* Speech delivered at the Annual meeting of the R.F.P.A. on Thursday evening, September 14, 1944 in Fuller Ave. Comments and criticisms concerning any of the material here presented is invited.
Tonight we celebrate twenty years of continuous publication of the Standard Bearer. I thought it appropriate, therefore, on this twentieth anniversary, to depart somewhat from the usual type of speech heard on the occasion of the Annual business meeting and to review briefly the past twenty years of history of the Standard Bearer. To accomplish this resume of the past twenty years many facts have been gathered and some conclusions and deductions drawn from them which should prove both interesting and profitable for a discussion. The material divided under three heads: General Facts, Facts concerning the contents, and Facts relative to Policy. Many of the figures presented are, very evidently, not actual but approximations; used as a basis for conclusion. I believe, however, that they are correct enough to allow the conclusions drawn.
The September 15 issue of the Standard Bearer completes 20 volumes of our paper. In these 20 volumes there are about 430 separate numbers or issues. These volumes contain approximately 10,320 pages and about 10,320,000 words. If the pages of a complete set of 20 volumes would be laid end to end they would stretch for a distance of about 2 miles. If all the pages of all the issues, that have ever been printed, would be so laid end to end, they would easily connect all of our Churches and then go around the world about one and one half times. If the words of a complete set were laid out in a straight line they would form a continual sentence of about 62 miles in length.
In the past twenty years there have been 3 special issues of the Standard Bearer printed. Two of these have commemorated our Young People’s Conventions and the third has been devoted to the 25th anniversary of the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s ministry.
Each month there are about 1,200 copies of the Standard Bearer printed. These are sent out to 800 subscribers, while 400 are gift subscriptions. The gift subscriptions include all our servicemen, contributors, exchanges and Library copies. Among the libraries where the Standard Bearer is found, are the Calvin Library and the Grand Rapids Public Library. Although there are only 12 subscribers outside our denomination, there is evidence that it is much more widely read by other than Protestant Reformed Church members. Among our Churches, Edgerton leads with a 100% subscription record while Manhattan is not far behind. Proportionately, Fuller Ave. has the least number of subscribers.
The original staff of the Standard Bearer was composed of the Revs. H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema, G. M. Ophoff and Mr. G. Van Beek. Soon after the birth of the child the Rev. Danhof and Mr. Van Beek deserted the babe leaving the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff to nurse the little giant alone. That they did so very nobly is abundantly evident.
The Rev. Hoeksema has written at least one article in every issue of the magazine since its inception. An amazing record! This includes the three special issues that have been printed. In fact, it is the exception to find only one article with the initials H. H. It has only occurred once in the twenty years of history; in the 20th anniversary number. In each of the Convention numbers there are two articles signed by him. His material has filled from 3/4 of a page in the Anniversary number up to 28 pages of the Standard Bearer. You might ask how that last figure is possible for the paper is of only 24 pages. At the time that Dr. K. Schilder was visiting in this country a meeting was held in the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids to discuss a possible reunion with the Christian Reformed Church. The speech which the Rev. Hoeksema delivered at this gathering was printed in both English and Holland and together with other material written by him accounted for 28 pages in that particular issue. Apart from that it is not uncommon to find from 12-16 pages of the Rev. Hoeksema’s material in a single issue. The overall average is about 8-10 pages. If we take the lower figure we find that he has filled about 3,440 pages and written about 3,500,000 words in the past twenty years in the Standard Bearer. This material would fill about 7 volumes and is, consequently, more than one-third of all the material published.
The Rev. G. M. Ophoff follows; also having high honors. Next in line are the two “nurses’ aides” who were soon called in, the late Rev. W. Verhil and the Rev. G. Vos, who quickly became full-fledged “doctors” by faithful service and labor. At present there are 22 regular contributors; some of whom are not so regular.
You would like to suggest, perhaps, that though these facts have been interesting, to gather them represents a terrific waste of time and effort. On the contrary, they are not only interesting but very, very revealing and of great value, in their revelation, to all those who are truly interested in our paper. By these gross figures we are brought, first of all, very strikingly, before a great cause for joy, They should arouse within us a mighty prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God for His goodness to us; thankfulness for deeming us worthy to carry the banner of His truth for these twenty years; praise for His continued blessing upon our labors; appreciation and adoration to Him for giving us men with insight and talent and spiritual gifts, through whom He has developed the truth of Scripture in our midst.
In the second place, it is evident that they demand a sincere expression of thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to the Rev. H. Hoeksema, especially, and to all others in a varying degree, who have labored so faithfully for the Standard Bearer.
