Protestant Reformed young people and members of the Protestant Reformed Churches—God’s covenant people in the world:
We are Reformed!
On the basis of the infallibly inspired Scriptures and in harmony with our precious Reformed confessions, we preach, believe, and confess the glorious sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners by His grace alone. Salvation is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God Who shows mercy to whom He will show mercy.
On the basis of the same Word and in harmony with the same creeds, we confess the sovereignty of our God over all. He is God! He is the great God! His counsel stands, and He does all His good pleasure. Of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things. He governs with almighty power the destruction of the wicked; the rise and fall of nations; the development of the Kingdom of the Antichrist; the fall of a sparrow from the roof-top; and the circumstances of the life of every one of us.
Fifty years ago, the Protestant Reformed Churches were born because men and women of God were determined to be Reformed; today, these churches can say what they said then: We are Reformed!
This confession is true—there is room for no doubt, either on our part or on the part of those around us. Listen to the confession of our people; attend to the instruction given young men in our seminary; above all, hear the preaching of the gospel in our pulpits and in the catechism rooms.
Yes, and let our life be a witness to the truth of the confession, “We are Reformed.” Where God’s sovereignty is known, there a people is consecrated to God so that they live all their life unto Him. This is holiness of life. We seek God in the education of our children in good Christian schools; in our marriages by honoring His marriage ordinance; in our work by submitting to our masters; in our everyday life on earth by striving to be separate from the ungodly world.
When we stand in the judgment, before God the Judge of all men, even those who put us out of their communion will testify of us: “it cannot be denied that they are Reformed in respect to the fundamental truths . . . .”
This is no boast!
If it were, if it would ever become a boast, we would be guilty of that which we hate with all our hearts—and which God detests with all His heart: boasting in man, rather than in the Lord.
No, “We are Reformed” is our joyful, thankful, utterly humble confession that God has done great things for us, whereof we are glad. “We are Reformed,” and “All that we are we owe to Thee.” We rejoice at being Reformed. To be Reformed is to be blessed above all people on earth, is to have such treasures as defy numbering and evaluating. Let us be glad today and sing with all our hearts before the Lord. Our joy is thankful joy. God has done this thing, not we ourselves. He has done it of grace, not because of our merit.
When we celebrate being Reformed for 50 years, we celebrate God’s covenant faithfulness. That we are Reformed, not only in name (which means nothing today), but also in reality, is due to God’s covenant faithfulness. He made a covenant with our fathers, and He has kept that covenant. This, we remember and this we declare today.
God’s covenant is with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God in the flesh, and God is faithful to Jesus Christ. Between the Triune God and Jesus Christ there is the bond of friendship in love. God is the God of Jesus, and Jesus is the Friend-Servant of God. To Jesus were all the promises made; to Him is all of salvation given, so that in Him are redemption, life eternal, and glory. This is the teaching of Psalm 89: “I have made a covenant with my chosen” (vs. 3). This Elect One is the great Son of David, Jesus the Christ.
God is faithful to Jesus, keeping the covenant made with Him. From eternity to eternity, He is Jesus’ Friend; He fulfills all the promises made to Jesus; He blesses and glorifies Jesus with all the riches and glories of the Godhead. Such is the teaching of Psalm 89: “my faithfulness shall be with him” (vs. 24); “my covenant shall stand fast with him” (vs. 28); “I will not suffer my faithfulness to fail” (vs. 33); “my covenant will I not break” (vs. 34); “I will not lie unto David” (vs. 35).
At the same time, God’s covenant is with a people, the people who have been given to Christ in the eternal decree of election to be His Body, the Church; and God is faithful to this Church. God dwells with this people, so that they know Him in love; and this is life eternal. God is faithful to this people in the covenant—He keeps covenant with her. He is faithful down through history. Throughout the ages of her earthly struggles and sorrows, God is with her as her God. He is faithful when time is no more. The covenant is everlasting. Because of this, there is a Church in the world from the beginning to the end of time. Because of this, the Church enjoys salvation. God is faithful to the Church with the same faithfulness that He shows to Christ. The Church is in Christ; the Church is Christ’s Body. God cannot be unfaithful to the Church without being unfaithful to His own Son, and this is impossible. We celebrate firm, sure faithfulness.
