On Sept. 4, 1959 the Rev. H. C. Hoeksema was installed as professor in our Theological School. At that occasion the Rev. G. Vos read the Form of Installation while the undersigned preached the sermon.
I was asked to publish this sermon in our Standard Bearer. And although the sermon, as far as I know, was not recorded, and I do not have a complete typewritten copy of it, yet, because I have a rather broad outline of it, and because the sermon as I preached it is still rather fresh in my memory, I think that I can reproduce it rather faithfully.
The text on which I spoke on that occasion is found in II Tim. 2:1-2: “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
In these words, beloved, I find a strong temptation, especially on this occasion, to interpret and apply them literally. In that case, I would read the words as follows: “Thou, therefore, my son Homer, be strong in the Lord and in the grace of Jesus Christ. And the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Thus the text would fit perfectly for the present occasion. For he that is about to be installed is, indeed, my son according to the flesh. Moreover, I also instructed him in the things whereof Paul speaks, so that also in this respect the text would fit perfectly: “the things which thou hast heard of me, thy father,” etc.
Yet this would be a principal and fundamental mistake.
For, in the first place, Paul, in these words, is addressing Timothy. He is, indeed, speaking to him as his son but not in the natural or physical, but only in the spiritual sense of the word. Paul loves Timothy with a spiritual love in the Lord as a son which he has begotten spiritually. The text, therefore, does not and cannot refer to the father-and-son relationship between me and the one that is about to be installed as professor in our Seminary.
But there is more.
When Paul speaks of “the things which thou hast heard of me” he refers to himself as an apostle. And the apostles were infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit. But I am not and I was not when, in the past, I taught my son in the seminary. Hence, also these words cannot directly refer to me and my son, but they must be applied to Paul and his spiritual son Timothy. But do, then, these words not have any reference to this occasion? They certainly have. For Timothy is instructed, not only to receive the things he heard from Paul, but he must also commit them to faithful men and these faithful men must instruct others, and these others must be able to teach still others, and this continues to the present time. Always, therefore, it is Paul that is first, together with all the authors of Holy Writ. All that follow are dependent upon them. Always, therefore we must go back in all our teaching to them. And only is as far as your candidate is a spiritual son of Paul, and only in as far as it can be said that I instructed him in the things which Paul and all the authors of Holy Writ spoke does my text apply to the present occasion.
Bearing this in mind, I speak a few moments on:
An Exhortation to Professors in Theology :
I. What they must teach.
II. To Whom they must teach.
III: In what power they must teach.
I. You may ask me, perhaps, why I speak in my theme of theological professors. Does the text speak of them? My answer is affirmative. For after all a theological professor is nothing but a teacher in theology, and of such teachers the text speaks throughout. Timothy is taught by Paul, and he, in turn, must teach faithful men, and, again, these must teach others. The text certainly, therefore, speaks of teachers or professors. And that it does not refer to teachers in general but to professors in theology, is also plain from the text. For they all must teach the things they have heard of Paul. Those things refer, of course, to all that is revealed in the Holy Scriptures: the law and the prophets, all the revelation of the New Testament, in as far as it had already been completed at that time and still would be finished, with Christ as the heart and center of it all. These things Timothy had heard from Paul and must commit to others. There can, therefore, be no doubt about the fact that the text speaks of professors of theology.
But, once more, what are those things Timothy had heard of Paul? Or, if you please, what specifically is contained in the books of Holy Writ, that was taught by Paul to Timothy, which he must commit to others, and which must also be taught at our seminary and by the brother that is about to be installed as professor? I can answer very briefly: The Gospel! The gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel must be taught at our school. This gospel I would define as the sovereign revelation of the sovereign will of God to save His people and none other, from sin and heath unto everlasting life and glory in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not, therefore, a superficial gospel which you may write on your thumbnail. It is not simply a general invitation to “come to Jesus” as is often preached from the pulpit and over the radio, an invitation with which no sinner can or will comply except through the sovereign grace of God. Nor is it, as the Christian Reformed Church teaches, a general offer of salvation to all that hear the gospel, for an offer is dependent for its acceptance on the one to whom the offer is made. All that teach and preach thus certainly do not preach the gospel but corrupt it. But, as I said in my definition, it is the sovereign revelation of the sovereign will of God to save His people, and none other, from sin and death unto everlasting life and glory in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This includes many truths.
