(Note: This is the third and last guest article by brother Straayer, a member ,of our Edmonton, Alberta, Protestant Reformed Church. HCH)
In the preceding articles we wrote about the call and the expectation, even in our situation today. Both articles ended with the words “By Faith,” and therefore we will now spend some thought in this last article onBY FAITH.
When writing these articles, like you, I, asked myself whether it is not unrealistic to expect growth, to expect reformation, to expect great things. Is it not better to hope and to long for the end of all things, to say, “Maranatha, Jesus comes; yes, Lord Jesus, yes, come quickly?”
Do we still plan expansion? Do we still look forward to growth? Or have we become so tired of it all that it is becoming too much of a bother to go out to evangelize, to witness; to promote church expansion? Fifty years of Protestant Reformed church existence, and not much: to show for it. And even if we were to grow, there would again be the apostate, the turning away from the truth; it is all a repeating process. So why, growth? Why not stay small and faithful (as if the one includes the other)?
It is a general attitude today, a general mood that one finds all around us, that every human being seems to be tired of it all. We have seen it all before, repeat and repeat. And therefore society in general comes to the conclusion, “Why try?” “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Something of that mood (geistesgestahlte) may also be seeping into us: the general feeling of the hopelessness of it all.
As God’s children we know His commandment to listen for the call from Macedonia and to enlarge the tent in expectation; but are we not often trying to find excuses? First of all, we are afraid of the task; we don’t believe it can be done, and we therefore must find excuses why we should not be active. One very good excuse that is heard much among us is that we live in the end of times, and that therefore the church must become smaller till there are no more saints left; that there can be no more reformation, that all signs point to the end of time, and in pious righteousness we can then sit in a corner—as our Dutch fathers said, “met een boekje in een hoekje”—and let the world go by. BUT THERE IS HOPE, THERE IS EXPECTATION EVEN TODAY.
By faith Noah, being warned by God of things not seenas yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the savingof his house, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. When we read the examples of Hebrews 11, one thing that strikes us is the hopelessness of all these situations. By faith Noah, by faith Abraham, by faith Sarah, by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob and Joseph and Moses—all situations of which you and I say, “Impossible.” For us today it is necessary to remember, to be reminded of, the faith of these saints of former days, because if we don’t have that faith, we will read the previous two articles and will question the conclusions; we will reason that the writer is an optimist, a dreamer, a fantasist, and that he has more hope to be proven wrong than right. Time might show him up with “egg on his face.” And yet I dare write, because even if I am found wrong (I am not), I have done nothing more than repeat the Lord’s calling to us all.
Let us look a moment at the situation of Noah: He becomes the laughingstock of his time. He must have been the dorpsgek. I can almost hear the jokes being cracked about Noah and that idiot monstrosity he is building. And listen to what he is telling, that the thing he is making is an ark (what is that?), and that God (God is dead!) will open the gates of heaven, and it will rain (what is that?)—never heard of anything so crazy! If Noah lived today, we would put him in a mental institution and take away his axe, so that he could do no further damage to the environment or disturb the balance of nature; just figure how many acres of timber he needed to build the ark!
Things not seen before: an ark floating on the water! Noah, how can you believe such a thing? How can you build such a thing? Do you really think it can float? Where did you dream that up? If it wasn’t so funny, it would be a nightmare. Noah, come on, give up. Just imagine the logistics of food for all the animals and for Noah and his family, and the preservation of the foodstuff. Think of the hygiene after the Lord closed the ark; think of the ventilation. O, the world today remembers the story of Noah. We here in Canada have the Irish Rovers who sing of it. And the story becomes actual about the unicorn; Noah becomes God’s helper in building a floating zoo with cats and rats and elephants, camels, chimpanzees and long neck geese; and, said God, “As sure as you’re born, Noah, don’t forget my unicorn.” And when in the song the ark starts floating with the tide, the unicorns don’t come in, but keep playing silly games; and therefore to this day you have never seen a unicorn any more. And the actual message of the outpouring of God’s wrath over a sinful world and God’s particular grace to Noah and his family is completely forgotten. So the world makes the Word of God of no avail.
But Noah kept working over a hundred years. And he was dead serious; he was moved with fear, that is, also with speed and consciously accepting the Word of God to be true, so that he might save himself and his household from the wrath of God being poured out on the then existing world. Noah kept working, expecting a new world.
One hundred years he preached, and no results. When he finally gets into the ark, it is only with his direct family—no brothers, no sisters, no father, no mother, no uncles, aunts, cousins, or neighbors. Noah probably had help with building of the ark; or he might have employed laborers; and they became fellow witnesses. But they did not enter the ark; out of ourselves we will never enter the ark (Jesus Christ). Noah by fear moved in faith. Do you think he never doubted? Do you think he never like Abraham asked God, to spare the world? Do you think he never asked people to join him and believe? Noah preached by building; we must still preach by building, by enlarging the tent.
There is another lesson of comfort that comes to us in this story. It shows how the Lord provides for a help against our infirmities. Look at the ark: no window in the sides, only one that looks up to heaven. What a blessing that Noah could not see the dying of all his neighbors and acquaintances, that he could only look to heaven, where is the finisher of his faith and our faith. What a blessing that the Lord closed the ark. Noah, would have never done it. But the Lord separates, and the Lord closes the ark; otherwise Noah would still have perished with the world. And if he could have, he would probably have opened it again to let others in.
Now there is still an ark, Jesus Christ. And the world still exists; it is still the excellent (weluangename) time to preach of that coming of judgment, to witness as ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Brothers, what a perspective we have. What a cloud of witnesses. The Lord still allows us to walk in the footsteps of those who are now the Church triumphant. If we look at ourselves, we doubt. We have all the standard excuses: too old, too young, can’t speak, can’t walk, etc. But if we look at Christ Jesus, the finisher of our faith, then we go out; then we reach out; then we preach in season and out of season; then we witness in word and deed, expecting great, things. And even if there are no results in numerical growth, it becomes a wonder that He will use us; it becomes a wonder that He did not bypass us; it becomes a wonder that He actively wills that “no result,” actually as our Dutch fathers expressed it, not in proper grammar, but beautifully, lovingly, and intimately with the words of the Lord’s “heilig nieten.”
“Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, one soweth and another reapeth. I send you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour; other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.”
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that by grace we may be reapers. Let us then move with fear to become heirs of righteousness, so that following generations will call us blessed, and that by faith.