Our Heritage and the Standard Bearer

[Address delivered at the Annual RFPA Meeting, Sept. 18, 1975] 

By way of introduction to our topic this evening, I want to say that the committee in charge of assigning me this title for this speech perceived that the anniversaries of The Standard Bearer and our churches almost coincide. I think this is quite evident from the choice of topics which the committee submitted to me. They were these: “God’s Covenant Faithfulness and The Standard Bearer“, “Our Heritage and The Standard Bearer“, and “Faith of Our Fathers and The Standard Bearer“. And it is indeed true that the close proximity of these two anniversary dates reveals something to us. It tells us that both The Standard Bearer and our Protestant Reformed Churches were born out of identical circumstances. They were both fostered by the same ecclesiastical situation. The same love and commitment to the truth inspired .both. Furthermore, they had the same friends and enemies. And, at least in our early history, they were both somewhat dependent upon each other and flourished together. These things being true, I chose “Our Heritage and The Standard Bearer” for my subject this evening; for the truth which fostered our churches we hold dear as a precious legacy. And though this truth has more enemies today than it ever did, we still cherish it. Because of this, our churches and The Standard Bearer still flourish today. You understand: not because they have any official ties, or because the truth depends upon them; but because they stand mutually dependent upon the truth. That truth we must have expounded and explained to us continually. This must be our demand. 

This evening we want to survey The Standard Bearerhistorically in connection with our heritage; but not so that we may boast in ourselves or pat ourselves on the back as Reformed Free Publishing Association. Rather, as association and churches we will acknowledge our weaknesses. Such an acknowledgement was the key note on which The Standard Bearer was launched. It was the first editor-in-chief of our periodical who said that his only boast was in his infirmities in order that all the praise and glory might be God’s. We must give thanks unto God for the legacy He has given us and trust that even in our weaknesses we may treat it properly. 

The Scripture speaks much to us about the idea of a heritage. This is true especially in the Old Testament. The Old Testament speaks repeatedly of the typical inheritance of the land of Canaan. It was the promised land in which each had his allotted portion. In the dispensation of types and pictures, the inheritance of a portion of Canaan pointed to the fact that God’s children have a place prepared for them in heaven. It is in this latter sense that the inheritance is spoken of in the New Testament. Recall the words of the apostle Peter when he spoke of the “. . .inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven. . .” 

This evening we want to speak concerning the idea of an inheritance in a little different way—not fundamentally or essentially different, you understand—but we want to speak of it as it includes the foregoing from the viewpoint of its possibility. Paul speaks of this in Romans, chapter 8. Here he mentions that we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” And again in Ephesians 1: “In whom (i.e. Christ) we have obtained an inheritance.” From this viewpoint we might say that our inheritance is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. Such a knowledge is eternal life; the inheritance, the legacy of that knowledge, according to which we have eternal life, has been passed on to us by our fathers in a peculiar and particular way. 

What do we mean by this? First of all, that God has preserved His Church in the truth. He preserved this truth in the Old Dispensation by direct revelation and through the prophets, and in the New Dispensation by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We stand in the line of the Church of Christ as she was given the truth; and as churches have historically departed from the purity of that truth, God has preserved in our midst the purest manifestation of this truth. But in the second place, as God has preserved that truth, so God has also developed it—I mean, not only in the very distant history of the church, but God has been pleased to do that in our brief fifty years of history. When the church, the purest at that time, was about to lose a cardinal part of that truth, God called into being The Standard Bearer, and a bit later our churches. That was 1924. 

In particular then, what is this heritage of ours? In the first place, it is the cardinal truth that the grace of God is particular. This truth was gradually being lost in our mother church prior to 1924. This became clear already in the early teens of the nineteen hundreds when several conservative ministers of the Christian Reformed Church met together in concern regarding this unfortunate trend. Among these were Danhof and Hoeksema. 

The whole idea of the particularity of God’s grace came to the fore in the controversy which raged around the figure of Dr. R. Janssen. Dr. Janssen, then professor of Old Testament Exegesis, threw doubt upon the absolute authority of the Scriptures. He brought to bear upon his instruction the views which were expressed in the magazine Religion and Culture. These views were the influence of the “jongeren” movement in the Netherlands. These views were, in a few words, a “marriage between Athens and Jerusalem”. Fundamentally they found their roots in the teachings of Dr. A. Kuyper. As far as Janssen’s teaching was concerned, this resulted in. a higher critical approach to the Bible. Dr. Janssen was condemned at the Synod of 1922 held at Orange City, Iowa. There were two factors in this controversy, opposed to one another, which would shape future history. They were, first, that Rev. H. Hoeksema was largely responsible for the work which lead to the majority decision which condemned Janssen. And secondly, that although the Synod deposed Dr. Janssen upon the basis of the Formula of Subscription, nevertheless his error was not eradicated. These two fermenting factors made 1924 inevitable. In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church officially lost the truth of particular grace. In consequence to various protests and overtures against Rev. H. Danhof and Rev. H. Hoeksema, the three points of common grace were hastily adopted. Thus they took a doctrinal stand which declared: 1) that God shows a general attitude of favor to all men (which was defined as grace), 2) that God by the general operation of His Spirit restrains sin, without or apart from regeneration, and 3) that the unregenerated man can perform “civil righteousness” (Synod meant good in God’s sight). That was a departure from the truth. 