Concerning two things, we must be clear. First, the covenant faithfulness of God concerns the Church. There is today a widespread, appalling disregard for the Church. This is evident among the youth, but also among the grown-ups. It is apparent in the neglect of worship services and catechism; in the slighting of the officebearers and discipline; and in outright, de truc tive criticism of the Church as instituted. Another form of disregard for the Church is the lack of concern for what is happening in the churches to which the people belong: the adoption of false doctrines; the lack of discipline; the corruption of the services of worship; the ungodliness of synods and assemblies. The attitude of many is: I personally keep my garments clean and will not involve myself in the struggles of the church. Who cares? Who cares about the Church? But how can the saints be unconcerned about the Church to whom God is faithful in the covenant?
It belongs to the Protestant Reformed tradition to be zealous for, to love the Church. It was not enough for Hoeksema, Ophoff, and the others only to hold the truth personally, perhaps also to write some articles and books about it, but they desired the Church to abide in the truth. They desired this passionately, so passionately that they were willing to suffer grievous loss themselves. Men have misunderstood our love for the Protestant Reformed Churches and our zeal on their behalf. They have viewed it as carnal pride in ourselves. In reality, it is love for the Church of Christ, God’s covenant people. That we love these churches much does not mean that we love the catholic Church of Christ little, but the heat of our love for them is the temperature of our love for the catholic Church, of which they are manifestations.
Secondly, God’s faithfulness to the Church is realized by God’s keeping the Church in the truth of the gospel. It is a mistake—one of the most serious that anyone can make—to suppose that the people of God can have the covenant apart from the truth. In the truth, God is present with His Church as Friend; in the truth, we have the blessings of the covenant, forgiveness and eternal life. The historical realization of God’s covenant faithfulness is the history of the Holy Spirit’s leading the Church into the knowledge of the truth.
We can trace this faithfulness.
God was faithful to Israel, Christ’s people in the Old Testament. For more than a thousand years, He dwelt with that nation, revealed Himself to her, gave her innumerable blessings, and showed her His salvation. No promise did He fail to fulfill. He brought her out of Egypt into Canaan; He gave her a great king and made her a great nation; He preserved her in the tribe of Judah; He restored her from Babylon. Nor did He become unfaithful at the time of Christ even though He rejected the earthly nation and cut it off. For He kept covenant with Jesus the Christ, Who always was, personally, the reality of Israel. Besides, He saved the elect remnant of Israel, the thousands who believed after Pentecost, and thus Israel enjoyed the fulfilled covenant. But at that time, the covenant broadens out to all nations, and the New Testament Church becomes the covenant people. God has been faithful to this Church. This must not be missing from our celebration of our anniversary as a denomination of churches. Our anniversary is part of His faithfulness to the Church down through the ages. It is the continuation of His faithfulness to the Church for over 1900 years.
God was with the Church during the 200 years or more that the Roman Empire persecuted her, and, therefore, the blood and the fire did not consume her, but she grew. He kept her in the truth, though heresies sprouted like weeds and though the number of orthodox preachers and elders was small, and, therefore, the Church confessed the Godhead of Jesus; the total depravity of man; and the authority of the canonical Scriptures. After hundreds of years of dreadful deformation, He reformed her in the days of Luther and Calvin.
God has been faithful to the Church in recent times, and this accounts for our existence. He planted and kept the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, in the face of the oppression of Spain and the Roman Catholic Church and in spite of the Arminian heresy. In the 1800’s, He purified that Church by calling the remnant out and reviving them by the truth. In 1924, He separated the Protestant Reformed Churches from an apostatizing church. Fifty years later, it has become abundantly plain that, although they meant it for evil, the Lord, meant it for good: to preserve the Reformed faith and life. In 1953, He preserved among us the precious truth of the gospel of free, sovereign grace, i.e., that the covenant depends, not at all of men, but only on Christ Jesus—without which we could not enjoy the covenant of God.
The history of the Church is a history of God’s faithfulness.
It is filled with the unfaithfulness of the people—ours, too! You cannot read it without weeping: complaining, doubting, forsaking God for the idols, Baal, money, pleasure, glory. No other evidence is needed to prove beyond all doubt that the covenant faithfulness of God cannot depend on the people and their faithfulness, but must depend on Christ and, in Him, on God’s free grace. Over all the history of the Church, including our own history, stand the marvelous words of God in Psalm 89:30ff: “If his children forsake my law . . . then will I visit their transgression with the rod . . . nevertheless . . . will I not . . . suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break . . .'”
The covenant faithfulness of God is a wonder!
