Beloved people of God. As our chairman mentioned in his prayer at the beginning of this meeting, we celebrate this year not only the 50th anniversary of our Protestant Reformed Churches, but also on this convocation night, the 50th anniversary of our Protestant Reformed Theological School. That in itself is an extremely significant thing. It is significant, I think, for especially two reasons. It is significant, in the first place, because of the fact that those men whom God used at the very beginning of our history to form the Protestant Reformed Churches; were obviously so convinced of the rightness of their cause and of the blessing of the Lord in the future upon their fledgling denomination that they immediately established a seminary for the instruction of men for the ministry of the Word. In the second place, it is significant that we celebrate tonight the 50th anniversary of our seminary because of the fact that the affairs of the seminary have always been intimately entwined with the affairs of the church to which we belong.
And in so far as we commemorate God’s covenant faithfulness to us as churches, we commemorate God’s covenant faithfulness to us also as a seminary. Never has our seminary occupied a position separate from our churches. Always the affairs of the seminary were very closely connected with the history of our congregations and with the history of our denomination. The seminary was born out of the same conflict which brought about the existence of our own Protestant Reformed Churches. The seminary stood in the vanguard during the troubles and doctrinal controversies through which our churches have passed. Never was the seminary some kind of ivory tower far removed from the battlefield; but always the seminary took a leading role in all these controversies and difficulties. It participated actively in the expansion of our churches, especially in the years immediately following upon 1924. It provided the church with all her ministers from the beginning until today. And, especially during the years of Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff it played a major role in the development of the positive truth of sovereign grace. All of these things show that the seminary has never been separated from the life of the church.
But what is particularly significant and particularly true is that the seminary has always stood in the forefront of the life of the church from the point of view of doctrine. And in connection with that fact, I want to call your attention tonight for a few moments to some thoughts in connection with the prophecy of Hosea 4:6, where the prophet Hosea, as the mouthpiece of Jehovah and by the Spirit of Christ, gives this diagnosis of the sad state of affairs in the Northern Kingdom. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Admittedly that is a negative text; nevertheless, it implies, in the first place, a very important positive truth; and it implies, in the second place, a very urgent and serious warning.
From a political, economic and social point of view, for the nation of Israel the day during which Hosea prophesied were days of unparalleled prosperity. The power of Syria had declined. Syria had been, up to a short time before this point, Israel’s arch-enemy. The power of Assyria had not yet reached its zenith. And in that lull the Northern Kingdom of the 10 tribes flourished, especially under the rule of Jeroboam II. The nation was prosperous; the nation was wealthy; the nation was engaged in active trade; there was affluence and luxury such as it had never known. There was peace and quietness within the borders; no foreign invaders threatened.
But although all this was true from a political and an economic point of view, nevertheless, from a spiritual point of view, the nation of Israel had fallen on bad times. We need only read very briefly in the prophecy of Hosea to realize how bad the spiritual condition in the nation had become. The sin of image worship and idolatry which had been begun by Jeroboam I and which had received strong impetus under the rule of Ahab had continued to develop to the spiritual detriment of the nation. And along with the sin of idolatry went all the abominations of the heathen, so that there was not one sin which had been committed at any time among all the heathen nations which surrounded Israel which was not also to be found in the Northern Kingdom. The people had become immune, it seemed, to rebuke. The people loved their luxuries; and a spirit of worldly-mindedness, of carnal pleasure, of enjoyment in the good things of life, to the exclusion of spiritual values, prevailed throughout the entire nation.
It was, therefore, if I may say so, a time in the Northern Kingdom which compares rather closely to our own; especially in this country. Certainly there is no one who would dispute the fact that the church, in this country, lives and shares in a time of unparalleled prosperity. The church has wealth, and affluence; the church is materially strong, financially in possession of huge assets, both of property and money. But while this may be true from a material point of view; there are few, too, who would dispute the fact that the church has fallen on bad times. The materialism and affluence and prosperity which characterize the church have constituted a fertile seed bed in which the seeds of worldliness, godlessness, and carnal mindedness have grown and flourished and brought forth a dreadful fruit. If the diagnosis which God offered through Hosea the prophet, therefore, fitted the nation of Israel, that same diagnosis of the ailments which plague the church fits also the church of today.
The first question to be answered is: What does the prophet mean when he speaks of God’s people; and what does God Himself mean when He addresses this nation as “My people?” I can say only a few words about that.
The idea is, first of all, that God addresses the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom organically. That means especially three things. It means, in the first place, that the nation of Israel was God’s people from the viewpoint of her historical origin, and from the viewpoint of the history which she experienced throughout all the ages of her existence. That nation was part of God’s people which claimed Abraham as its ancestor. That nation was part of a people whom God had separated from all the nations of the earth, and led them out of the house of bondage, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise. That nation was a nation which had been given special privileges. It had received what Paul called the oracles of God; it had received the revelation of God in all His mighty works and wonders which He had performed. And as such, because that nation was specially preferred throughout all her history, separated as a special people, that nation goes under the name of “God’s people.”
