Please note that, although Prof. Dykstra resigned as editor, he agreed to help in a limited way to the end of the volume year. This is the last of his editorials.
Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
I Samuel 7:12
The church of Jesus Christ is a miracle. Her very existence is a wonder of grace. The church is part of the believer’s confession of faith: “I believe an holy, catholic church.” The Heidelberg Catechism explains that article of faith teaching that “the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith” (Q&A 54).
A church “chosen” already indicates it is a wonder work of God. In eternity, God decreed a church, in love chose all the members of that church and gave them to Christ. The wonder work continued in the Son taking on human flesh—the miracle of the incarnation— in order to redeem His bride. And the wonder continues all through history as the Son of God “gathers, defends, and preserves” this church by His “Spirit and word.”
The believer marvels at the miracle that, yet in the year of our Lord 2021, the church continues to exist in the world. Humanly speaking, it should not exist. The church consists of members who are guilty of idolatry, adultery, stealing, blasphemy, murder, and rebellion. Truly washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ, she is cleansed, but all these sins yet abide in the heart of every member of the church on earth and are all too evident in their lives.
Although the members are knit together by their faith in Christ and drawn together by the love of God poured into their hearts, the unity, from a human perspective, is fragile. Within the church are fighting, strife, backbiting, and slander. The church of Jesus Christ on this earth is splintered by party spirit, by heresies, and by evil men seeking their personal advantage.
That the church exists on this earth is a miracle. The only explanation for her existence is the powerful work of the Son of God defending and preserving her.
But there is more to this wonder. The church is constantly in battle, threatened by enemies. The world of the ungodly is the enemy of the church. The rich, powerful, athletic, and brilliant members of the human race are most often found among the ungodly. And the ungodly so greatly outnumber the church that the Bible calls the church but a “remnant,” a “little flock,” and a “hut.” The world is ever seeking the destruction of the church, alternately wooing by sinful pleasures and then persecuting with the sword. And the church faces battles within her own walls—attempts to defile the truth with the lie of Satan, or self-seeking men who lead others to follow them. The church must be ready for attacks within and outside her walls.
That the church exists in the world is clearly a wonder of grace, a miracle.
God has worked that miracle in the Protestant Reformed Churches for some 96 years. The churches have had her battles for the truth. From the beginning, the churches stood for sovereign, particular grace and rejected a non-saving, common grace for all. It maintained the biblical (Reformed) doctrine of preaching and rejected the Arminian well-meant gospel offer. The PRC were scorned and reviled for their stand. By God’s grace, they stood.
Twenty-five years later came the battle for the doctrine of the covenant, through which controversy the truth of the covenant was maintained and sharpened. The churches maintained that God establishes His covenant with the elect alone; that the covenant is not mere promises, but a true relationship of friendship that God makes with believers and their seed. In the process, the churches rejected the teaching that the covenant is conditional and breakable. The churches barely survived the struggle, with over half the members and ministers departing. The battle was wearisome; and it was bitter. By a wonder of grace, the churches were preserved.
The PRC battles included a strong stand against labor unions, where the very livelihood of the members was threatened. The churches did battle in the application of the covenant to life in the struggle to establish and maintain Protestant Reformed Christian schools as well as in the insistence that marriage is for life, and remarriage is not allowed after divorce.
The churches have faced battles where there was pressure from some on the “right” of the spectrum—wanting to outlaw Sunday work for necessary labor (police, nurse, and fireman), seeking to forbid a cross in a church building, and insisting that the Christian ought not pay federal income taxes. All these positions were rejected through much study and conflict. And later, through more study and strife, the churches determined that the Reformed Church Order Article 21 did indeed require that officebearers (under ordinary circumstances) send their children to the available Protestant Reformed school.
The latest battle has had several facets, including:
In it all, in order to clarify the doctrine of works and assurance and covenant fellowship, the PRC adopted the position that “we experience fellowship with God through faith (instrument), on the basis of what Christ has done (ground), and in the way of our obedience (way of conduct or manner of living).” Once again, the truth was maintained and sharpened.