It is impossible for the covenant to be maintained, utterly impossible, but God, the covenant God, does the impossible. This shines through in all the historical realization of the covenant. By a wonder, Abraham and Sarah had the son who becomes the nation of Israel. By a wonder, Israel escapes slavery and genocide in Egypt. By a wonder, they pass through Jordan to enter and possess Canaan.
By a wonder, Judah comes back from Babylon to dwell again in the land of promise. Yes, and by a wonder, there were always in Israel 7000 who did not bow the knee to Baal. By a wonder, the Church survived the fire and the water of the Roman persecution; the lies of the false teachers; and the deep darkness of the middle ages. By a wonder, the Church was reformed. By a wonder, the Reformed faith was maintained in the Netherlands—read for yourself the histories of the terrible oppression of our fathers by Spain and Rome and of the struggle against Arminius.
“Now Israel may say, and that in truth,
If that the Lord had not our right maintained,
If that the Lord had not with us remained,
When cruel men against us rose to strive,
We surely had been swallowed up alive.”
By a wonder, the Protestant Reformed Churches proclaim the truth of sovereign grace.
Centrally, the wonder by which the covenant faithfulness of God is realized is the wonder of Christ Jesus. It is the wonder of the incarnation of Christ. It is the wonder of Christ’s death. In all of history, there is only one apparent unfaithfulness of God. Never has God been unfaithful to His Church. She thinks so sometimes. There are such terrible struggles and troubles in the congregation that she supposes that God has forsaken her. The individual believer sometimes feels abandoned also. Then, he sings the sad lament of Psalter 210:
“I asked in fear and bitterness,
Will God forsake me in distress?
Shall I His promise faithless find?
Has God forgotten to be kind?
Has He in anger hopelessly
Removed His love and grace from me?”
But we are mistaken when we think that God has been unfaithful and later we see that we were mistaken. We see that God was faithful, that through our bitter afflictions He was drawing us ever closer to Himself in the bands of covenant love. Then, we sing: “These doubts and fears that troubled me/ Were born of my infirmity.” For one small moment in history God was apparently unfaithful to Christ Himself Psalm 89 speaks of this in verses 38ff. It has been teaching God’s covenant with David’s Seed and His faithfulness in that covenant. Abruptly, verse 38 breaks in: “But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.” Verse 39 adds: “Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant . . .'” The Psalm here refers to the cross. On the cross, Christ was cast off and. abhorred by God. His covenant with God was made void. The experience of it shook the covenant Christ to the depths of His being: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” “The covenant is Thy nearness, communion with Thee—why hast Thou forsaken Me?” This is the Christ’s people, a sinful people for whom the righteousness of God demands that the covenant be grounded in righteousness, the righteousness of the blood and death of the Son of God in the flesh. Then follow the wonder of the resurrection and the wonder of Pentecost.
The wonder of covenant faithfulness is the wonder ofgrace. The people are guilty. God establishes and maintains the covenant with them in free favor and by almighty power.
This takes place in the way of struggle. This is another, outstanding characteristic of the historical realization of God’s covenant faithfulness: struggle, warfare. There is no struggle for God. On the contrary, when all of the hosts of hell are fighting against Him, God says to them, as He said to Pharaoh: “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” But there is always a struggle for the covenant people. This was plainly laid down at the very dawn of the development of the covenant inGenesis 3:15: two seeds would be engaged in mortal combat throughout history. This struggle was evident in Israel’s history. It was Egypt against Israel; the nations against Israel; then, Israel against Judah; and even within Judah, carnal Judah against the remnant of grace. The same thing appears in the history of the New Testament Church: Rome against the Church; Arius and Pelagius against the Church; Roman Catholicism against the Church.
Struggle has characterized the history of our churches. We have struggles with apostatizing churches; we have struggles with those who for a time were with us, but were not of us; and always we have had to struggle with the world, the world around us and the world in our own natures. We have had to fight, and we must continue to fight. We are criticized for this, but unjustly. This is a problem, at times, to the young people, but unnecessarily. The history of the covenant is the history of warfare.