In the second place, that nation is called “‘God’s people” because of the fact that there was present in the nation throughout all her history, two seeds: the seed of the elect kernel, of the 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and whom God preserved even in the days of Hosea the prophet; and the reprobate and carnal seed. And in so far as the elect kernel (the remnant according to the election of grace), was still preserved there, that people still went under the name of “God’s people.”
In the third place, the nation as a whole manifested itself as wicked. The diagnosis which God makes of the nation is a diagnosis which applies to the nation in her organic unity. God’s people were present—of that there can be no doubt. But the nation manifested herself in her national life, through her kings, through her priests, and through her prophets. As that nation came to manifestation, therefore, before the eyes of her sister Judah, and before the eyes of the whole world, the diagnosis of the ailments of that nation is this, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That was the trouble. That was the problem in the nation.
If we ask the question, to what does the prophet refer when he speaks of knowledge, the answer to that question is this: the prophet refers especially to the knowledge of the mighty works and deeds of Jehovah God. That is mentioned many times in the Old Testament Scriptures. You have, for example, in the book of Judges the statement at the very beginning of the book: “A generation arose which knew not the Lord, neither the mighty works which He had performed for Israel.” That statement at the very beginning of the book of Judges is intended to be the explanation for the many calamities which befell the nation during the period in which the Judges ruled. You have the same expression used in Psalm 78 in a slightly different context. In Psalm 78, godly Israel, through the mouth of the poet, promises to teach her children the wonderful works of the Lord. And when the prophet, therefore, talks about the fact that the problem in the Northern Kingdom is lack of knowledge, the prophet means by that: lack of the knowledge of God’s mighty works which He had performed for the nation.
We need not enumerate all those mighty works; you know them. They are the mighty works whereby God led Israel out of Egypt, preserved them for 40 years in the wilderness, and gave them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. In that land He had blessed them with milk and honey, had set upon the throne of the kingdom David and Solomon, and had always spoken to Israel of the fact that their existence as a nation was exclusively and solely dependent upon the mighty works of Jehovah.
But it is well to remind ourselves of the fact that these mighty works of Jehovah which became a part of the history of the nation of Israel, were mighty works which constituted, for Israel, sacred history. The history of the nation, because it was filled with all these mighty works, was the history of revelation. And because these mighty works of Jehovah constituted sacred history, the history of revelation, the contents of all that history were always the promises of God. In all of these mighty works which God performed He was speaking His promises. And those promises are Christ. The knowledge of God’s mighty works, therefore, was the knowledge of God’s wonders as He revealed Himself as the God Who promised to save His church through the seed of the woman.
Now I want to stress the fact, for a moment, that that was knowledge: hard knowledge; knowledge which is the content of Israel’s mind, and knowledge which can only be the fruit of study and of learning. It is the product of hard learning, hard work, intellectual endeavor. It is not acquired by lying flat on one’s back in bed and daydreaming; it is not acquired automatically, so that it seeps in by some strange process of osmosis. It is not innate in man, so that he is born with it and need not acquire it. It is hard, theological doctrine. That kind of knowledge it is which can only be acquired in the way of work.
And yet, at the same time, though it is that kind of knowledge, it is not only knowledge of the head. It never was for believing Israel. A man does not stake his life on knowledge of the head. A Noah does not build an ark on knowledge of the head. An Abraham does not sojourn as a stranger in a strange land on the basis of mere head knowledge. The knowledge of God is always, and was for believing Israel, the knowledge of the heart, as well as of the head. It is the knowledge of faith; the knowledge which is spiritual in character; the knowledge which, when it becomes the confession of a man, is breathed out in the whole of his life; the knowledge, in short, of which Jesus speaks in His High-priestly prayer when He says, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” There was a lack of that knowledge in Israel.
There were apparently two reasons for that. In the first place, that knowledge was no longer being taught. Parents were not teaching their children the knowledge of God’s mighty works which He had performed for Israel. Nor were those in the nation who were entrusted with the responsibility of instruction in the broader sense, the priests and the prophets, teaching the people the knowledge which they should have had.
But while the blame for this lack of knowledge, no doubt, must be laid at the feet of parents and prophets and priests, Hosea is very explicit about it that the people themselves share in that blame. In this same verse he says, “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee.” The meaning is that although that knowledge was not being taught, the people did not want it. They did not want to hear of it. I suppose, fundamentally and basically, that was because of the fact that they hated that knowledge. Hatred of the truth is always characteristic of the unbeliever. But in a certain sense of the word, the sin of the people was even worse than that; at least in so far as it was manifested. It was not so much an activehatred of the knowledge of God, as it was sheer, cold indifference. They didn’t have the time for it. They didn’t have any interest in it. They couldn’t be bothered with it. They were too busy in their pursuit of carnal pleasure’ to engage in the hard work of acquiring the knowledge of God’s wonderful works which He had performed: They didn’t want to be bothered. The effort was too great. That was why there was no knowledge. That kind of an attitude towards knowledge is born in an unregenerate heart.
