there be any uncertainty? Is there any question about it? God laid that foundation not only in eternity, but He laid it in time. He laid it when He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh. That was God's work; it had nothing to do with us. He laid it when He reconciled the world unto Himself in Christ, in the cross. That had nothing to do with us. God did it all without us. Absolutely without us! Almost two thousand years ago He laid the foundation, beloved, when you and I were not there, when you and I did not even know anything about Christ or about the foundation whatsoever. He laid the foundation. The stone rejected and despised by the builders, He made the chief cornerstone. God did that. That foundation is of God!
Still more. God raised Jesus from the dead. In His resurrection He justified and He glorified the whole church. God did that. The foundation of God standeth. When He took His resurrected Son into glory at His right hand, He took His whole church into heaven. We are sitting in heavenly places with Jesus Christ our Lord forever and ever. God laid the foundation.
God laid the foundation of the Spirit. God laid the foundation when Christ became the quickening Spirit, not we. And therefore, because it is the foundation of God, that foundation standeth sure. And, the gates of hell can never overwhelm the superstructure that is built on that foundation. Beware! Beware! Oh, it is a great word of comfort to know that that is true. But nevertheless, beware that you build on nothing beside that one foundation of God that standeth sure.
Do you know that foundation? Can we know it? Can we know it all? Or is it possibly so vague and so indistinct that we do not know where to build, or that we build in the dark, so that we cannot find the lines of that foundation? Oh, no, beloved.
The foundation of God that standeth sure has this seal - these seals really: "The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Just a brief word about that.
Of course, I do not have to say that when the Bible here speaks of the Lord knowing His own, it means the elect. No question about that. We do not believe, as do the Arminians, in a foreknowledge of God, do we? Not at all. We do not only not believe in a foreknowledge of God as to faith; we do not believe in any foreknowledge of God in the human sense of the word. We do not. Oh, the Bible speaks of foreknown and foreknowledge. That is all right. Nevertheless, we claim as Reformed people that the Bible never speaks of foreknowledge of God in the sense that things are first, and then God knows. It is not so, that God knows because things are. But it is thus, that things are because God knows. God's knowledge is first, the things follow. That is Scripture. God does not know the world because the world is there, and He beholds it, and He finds it, and He studies it, and He investigates it. But that world is there because God knew it. From before the foundation of the world He knew it in His own counsel. God knows things before they are. The same is true of God's election. Certainly, God does not know His people because He sees them beforehand, because He beholds them as willing to believe, perhaps. But they are His people in His everlasting and causative foreknowledge. They are His people because He knows them. They are the realization of the people He knew from before the foundation of the world, His church.
In the second place, when we read in our text that one of the seals is that God knows them that are His, that knowledge is at the same time a knowledge of love. Therefore: "Whom he has foreknown (in that knowledge of His determined counsel, and in the knowledge, therefore, of everlasting love) He also did predestinate to be conformed according to the image of his Son.... And whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." It is finished in the counsel of God. He knows His people forever and ever, engraved in the palms of His hands.
That is the first seal.
A seal, as you well know, is both a sign of authority and a sign of distinction. This seal is certainly both. Only the foundation which has that seal of God is recognized by God. Only the foundation that has the seal of election, of sovereign election, is recognized as the foundation of the church. None other foundation has God's mark of authority. God will not build anything on any foundation of man, on any other foundation than that which has the seal of His everlasting election. He will not! God does not build the church on an Arminian foundation. God will not build His church, which is to be His handiwork and which is to be the expression and the manifestation of His glorious grace in Christ Jesus, on any other foundation than that of Himself, that has the seal, "I know those that are mine." The Arminian is not working at the foundation of God. He is not. Those who in any sense of the word - I do not hesitate to say it - build on the foundation of man, on the foundation of Arminian grace or any other common grace, do not build on the foundation of the church. They do not. Only the foundation that has this seal, "God knows those that are his," has the sign of authority. Therefore, that seal, that truth, is the foundation-truth which in all our labors and building of the church of Jesus Christ we must bear in mind, so that we do not build on any other foundation.
But there is another seal. The other seal is: "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." You know what that seal means, of course. Really this seal is only mentioned in a negative way, a negative way because we are still in the body of this death. We are still in the world. That is why this seal is mentioned in this light: "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Of course. That is inevitable. That seal must assume the form, "Depart from iniquity." Positively, of course, this seal means simply sanctification. Positively, this seal means our whole part (not: parties) of the covenant, namely, that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. That is the other seal: Walk in sanctification of life.
But be careful, beloved. Do not say, "but," between the two seals. Do not say: I believe in election, but I also believe in man'sresponsibility, I also believe in sanctification. Then you are on the wrong track. That is not true. You must not say: "but." You must say: "and." You must not say: "God knows those who are His, and they are God's elect; but ... but ... but I also believe that man must believe certain conditions." You must not say that. Then you are on the wrong track. You must say: "and ... and ... and." That is Reformed. You must say: "I believe in election, and therefore I believe in sanctification." That is what you must say. Just exactly that. Nothing else. You must say: "I believe in election, and therefore I believe in the fulfillment of man's responsibility in the highest sense of the word." That is Reformed. Not: "but ... but ... but." But: "and ... and ... and." "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: (not: but ... but ... but) for it is God that worketh within you to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Or, if you want the language of the Heidelberg Catechism: "But doth not this doctrine (the whole doctrine of sovereign free grace, but the Catechism means that part of it which refers to justification) make men careless and profane?" What does the Catechism say? Does it say: "Oh, no, but, but, but there is another side to this truth?" Oh, no, no, no, no. The Catechism says this, beloved: "By no means: for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness." That is Reformed. That is the only Reformed truth there is.
There you are, beloved. There you are, church of Jesus Christ, gathered here tonight with the delegates of synod. You heard me. You heard the Word of God. You are responsible to build very carefully on that foundation, on that sure foundation of God, than which there is no other.
Even that you cannot do. You understand that, do you not? You cannot do anything at this synod, nothing at all - not as far as the foundation of God is concerned - except by God's own grace and power. That is all. You cannot do anything at all. You cannot destroy the foundation. That stands. I'm sure of that. You cannot build on the foundation, unless - not, you are co-workers with God - but unless you co-work with one another through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, I say once more: By all means, discern very clearly the foundation. By all means, have the determination of faith to build on that foundation.
For that reason, when you get home, get on your knees, and ask the Lord for grace to build on that one sure foundation of God that standeth and that hath this seal: "The Lord knows them that are his. And (not: but; but: and), Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
I'm sure that if we are instruments of God to build His church in that clearly defined way of the truth of the apostles and the prophets, He will bless us! Otherwise He will not. May He bless us.