It includes sovereign election and reprobation. Election is, as Reformed people have always rightly and on the basis of Scripture maintained, the heart of the gospel. Without the preaching of election there is no proclamation of the gospel. Just as when a man’s heart stops beating he is dead, so the gospel is dead without the preaching of election. O, to be sure, this does not mean that we must always preach election and nothing else as some seem to characterize our preaching. It does not even imply that in every sermon we must always literally mention the doctrine of election. But it certainly means that the hearers must always be able to feel the heart-beat of election in every sermon we preach. And the same is true of the teaching in our seminary. The professors must never camouflage or soft-pedal the doctrine of election but, in all their instruction must clearly manifest that this doctrine is the heart of the gospel. For they must teach Christ” and He is the first and chief elect and all that the Father gave Him are elect in Him.
All the rest of the gospel follows, on the basis of Scripture, from this most fundamental truth. The sending of Christ into the world, in the likeness of sinful flesh, was a sovereign act of God, according to which the Son of God assumed the human nature in unity of divine Person. It was an equally sovereign act of God in Christ that He took all the sins of His own, whom the Father had given Him, to the accursed tree to atone for them and blot them out forever. By the same sovereign God He was raised from the dead, exalted in the highest glory and is now seated, as the only sovereign in heaven and on earth, at the right hand of the majesty on high. Such is the gospel. And it ought to be very evident that no man had any part in this objective realization of the gospel and promise of God. God sovereignly realized it all alone.
Do not say that, although this is all true, nevertheless, the subjective application of the gospel depends, in part at least, on us. We must accept the gospel and we must walk in the way of the promise of God: otherwise we will surely be lost. I do not deny this. But do not forget that even in regard to this subjective application of the gospel the sovereign grace of God in Christ is first. Christ received the Spirit and that Spirit He sent into His church to abide with her forever. By and through that Spirit He applies all the blessings of salvation to His own without fail. He regenerates them and gives the new life of the kingdom of heaven. He calls them, through the gospel by His own powerful Word which is always efficacious, and when He calls we obey and receive and accept the gospel. He adopts us, justifies and sanctifies us, and finally, after having preserved us unto the end, takes us into eternal glory. Gods in Christ is always first and only when He sovereignly imparts, His grace to us and in us, do we accept and fight the good fight even unto the end.
Such is the gospel. Another gospel there is not. These are the things which Timothy learned from Paul and which he must commit to faithful men. And these same things must be taught in our school.
But, you say, is this really true? Granted that also “these things” are taught in our seminary, are there not many other things also taught at the same time? My answer is that, nevertheless, all things taught in our school are and must be related to the one gospel. Many subjects are taught that are directly connected with the gospel, while others are more remotely related to it. To the former, for instance, belongs the subject of exegesis, which is the interpretation of Scripture and which, for that reason, is very important. Related to this is the subject of hermeneutics which teaches the theory and rules of the explanation of Holy Writ. Then, there is, of course, the important subject of dogmatics which presents the doctrine of the gospel in systematic form. Thus there are many other subjects such as Old and New Testament history, typology and others which are all rather closely related to the gospel. And then there are also other subjects that must be taught and that are less directly related to the gospel, such as church polity which deals with the offices and government of the church, and church history as well as other subjects. Nevertheless, whether the subjects taught in our seminary are more or less closely related to the central subject of the gospel, they all belong to it and to the things which Timothy heard of the apostle Paul.
