*Speech delivered by the Rev. John A. Heys at the 18th Annual Field Day of the Protestant Reformed Churches, July 4, 1943 at Ideal Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As you have noticed from your programs, this is our eighteenth Annual Field Day. It is therefore, in the first place, a day upon which we owe God our deepest gratitude for what He has done for us as a denomination in the past year. Today is a day of celebration, of rejoicing, of relaxation, but first of all it is a day that demands thanksgiving. Since we as Protestant Reformed Churches in this vicinity have been in the habit of having a field day on the 4th of July from year to year this day should be the Thanksgiving Day of the Protestant Reformed Churches, for God again has richly blessed us since our last annual Field Day.
From the other viewpoint, that we celebrate our 18th Annual Field Day today, must be a cause of disappointment for those who wished our movement to a sudden end, and who secretly and inwardly wished that this thing would blow over. It has not blown over. Today we celebrate our 18th annual Field Day, we number nineteen congregations more than we did when we began these annual Field Days. We have grown. We have been blessed by God, and do therefore owe Him our deepest gratitude.
Yet, sad to say, our Protestant Reformed Churches face a peril today that is greater than any they ever faced before. This peril or danger will be greater each time we celebrate our annual Field Day if we continue in the direction we now are going. There was a time shortly before 1924 and immediately following that the terrible lie of Common Grace was boldly and vigorously maintained in speech and print. We with equal boldness and force opposed this lie. We turned to God’s word, we became stronger and stronger in the faith, and we grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Those were wonderful days and we were spiritually strong and vigorous. But now, sad to say, we have lost our first love, and we have become careless and indifferent. Yea, we have begun to compromise! Perhaps I may even say we have been compromising for some time. If this were our first, second, or third annual Field Day, I could not say this, but here it is our 18th annual Field Day and we still are surrendering or giving our children to be taught by those who believe that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation to all men. Is that not compromising? But it still is taught, not as openly as before, but it is taught to our children in school. Are we not compromising with this lie if we subject our children to it five days a week and for quite a few hours each day?
If present conditions remain, we may celebrate our 19th, 20th, 25th, and even 30th annual Field Day, but there will be no reason for our separate existence a§ a denomination. Our children receiving these false doctrines in school will feel perfectly at home in any church that has Arminian tendencies. They will accept what they are taught in school. You know, as well as I do that when a denomination becomes indifferent, the parents also individually exercise no concern over the instruction their children receive. How many of our Protestant Reformed parents today make a practice and serious endeavor to find out regularly what their child is taught? Not very many, I am afraid.
It is because of this that I would like to call your attention this evening hour to, “A Call To Advance.” We as a Protestant Reformed church must advance and establish a school of our own for our children. My speech is suggested by the command of God that came to Joshua when Israel was across the Jordan and had not as yet entered into the land of Canaan. Israel had come all the way from Egypt, had crossed the Red Sea, came through the wilderness and conquered all who opposed her. Moses was dead, and Joshua had been appointed in his place. Israel has conquered all the land east of the Jordan and can see already the land God promised her. Then the call came to Joshua, who, apparently, was very hesitant to lead Israel, “Arise, go over this Jordan.” I see a striking similarity between Israel at this time and our Protestant Reformed churches today. We, too, have come far. We began with the modest beginning of three congregations. Now we number twenty-two congregations. Our movement has spread from Michigan to Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and California. We began with combined consistory meetings, then formed a Classis and now we have two separate Classis and a Synod. We have come far, but there is still a sphere into which we can and must advance. The call comes also to us today, “Arise, go over Jordan,” Let me call your attention to what I have in mind as we consider this call to advance. I would, first of all, call your attention to the task unto which we are called; in the second place to the requirement for heeding this call; and finally to God’s promise to us if we heed it.
Let us first consider the situation as it was with Joshua and Israel in order that we may have the right picture before our minds. For Joshua, the call, “Arise, go over this Jordan,” means that he must lead Israel unto Canaan. Canaan, as you know, was the typical heaven. Here God would reveal Himself to His people most clearly through types and shadows. He revealed Himself to Israel in Egypt, in the wilderness, and all through her journey, but in Canaan, Israel was to have the richest foretaste of heaven. Here more clearly than ever before God would show His love and grace to His people.
At the time when this call came to Joshua, however, Israel was still outside this promised land. She had not yet attained to God’s promise. Reuben, Gad and one half the tribe of Manasseh whose portion were on the east side of the Jordan had attained the land God promised them, but the other nine and one half tribes still had not attained to God’s promise. May Joshua be satisfied? He may not. Israel is a nation, a whole, and not until all the tribes have received their promised share may Joshua be satisfied. He must arise and go over the Jordan. On the other side God’s temple will be built. There He will reveal Himself most clearly to His people.
