Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Itasca, Illinois.
Brothers and sisters of the Protestant Reformed denomination, friends, and young people:
We are what we are by the grace of God alone. For seventy-five years God has preserved us in His truth, not because of anything we are or have done, but “for my holy name’s sake” (Ezek. 36:22), and because “the Lord loved you and would keep his oath to you” (Deut. 7:8).
Tonight we seek to be renewed in our commitment and conviction in the only thing that counts, namely, God’s truth as expressed in the Reformed biblical faith, the truth which declares: “GOD is GOD!”
We look to the future. We do not do so from a detached point of view. We love the church, we love the cause of God in the Protestant Reformed Churches, and we love you young people in the Lord. Neither do we look to the future in morbid fear—not, that is, if we look in the light of our heritage. For in the light of our heritage there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty concerning the future: God’s truth shall endure on earth. Come abounding wickedness, come woeful apostasy, come the Antichrist himself, “God’s word shall surely stand, His name through every land shall be adored.” We have God’s word for it: “A remnant shall come to Zion” (Is. 35), “I will not alter the thing that is gone out of my lips” (Ps. 89), “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11).
The question of the hour is not: Will the truth endure? But the question is: Are you and I standing in the truth? Standing in first love? I do not ask: Will you stand? But are you standing in the truth out of the conviction of your soul? Is this the testimony of your life? Then tonight we have confidence in the future, we have “a hope that shall never be put to shame.”
I wish to speak especially to you as young people, for you are the future. Yours is a great blessing and sacred calling. You have been given the heritage of those who fear His name, a heritage of the truth. Your calling is to live in, love, expand, and witness to your heritage in the truth. Scripture compares the truth confessed by the church to a battle flag (Ps. 60:4), a glorious banner. Old hands pass that banner to you, hands which have staked all on the truth. We believe that you carry that banner into the last battle of the church militant.
There is a principle for you to follow as you go forward. The past is the key to the future. People of the world are forever reacting against their past. They overthrow one landmark after another. In areas of education and morals they are always discarding the ways of the past for their present enlightened opinions. Much of the church joins them and scorns the doctrines and practices of God’s people in the past.
Because the heritage given to you is the truth, live out of the past! I do not say live in the past. No, you must confront what is before you in your day. In the words of the apostle, bring “every imagination and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God … into captivity … to the obedience of Christ.”
Live out of the truth that always was, is, and shall be! GOD is GOD!
To do so will require at least three commitments of faith.
Be Committed to God-centered Preaching
The gospel of grace revealed in Holy Scripture is God-centered. Turn, in the Bible, wherever you will, it is the same. “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another” (Is. 42:8). “All things are of God” (II Cor.5:18). “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus” (I Cor. 1:30). This is Paul’s summary of the doctrinal portion of the book of Romans: “For of him (God is the source), through him (God is the power), and to him (God is the goal) are all things, to whom be glory forever, AMEN” (Rom. 11:36).
We are told that man was created for God. Man must glorify Him either as a monument to His grace in heaven, or a monument to His justice in hell. We are told of God’s purposes, will, and good pleasure. The Bible tells us that God’s glory is the one reality of time and eternity.
Nothing less than a Copernican revolution is needed today. Before Copernicus, men believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. An entire reshaping of how men thought was needed when through Copernicus it was understood that we have a heliocentric solar system, the earth revolves around the sun. So today there is needed a revolutionary reshaping of the approach many take towards God’s Word. God’s truth is not first of all about you. It does not revolve around man’s happiness, man’s rights, man’s satisfaction. The message of God is not first of all: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Many come to the Bible that way. “What is there in it for me? What is there in it about my feelings? I think God is like….” In the name of God we condemn that approach as twisted, out of line with reality. The truth of Holy Scripture is this: you must know, obey, love, and serve the living, true God! Nothing can be right with you, all is terribly wrong with you, unless you are brought to bow before God. Man’s need is that his rebellious heart be smashed, his heart of stone be crushed, and he be brought by grace to bow before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:14).
God does not have a place in man’s life by the grace of man; but man has a place in God’s purposes by the grace of God. At the very doorstep we are told, “God is everything, man is nothing.” If our egotistical age has so shaped our thinking that we perceive this as cold and something to be rejected, then we must hear in our hearts the truth: “The lovingkindness of my God is more than life to me” (Ps. 63). Having God as God is enough for me, it is more than enough.
