Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
Article 12 of our Belgic Confession of Faith begins “We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by His Son, hath created of nothing the heaven, the earth, and all creatures as it seemed good unto Him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator; that He doth also still uphold and govern them by His eternal providence and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.”
Most certainly the creatures of God display His handiwork and thereby bring praise to God. “Let them praise the name of the Lord; for he commanded and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever; he hath made a decree which shall not pass” (Ps. 148:5-6). We noticed this previously when we observed the various aspects of nitrogen and its compounds. The order, beauty, and intricacy found in the creation reveal the power and divinity of God. In the very nature and essence of each creature, the creature itself brings glory and praise to God.
But there is another aspect to the creation, explained by Article 12, that brings glory to God and humbles us. Not only did God create each creature and give untoeach creature its unique essence, but God sovereignly upholds and governs those creatures and their essence for the service of us His people so that we might serve Him! What a marvel! Consider all the creatures! All these creatures serve us?! How humbled we ought to be! And so too we must recognize that God made nitrogen with all its aspects and unique characteristics to serve us! God uses the nitrogen cycle for our care and service as well. These things are upheld to serve us, so that we might be able to partake in our spiritual work—that we might serve our God!
This truth was part of the controversy in the CRC in the 1920s. Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Danhof appealed to the truth of Article 12 in their book Van Zonde en Genade in the common grace controversy of the early 1920s. Hoeksema and Danhof explained that Kuyper and Bavinck taught that the development of things in the creation is not related to the spiritual-moral development of the rational creature. “But Bavinck, just as Kuyper, wants a one-sided separate cosmic development of the creation through common grace, which development is neither rational, spiritual, nor normal.”1
And they admit that the purpose of the life of all creatures is indeed the honor of God. But that life, though proceeding from one source, goes in two directions. The mistake is that in this way the idea of the honor of God is actually without any content, because they place the life of the creation outside the foreordination of the life of the rational and moral creatures. And so they make a division between that which we insist must be as closely united as possible. 2
Hoeksema and Danhof viewed the work of God in light of Article 12 of the Belgic Confession, and they saw that all things, even the creatures of creation and the development of the powers within that creation, are in the counsel of God for the purpose of the salvation of His church! The salvation of the church through Jesus Christ, in worshiping God alone in covenant friendship, is all important! All things must serve that end! They write,
Sin did not remove the creation, nor did it destroy the original unity of the creation. God continued to work in all creatures by His infinite power and according to the counsel of His providence…. All things continue to develop according to their own natures and in an underlying organic relationship to each other. But they develop out of the principles of sin and grace, and in eternal, spiritual-ethical antithesis of friendship with God, on the one hand, and enmity towards the God of the covenant, on the other. 3
Part of the common grace controversy involved an understanding of how all things, even the creatures, fit into the counsel of God. Article 12 maintains that all creatures are created and maintained in the providence of God for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.
In previous articles we have examined nitrogen, its compounds, and the nitrogen cycle in light of the first phrases of Article 12. We now observe how these particular creatures serve us in our various callings in this life.
Some brief examples of how nitrogen atoms are used for our service should be discussed. It is clear that we cannot have our physical life apart from the food and nutrients that we must receive on a regular basis. Part of this nourishment is the receiving of a very important element—nitrogen. The nitrogen atoms, as has been stated before, are a necessary part of the very basic molecules of man—DNA, enzymes, proteins, etc. Therefore, the nitrogen cycle serves us in providing us the basic components that give us our physical life.
The nitrogen cycle serves the plant world so that the plants are nourished and can grow. In this way the plants themselves develop and grow beautifully and praise God in that they show God’s power and wisdom. But the plants themselves can then be used by us that we might receive nourishment and energy to take up our labors. The food that we eat gives us the energy we need to do whatever our calling is, whether in the church, home, our realm of labor, or as a citizen of the country. “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth” (Ps. 104:14). Thereby we are equipped to serve our God in faithful labor.
Scripture also says that the plants and the fruit of the plants are for our enjoyment. In the proper enjoyment of those good gifts, God is glorified. “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” (Ps. 104:15: See also Eccl. 2:10, 24; Eccl. 9:7-10). We also exercise dominion over the creation and press the powers of the creation for our service. For example, nitrogen gas molecules are used in the food-packaging industry to preserve foods. Man uses nitrogen molecules in the liquid form—liquid nitrogen—to keep items frozen. This allows objects to be preserved and to be kept from being damaged. And we have in previous articles seen how the farmer efficiently uses nitrogen to add fertilizers to his fields and how the mother uses nitrogen products in household cleaners. These are just a few of the many examples of how nitrogen is used for the service of man.
