There is great rejoicing among many of the Holland immigrants in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. For here on the evening of March 23, a goodly number of them were organized as the Church of Jesus Christ. These sheep of God’s Kingdom had found a home in the midst of our Churches. Their prayers and ours had been answered, and we with them could thank and praise God for His goodness and faithfulness. He had kept His covenant with His people and had led them to the waters of life that flow from His Word and Spirit. They rejoice that they may feed from His Word and be strengthened through His sacraments as a Congregation of the Living God.
For the past year our Churches, through the Mission Committee, had been serving these immigrants around Chatham; instructing them in the distinctive position of our precious heritage of the Reformed faith. During the last four months our missionaries continued this labor of love and by word and deed were instruments in God’s hand to the calling together of His Church here. And now the King of His Church has crowned these efforts with His blessing and given His Truth a living witness in Chatham. Here also the true Church is holding forth the Word of life, to the glory of God and the salvation of His people. This, and much more, is the reason for the rejoicing and gratitude which wells in the hearts of the immigrants here, and in the hearts of all of us who have learned to love these people as the Children of God who have come as strangers to a strange land.
On the evening of organization we were privileged to hear a beautiful exposition of the Word by the Rev. H. Hoeksema. He pointed out the seriousness of the organization of a Protestant Reformed Church. Thereby a congregation declares that she believes the truth as it is taught in these Churches to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation. This she confesses from week to week, and emphatically so, when the Sacrament of Baptism is administered in her midst. This confession means that the congregation declares the Protestant Reformed Church to be the true Church in distinction from all other Churches in this new land. This means further that we are not Christian Reformed or Reformed, nor yet Synodical or Liberated, but Protestant Reformed. It is, therefore, well that we have been instructed in the truth as taught by these Churches.
Since we as Protestant Reformed Churches differ from all other Churches especially in our conceptions of the Covenant and God’s Promise, Rev. Hoeksema reiterated and briefly expounded our distinctive position. He chose for his text the Word of God from : “Having therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Here, Rev. Hoeksema pointed out, we have the two parts of God’s covenant. The first part is: “Having therefore these promises”; in which each word must be emphasized. Having these promises! What is the content of that promise? Having these promises! Why these? What is promised?’ We have! What does that mean? For we must be ready to say it just so—we have! We have these promises! That is all God’s part of the Covenant. If we have said all this, then we also know our part and can fulfill it: “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That is our part. And if we do not have that promise we can never cleanse ourselves or perfect holiness.
Hence, Rev. Hoeksema chose the following theme and division:
“The Obligation of The Promise”.
I. The Promise as Such,
II. The Obligation that is bound to that Promise
III. The Fruit of the fulfillment of this obligation.
Under the first point it was emphasized that the promise is one; even though the plural is often used to express its richness and fullness. Further, that essentially Christ is the content of the Promise. Christ and all that is in Him is the Promise, according to Scripture. That promise of Christ and blessing in Him is absolutely unconditional. Christ is not offered, but God promises Christ and all salvation in Him to His own; and most certainly fulfills His promise.
Both objectively and subjectively this promise is sure. All of God’s work in Christ is sure. But also all of God’s promised work in us is sure. Regeneration, calling, faith, justification and sanctification, all belong to God’s part of the covenant and are certainly accomplished unconditionally. For the Promise is an oath of God. This is the teaching of Scripture and our Confessions and also of the Baptism Form.
It is through faith that we receive and embrace this promise. The heart of this promise is apparent from the context. It is not that presently we shall go to a beautiful land and be released from all misery and grief. But communion with God is the essence of the promise; as is stated in the previous verses: “I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . .and I will receive you and be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” That is the heart of the promise. Heaven would mean nothing for us if it were not the consummation of God’s covenant. And because God is there, all is beauty and light forevermore.
Having therefore these promises: Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. That is what we must do and desire as a congregation. If we do not care for that then God calls us Esau’s and holds us for those who profane His covenant. And the Church sets such outside her communion through the means of Christian discipline. And although we are dead in sin and misery, through regeneration we receive a new principle of life. By the power of this new life we hate sin and fight against it. So also we must daily pray for forgiveness and grace to purify ourselves. Not as though we ourselves can accomplish this, but we pray for grace to reveal ourselves everywhere as children of God.
We give evidence of embracing this second part as we “cleave to this one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; trust in Him and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength; forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” That is your calling! Faith, justification, sanctification—this is God’s part, to which we can add nothing. But when God calls—that is His part—we come, and that is our part. When He gives us faith—that is His part—then we embrace the promise, and that is our part. When God justifies us then we are also justified before our own consciousness. When God preserves us, we persevere. Our part is always the fruit of God’s part. Therefore, having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves!
The end result is that we “perfect holiness in the fear of God”. That does not mean that we become perfect. But when God works in us then we express that holiness unto the end in all our life; in the family, the church, school and everywhere. And always the way to heaven is one of struggle and striving. Do that everywhere to the glory of God and God shall bring you home—that is His work!
Following the sermon the membership papers of 15 families and several individuals were received by the Mission Committee and the First Protestant Reformed Church of Chatham, Ontario, was instituted. The following were chosen as office-bearers: Elders—G. Koster, G. J. Kottelenberg and S. Vander Veen; Deacons—D. Scheele and H. Mulder.
It is expected that several more families and individuals will soon be added to our new congregation in Chatham. At least six other families have already expressed their intentions to join with us and several individuals will be received by transfer or confession of faith. The future looks bright for further growth here in Chatham, under the Lord’s continued blessing.
While one family was received by transfer from our congregation in Hamilton, the great majority of those forming this new congregation were formerly affiliated with the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands. What has moved these people to seek our fellowship? What has drawn them into our midst? The answer cannot be found in the fact that they have discovered in our Churches the conception of the covenant that is current in the Churches from whence they came in the old Fatherland. It certainly is not that they seek us for our outward appeal and strength. Here, too, in Canada, we are physically weak and few in number and the struggle is great. It is not even, first of all, that in our midst they are not bound to hierarchical decisions of Synodical gatherings. Although they appreciate the opportunity (which they do not have elsewhere) to speak of, and discuss their differences unto the establishment of the truth, this is not their primary consideration. They are grateful for this opportunity for open and honorable discussion but that is not all. All these are but expressions of a deeper, more fundamental reason.
The answer is, rather, that in our midst they find again the pure and living preaching of the Word! This which is always the first and principal mark of the True Church has drawn them and kept them in our fellowship. Time and again we have heard that testimony. In distinction from all other Churches here in Canada, they have found with us, the whole, complete, and pure doctrine of God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of His people. This is the heart of the Gospel and our preaching. And this they love and embrace and desire with us, to the honor and glory of God.
Finally, therefore, brethren, pray for them and us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified even as it is with you.