Insofar as I have been able to participate in the activities of this year’s young people’s convention, I want to express my gratitude to all those who have made this convention and fiftieth anniversary celebration possible. The programs and singspirations which have been held have been spiritually exhilarating. And the Field Day yesterday was a very moving experience for all of us who have shared in it. If the fruit of yesterday was—as I am sure it was—a greater sense of unity among all the people of our denomination, it was worth all the time and effort which went into it. I have no idea who are all the people who behind the scenes did all the planning for all these activities. But I wish publicly to express my thanks to all the young people and to all the others who have made this convention one which will never be forgotten by all those who have had a part in it.
We have heard in memorable speeches what God’s covenant faithfulness means for us as Protestant Reformed Churches: what it has meant for us in the past, and what it means for us now. The question still remains: What does God’s covenant faithfulness mean for the future? What has God promised for the future? What has He promised for the future as far as our own individual lives are concerned? What has He promised for the future as families? as congregations? as a denomination? What may we expect in the future as members of God’s covenant?
We cannot, of course, see into the future. Only God knows what shall befall us. He has determined it all in His counsel, but He has not revealed it to us in any of its details. Yet, in general, He has spoken of the future in His Word. And only on the basis of His Word can we determine what that future manifestation of His covenant faithfulness will be.
I. Its Present Blessedness.
We must know, first of all; how much the doctrine of the covenant has meant to us.
It is, quite obviously, true that the doctrine of the covenant is uniquely Reformed. This doctrine more than any other distinguishes Reformed thinking and Reformed theology from that which is Calvinistic. Historically, although it is possible to be Calvinistic without being necessarily Reformed, it is not possible to be Reformed without being Calvinistic. And that which specifically characterizes Reformed thought is the truth of the covenant.
But in another sense, the doctrine of the covenant is uniquely Protestant Reformed. This is true for two reasons. In the first place, there is almost no place in the world today where you can find the truth concerning God’s eternal covenant of grace taught. For this you must be in Protestant Reformed circles. And in the second place, although the doctrine of the covenant has a long and illustrious history, nevertheless, these precious truths were especially developed by Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff. To them more than to any other must be ascribed the credit for giving to us this rich and blessed heritage. In fact, it is not too much to say that the particular place God gave to these two men in the history of the Church of Christ was a place in which they developed this great truth of God’s Word.
Nevertheless, while this truth is uniquely our heritage, it has never been among us mere cold and abstract doctrine. It is certainly doctrine, and we must never lose sight of this. But this doctrine has become part of the living confession of our people. And it has produced, by God’s grace, in our lives a rich harvest of practical blessedness which is so wonderful that we ought every day to give thanks for it. God has made known to us the truth of His covenant and has given us many covenant blessings through this truth. And we ought to recount them for a moment, for they have significance of our discussion of the future.
Before we do this, however, we must remind ourselves that we have these blessings only with a great deal of imperfection. Our purpose in recounting them is not to enable us to give ourselves a collective pat on the back. We have nothing in which to boast. And, indeed, if we do boast in these things, we shall surely lose everything we have. We recount what God has done for us. For then we shall learn to be thankful. We shall learn what our calling is for the future, and we shall learn how important this doctrine of the covenant is for us.
Many of these blessings have become so commonplace that we do not always remember even that they are directly due to the truth of the covenant which we hold dear.
Our churches in our local congregations remain strong. The historic Christian faith is maintained, confessed and faithfully preached in all our churches. Our people faithfully come together twice on the Lord’s Day joyfully and thankfully to worship Jehovah our God. And all this is due in no small measure to the fact that we understand that the very essence of worship is covenant fellowship with our faithful covenant God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Closely connected with this, is our antithetical walk in the world. This faithfulness to the antithesis is also closely related to the covenant: for, as Paul explains it in II Corinthians 6, fellowship with God and fellowship with the world are mutually exclusive. Christ has no fellowship with Belial. We stand unalterably opposed to union and lodge membership, to worldly entertainment in all its forms, to cooperation with unbelievers in all kinds of worldly endeavors.