A word must be said about the phrase which the apostle adds here: “among many witnesses.” The things spoken by Paul and heard by Timothy were spoken and heard among many witnesses. Who are these witnesses? Some have it that the apostle refers to the law and the prophets. But this interpretation is not very likely correct. In the first place, because the apostle, evidently, refers to witnesses that were present when he spoke. And, secondly, the law and the prophets belong to the very things which the apostle spoke and which Timothy heard. We prefer, therefore, to think of the church and its office bearers. And when Paul preached or taught those that had heard him had the testimony by the Spirit in their hearts that he spoke the truth of God in Christ. The same is true today. The gospel is never alone. Always it has witnesses. Even in our school this is the case. Not only the students, but also the theological school committee ought to be present, and even others, the more the better, to give testimony to the truth of what is taught.
II. Now the apostle exhorts Timothy that he must commit the things which he has heard unto faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
It is evident that the apostle does not merely mean, in these words, that he must preach the gospel to others, although in itself this is true also. But, as we remarked in the beginning, the apostle, in these words, exhorts Timothy to teach and that not in general to the whole congregation, although this must be done, too, but in a very special sense of the word. He must be a professor of theology and he must have a special class of students. That this is true is evident from the addition “faithful men” as well as from the further clause: “who shall be able to teach others also.” In the midst of the church, therefore, Timothy must find a special group of men whom he must choose as his students and whose special professor he must become.
But why, we ask, does the apostle emphasize that the men whom Timothy must thus choose out of the church must be faithful men? It does not refer to them merely as believers, although it is certainly true that they are believers also. But “faithful men” are those that are faithful to the things which Timothy has heard from Paul, faithful to the truth and to the church under all circumstances of life. Negatively speaking, they are men that will never depart from the pure truth of the gospel, no matter what happens. They are men that never will corrupt the church for their own carnal and selfish reasons and by their lies or compromise. And, positively speaking, they are men that always speak the truth and seek the good of the church, though because of it they are reproached and reviled, though they must suffer the loss of all things, yea, though because of it they must go into prison and into death. Such faithful men Timothy must choose in order that he may commit to them the things he had heard from the apostle Paul.
But once more we ask: why this emphasis on “faithful men”? The answer is not difficult. In the first place, it is not according to the flesh to preach and teach the gospel purely, without compromise and in all its implications. But, in the second place, and for that very reason, there are in the history of the church many examples of faithless men who, for various reasons distorted the true doctrine of the gospel. Sometimes, no doubt, their error and their corruption of the truth were induced by misunderstanding, although this cannot be an excuse for the Scriptures are very clear on the subject. The things which Timothy heard of Paul left no room for doubt or misunderstanding. More often, however, there were carnal reasons for the distortion of the truth by these unfaithful men. When the carnal crowd at Capernaum had heard the discourse of Jesus on the bread of life, they finally said: “This is an hard saying, who can hear it?” John 6:60. Thus there were and there still are many in the church today that took the same attitude and still take the same attitude toward the truth of the gospel. The heart of the gospel, the truth of election and reprobation, is too hard for them and, therefore, they corrupt the whole gospel in various ways. And having distorted the heart of the gospel, they necessarily must corrupt the rest: the total depravity of the sinner, particular atonement and similar truths. There are other carnal reasons, such as the honor of men, worldly gain, and even personal hatred and dislike, that motivate unfaithful men to distort the truth. If it had not been for such carnal reasons, do you imagine that the Christian Reformed Church would ever have adopted the “Three Points” and cast us out because we could not possibly sign them. Before God and the Church I declare that this would never have been done except for carnal reasons! And I am convinced that the same holds true for the recent history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. O yes, there are many, carnal reasons why unfaithful men corrupt the truth of the gospel!
It is largely because of such unfaithful men and their distortion of the truth that the need of officially adopted confessions always arose in the church, in order that the things spoken by Paul, the whole truth of the gospel may be preserved and defended over against gainsayers.