Nothing is more important in any generation than to maintain the gospel of the glory of God. And nothing is so crucial for any age than that there be preachers who always say God, not man.
This God-centered gospel is not our slant on things. It is not a minor chord on which we are stuck. It is the gospel! Do not our hearts burn within us when we see how the apostle in Romans 3 and Ephesians 2 sets for the gospel? In both passages the apostle, having declared the truth about man, of ourselves as fallen in Adam, lost, guilty, children of wrath, mouth shut before God, then breaks forth with the gospel in the words, “But God!” That’s it! But God! That is the truth you must listen for in the preaching!
Today the gospel is considered to be like silly putty. It is said that, so long as the gospel contains something of Christ, of forgiveness, of joy, we are free to shape it in terms of the social climate and thought of our day. We are told that men no longer think in terms of absolutes, of authority, accountability, the judgment of God, law, sin, guilt. If you preach like that you are simply out of touch with present reality. Our generation, we are told, is horizontal. Relationships between men, women, nations are the concern. People want to know how to cope with aids, drugs, child abuse. If you want the gospel to be heard you must make adjustments.
Dear youth, we are not out of touch. Reality is the God who is! The sin that is! The gospel God has given is not first of all horizontal. It is not “Christ has come to help you get a life.” The gospel is ” Be ye reconciled to God!” (II Cor. 5:19). The one question that must be answered is this: How shall I dwell with everlasting light?To one who is given to know the reality of his sin, the gospel is glorious good news. Christ has brought me to God!
This is the truth that must be preached! God has not only set the content of the gospel, He has also given the means by which it is to be brought. It is through the preaching of the Word! Today there is the rejection of preaching. There are gospel rock groups, gospel dance groups, gospel clowns. This always follows hard on the heels of the denial of the infallibility and authority of the Holy Scriptures. Whenever inspiration is questioned, preaching is lost. The church on earth is witness. We do not pretend to know anything of ourselves. When a church denies that the Bible is word for word the Word of God, she has no message. At best she joins the babel of the world. You recall from catechism that one of the great passages teaching the inspiration of the Bible is II Timothy 3:16. ” All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Do you know what follows in chapter 4? “I charge thee therefore…, Preach the word!”
What is the sure light for the future? God-centered preaching. Preaching which leaves no doubt that the Bible is God’s own Word in its entirety. Preaching by men who bow unreservedly before the Lord. Expository preaching which opens the Scriptures to our understanding. Unashamed, doctrinal preaching which brings the light of God’s Being to shine upon our souls, teaching us how to live before Him. Preaching which is warmly pastoral, applying the Word to our needs and calling in this world.
You say, “But what does all of this have to do with me?” Are there young men here tonight who feel the call of God to be a preacher of the gospel? Does God work in you the conviction of Amos, “The lion hath roared, … who can but prophesy?”
May our churches and consistories be committed to the primacy of preaching! If we excel in nothing else, may it be this: God-centered and thus vibrant, convicting preaching! May God raise up among us preachers. If God gives us great thinkers who place thought on paper, good and well. But we pray, “Lord of the harvest, give us preachers who are willing to be spent for the gospel. Give us consistories who see to it that men mount the pulpit with the Word of God!”
You still ask, “What does this have to do with me?” Do you know that the Scriptures have tied the presence and faithfulness of preaching in the church to prayer? Count how many times the apostle Paul requests prayer for himself so that he might preach. Ministers cannot preach without your prayers.
Do you love the Holy Scriptures? Do you love the truth: God is God? Must you hear it? You cannot exist without it. Pray!
Beloved, this is our heritage! Hoeksema, Ophoff, Vos, Hanko, Veldman, Schipper, Heys, Lubbers, and many more came preaching! Tonight God has given us men committed to the truth. There is no division among them, no jostling for influence and leadership in the churches. Not one of them is the perfect preacher to serve as clone for all the rest. Various gifts are given. But by God’s grace they are as one in the truth! No greater treasure could be given to us.
For all our children and for all the days ahead let us fervently pray tonight, “Lord of the church, whatever comes in the future to the Protestant Reformed Churches, give us God-centered preaching”!
to be continued …