But it is perhaps in our homes and families that the blessings of God’s covenant have become most manifest. The truths of God’s covenant are reflected in our marriages. We are not troubled by the terrible problems of divorce and remarriage which wreck so many homes today and devastate the lives of thousands. The marriages of God’s people within our churches reflect the covenant union of Christ and His elect Church.
Our family life is strong and rich, for also in our family life there is a reflection of the covenant fellowship of God’s family where God is our Father, Christ is our Elder Brother, and all the saints are brothers and sisters in the one household of faith. The inroads of sin which destroy so many homes in our country are not apparent in our circles. Our families are bastions of godliness, fortresses in which to escape to safety the pressing temptations of life, places of joy and happiness, where the fear of the Lord is present. There is fellowship and communion, family devotions which are the envy of all from outside who enter our homes, a happiness which overcomes the trials and burdens of life.
And this is reflected in our young people and children. God has given to us deep covenant consciousness so that our parents are deeply committed to covenant instruction in the homes, in our schools and in our churches. We have received from God a Christian School system which is bearing rich fruit in our generations. We are relatively free from juvenile delinquency, crass and open immorality so prevalent today; and God has preserved us from the dreadful problems of a generation of young people run amuck.
Jehovah our God has used the truth of the covenant to bestow all these blessings upon us, and has given to us these evidences of His covenant faithfulness. Let us remember them as the blessings they are and cherish them.
II. Its Implied Calling.
The Scriptures are very emphatic, about it that these blessings will continue to be ours only in the way of our faithfulness.
We must be clear about this. We must not understand this to mean that God’s faithfulness is dependent upon our faithfulness as if our faithfulness is a condition to His covenant. The Scriptures are very clear that God is faithful even when His people are unfaithful. And our own history is a perpetual testimony of the fact that God has proved faithful even when we are least deserving of His benefits. God has sworn to be our God and the God of our children in their generations. We have this promise on which we can rely and to this promise alone we cling. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. And except the Lord guard the city, the watchmen watch in vain.
Our calling is important, therefore, for two reasons. In the first place, if we know what God requires of us and know that these very requirements which He demands are given to us by His mercy and grace, then we will seek all that we need from Him alone as we pursue our covenant calling in the midst of the world.
And, in the second place, the very gloriousness of our heritage will impel us to walk as God’s covenant people in the midst of the world. The more impressed we are with what God has done for us, the more we will pursue our covenant calling with faithfulness and devotion.
We know from the Scriptures that this will become increasingly difficult as time goes on.
Faithfulness in the church will be increasingly difficult. There is no desire for sound doctrine to be found in the church world. The church world of today is careless about doctrine, openly embraces heresy, and scorns those who make sound doctrine the cornerstone of their life. Apostasy from the truth runs rampant. in such a church world, and such apostasy will make its inroads into our churches as well. Liturgical experimentation which destroys true Scriptural worship is the order of the day, and the pressures will grow to change all these things in our churches as well. There will emerge a consensus among the churches, enforced by a hostile world power, and climaxing in the rule of Antichrist which will force the church to go underground.
Affluence and open hostility threaten our antithetical walk. Faithfulness to the covenant will bring down on us overt persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake. To walk as a covenant people will become increasingly difficult.
The home is under fierce attack in our day. The rise of immorality and the widespread approval of divorce and remarriage constitute threats to covenant marriages within our churches as well as elsewhere. To assume an attitude of carelessness over against these threats is to invite disaster. It takes a conscious and deliberate effort on the part of husbands and wives to protect our marriages from these evils. The breakdown of family life to the extent that some advance the notion that the day of the family is over is so common in our day that a close-knit and godly family is a rarity.
The same is true of our schools. Threats against our schools are real and frightening. I am told that there is sufficient legislation on the books in the state of Michigan to close our Christian Schools if these laws are enforced. Bills now pending before Congress enable the state to take away our children and limit by law the size of our families. And all these things threaten seriously our calling to be faithful to God’s covenant.
The temptations to our young people are many and great. Open and crass immorality is so common and widespread that it is only a wonder of grace that holiness is preserved among our young people.
