About Witnessing


From a young man among our Michigan readers I received several questions about witnessing. He writes as follows: 

“Dear Prof. Hoeksema: 

“Your replies in the ‘Question Box’ have shed much light on some very pertinent and even disturbing questions. 

“I have a problem that disturbs me very much. I would like to know what exactly is our calling as Christians in regard to our effective witness for the Lord? Just how far are we to extend our witness? 

“The example of the Christian’s good works is a very important part of his witness. But by themselves these good works are not a sufficient witness. In Romans 10:9 we read, ‘That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ Also in Luke 17:3 we read, ‘Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.’ 

“It would seem an almost endless task to be constantly rebuking the evildoers round about us, but yet this seems to be our calling. Ezekiel 3:18 says, ‘When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.’ 

“When we read the work of a man or hear someone who is a proponent of false doctrine are we to rebuke this man personally? Think of all the articles in church periodicals, all the ‘preaching’ heard nowadays, most of which contains downright heresy and blasphemy. Is it our calling as followers of Christ to personally admonish such? 

“Then too, there is the evil which the Lord warns against in Matthew 7:6, ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they -trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you.’ Where is the line to be drawn? When are we being true witnesses for the Savior and when are we casting our pearls before the swine? 

“Yours in Christ, “N.” 


First of all, I want to say that it is encouraging to hear that you read the Standard Bearer. I always like to hear from our readers; but it is especially encouraging to me to hear that our young people—and if I am not mistaken, you are a young man of high school age—read our magazine. I am also happy to hear that a Question Box has been helpful. I hope that it will also be helpful with respect to your questions. 

Permit me a few preliminary remarks which may serve at the same time to clarify your problem. First of all, I am somewhat at a loss to know what you mean by “effective witness.” To me, the term effective denotes the idea of having effects, of achieving results. And then I would point out that the effect of our witness is not up to you and me. Whether. or not our witness will have the positive effect of turning someone from his evil way or of gaining someone for Christ is, of course, not up to us and is not a matter of our achievement. That is the work of God Himself, through His Spirit, as He uses our witness as a means to accomplish the work of His grace. Hence, I would prefer to speak of afaithful witness, or a true witness, rather than of an effective witness. Secondly, although you probably did not intend the expression, in that sense, I am not very fond of the expression “for the Lord” in connection with our witnessing. Too often in our day this expression is used with the connotation of our doing something for the Lord; and this is, of course, not a correct idea. I prefer to speak of our being witnesses of the Lord. In the third place, although I think I understand the point you want to make in this connection, I would like to point out that you suggest a false distinction between our good works and our speech. You intend, I take it, to make the point that we must witness not only by our actions, but also by our speech. And this is correct. However, our speech, or our “confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus,” belongs, of course, to our good works. And, finally, I would like to point out that the text from Ezekiel 3:18 is hardly pertinent in this connection, for the simple reason that this passage has to do with the calling, or task, of a prophet, or preacher, and does not refer to our Christian witnessing in general. Besides, of course, Ezekiel did not have a general calling to speak to all wicked men; but he was commissioned by the Lord to go and speak to the house of Israel at a particular time and place. 

But with these preliminary remarks out of the way, let me address myself to your main question. This, as I understand your letter, is about the extent of our witness. 

This question of the extent of our witness may be viewed, first of all, from the viewpoint of our position as witnesses. And then I would like to emphasize that we are always witnesses and that it is therefore always our calling to witness. “Ye are the light of the world,” the Lord Jesus says. “Ye are light in the Lord,” Eph. 5:8. This is our nature as regenerated children of God. And from this follows that it is our calling to bear witness. We must not put our light under a bushel, but let our light shine, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We must walk as children of light. I think it is well to bear this in mind. Too often this matter of witnessing has been given a restricted kind of religious connotation according to which we must all devote some part of our time to witnessing for the Lord, to being little evangelists and to bringing the gospel to others. But this is not the Biblical idea of witnessing. It certainly is not the calling of any and every Christian to be a kind of evangelist and to engage in some kind of religious work. But it is indeed the calling of every child of God in whatever station the Lord may place him in life to let his light shine and to walk as a child of the light, and in that sense to be a witness, to bear testimony, to show forth the praises of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Our entire life is included in this calling to witness. Our deeds and our words are included in it. No part of our life in relation to others is excluded from this calling to witness. In this sense, you are correct in feeling that this calling to witness is an endless task. 

In the second place, however, we may view this question concerning the extent of our witness from the viewpoint of the objects of our testimony. To whom must we bear-witness? I have really answered this question already in the preceding point when I emphasized that we are always witnesses and are always called, therefore, to bear testimony in our entire walk in the midst of the world. But without trying to prescribe all kinds of detailed precepts, let me make a few suggestions. 

