Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
*In the previous installment of this sermon (Nov. 15, 2003) we answered the question, “To whom must the truth be committed?” In this installment we answer two questions. The first is, “What must be committed to these men?” The second is, “How is it possible to commit the truth to these men?”
To these faithful men who are able to teach others, the truth must be committed. The text says, “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses … commit thou to faithful men.”
What Timothy heard from theapostle was, of course, the Word of God. Paul taught Timothy Christ from the Scriptures—Christ crucified and raised, Christ the revelation of the God of our salvation. The apostle instructed him in the truth of the inspired, infallible Scriptures.
And Timothy heard that truth not just with his ears, that is, not merely in the sense that he was able to receive that truth intellectually. That, too. But there is more. He heard it in the sense that he learned the truth, he had a spiritual knowledge of the truth. It was the knowledge and assured confidence of a true and living faith that he heard. Timothy knew the truth of the gospel of Christ and he was convinced that that gospel of Christ was for him also.
He learned these things among many witnesses. That is powerful language. Literally, these witnesses were martyrs. This means that they were not merely spectators or observers, but witnesses who testified to the truth of what Paul taught Timothy. These martyrs were many. Timothy’s grandmother, Lois; his mother, Eunice; and the apostle’s co-workers. But above all, there was the witness of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ who testified with Timothy’s spirit, by means of what he was taught, that he was a child of God. So it was that from childhood Timothy learned the holy Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation.
That same is true of you, professor-elect Gritters. You learned the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You learned the truth in and by the church, by means of the preaching of the Word in the pulpit and in the catechism classes. You learned that truth in the seminary. There it was committed to you. And we are convinced that this truth is both the knowledge of faith and the assured confidence of faith in this sense, that it lives not only in your mind but in your heart as well. You learned that truth among many witnesses, many martyrs—from your godly parents, when you were but a babe on mother’s lap and a young boy on father’s knee. They, in turn, learned from godly grandparents. You learned that truth in a Protestant Reformed Christian school. You, too, from a child have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation. That is what we, too, have learned among many martyrs.
We have so much more than Timothy. God, the Holy Spirit, has given us the entire canon of the infallibly inspired Scriptures. We have learned that truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God. And we have learned these things among many martyrs—witnesses.
There is the testimony of the souls of the martyrs under the altar, who cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” They are given white robes and are told to wait awhile until their fellow saints have suffered. They have testified to the truth of the gospel and they have died the martyr’s death for doing so.
There is the witness of the fathers of the church. They expounded the truth of Scripture over against all the various heresies that plagued the church in its New Testament era. And, under the guidance of the Spirit of truth whom Jesus poured out, they formulated the great ecumenical creeds of the church.
There is the witness of the Reformation fathers: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others. There is the witness of our Dutch fathers and English and Scottish fathers. Out of that witness came our precious three forms of unity, as well as the Westminster standards and other great confessions of the truth. And, yes, make no mistake about it, we learned that truth at the feet of our own Protestant Reformed fathers.
Thank God every day for George C. Ophoff and Herman Hoeksema. Where would we be had they not been given the grace and courage to stand up for sovereign and particular grace in 1924? And that first generation of faithful ministers who again had to struggle for the truth against an erroneous and heretical view of the covenant and maintained an unconditional covenant (the C. Hankos, the Gerrit Vosses, and the rest of that generation).
Through these men and their students we have been given by God a rich, profound, brilliant, even unique insight into the truth. Think of it! God’s unilateral, unconditional covenant of friendship with the elect in Christ Jesus. God’s sovereign and particular and saving grace, by which grace alone the elect are saved in Christ. Our doctrine of preaching as the chief means of grace through which we hear the very voice of Christ and by which power the elect in Christ are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus and the reprobate are hardened and condemned in the way of their own sin and rebellion. What a rich and wonderful heritage of the knowledge of the truth of the gospel God has given us. The absolute antithesis, the truth over against the lie, God and Satan, faith and unbelief, Christ and Belial, the church vs. the world, good and evil. Now is no time for compromise, either in doctrine or in practice. Now is no time for bickering and fighting over non-essentials. That sacred trust of truth needs to be taught to others, to as many as the Lord our God shall call, in the churches and without shame. That truth of the gospel needs to be preached promiscuously to the nations wherever God in His good pleasure sends us in missions.
If that is to happen, that truth must be committed to faithful men. That, too, is powerful language. The verb “commit” means to “place down,” to “deposit,” to “entrust to one’s charge.” Note, this is an imperative. This is not something we may or may not do. We have no choice. It is God’s command to entrust that truth to faithful men. That has serious implications for professor-elect Gritters, for us soon-to-be his colleagues on the faculty of the seminary, and for the students whom God graciously gives to us.
For us who are called upon to teach, this determines our method of teaching. What we have heard, learned, is a discernible body of truth from the holy Scriptures as articulated and summed by the Reformed confessions, and as taught and maintained, by God’s grace, in our churches for over seventy-five years. That truth is not subject to various interpretations or applications. It is not given us merely to be discussed or debated. It is not up for grabs. Much less is it to be contradicted or denied in any way. It must be faithfully entrusted to the charge of faithful men who shall, in this way, be able to teach others also.
That is utterly crucial. For there are at least two fundamental principles restored by the Lord through the Reformation of the sixteenth century involved in all of this. The formal principle: sola scriptura. The infallible Scriptures are the sole authority for the faith and life of the believer. And closely related is the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture, which means that holy Scripture is not an enigma, it is not hidden, it is not obscure, it is not able to be understood only by highly educated doctors of theology and experts. Scripture is uncomplicated, simple, clear, unambiguous, easy to understand. We must be as little children and believe it. One either wrests the Scriptures to his own destruction in unbelief, or he believes it with childlike faith. Then he says, “My only comfort is that I am not my own but I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who saved me from sin and death by His death on the cross, as sealed in His resurrection, and that, by God’s grace alone.”
Students, yes, of course, you may question what you hear. You may debate and discuss it. You may probe into the things of Scripture and the confessions. You must feel perfectly free to do that. But remember what Rev. Hoeksema told us in our days in seminary: You must do that only within the bounds of Scripture as interpreted by the confessions. What is committed to you must be learned and understood. But your learning is under the ministry of the Word and must be mixed with faith—that precious Reformed faith given to our churches.
That must become the burning conviction of your hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. When it becomes that, you will become faithful men, able to teach others.
Committing … how possible
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. That is how it is possible. None is worthy, it means, to commit the truth to faithful men. None is able to do that. None is worthy or able to teach others also. All of our strength must come from the grace of God. Rev. Gritters, God has called you to this sacred task. In a few moments you will be installed into that special work of the office of the ministry of the Word called professor of theology. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Be a man of prayer. And be assured you will be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus. He is faithful to those whom He calls.
And that same applies to all of us who teach and all of us who are preparing for the ministry.
Finally, beloved saints in our Lord Jesus Christ, we need in the seminary your love and your concern and your support. Not just dollars. We need your prayers—not just petitions in the congregational prayer (that, too, of course), but the prayers of your family devotions and your personal time with the Lord. In this way God will give us grace, His grace in Christ Jesus, to do the work of committing the truth to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.
And all of this will be to the glory of His ever blessed name. Pray for us.