They also reveal that the burden of the responsibility and work connected with the Standard Bearer, in the past twenty years, has rested on the shoulders of the Rev. Hoeksema. He has felt that responsibility and has assumed it throughout. It is evident that he has often filled its pages when others were negligent. This has meant much burning of the midnight oil and plenty of hard work. The paper has been a constant cause of worry to him. It has often been a sick baby and his was the struggle to keep it alive. Even though now there are 22 regular subscribers it is still his baby, as it always has been.
But after twenty years it should be a healthy young man and the time has come to prove that it is. We would like to suggest, therefore, that the paper be departmentalized or divided into rubrics. Not only would this relieve the Rev. Hoeksema from a great deal of unnecessary work and worry, but would at the same time stabilize the paper and let it stand on its own feet. To accomplish that end the plan should be adopted that was suggested by the Editor-in-Chief in Volume 17, number 8. He suggests that the following departments be included:
History of Dogma
Questions & Contributions
These might, of course, be decreased or increased; according to the discretion of the staff. Our personal preference would be to give the Rev. Hoeksema the Meditation and Doctrinal departments and to relieve him of all else. He could, of course, contribute any other material; as he pleased. For the rest, one man should be responsible for each department. The remaining men might be divided under these heads as would be necessary. It is evident that not every rubric could be included in each issue but a schedule could be drawn up to work out the material. We believe it would be wise to include the Rev. Hoeksema’s material in each mm, To this we would also add the remark found in the article referred to above; “Each editor or department head shall be held responsible, during the time of his appointment, to fill his space with material pertinent to the rubric assigned to him, and that no one else, not even the Editor-in-Chief, may fill that space”—unless some extraordinary circumstance arise, such as the death of the writer.
The objection raised to the adoption of this plan is that the contributors in the past have not sent in their material, neither when it was directly assigned to them, nor when they had the privilege of choosing their own material. Further, it is said, that if this would continue it would surely be the death of the Standard Bearer. We believe, however, that effective measures could be taken and that the adoption of the plan itself would eliminate this objection. Nor do we believe that this would be the death of our Standard Bearer.
For especially two reasons, we feel that this plan would be a means of stabilization and growth rather than lethargy and death. Instead of the situation of prompting and directing and the relationship of pupil and teacher that now exists, there would arise a healthy sense of responsibility and individual development. In the second place, the inclusion in each issue of the departments assigned to the Rev. Hoeksema, which would surely be prepared, would alone make the paper worth printing and circulating; even though nothing else appeared. At the same time we should begin to prepare ourselves for a future eventuality. Although we all pray that the Lord may yet spare him for many years, we know that some day the Rev. Hoeksema will be forced to lay down his many labors. The adoption of this plan would help to prepare us for that day.
The facts concerning the circulation and volume of material that has been written are also very revealing. It was stated that if all the pages were laid end to end they would easily connect all of our churches. The Standard Bearer has been, just exactly, that mighty and potent factor of connection between our Churches which was necessary to us, who are scattered and small. It has been a bond of union between us. It was further stated that the contents of a complete volume would form a continuous sentence. Once again, it would be exactly that, for there has been unity and harmony of thought and development throughout its history.
Some sad impressions are left by the facts relative to circulation. It is evident that only about 1/2 – 3/4 of our own people are regular subscribers. Certainly there should be 100%. This, together with the fact that there are only about a dozen subscribers outside of our own denomination, presents a terrific field for expansion in this line. The evidence that Edgerton and Manhattan lead in the percentage of subscribers and Fuller Ave. lags, is likewise revealing. It reveals that our newer and younger congregations are the best supporters of our paper in subscriptions. That again means that as we grow older in our denomination our support and interest wanes. It is the old story of losing our first love and with it our enthusiasm. This certainly demands a mighty revival and call to return.
Some interesting and revealing facts have also been gathered relative to the contents of the Standard Bearer in the past twenty years. Passages from all the books of the Bible have been treated except two or three of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament and the books of Philemon and HI John in the New Testament. Many books are treated comprehensively. Portions from almost every chapter of Genesis are treated. Of the 50 chapters in Genesis one can find references to all but about 12-14. There are 12 or more references from the first chapter alone; while there are over 75 from the entire book. Passages from about half the chapters of each Exodus, Deuteronomy and Proverbs are treated. Of the 150 Psalms about 100 have been treated; many in great detail. Isaiah has been treated comprehensively while Zechariah is most complete—almost verse for verse. In connection with Ezekiel’s prophecy we find a striking fact. Especially 2 portions, in fact 2 verses, receive the lion’s share of discussion. Verse 23 of chapter 18 is treated in 9 articles while verse 11 of chapter 33 is developed in 7 articles. They are the two most famous “common grace” texts: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way and live?”—18:23; and “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your
evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”—33:11
In the New Testament the following books are treated comprehensively: Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, Revelation.