Battles. So many battles.
With every battle, there are casualties. Some members are left unsatisfied, unconvinced, and disgruntled. The youth in the church are particularly vulnerable. The devil works hard to foster in them doubt, disgust and, especially, distrust in the church, ministers, and elders. Families are hurt. Members leave, and some continue the path away from the truth and, in their generations, reject all the truth.
It is a miracle that the church exists because the very leaders are sinners…and they fall. The history of the PRC demonstrates that Satan strives mightily to bring ministers to ruin. Of the first twenty-three ministers in the PRC, thirteen left the PRC. From 1959 to today, eleven ministers have left; seven were deposed. Satan attacks furiously. Ministers who leave are unhappy— that is why they left. And then Satan works on their bitterness and wounded pride to incite them to attack the PRC. Few can resist Satan’s evil goading.
It is a miracle that the church of Jesus Christ, also the Protestant Reformed Churches, exist.
The Protestant Reformed Churches are about 96 years old, as is also the Standard Bearer. Both have been attacked for 96 years—from the left, the right, and from within. God has graciously preserved both.
“Graciously” cannot be overly stressed. Every member of the church and every staff writer is by nature prone to every evil, and confesses with the apostle Paul, “I am the chief of sinners.” Those who attack us as evil have no idea what darkness and evil is found in the soul of every minister, elder, deacon, school teacher, man, woman, and child in the PRC. Unless they look honestly into their own souls.
Grace alone. Unmerited, forfeited favor on a completely unworthy sinner. The sovereign power to deliver from death, corruption, and the most vile evil. Grace to preserve born-again sinners in this world and to make them “sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto” Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1).
A wonder of grace.
Another way to express that is, “Ebenezer, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
Samuel set up a stone, called it “the stone of help,” and made the declaration to Israel. Israel had just defeated the Philistines, obviously, only by Jehovah’s power. Hitherto, that is, to this point in our history, the Lord has helped us. Without His aid we would never have survived. And looking ahead, without His aid we will not survive.
That is the point of the stone and the name.
It tells us, first, that our very existence, as well as our blessing, is all of God. Alone of God. All of grace.
Second, Ebenezer is our only hope and confidence going forward. The unchanging Jehovah is our help. As He has helped, so He will in the future. God has preserved the PRC. One of the greatest blessings is the faithfulness of the seminary. God preserved every one of the nine professors in the seminary to this point. And the three men starting their work, by God grace, are equally committed to teaching the very same truths that the seminary taught from June of 1925 when classes began. They will teach the same truth—sovereign, particular grace and the unconditional covenant—and reject all errors repugnant thereto. If God does not preserve them, they will not stand. Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
Third, implied is the call to stand and continue in the battles, relying on God. Battle for His truth, His cause, His church, kingdom, and covenant. Ministers stand at the forefront of the battle, called to preach Christ crucified and risen again. That must be the heart of every sermon. If that is what Paul’s mission was, to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ crucified, that must be the desire of all faithful ministers. Preach Christ. What Christ has done for us and is performing in us. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. That preaching is the power of God unto salvation. That demands also, as the Formula of Subscription requires, rejecting all errors repugnant to that glorious truth. In so doing, they will be fighting in the battle.
Are you becoming battle weary, fellow Christians? Tired of controversy? Over all the world, God’s church is experiencing division, trouble, conflict, and persecution. You are not the first believers to be discouraged. The Spirit inspired the writer to the Hebrews to admonish the believers: “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” And again, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb. 12:4, 12).
Know that the Lord is preparing His church for greater conflicts. Unpleasant as it is to be reviled and castigated in blogs and social media that can be read all over the world, this is nothing compared to being the offscouring of whole world—when the entire world turns its attention on the true church of Jesus Christ and condemns all those who confess Jesus as the most evil people on the earth. And then kills them.
Those day are not far off. We will need the stone to remind us—Ebenezer. God will never forsake His church. But let us quote Him. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” And by grace, through faith we respond: “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5, 6).
May God keep us faithful.