It was over against this error that our fathers maintained that God’s grace and goodness is particular: that is to say, that the grace of God is never upon the reprobate wicked. And that which seems to be God’s “goodness” and “blessing” upon him will serve to his condemnation. Asaph understood this very clearly in Ps. 73. The grace of God is only and exclusively upon His elect children. For, where His grace is, there is His blessing and salvation. And that which God begins by the operation of His Spirit, He will certainly finish! As far as the reprobate wicked are concerned, there is no restraint of sin by God’s Spirit or any righteousness as a result of the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works only in the hearts of the elect. This is true by definition because God’s Spirit works out His election. And good works, the Heidelberg Catechism tells us, proceed only from a true faith. 

Moreover, to our heritage belongs the fact that the truth of particular grace developed in the framework of the idea of the covenant. The whole idea of the covenant, as we possess it as Protestant Reformed people, is unique. Nowhere in Reformed history do you find the idea of the covenant set forth so beautifully. The covenant was always explained and considered a means to an end. But our father, chiefly Rev. Hoeksema, developed more perfectly the idea of the covenant. 

In consequence, we understand the covenant to be an end in itself, as the covenant of God’s friendship with His people in Christ. It is a covenant of particular grace! It is a covenant which God establishes unilaterally. And it is according to that covenant that God, by His grace, takes us into His own covenant life and glory forevermore. That means that the covenants which are historically distinct form a chain of increasing revelation. That is to say that God reveals His covenant with us more clearly throughout history, beginning in Adam, continuing through Noah and Abraham, and realized fully in Christ. 

Often we do not realize the uniqueness of this truth as it was developed in our brief history. It was not only a preservation of the truth, but also an advancement above the church historically. That, too, belongs to our precious heritage. That brings me to The Standard Bearer. As far as the historical connection between our Standard Bearer and our churches is concerned, it is quite evident that they were both fostered by the same heresy. As early as April 1924 fifteen brethren, as yet in the Christian Reformed Church, met together out of concern for the defense of the truth. It was at that time that a publication society was organized, in order that the truth might be defended against error. For, prior to this, the pages of The Banner and De Wachter had been closed to the Reverends Danhof and Hoeksema. The purpose of the society was to support the brothers Danhof and Hoeksema in publishing brochures and, when possible, a paper. We might take note of the tremendous zeal that these brothers exhibited in that they collected $425.00 among themselves. This was before The Standard Bearer’s subscription rate was $1.50 a year! Genuine concern for the defense of the truth mushroomed. And when the fifteen brethren met again on April 17 in Kalamazoo, they were joined by 60 more. A collection netted $792.00! This was the official beginning of the Reformed Free Publishing Association. Pamphlets and brochures were financed to defend the truth. And in October 1924 The Standard Bearer made its debut.

What was the result? God was pleased to use the association and its efforts to preserve and maintain His truth. The Reformed Free Publishing Association gave the tool of the printed page to the servants of God who as ministers of His Word defended its precious pearls in all their beauty. The association provided a means for rebuttal against those who gainsaid the truth. It was in the way of controversy that the truth developed and prospered. 

At the same time, The Reformed Free Publishing Association provided a means whereby the people of God were instructed in the Scriptures. This instruction was not only for our fathers and their children, but also for those outside of our churches who love the truth. And the positive result of all this is that the truth which our fathers defended is our legacy! You can find it set forth in our books, some fifty volumes of The Standard Bearer, and other printed material. Oh, these books are not “best sellers,” nor is our semi-monthly magazine known for its vast circulation. But they are the best books one can buy, and we have the most soundly Reformed semi-monthly one can subscribe to. And this is true, because you find in these works an explanation and development of the truth, the truth which is so dear and precious to God’s people. 

I want to make a few remarks of application. From the aspect of time, 1924 is a long way removed from us. Today we do not stand in the heat of ecclesiastical controversy. Within the domain of our churches there is peace in the truth. There are no heretical clouds upon the far horizon. But let us never forget that in a very real way the Reformed world abhors the truth we hold dear. And for this very reason it is still of utmost importance to maintain and defend this truth publicly by means of the printed page. 

Also this: in regard to 1924 the devil smiles because common grace is a dead issue. It is sad that its logical consequences have almost destroyed that church. But the devil still works very hard in our midst. Don’t underestimate him! Therefore, we as an association must continually rededicate ourselves to the further propagation and defense of the truth. Why is this so important? In order that our children may look upon us as fathers who preserved for them a rich and beautiful legacy. 

Furthermore, we are responsible to develop the truth. We have, at this juncture in time, largely passed the time of protesting. Don’t misunderstand: we must always and continually call the wayward back. But we as churches and association must adopt a positive viewpoint and purpose. We must wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to the developing and spreading of our rich heritage of the truth. We may not stay the same. As the individual child of God grows in knowledge and in grace, so it must be with our churches. Rev. Hoeksema and others are in glory. Others must take up their pens. God has blessed us with capable men. We must give them time and money to develop the truth and to build upon the foundation laid for us. This is for our spiritual benefit! 

And we may not keep that truth to ourselves. As association we must avail ourselves of every opportunity to spread the works in which God’s Word is developed and explained. What more worthwhile thing can we be engaged in? What more precious gift can we pass on to our children and other of God’s people, than our heritage? 

With these thoughts I want to leave you this evening. I thank you.