All of the so-called proof texts for “common grace” are treated and explained in detail in the light of all of Scripture. The most difficult passages seem to be found in the Gospel according to Matthew for at least 12 questions concerning passages in this book have been sent in; which is more than on any other book.
The titles and fields covered are of an equally wide range. They spread from A—Abraham or Absolute Predestination to Z—Zelotes or Zeal. Some of the more interesting and striking titles are: Yankee Dutch, That Insane Amusement Notion, The Lone Archer, Benedicto Domini Super Candidates Nostros, Did Christ Commit Suicide, and, of course, Common
Grace. Material treated has been in the .style and fields of Doctrine, Meditations, Church History, Bible History, History of Dogma, Philosophy, Economics, Sociology, Politics, and many more. Contributors, outside the regular staff, have ranged from A—Aardema to Z—Zwier. The latter being the Rev. Daniel Zwier of Holland, Michigan.
There are two special departments which we wish to examine a bit closer, for they give an indication of reader interest. In the first place there are Contributions, which include articles by others than the regular contributors, communications with the editors, reports, etc. In the first 10 volumes there were about 196 of these for an average of about 20 per volume. These 196 articles represent, however, only about 50 individual writers; so that many wrote twice or more. In the 11th volume there are 61 of these contributions representing as many individual writers. The reason for this sudden increase was in response to a request of the Editor-in-Chief for reflection and sentiment regarding a proposed change in the set-up of the Standard Bearer. It is interesting to note that this is the only occasion that the Young People were roused to write in to the Standard Bearer. Outside of this, one looks in vain for the voice of our Young People; except for an occasional paper or society work. We discovered only one such contribution: a discussion on Hymns from the Fuller Ave. Young Men’s Society. It is also interesting to note that this contribution aroused a great deal of interest and discussion. In the next 4 volumes—12-15—there are about 46 contributions or 11 per volume. The last 5 volumes contain about 47 contributions or 9 per volume.
The other special feature is the Question and Answer department. In past twenty years many interesting and instructive questions have been received and answered. For example: May a Christian engage in Politics?, When were the Angels created?, What is the distinction between the ethical will of God and the will of His counsel?, May a minister assume that a member of his congregation is a child of God if he simply answers yes or no at house visitation? There are no questions in the first volume. In the next 9 volumes there are about 997 or 11 per volume. In the next 5 volumes there are about 47 or 9 per volume. In the last 5 volumes there are about 11 or 2 per volume.
Once again these facts are very revealing. They give evidence, in the first place, of the richness and depth of the Word of God in its content and truth. Further, they instruct us that in the twenty volumes of the Standard Bearer that we now have, we possess a veritable gold mine of treasure from which to draw. We have here, a wealth of material on almost any subject discussed in our circles. As such, they are invaluable for ministers not only, but for society work, Sunday school teachers, elders and deacons, all Church workers, the sick, all those not able to attend services —in brief— for everyone and for every occasion. We would like to see the R.F.P.A. give to, or urge every consistory to buy or acquire, a complete set of the 20 volumes to be the property of the congregation for use by all its members.
Many deductions can be made concerning the reader interest from the two special departments reviewed. In both cases there was a gradual decline in interest until now the one is almost” dead and the other is fast disappearing; except for an occasional report of some special Church activity. This indicates, certainly, that our people are losing interest, and we might even say, that they are not reading the Standard Bearer. No one will deny that it is evidence of the fact that the paper is not being read as it should. We repeat that one looks in vain for a response: from our Young People and a sign of interest on their part. Once they rallied to ask for help and consideration and for a voice in the paper. In that connection it is interesting to note, that not one of the Young People who wrote in at that time, was opposed to the proposed plan. Further, that many of the adults who expressed their opinion admitted the fact that there was not a great deal to interest our Young People in the Standard Bearer and favored the change. Personally, we would not favor the change proposed at that time but that latter change which we have already discussed. In as much as we touch upon these matters later we leave them for the time being. We do believe that the facts presented warrant the conclusion that the majority of our Young People are not reading the Paper, that the same is true of many adults, and that gradually the Standard Bearer is losing its place among OUR people.
(to be continued)