All these things are on the horizon. And they make urgent and pressing our calling to be faithful.
This faithfulness implies, first of all and above all, that we be a covenant conscious people. I am always struck by the profound covenant consciousness of the saints in the Old Testament. So often what they did by faith, they did because they were covenant conscious. And this was even in the face of persecution of every sort. They lived out of it in all their life, and made the covenant the very breath they breathed. And so it was with our fathers. I am told that it was very common among our forefathers to include in their prayers the earnest petition that God would not cut us off in our generations.
This covenant consciousness implies, first of all, that we know and understand the truths of the covenant as our own unique and Protestant Reformed heritage. We must become thoroughly acquainted with these precious truths and make them a living part of our confession. Secondly, covenant consciousness implies that we know God’s covenant dealings with His people in the past and present. We must be able to see writ- large on the pages of history, God’s faithfulness. We must know and understand how our faithful covenant God has preserved and maintained His covenant with His people through Christ. And we must learn to bow in humble adoration before Him Who has done so much for us. And, thirdly, covenant consciousness implies that we have a thorough understanding of our covenant calling in every area of life, and that we apply ourselves diligently and consciously to maintain the heritage of this precious truth in the daily walk of all our people. This truth must sound clearly from our pulpits. It must be indelibly impressed upon the minds and hearts of our young people in the home and in the school and in the church. It must be spoken of often amongst-ourselves that we may remind ourselves, as Israel did, of God’s faithfulness. Malachi tells us of the faithful remnant who feared the Lord and who talked often with one another. And the Lord wrote their names in the book of His remembrance. Faithfulness to all that we have received and a firm resolve to be faithful in the future no matter what that future may bring is our earnest calling as we return tomorrow to our homes and congregations.
III. Its Future Blessedness.
And so we have a future bright with promise. Not from a natural point of view. The future is dark and grim. The storm clouds gather on the horizon of history. But a bright future, for we have the promise of our God. We know this to be a fact. He will be faithful. And part of His faithfulness is that He has given all the future in the hands of our Christ to Whom we belong. Christ rules over all. Nothing is outside His control. And through this sovereign and universal control of Christ, God will direct all things to make His people blessed.
God will preserve His Church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against her. There will be the church—believers and their seed—until our Lord comes back. There will be that blessed fellowship between God and His people in Christ though it be in the caves of the mountains and the holes of the hills.
God will also preserve our homes and families. I know not how this will be. It seems impossible in the light of what will happen. But somehow our families will continue to be islands of safety and spiritual peace in the midst of tumult and trouble. And He will care for our children and children’s children no matter what the world may do.
God’s faithfulness can never fail. It cannot fail because He is Jehovah Who never changes. He is gracious and merciful to us in our weakness and sin and He forgives when we turn to Him in repentance and sorrow. He maintains His promises, for Christ is the Head of the covenant and all things are in the hands of Christ.
This will happen to the very end.
But that faithfulness will have its future manifestation also in heaven. The Scriptures only give us a glimpse of the day when the tabernacle of God is with men. Then and then only will God’s covenant be perfectly manifested. And though what we know now of God’s gracious covenant thrills our souls, we know too that the half has not been told us.
But this we know. We know that the whole Church, Christ’s Bride, God’s covenant people, gathered in the line of continued generations, will be there. And that means also that we and our children will be there. We know that all the Church shall have fellowship with God through Christ Whom we shall see face to face. And this fellowship will be with all the saints from every age. We know that the Bride of Christ shall be glorified and the marriage of heaven consummated. We know that the family of God shall live in God’s house of many mansions. We know that sin shall never again interfere to rob us of the riches of covenant fellowship. And we know then it shall be evident far more perfectly than it is now that God’s covenant faithfulness is the deepest cause of all our salvation. Now we know this and confess it. But we do so with much sin and imperfection, and our ability to appreciate even this is sorely limited by the narrowness of our own vision. But then we shall understand perfectly that of Him and to Him and through Him are all things, and that to Him is the glory forever and ever.
Take this truth with you as you return to your families and congregations. And may God bless you.