It was no easy task unto which Joshua was called. It was not a question of a few men crossing this Jordan. That could have been done. The two spies whom Rahab saved did cross the Jordan, but all Israel, women and children, cattle and goods, as well as the men, must cross that Jordan. To make it seem even more impossible, Jordan at this time was a swollen, swiftly flowing river. Apparently it could not be crossed.
Still more, having once crossed, Israel’s troubles are not over. They only begin. Now Israel must fight against all the inhabitants of the land. Israel, without horses and chariots, must fight against well-armed nations who boasted of horses and chariots, and dwelt in fenced cities with high strong walls. An exceedingly great task confronts Israel. Yet God says to Joshua, “Arise, go over this Jordan.”
The similarity between Israel at this time and our Protestant Reformed churches today is very striking. We, too, are still on the east side of Jordan as far as our children are concerned. There still is room for us to advance with this doctrine God has given us to preserve. There still is a richer sphere of instruction unto which we can lead our children. Indeed, the older generation and we who have been through the struggle in 1924 and have been brought up in this truth, we have attained to this richer communion and fellowship with God. Our foretaste of heaven’s blessings is rich. But what of the nine and one-half tribes, the coming generations who are not taught this truth in school? May we be satisfied just because we have this truth? No more than Joshua might be satisfied may we be today. The call comes also to us, “Advance, arise, go over this Jordan!” Joshua hesitated a short while, but we have been here on the east side of Jordan some 18 or 19 years. Is it not time for us to cross?
We must heed this call. Oh! I know, we do have Christian Schools today, but that does not solve the problem. Past experience has proven this. You can have a 100 percent Protestant Reformed school board, and if every one of those men himself is 100 percent Protestant Reformed, the best you can do is to prevent any outward Arminian teaching in the Bible lesson. Even then, you will find your children coming home singing Arminian hymns. You can put a stop to it, you can prevent these things, but never can you make one who believes in common grace teach your child God’s sovereign grace. Never can the best school board in the world make one who does not see the sovereignty of God, in science, in history and in geography, teach your child to see these things. It cannot fee done. You may prevent Arminian doctrine in the Bible lesson, but you will never have science, history and geography and related subjects taught your child as you would like to have them be taught.
The cost should not be considered. Think once again of Israel. Many of her finest young men would die in battle when Joshua heeds this call. Well, beloved, you will not be called upon to give up your life in order that we may have a school of our own. The financial cost, then, cannot be compared or computed.
Nor must we be concerned over the conditions under which our children will receive their instruction. If we could have a modern, well-lighted, well-ventilated building, that would be fine. No one would desire this anymore than I would, but we must not be too concerned over the physical. The things spiritual come first, and if we have a school of our own less modern and with ventilation and lighting facilities not up to present day standards, we must not be too quick to consider the material and forget the spiritual which comes first. Perhaps, our children because of poor lighting will need to wear glasses. Still is it not worth it that they see good spiritually? Perhaps the conditions will not guarantee that our child will remain in good health, but does it not mean much that they grow up spiritually healthy? Our Seminary meets still today under very adverse conditions with its poor lighting and poor ventilation. Do we hear anyone say, “Let’s not have a seminary; let us quit?” Of course not. We are only too glad that we do have one. I don’t mean to say we must be careless about our children’s health. We may not do this, but nevertheless we must be more concerned with their spiritual needs than their material. Would you not much rather see your child wear glasses than to have him be an Arminian? But that is not the choice you have to make. It is not as bad as all that. Today with our modern schools, with their approved lighting and ventilation, the number of children that are forced to wear glasses and the number of cases of tuberculosis sand other contagious diseases is as great and even greater than when all the schools were what today would be termed decidedly unhealthful and even perhaps would be condemned. Many of us gathered here, no doubt, have attended such schools in our childhood days. Did we suffer for it? You can make too much of these things and be too concerned about the material. But, on the other hand, do we dare to answer this call of God and say, “Yea, Lord I will cross the Jordan when thou shalt show me a nice place on the other side. It looks so wild. If thou wilt show me a nice park or garden, something beautiful, I will go over this Jordan?” Do we dare do that? If we do, we are not worthy of the name Protestant Reformed. Then we deny God’s sovereignty in our walk of life; for then, when the Sovereign God calls us, we assume the right to refuse, and thus exalt ourselves. The Reformed churches always were satisfied with modest beginnings. Are we as a Protestant Reformed denomination too proud for this? Shame on us if we are.