And that is characteristic of the church of today. Who can deny it? There is no knowledge—that is the trouble; no knowledge of God’s wonderful works, in the first place, and principally as those works are recorded for us on the pages of Holy Writ and as they constitute for us the infallible record of the revelation of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. But no knowledge either of God’s wonderful works which He performed on behalf of His church from the day of Pentecost to today. No knowledge of how God gathered His church from all the nations of the earth; how He preserved His church against the gates of hell; how He kept His church in dark and difficult hours, when heresies threatened her very existence; when enemies stormed her citadels; how He always preserved His own remnant according to the election of grace, even when that preservation required reformation, separation, the re-establishment of the church. And how God preserved that church when fierce persecutions arose, so that the truth which our fathers confessed was the truth written with their own blood. Those mighty works the church today does not know. And it does not know them because no one teaches them. Instead of hard knowledge, something one can get his teeth into, there is proclaimed from a thousand pulpits a diet of drivel and bland, tasteless pap.
But the fault does not only lie with those upon whom rests the responsibility for teaching. There is not love for the truth, no love for knowledge, no interest in sound doctrine, no time for it, no concern about it among the people. “We can’t be bothered. Don’t trouble us about these things.” We live in this age of tolerance where everybody, no matter what road he travels, is after all, on the road to heaven. We are reminded repeatedly and admonished a thousand times that we must not be critical; we must not be picky; we must not be so narrow-minded as to consider the fact that there is only one knowledge, and one truth which is salvation.
And so God’s people perish because there is no knowledge. Israel did. This does not refer only to the captivity—to that, too, of course. It would only be a few years when Assyria would have reached that point in the development of her might where she would swoop down upon the Northern Kingdom and lead the people away captive. But the destruction of which God speaks here is a different kind of a destruction. In a way, it is more terrible, although the captivity stands connected with it. Israel would presently cease to be the church, the manifestation of the body of Christ. And so it is with any church, any church which despises knowledge; her place is taken out of the candlestick; she ceases to be church, the church of Christ, the manifestation of Christ’s body. She becomes a tomb, a sepulchre in which are found rotting corpses and dead men’s bones. And the end is hell.
And that is not just because of the fact that to despise knowledge is one kind of sin which stands out above many others. To despise knowledge, to turn one’s back on knowledge, is to turn one’s back on God and Christ, Who alone is the Fountain of all life. That is God’s diagnosis.
That implies, of course, very important and fundamental truths. That truth is the cornerstone of the church, the guarantee of her survival as church; and the promise of all of her future rests in her knowledge, her knowledge of doctrine, her knowledge of sound doctrine, of the wonderful works of God; her knowledge of them so that she understands them, understands them thoroughly, understands them so thoroughly that she can articulately speak of them. And yet it is the kind of knowledge which is spiritual; profoundly, deeply spiritual. And for that reason it is always the personal knowledge that is the living, pulsing confession of the child of God. That kind of knowledge is the critical ingredient necessary for the welfare of the church of Christ.
And so, we are ready to begin another year in the seminary. God’s mighty works which He has performed include also the history of our own Protestant Reformed Churches. But they include not only the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches as some interesting and significant historical data; but they include the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches as God has kept us as churches and seminary, faithful to the truth of the Scriptures. That, I tell you, is a wonderful work of God.
And so we can do no better on this occasion of our 50th anniversary than to rededicate ourselves to that knowledge of God which is so dear and precious to us. And that means in particular, first of all, that you students who are studying in the seminary must pursue that knowledge with excitement, with a spirit of adventure, with eagerness, with dedication, with zeal, with devotion. That is critical for your preparation for the ministry of the gospel. And that means, in particular, in the second place, beloved colleagues, that you and I have the awesome responsibility in the seminary to receive in humble gratitude the heritage which is ours; to receive that in the acknowledgment of the fact that that constitutes one of God’s mighty works which he has done for Israel; to give faithful instruction, faithful to that heritage, and to pursue unrelentingly the knowledge of the truth. And that means, thirdly, and specifically, that this is an endeavor which occupies the church of Christ as a whole. The seminary cannot exist without the churches. I do not mean financially, although that, too. I do not mean as a reason for her existence, although that, too. But I mean that the quest of the knowledge of God, of the infinite riches of the Most High as He revealed them in Christ is a quest that can never occupy the attention of a couple of men, stuck off in some classrooms or in the ivory towers of their own studies, surrounded by their libraries and books. It does not work that way. It never has, and it never will. Only when God’s people pursue that knowledge of the truth constantly and faithfully, will that continue to be the case also in the seminary. From our pulpits that truth must sound doctrinally. And from our people there must arise anew the prayer, “Lord teach us to know Thee, Whom to know is life eternal.” Then we have a glorious future. May God grant it.