And then I would say, first of all, that the general principle is that we must witness to all those whom the Lord puts on our path in life. When the Lord brings us into contact with anyone, in whatever sphere of our life that may be (home, church, school, business, factory, amusement, etc.), and whether that person is a child of God or not, it is our calling in relation to that person to manifest ourselves as children of the light. By this principle we must be guided and controlled always. Secondly, I would like to suggest that the objects of our witness are not only evildoers. I say this because the emphasis in your letter seems to be on this aspect. And this is certainly included. In fact, this emphasis is very realistic. As witnesses we occupy an antithetical position. We are called to walk as children of the light and to let our light shine in the midst of darkness. And it is well to bear this in mind, for the simple reason that it is exactly our tendency to become afraid or ashamed and to shirk our calling when we come into contact with evildoers. But at the same time, I would point out that this is only one aspect of our witnessing. We are also witnesses in relation to our fellow Christians and in a positive sense. Parents to their children, children to parents, children and young people to one another, believers mutually in the bonds of the communion of saints,—all are witnesses of the marvelous grace of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Nor must this be overlooked. For one thing, this positive witness in the communion of saints must serve to strengthen and to confirm one another in the faith and in the assurance of faith. 

Thirdly, whether in a given set of circumstances it is one’s personal calling to bear testimony over against heresy and blasphemy or other evildoing, it seems to me, is a matter of personal determination before the face of God and in the light of the general principle that I laid down: that we must witness to whomever the Lord plainly puts on our path. This, it seems to me, too, depends somewhat on the circumstances. Thus, for example, you could drive yourself crazy if your tried to bear witness personally to every false preacher or teacher or writer of whose heresy you might gain some knowledge; and you would at the same time become an unfaithful witness by your failure to devote your time and energy to your God-given work and calling—in your case, let us say, your school work. Besides, we may remember that the Lord does not call us individually to do all the witnessing to all evildoers all by ourselves. Not only does He have many witnesses, but there is also such a thing as corporate, or group witnessing. The sending out of the witness of ourStandard Bearer or Beacon Lights is an example of the latter. But let me use a concrete example. Let us say that you are on vacation, and that you are visiting in a church of another denomination on a Sunday. Let us imagine that the minister preaches a bad, Arminian sermon. When the service is over, the minister goes to the exit to greet the people; and thus you are forced to meet him. The Lord has put him on our path. What must you do? Would it be right to pass him by with a polite and cheery “Good morning” and to ignore the fact that he has corrupted the gospel? You judge!

Further, my questioner wants to know when we are being true witnesses and when we are casting our pearls before the swine, in connection with the Lord’s words in Matthew 7:6. Where is the line to be drawn? 

This is really a large question all by itself. But let me try to give a few brief pointers. That which is holy and your pearls are evidently identical and have reference to the truth of the gospel, the pure and precious doctrines and precepts of the gospel. Dogs and swine, as unclean animals, represent those who when they come into contact with “that which is holy” and “your pearls” retain and reveal themselves in their unclean and ungodly and spiritually filthy nature. And “to give” and “to cast before” means to set that holy thing and those pearls, the various precious truths and precepts of the gospel, before these “dogs and swine.” The Lord exhorts the children of the kingdom not to do this. Notice that this presupposes that these wicked men have already revealed themselves in their wickedness. In other words, when you have witnessed of the precious truths and precepts of the gospel before wicked men and they reveal themselves as spiritually filthy and vicious and impenitent, then you must not continue to expose that holy and precious gospel to the vicious and vile treatment of such men. There comes a time, therefore, when you shake off the dust of your feet against them and have nothing to do with them any longer. If I may use a concrete illustration, you may witness to an ungodly person concerning his cursing and swearing when you come into contact with him. And this is proper. But when your witness bears no positive fruit, and when, on the contrary, this ungodly man greets your witness with a vile stream of invective and cursing, then you do not continue to cast before him your pearls. But you turn your back on him and have nothing to do with him and his vile speech any longer. Bear in mind, however, that this very action and attitude is also a witness against such dogs and swine. 

Finally, there is the point suggested by my questioner that we may not be satisfied to witness only by our actions, but that we must certainly witness by our speech as well. This is certainly correct. And it is a point well made. For witnessing by our actions may never be used as an excuse for failing to confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus. And it is not an imaginary danger, I think, that we excuse ourselves in this manner. 

My, reply to these questions is already lengthy. But my questioner’s reference to Romans 10:9 reminded me of some very pointed remarks made on this subject in a sermon by the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema in his book, God’s Eternal Good Pleasure. I will quote these remarks under a separate heading; and I recommend that you read them in connection with this answer.