Nay, beloved, if we do not have a Protestant Reformed school of our own in the near future, it will not be because we do not have the money. It will not be because we do not have the necessary Protestant Reformed teachers. It will not be because there is no need. Shall I tell you what the cause will be? It will be because we are sick! It will be because we are too weak! That will be the reason. We are too sick and weak spiritually. It was not without reason that when God commanded Joshua to advance, He told him three times to be strong and of good courage. Three times, mind you, he must be told to be strong. The meaning is, of course, that he must be spiritually strong. He must be strong in faith, in hope and in love. That is the requirement. Joshua must believe with all his heart that God will give them the land across the Jordan. Joshua must with a strong yearning lock forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise. Joshua must love, with an intense love, to dwell in the land and there enjoy the foretaste of the heavenly blessings to come. Unless he is spiritually strong, he will not arise and go over the Jordan. That same thing holds true for you and me. Spiritual strength is required. We must be firmly convinced that the doctrine God has given us is the truth. We must hope unwaveringly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to the eternal land of rest and to have our children there with us. We must love that truth that we have received. If we do, we will hurry up and establish a school for our children.
If we are spiritually weak, we will become discouraged at the slightest little things, and many are the things which have a tendency to discourage. It was so with Joshua. He had to lead a rebellious people. Was he not one of the twelve spies whose report Israel rejected? Did he not see the rebellion of Israel? Such a people he must lead. Then there was the Jordan, greatly swollen. Why not wait until it recedes? Besides, the picture is different than at the Red Sea. Now no one is pursuing them. They have conquered the whole section east of the Jordan. Why not stay here? No lives would be lost. Here they have peace. Similarly there are many things which would discourage having a school of our own. First of all the lack of interest manifested in the present movement is enough to discourage us. Then there is the financial burden. Most of the children will have to come to school by bus, leaving earlier in the morning than at present and coming home later at night. These things would be discouraging and will be unless we are spiritually strong. But if we are spiritually strong, we will be of good courage and we will advance. Faith, hope, and love are powers in us, forces that will not let us remain idle. They will make us arise and go over this Jordan. Joshua was spiritually strong and did heed God’s command. Our forefathers were spiritually strong and crossed the Atlantic Ocean that in this country they might worship God according to the dictates of their hearts. If we are spiritually strong, we will see to it that our children are instructed in the truth. We will advance. We have advanced into the fields of missionary work. Let us also do so in respect to the instructing of our children. I might say here that it is so easy to be concerned with someone else’s children and not with our own. We are so eager to do missionary work. Far be it from me to suggest that we quit doing so. We must do missionary work, but is not our first calling, even before we begin to work with someone else’s children, to provide for our own? If our denomination is spiritually strong, we will advance in all the fields God opens for us.
Really, beloved, there is no reason for discouragement. God gives us a very rich promise. To Joshua then, and to us now, He says, “Be strong and of good courage. I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” He holds us in His hand. We have His promise that He will not let go. He will not relax His hold. He did not relax His hold but took Lot and brought him to safety. Neither will He forsake us and He will not cut us off from His love and grace. That is His promise. We confess to believe in His Sovereign grace. Are we now all of a sudden afraid that He will take this grace from us after having given it to us for so long?
Why are we afraid to cross this Jordan? Look at the church in any dispensation. Has God ever forsaken His church? Did He ever leave her in the lurch? Consider our own denomination. Has God ever left us in the lurch? You know He did not. We are celebrating our 18th annual Field Day. Is this in itself not a manifestation that He has not failed us nor forsaken us as a denomination. We have grown and spread out. He has even enabled us to reach a larger sphere by means of the radio.
A moment ago I said it will not be because of financial reasons nor that we have not the necessary teachers to have a school of our own, I’d like to come back to that for a moment. Has God not always, in the past, given us the finances we needed for any cause worthy of the name Protestant Reformed? Have we ever been prevented from advancing as a denomination because of the money problem? You know we have not been. God has not left us nor forsaken us, but even right now gives us enough wherewith to finance a school of our own. He also has given us the talent and lability. We have many very capable young men and women with the talents and abilities necessary to teach in such a school. God has not left us nor failed us. Arise, then, go over this Jordan!
Do you believe this promise of God? Are you strong in the faith? Do not give me your answer now. Give me your answer by having a Protestant Reformed school of our own in the near future.