...

* This article was written on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. It appeared in the “Souvenir Album” of the celebration of the 25th anniversary. The article has been edited for publication in this issue of the Standard Bearer. Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.

On this occasion it is fitting to reflect on our calling. What is the general calling of the church in the world, both as an organism and as an institute? And what is the specific calling, if any, of the Protestant Reformed Churches, considered in the light of their history?

In general we may say that it is the calling of the church as the body of Christ and of believers individually to realize their part of the covenant of God, to live antithetically in the midst of and over against an ungodly world from the principle of regeneration, to love the Lord their God with all their heart and mind and soul and strength, to trust in Him and cleave unto Him, to forsake the world, to crucify their old nature, and to walk in a new and holy life, to glorify the God of their salvation.

God establishes His covenant with us. And that covenant is, at least as far as its establishment is concerned, absolutely unilateral. God establishes it alone, and we have no part in its establishment whatsoever.

This covenant is, according to the Protestant Reformed view, not a mere way of salvation in which God leads the elect to eternal glory. For a way is a means to an end. And the covenant which God establishes with His people is not a means, but is the end itself, the eternal tabernacle of God with men. Nor is it an agreement between two parties, or a contract between God and men or between God and the elect sinner. For although it is true that there are two parts in the covenant of God and that God establishes His covenant with us as rational, moral beings, yet man can be no party over against the living God. The creature is no party in relation to the Creator. Nor can the latter fulfill any conditions or stipulations in order to enter into the covenant of God. He is not only a creature, but also a sinner, dead through trespasses and sins, and of himself has violated and can do nothing else than violate the covenant of God.

According to our view, the covenant of God is essentially the everlasting relation of friendship between God and His elect people in Jesus Christ our Lord in which He is their sovereign Friend and blesses them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, receiving them by His grace in His family, and they, on their part, are His friend-servants, called and willing to love Him with all their heart and mind and soul and strength, to be to the praise of His glorious virtues antithetically in the midst of the world, and presently praise and glorify Him forever in His eternal tabernacle.

This covenant God establishes alone and unconditionally.

This is the plain teaching of Holy Writ, which always uses the formula, “I will establish my covenant.”

This covenant is established chiefly, and in the first place, with Jesus Christ our Lord, and in Him with all the elect. It is realized objectively in the incarnation, which is the perfect union of God with man. It is established further in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For in His cross He lays the basis of righteousness, which is indispensable for the covenant of God; and in His resurrection we find God’s own revelation of this basis of righteousness as a gift of God to us: “For he was delivered for our transgressions, and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). It is further realized in His exaltation at the right hand of God and the reception on His part of the promise of the Holy Spirit, whereby He becomes the quickening Spirit, capable of realizing God’s covenant with us and within us. And this same covenant will be fully revealed in all its glory when the Lord shall come again, God shall make all things new, and His tabernacle shall be with men forever.

But also in the subjective sense this covenant of God is realized and established by Him alone. He does so in the way of regeneration, by which He implants the new life of Christ in our hearts. And further, He realizes this covenant in the way of the effectual calling, faith, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and final perfection in the resurrection of the last day. All this is God’s part in the establishment of the covenant, not ours.

It is in virtue of this establishment of God’s covenant with us that we receive and are capable and willing to fulfill our calling in the midst of the world as of the party of the living God. The work of God for us and in us and through us never renders us stocks and blocks, but treats us always as rational, moral beings. God calls us, and we come. God gives us the living faith, and we believe. God justifies us, and we stand in righteousness. God sanctifies us, and we love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, forsake the world, and crucify our old nature, walking in a new and holy life. God preserves us unto the end, and we persevere and fight the good fight even unto the end. Our part in the covenant is the fruit of God’s part.

And as we thus live in the midst of the world as of the party of the living God, it is our calling as a church and as individual believers to keep His covenant, to live from the principle of regeneration, and to stand antithetically as God’s people in every department of life.

This calling the church as an institute fulfills especially through the preaching of the Word. It fulfills this calling in the narrower sense in the proclamation of the gospel, which is the chief distinguishing mark of the church. For where the gospel is preached, there Christ is. And where Christ is, there, and there alone, is the church. This calling the church fulfills in a wider sense also in the administration of the sacraments according to the Word of God, in the instruction of young and old in the truth of the Word of God, and in the drawing up of its confessions, which serve as the church’s banner in the midst of the world and in which, at the same time, the truth of the gospel is preserved and maintained.