Article 12 teaches that God created all things for the service of mankind (Ps. 8:6, Ps. 104:14-15) so that man might serve his God. To understand this properly we must see clearly what it means to serve God. Some have incorrect views of this service of God or of “kingdom service.” There are those who teach that to serve God one must be involved in grandiose works in the political and social arenas. Prof. Dykstra recognized this trend when he wrote about “Christian humanism” in a recent Standard Bearer article. He writes:
The social calling of this humanism is the obligation to do something in this creation and in society to improve both…. If you attended Dordt, Calvin, Trinity, or any other Christian college, you heard that you can do something for Christ, you can make a difference in this world, and you must make a difference in this world…. This movement may sound very pious and pressure the Christian school to do its “Christian duty,” but it is humanism for all that. The cry is: “Christ has redeemed the world, and now it is up to you to make the whole creation subservient to Christ. We must save the world. Christ will come after our mission is accomplished.” 4
This kind of “kingdom service” involves having a “reforming” influence on society. “To serve God” we apparently must be “world-shakers,” transforming and changing societal institutions for the betterment of society, fixing the problems of society, reclaiming and redeeming all of creation for Christ. This work, this idea of “kingdom service,” is a work of “building” an earthly kingdom of God.
When we consider Article 12’s statement that all creatures are governed and sustained by God’s providence for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God, we see that the point of the service of God is not the kind of “kingdom service” mentioned above. The idea is that God created all creatures to be used by man in the everyday, seemingly insignificant, activities of faithfully laboring and living in the calling God gives to him for the glory of God. The work in the kingdom is the normal everyday activities of living the life of God’s people. It is generally not extraordinary or spectacular labors. It is the common work of the people of God. It is not the “world shaking,” the “transforming” and “redeeming” of creation, that others have in mind. It is the faithful service of God in the callings He gives to His people. God created all creatures for the service of mankind in his common, everyday labor that brings all glory to God.
Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we pray this, we are to acknowledge that God is the fountain of all good and that He created all things to serve us. It is a prayer that teaches us to trust in God and to renounce all our trust in man and in the creation. How gloriously is this evident in the topics we have recently studied! Do we place our trust in the creation? Do we look at nitrogen and its compounds and trust in them? When we look at the nitrogen cycle we must see a sovereign God providing us our daily bread. We might consider God’s provision of nourishment of Elijah from the ravens or His provision of meal and oil for the widow as great wonders of God. Yet, no more wondrous were those events than the amazing government of nitrogen and its compounds for our service. These microscopic creatures are servants of the living God to serve us and provide us what we truly need in our spiritual pilgrimage here below. Do we recognize this as we ought? Do we acknowledge and thank God for this? When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” we thereby confess to God our complete dependence on Him and in so doing we worship and serve Him.
By looking at nitrogen we have seen how our great God provides and cares for us. May this stir us on in faithful obedience in our callings, whatever that calling may be. In faithful acknowledgment and thanks to Jehovah God for all things, we serve Him. Unbelievers refuse to bow before Jehovah. They rebel when they see an almighty God in creation and turn what they see into the lie of evolution. In the previous articles we have seen how God made all aspects of nitrogen, all its compounds, and weaved them intricately into the lives of every living organism. God upholds and governs the amazing nitrogen cycle with the lightning, bacteria, and plants that all work together to serve us. Yet, unbelieving man rebels and denies that God has a hand in this. Unbelieving man, who is often given much ability to research and investigate the creation, denies what is so obviously the work of an almighty Creator sovereignly upholding His creation every moment of the day. Yes, even the being, shape, form, and several offices of nitrogen testify to the unbeliever of God’s “eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Besides their rebellion and denial of God, unbelievers use the creation to serve themselves. They use the powers in the creation to serve mankind that man may serve man. But, by the grace of God, our eyes are opened to see His work in the
creation so that we begin to serve our faithful Father as we grow in closer covenant friendship and dependence upon Him.
Therefore, nitrogen, its compounds, and the nitrogen cycle serve us in our callings of labor,
marriage, church, family life, society life, and so on. And thereby we serve our God in as much as we faithfully use these good gifts in our various callings in life to the end that we might better know our God, fear Him, and obey His commands. Nitrogen atoms, its compounds, the nitrogen cycle, and all creatures were not created, are not maintained, do not develop alongside the decrees of election and reprobation, but they serve the decrees of election and reprobation. Thus, as Article 12 maintains, all things, even nitrogen atoms, are created and maintained by God so that we can serve our God.
Consider the wondrous works of God! God created and maintains all things, even the tiny particles of creation, that by His providence these creatures might serve the king of creation—mankind—in order that man ultimately may serve and honor Him. May we learn to confess the truth as expressed in Article 12. May we be diligent in observing God’s handiwork in the creation as He gives to each creature its being, shape, form, and several offices. May we be humbled to see that God made all things and that He continues to govern and sustain all creatures for man’s good, for man’s service. And may we see that our calling is to use all these good gifts for the glory and service of God by acknowledging that they come from our Father and that they bring us in closer friendship and dependence on Him.
1.Danhof, Henry and Herman Hoeksema. Sin and Grace. Reformed Free Publishing Association. Grandville, MI, 2003, p. 160.
2.Ibid., p. 153.
3.Ibid., p. 149
4.Dykstra, R. “Humanism and the PR Teacher: No R and R (2).” Standard Bearer, 79, pp. 425-6.