To refuse to fight is to show that one does not love the truth and that one does not love the covenant. It is a pitiful thing, a disgusting thing, to see today the absolute unwillingness of the churches to fight the great fight of faith on behalf of the truth of the gospel of God, and on behalf of the covenant. Had these churches been the Church at the time of the Arian denial of Jesus’ Godhead and the time of the magnificent defense of the truth by the heroic Athanasius, they would have done something like this. They would have appointed a study committee for five years and then recommitted the matter to it for several more years. Finally, they would have hailed Athanasius before Synod, and Synod would have given this judgment: “Athanasius, you are orthodox in all the fundamentals, but you have a tendency to one-sidedness. Therefore, we depose you from your office, excommunicate you from the Church, and banish you to the wilderness.” To Arius, the Synod would have said: “You, sir, are ambiguous. We hereby give you a permanent appointment to Alexandrian Seminary, where you can teach all our pastors that Jesus is not God.” And the people, those who were interested enough to read the Acts of Synod, would have said: “We are dissatisfied, but we can live with Synod’s decisions” (because otherwise they would have to go out into the wilderness with Athanasius).
God bless us with the grace to continue to, fight! A warning is in order here. We must not fight, with ourselves or with others, over personal matters. We ought to repent of such evils. We must resolve, as individuals and as congregations, to avoid all such quarrelling. We must resolve, before God’s face, to be peacemakers in this regard. But fight we must as regards the covenant. As the people of God, we are involved in the one, great battle of all time: the City of God and the City of this World. This battle concerns the truth, the gospel, the doctrine that we have in the Reformed faith.
As we fight, we are without fear. God is sovereign; Christ is Lord of lords. God is with us in Christ. He will keep covenant. So, in the hour of deepest darkness, when the gates of hell rise up against us, when our cause seems doomed, the covenant people sing confidently:
“When troubles round me swell,
When fears and dangers throng,
Securely I will dwell
In His pavilion strong.” There is a personal aspect to God’s covenant faithfulness. God’s covenant is not individualistic—apart from the Church, but within the Church, it is personal. God shows His faithfulness to each believer personally. God’s covenant is established with him—he is personally the friend of God. God is faithful to him also. In His faithfulness, God will not suffer you to be tried above that you are able (I Cor. 10:13). In His faithfulness, God will preserve you to the end (I Cor. 1:8, 9). In His faithfulness, God gives you eternal life with Himself. Not even death will break the covenant. Your victory over death itself is grounded in the faithfulness of God. Our resurrection and everlasting life are due to God’s absolutely unbreakable faithfulness in the covenant. He will never let you go! This does not minimize the struggle of the believer, but it does make that struggle a victorious one. The believer is kept by the wonder of grace.
Included in this personal faithfulness of God is His gift of the covenant also to a believer’s children. Such is the faithfulness of God that it extends the covenant to a man in his generations. This explains our delight in and emphasis on the children and youth. They are not merely the deference that everyone pays to youth, nowadays. But they are our recognition of the children’s place in God’s covenant. They are God’s covenant friends. Still, there is a struggle. It holds true here, too, that the covenant is realized in the way of a struggle. Not all the children of believers are elect, covenant children of God. There are Esau’s and they show themselves Esau’s by their contempt for the Word of God and by their despising of God’s commandments. Probably, they manifest themselves at the Young People’s Convention, when they have no interest in the speeches, the Bible study, or the spiritual fellowship and when they use it for satisfying their flesh. There is a struggle between them and the spiritual seed.
There are also young people who fall deeply into sin, but who, through the prayers of parents and the labors of pastor and elders, are restored. In all of the children, there is the constant, severe struggle of the old man and the new man.
That there is one young person, much more such-a large group of young people, who loves the Reformed faith, who is consecrated to God in all his life, who has joy in such activities as those found in our Conventions, and who separates himself from the world, well—that is a wonder, a sheer impossibility which God nevertheless accomplishes.
How great is our blessedness! God is faithful to us and will be faithful in the future.
This is cause not for carelessness, but for gratitude and for reliance. The man who concludes from faithfulness that he may now sin freely has not really heard the message. The man who hears it, really hears it, in the depths of his sin-stricken heart, will be thankful. He will say, “Because God is faithful, we must be faithful, and we will be faithful—at all cost.” And he will rely on God, in good times and bad, for all his needs, with all his burdens. God is faithful—depend on Him!
Above all, let us remember our blessedness. We “what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh have the full, pure Reformed faith. We have the preaching of the gospel of grae. We have the covenant. In the covenant, we have God Himself in His Christ. What Moses said of Israel applies to us: “what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for?” (Deut. 4:7) Our hearts are full. Great is our covenant God, and great is His faithfulness