Such is the calling of the church in general.

But we may ask: is there not a specific calling which we as Protestant Reformed Churches have in the midst not only of the world, but also in the midst of other churches? And our answer is affirmative. We cannot deny our history. For also that history is not of our making, but is of God.

That history is well known.

But it is not superfluous to recall it on this twenty-fifth anniversary of our churches.

A controversy had arisen about the question of common grace. In the churches in which we used to have a place more and more emphasis was gradually placed on the false conception that God in this present life is the Friend of all and therefore is gracious to all men. Righteous and unrighteous, godly and ungodly, elect and reprobate stand on a par, according to this presentation, at least as concerns the things of this present life. From this fundamentally false conception of God many other errors followed, as might be expected. For our conception of God is always predominating. First of all, there followed from this conception a false presentation of the natural man. Man is in actual fact not totally depraved. In the abstract it was conceded that the human nature through sin is totally depraved. But in the concrete sense it was different: in reality there are no totally depraved men. The common grace of God prevents this. There is a restraint of sin through the common influence of the Holy Spirit. There is an influence of God upon the heart of man which, indeed, is not regenerating, but nevertheless improves him in regard to the life of this world. Hence, he does many good works. Another result was a false conception of the relation between the righteous and the ungodly in this world. On the ground of common grace there was also a common sphere and fellowship between the godly and the ungodly. The antithesis is not absolute, according to this presentation. In the sphere of this present life light and darkness meet each other in the twilight of common grace. The chasm between church and world was bridged. This false conception of God also implied an erroneous presentation of the execution of His counsel, of the real character of the work of Christ, of the preaching of the gospel, of the development of history and of the future.

We know the outcome.

The Christian Reformed Churches in 1924 took a standpoint over against us in regard to this question of common grace. They adopted three declarations in which the particular nature of the grace of God and the total depravity of the natural man was clearly denied. And on the basis of those three declarations, known as the Three Points, they attacked us. With the confessions they could not possibly expel us from their fellowship. But the Three Points served this purpose. We tried to avoid schism, but they would not let us. They demanded subjection to or acquiescence in the Three Points. We refused: for we could not in good conscience before God sign those declarations. The result was that they cast us out. And thus we remained on the basis of the Reformed confessions, repudiating the additions to the confessions which the synod of 1924 adopted.

That is the history.

When we firmly trust that in spite of all the unrighteousness that accompanied our expulsion from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed Church this expulsion was nevertheless the work of the Lord our God, it stands to reason that we have a very specific calling. And this calling stands in connection with our separate existence.

Therefore we do not doubt that it is our very specific calling in the midst of all the churches in the world, and even in the midst of the Reformed churches, to preserve the truth that the grace of God is always particular, to defend that truth with all our power, to develop it in all its riches, to impart it to the generation to come, and to give testimony outside of the pale of our churches of that very truth in word and in deed, in the midst of the church and in the midst of the world.

Our calling is not only the denial of the erroneous theory of common grace. We cannot live negatively. But it is certainly our specific calling to preserve and to develop the truth that the God of the covenant establishes His covenant along the line of particular grace.This we must emphasize.

We must not expect to become great in number. For therein does not lie our strength. But rather must we insist on the maintenance of the truth which God has entrusted to our care.

To do this we must, of course, preach that truth and testify of it within and without.

For the realization of this calling we must emphasize that our children must be instructed in home and school and catechism according to the doctrine that is taught in our churches.

For this purpose we must certainly maintain and develop our own theological school, in order that the truth of God’s sovereign grace may not only be preserved but developed in all its riches and implications.

We must emphasize and preserve that truth even in our missionary endeavors, wherever the Lord calls us.

This is indeed a serious calling. It is from a human point of view an impossible calling, for certainly the Reformed truth of God’s particular grace is not popular, especially not in the world of our time.

But it is also a glorious task and calling.

And let our prayer be that the Lord our God will preserve us in the future, as He has preserved us in the past.