That by these “faithful men” the apostle does not refer to all and every member in the church but rather to a special class, is further evident, as we have already remarked, from what follows in the text: “Who shall be able to teach others also.” To teach others is not everybody’s work. It requires not only a full knowledge and clear understanding of the truth, but also special ability or tact to teach. Now, this will be your task, my son, who art called to be professor in our seminary and who wilt presently be installed in that office. When our churches, through their Synod, called you for this task, they thereby expressed that they considered you a faithful man who will never distort the truth of the gospel and who is able to teach others also. And when you accepted this appointment, you, on your part, declared that you believed that God called you to this special task and that He will make you faithful and enable you to accomplish the important work to which you are called. Do not disappoint the churches in the trust they have placed in you!
Thus the line continues. It cannot end and is not intended to end, by the apostle Paul, in those first faithful men that must teach others, nor in the others that are taught. But the others that are taught must teach still others and yet others until the present time and even unto the end of the present age. The teaching of the things which Timothy heard from Paul among many witnesses continues in the line of generations. And I do not hesitate to say that, by the grace of God, our seminary, small and despised though it may be, represents the purest manifestation of the gospel that was taught by the apostle Paul and which is taught in the, whole of Scripture!
III. But how is it possible for Timothy and the faithful men that follow him, as well as for the present professors of theology, to perform this difficult task? In and by what power must they teach the things spoken by Paul and the truth of the gospel? I find the answer in the first part of my text : “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” And I would translate the word for “strong” by “be strengthened” or “grow and increase in strength.” This is absolutely necessary.
In the first place, without the power of the grace that is in Christ Jesus Timothy will not even be able to receive the things that were spoken by the apostle Paul, nor will we. O, we may probably be able, to a certain extent to grasp them intellectually, but this is not sufficient. We must hide them in our hearts. We must spiritually apprehend them. And this we never can and will do apart from the grace that is in Christ Jesus. In the second place, we surely are neither able nor willing to commit these things unto faithful men that are able to teach others also without the grace that is in Christ. For there is always the power of the flesh within us. And the flesh does not only fail to apprehend the things of the Spirit, but also always rebels against it. It despises and rejects the truth that God sovereignly chose some unto salvation and rejected others. In fact, it will have nothing of the absolute sovereignty of God: it prefers to be its own Lord and master. It will have nothing of the truth of the gospel that man is totally depraved and nothing but a slave of sin, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. It prefers the false free-will doctrine. And this the attitude of the flesh over against all the things spoken by Paul and taught in the gospel. Besides, there is not only the power of the flesh within, but there is also the enemy without, the power of the devil and his host, the power of the world and its temptations, and the power of false doctrine which is always rampant in the church to confuse the minds of the believers. How, then, will it be possible to receive the things of the gospel as spoken by Paul and revealed to us in Scripture, and to commit them to others? The answer is: only by the power of the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
We must be strengthened, according to the original, inthe grace that is in Christ Jesus. We must, therefore, increase and grow in that grace. And this is but natural. We are not yet perfect. We are not yet wholly sanctified and delivered from the power of sin and death. In fact, in this life we only have but a small-beginning of the new obedience. Hence, we must constantly dwell in the sphere of (in) the grace that is in Christ Jesus and by that grace we must always be strengthened.
This requires two things. In the first place, prayer. Only by constant prayer can we have fellowship with God in Christ and dwell in the sphere of his grace. This is true, of course, for all of us. But the apostle refers, in the words of our text, especially to professors of theology. They, above all must never neglect the prayer that they may be strengthened for their important task by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And we also earnestly entreat our whole church to commit their professors to the throne of grace that they may constantly be strengthened in the sphere of the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
But, in the second place, to be strengthened in that grace also requires faithful and earnest study of the things of the gospel. Never imagine, my son, that you already know enough of the things Timothy and also you heard from the apostle Paul so that you can henceforth rest on your laurels. That would certainly be your end. Without the Word of God you cannot increase in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. That Word of God, the revelation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, is very rich. There is no end to its riches. And it is your calling to bring forth out of that treasure of the Word of God things new and old. Hence, it is your calling to study diligently. Then only you will be found worthy of the calling wherewith God has called you, through our churches, as professor in our own Protestant Reformed Theological School.
My prayer and, I am sure, the prayer of our churches is that God may richly bless you! Amen. H.H.