It is a rare thing to find a book that deals with the problem of the suffering of God’s people as biblically as this one does. One grows accustomed to reading that God sends what we call “good” things, but the devil controls the “bad.” This author, however, looks at the question of why the Christian must suffer from the viewpoint of the book of Job, and, because of this, comes up with a solution that is both thoroughly scriptural and deeply comforting.
Rev. Bijl is no stranger to suffering, although he brushes aside his own experiences as if they were nothing. However, he was born in the Netherlands in 1931, and he did live through the horrors of the Nazi occupation of his country. Against the background of the fact that many, in speech and writing, rejected the idea that a loving God would send such disasters, this book was written; however, it limits itself to a discussion of the suffering of God’s people, rather than of the world in general.
The author is minister of the Reformed Church (Gerefcmzeerd, “Vrijgemaakt”) in Zwolle, The Netherlands. He writes in the preface, “This book would like to offer a little help to those who have a difficult road to travel and who have questions about God’s intention with it.”
Briefly and simply, Rev. Bijl traces the history of Job: he tells how he had great wealth, walked before his God with a perfect heart, and, in spite of his godliness, lost everything when Satan came to God and questioned Job’s motives. With startling insight he exposes the error of the three friends who came to comfort him, and, not surprisingly, it turns out to be the same old error of salvation by works: If Job would only go back to good behavior, he would again have good things from God. On the other hand, Bijl finds the gospel in the words that Elihu utters after the others have finished: deliverance, not by our own works, but through the One who paid the ransom (Job 33:23, 24).
Finally the author points out that when God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, He did not, even then, tell him why he had to suffer; rather, through many beautiful word pictures He showed him that His power and wisdom are boundless.
Bijl turns at the end to James, who, in commenting on the history of Job, says that the Lord is rich in mercy and tenderness. Is merciful, he says, not will becomemerciful if we are only patient.
The writer concludes with these words:
This is a reliable and joyful message for us: we are carried by a divine wealth in mercy and tenderness. Every glad and sad day. How do we know that for sure? Even after Auschwitz? Because we live after Golgotha. There God’s love was personified in Jesus Christ on the cross, which towers above the horrors of this time like an unshakeable monument.
But read the book yourself; then pass it on to a friend who needs comfort. And who does not?
It is the contention of Reformed theologian C. van der Waal that the one gospel of the Scriptures is thoroughly covenantal. Sound interpretation and preaching of the Scriptures depend upon recognizing this. Prominent, popular errors of our day are due to ignorance of the one covenant that stands at the heart of the Bible, e.g., dispensationalism and neo-Pentecostalism. van der Waal is sharp and strong. He concludes the book with these words:
The Gospel is covenantal in every respect. If things go wrong in the churches, ask whether the covenant is indeed preached and understood. If missionary work is superficial, ask whether the covenant is taken into account. . . . It is impossible to preach a gospel from which the covenant has been removed. . . . There is therefore no gospel except the covenantal gospel. Let this be proclaimed from the pulpits. Let this show in the life in society Let this be heard in the mission fields. Let this be understood in the families. And let nobody be ashamed of it. It must be proclaimed: Evangelical = Covenantal (pp. 175, 176).
In developing this contention, Dr. van der Waal makes a brief, but careful, study of the biblical covenants, not only the manifestations of the covenant of God with His people, but also the covenants between men.
In the light of the biblical covenant, he offers incisive criticism of such contemporary religious phenomena as the charismatic movement; pietism and methodism’s withdrawal from any cultural and political calling because of their quest for heaven; and the “political sermon” that characterizes liberation theology.
The covenant also has urgent practical implications which The Covenantal Gospel exhorts upon the reader: singing the Psalms; Christian schools; Christian publications; and a distinctive way of conducting missions, among others. The challenging nature of these practical implications of the covenant comes out in what van der Waal has to say about covenantal missions:
No double standard may be used in educating the heathen who have come to the faith. No half gospel must be preached to them. They are entitled to be instructed in the full truth. . . . It must be frankly admitted that a lack of sound education has often resulted from a desire for increased numbers and plain laziness. . . . (There must be) serious church establishment. . . . The full doctrine must be preached: everything that Christ has commanded must be kept also by young churches. There is no place for a double standard no more demanding requirements for the established churches than for the mission field (pp. 158, 159).
A weakness of the book is that it never clearly defines the covenant. It becomes abundantly plain from the overall treatment, however, that van der Waal understands the covenant as a conditional treaty consisting of promise, demand, and threat. For this reason, he inveighs against a “covenant doctrine that identifie(s) the elect and the members of the covenant people as one and the same” (p. 164). Significantly, although he considers the teaching on the covenant of Romans 9-11, van der Waal says nothing about the apostle’s doctrine that the covenant promise to Abraham’s children referred, not to all the physical children, but exclusively to the children of promise according to election.
Striking too is the author’s insistence that, in the covenant, obedience to the LORD is based upon election. It is not the other way round, namely, that election is based upon the stipulation to obey. “The promise that the LORD will not forsake His people is, therefore, the foundation of the conditions that the electing God lays down” (p. 45). Apart now from the question whether one may speak of the demands in the covenant as “conditions,” this insistence of Dr. van der Waal conflicts with his view of the covenant as a conditional treaty between God and men. If the covenant is indeed a conditional treaty, covenant and election do, in fact, depend upon the stipulated obedience.
Another area of disagreement is Dr. van der Waal’s explanation of Matthew 24, Mark 13, II Thessalonians 2, and almost the entire book of Revelation as fulfilled completely in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.
Remarking these important differences is not at all intended to derogate from the worth of the book, not only for those who have lost almost all sense of and regard for the covenant, but also for those who read the Bible as the book of the covenant.