He was in prison for the second, and what would turn out to be the last, time. He would leave the prison only to be executed. He had just appeared before the judge, and he felt that his life on earth was near the end. He was an old minister of the gospel and was in prison as a result of his beliefs. He seems to know that he will soon die, and therefore writes a letter to a young minister whom he had trained for the ministry and whom he loved very much. In this letter he asks this young servant of Christ to come and visit him in prison. That old minister was the apostle Paul. In his last letter to Timothy he tells him to be faithful to the Word of God and to give himself over exclusively to it. Paul tells Timothy that this Word of God is the heart of his ministry. In the midst of the continual threat of false doctrine and of persecution the servant of God finds his strength solely in the Word of God. Paul describes those evil days in II Timothy 3:1-13. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” (vss. 12, 13)
As a result of these evil and perilous times, Paul tells Timothy in verse 14, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of.” Continue in, stand firm, abide in those things. Never depart from them. By nature you will want to leave them, so you will have to fight to stay and abide in them.
What are those things? They are the truths of the Scriptures which are given by inspiration. They are the truths of the Scriptures by which God has revealed Himself. In the Scriptures we learn about God, the sovereign Lord Who created and upholds all things for the glory of His own. name. We learn that God has chosen for Himself a people in Christ, His Son. From the Scriptures we learn that man rejected and despises God. But we also learn that Christ died for us, bearing the curse which was rightly ours and giving us the righteousness of God. Therefore we are to walk holily in the midst of the world, And we learn that Christ is coming again to establish His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth. In those truths we are to continue. We are to think on them, follow them, and grow more and more in them till Christ comes again.
But how do we learn these things? We learn these things as children from our parents. They teach us them as we grow up in the organism of the church. However, I believe that it could be said that we all are taught them by our seminary, either directly or indirectly. Ministers and seminarians, of course, learn these truths directly from the seminary. But our parents, who teach them to us, are taught them by their ministers in the preaching. Thus, the men whom the seminary taught, teach us of these truths of Scripture. Therefore you can see the importance of the seminary.
In many congregational prayers our seminary is referred to as the heart-beat of our churches. The heart-beat, we all know, is vital to our physical existence. Without our heart-beat we would die. The same holds true for our seminary. If it would not exist, our churches would soon disappear. Why? Why is the seminary so important?
Christ gave the command to preach the gospel to all nations. The preaching is done only by the minister, not by the elders and deacons. Only the minister holds the prophetic office. That is why a congregation without a minister is in an abnormal situation which is not alleviated by classical appointments. A congregation without a ministerdoes not have the three-fold manifestation of the three-fold office of Christ. Because of that command of Christ to preach the gospel, ministers are needed. As long as ministers are needed, there will be a need for those who are preparing themselves for the ministry. As long as Christ has His church in the midst of the world, as long as the elect must be gathered by His Spirit and Word, ministers of the gospel are needed.
There is especially an abiding need in the Protestant Reformed Churches. We believe and profess that we, the Protestant Reformed Churches, maintain and proclaim the gospel in all its purity. That profession implies that we are obligated to be sure that there are men to proclaim that truth.
But there is and always will be a shortage of ministers. It can be inserted here that if there is a surplus, it is the duty and obligation of the churches to make use of that surplus, so that that surplus no longer exists. Even though we know that this shortage exists, it is rather difficult for us in the Eastern Classis of our churches to realize and feel that shortage. If we are vacant, we have pulpit supply and catechism teaching. Only those of our churches who have had an extended vacancy know what this shortage really is. That this shortage really exists can easily be shown. At present we have six vacancies in our churches: four pastorates, one professorship, and one home missionary. And even though we have three graduates from our seminary this year, that shortage will not be filled for another two years, if the Lord wills that the students now in the seminary will graduate in their respective years. Also there are other factors figuring in this shortage. We have several ministers who are near or past 60 years of age. From these facts we can easily see that a shortage actually exists. But we must remember that this need must not cause worry. God has provided for us in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
If the churches are to have ministers, these ministers must come from the congregations themselves. That is so because the responsibility to preach lies on the individual, autonomous churches. Therefore the churches must do all they can to provide ministers for themselves. That is the principle of Article 19 of the Church Order, too. “The churches shall exert themselves as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.” It must be remembered that the purpose of this article is ‘not to help needy students, but rather to help the churches. Too often matters of this nature are evaluated exclusively on a money basis. This is a mistake. Money is involved, but there is something much more important which underlies this article of the Church Order. That principle is that the individual churches must do all they can to provide ministers. But this does not mean that the church calls a minister to his position.
We must always remember that only God calls a man to become a minister. This call of God is indispensable. But because God calls men t6 the ministry, we must pray, committing to Him our needs. Pray, asking Him to fill the vacant churches with men. Only God calls, but God uses means.
The churches individually must exert themselves to fulfill the mandate of this article of the Church Order. The church is duty bound to recruit from its own members, God-fearing and capable youths and prepare them for the ministry. This exertion of the churches takes place through various means. It takes place in the general training and instruction of the covenant youth in Catechism, in young people’s society, at family visitation, and in the preaching. The question of entering the ministry is then placed before qualified young men. The whole idea is that young men must face this question honestly. Therefore it is the calling of the churches to exert themselves toward locating such men whom God is pleased to call. Advice and encouragement is then given. This also implies, of course, that those not qualified, those who lack essential qualifications are advised against entering into the ministry.
But this exertion is not only by the churches as a whole, but also it is the calling of parents and individual families. We know that the initiative mustcome from the individual himself. In this way the ministry is different from elders and deacons. Elders and deacons are nominated, but young men alone make the initial decision to enter the ministry. No one may make this decision for him. One must never be nagged or coerced into the ministry. There is nothing worse than an unhappy minister. But that does not mean that everyone stands passively by. His parents give him counsel, guide him, and pray for him.
This exertion must also take place in families where there is no one preparing for the ministry. Families must begin by showing respect for the ministry as a position of God-given authority. They must give it due honor, so that the children see that and imitate it. Also, they must show concern for the seminary. Pray for it. Talk about it. Talk with and encourage the seminarians. I can say from experience that that means a lot. Pray for and encourage the professors. They need encouragement too. We will never know how much hard work, now much blood, sweat, and tears they put into their labors in the seminary. Also show your concern for the seminary by attending convocation exercises. Do not ever think that your presence goes unnoticed. Come to graduation. In general, make it so that you and your childrenbelieve that the seminary is the heartbeat of our churches.
Then we can understand how it is this institution which instructs all of us in the truths of the Scriptures. It teaches us, either directly or indirectly.
Therefore, continue in that which you have learned, candidates. You and I must continue in that as we take up our calling. Continue in that which you have learned, delegates to Synod, as you deliberate matters concerning the welfare of our churches. Continue in that which you have learned, beloved of God, as you walk in the midst of this world.
Why? Why continue in those things? Because these truths of the Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. You will not be foolish as the world, ever learning; and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. You and I will have the wisdom which will enable us to know how we are to walk in the midst of this world of sin.
Therefore, continue in that which you have learned. Continue!