Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2
God has done great things for us! He has given us another professor. Our new professor is a gifted man, a man committed with all his heart to the Reformed faith. This means that our seminary can not only continue, but also progress and grow.
What a blessing this is. In these days when the foundations are being shaken and when many cardinal truths of the Reformed faith are denied, God has given us a man who believes the inspired, infallible Bible, a man well qualified to teach and defend the truth of Scripture. For this we ought to be profoundly thankful to our faithful God and deeply humble. The task is enormous; the responsibility awesome. But with God all things are possible. By His grace the work can and shall be done. And God’s will be the glory.
This text contains an obviously personal word of the apostle Paul to Timothy, his spiritual son. I am not Paul and Rev. Engelsma is not my son. But as part of the inspired Word of God the text certainly expresses the calling and work of a Professor of Theology and thus too the place of the Seminary within our churches.
The apostle Paul is nearing the end of his life and is concerned that his spiritual son, Timothy, a young minister, be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus. Timothy must remember what he had been taught, the truth of the gospel. And Timothy must commit that truth to faithful men who shall be able to teach others. These faithful men are future ministers of the gospel. All of this is highly necessary. The ministry must continue. In this way, by means of the preaching of the Word, the Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves the church. God is pleased to save His church by means of faithful men who are able to teach others. It is essential, therefore, that the truth be committed to these men. The question is, to whom must the truth be committed? The text answers, “faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” These are faithful men. They are men full of faith. They are men who are therefore trustworthy or reliable, men upon whom the churches can depend to do the work of the ministry.
Certain essential spiritual gifts characterize a faithful man, gifts from God apart from which a man cannot be considered faithful. The first of these spiritual gifts is spirituality or genuine piety. A faithful man is a child of God. It is true that there are hypocrites in the ministry. God even uses false prophets like Balaam to bless His people. Two things may be said about this. These never last. Sooner or later they are exposed and leave or are put out of the ministry by discipline. And these are not the rule but the exceptions. Ministers must be spiritual, pious, godly men. They must be men saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s gift. They must be men in whose hearts burns the love of God in Christ. They must be men who love God and God’s people, His church and cause. They must be men who have, as one writer put it, “a fascination with the Bible” and who live exemplary Christian lives.
Humility characterizes a faithful man. There is no room for pride in the ministry. Pride, the Bible says, goes before destruction. This is true in the ministry. Self-seeking pride, selfishness, the seeking of the praise of men—all these are abominable sins among God’s people. But they are especially abominable sins among ministers. Faithful men are humble men. Like the apostles, they are slaves of God and of His church. They know the truth of what the practical theologian J.J. Van Oosterzee said: “The flock does not exist for the pastor, but the pastor for the flock.” They give their lives in the service of God’s church! Thus faithful men are men of prayer. They know that all that they have and are are of God. They know that they cannot preach one sermon or perform one pastoral task apart from God’s grace. They pray without ceasing for God’s grace and Spirit to enable them to be faithful men able to teach others.
Faithful men are men of sympathetic understanding. Jesus, our great, merciful High Priest is touched with the feeling of our infirmities and tempted in all points as we, yet without sin. This is why we can find in Him mercy and grace to help us in our need. The servants of Christ must know God’s people, their needs, struggles, joys, afflictions, sorrows. And faithful men must feel with God’s people and understand them so as to bring God’s Word to their needs.
Faithful men are men of spiritual courage or boldness. The apostle Paul admonished the church at Ephesus to pray for all the saints and for me that I may have boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel. That must be the prayer of every faithful minister. A minister needs boldness to preach and teach the truth of the gospel which declares that we are sinners who can do no good at all and that our salvation is all by the grace of the sovereign God in Christ to His own glory. That takes courage, boldness. Ministers stand in the front line of the battle of faith. This is why Paul tells Timothy to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Further, these faithful men must be able to teach others also. They must have this ability, and this too comes from God. A faithful man must be able to read and understand the Holy Scriptures. He must be able think and organize his thoughts clearly and logically. Thus the minister needs a broad background in the liberal arts and a good knowledge of the original languages of the Bible. Ye must know the history of the church and he must know the doctrines of Scripture as set forth n the creeds. All this and more he must make his own. He must lave the ability to explain God’s Word to God’s people. This takes hours and hours of hard work. It takes as well much prayer to make a good sermon. Hence a faithful man needs the self-discipline to invest the time and energy in prayerful study of the Word.
A faithful man able to teach others needs the ability to speak publicly. His chief task is to preach the Word twice per Lord’s Day and to teach the children and youth of the church. He must have this God-given ability. No professor can impart these gifts to a man. Faithful men are gifts of God who also enables them to teach others. Timothy is exhorted to commit to these men the truth. And this is our calling in the Seminary.
What must be committed to these faithful men? The text answers: “the things thou hast heard of me.” The context makes clear what these things are. In chapter II Tim. 1:13 the apostle speaks of “the form of sound words” which Timothy had heard of him and which he must hold fast. Sound words means literally pure or uncorrupt words. In chapter II Tim. 2:14 Timothy is exhorted to put the church in remembrance of “these things.” The reference is to the teaching of the immediately preceding: “if we be dead with Christ we shall also live with Him . . . .” In chapter II Tim. 2:23 these things, these pure, uncorrupt words, are presented as the opposite of “foolish and unlearned questions which cause strife.” These latter Timothy must avoid.
What Timothy heard from the apostle were the sound words, the pure doctrine of Holy Scripture. The apostle taught him Christ from the Scriptures. He instructed him in the faith. Timothy heard the truth of the inspired, infallible Scriptures. And Timothy heard that truth not merely with his ears, but he heard it in the sense that he learned the truth. Timothy had a spiritual knowledge of the truth. It was the knowledge of a true and living faith.
And Timothy learned these things among many witnesses. These witnesses were literally martyrs. In other words these witnesses were not mere spectators or observers, but martyrs who testified to the truth of what Paul taught Timothy. And these martyrs were many: Timothy’s grandmother, Lois; his mother, Eunice; and Paul’s co-workers. And, above all, there was the witness of the Holy Spirit of Christ who testified in Timothy’s heart and worked faith in him. From a child Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures which were able to make him wise unto salvation.
This is what we too have heard, learned among many witnesses. And we have much more than Timothy. For God has given us the entire Canon of the infallibly inspired Scriptures. We have learned the truth of Holy Scripture, and the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that these things are true.
We have heard these things among many witnesses as well. There is the testimony of the martyrs whose souls are under the altar and who cry, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” There is the witness of the fathers of the church, the early fathers, the Reformation fathers, the Dutch fathers. And out of the witness came the creeds, especially the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Creeds, and others. And make no mistake about it, we have the witness of our Protestant Reformed fathers. Through these we have been given by God rich, profound, brilliant, even unique insights into the truth. Think of it! God’s unilateral, unconditional covenant of friendship and fellowship with the elect in Christ Jesus; God’s sovereign, saving grace by which alone the elect are saved in Christ; preaching as the means by which the voice of Christ is heard and by which power the elect are brought to repentance and faith while the reprobate are hardened and condemned in the way of their own rebellion and sin; the absolute antithesis, God and the devil, faith and unbelief, Christ and Belial, the church and the world, good and evil. What a rich, wonderful heritage God has given us. Now is no time for compromise, either in doctrine or in practice. Now is no time for bickering over non-essentials. That sacred trust of truth needs to be taught others in the churches. Without shame that truth must be proclaimed wherever God in His good pleasure sends us.
How shall this be done? The text answers: by committing that truth to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. To commit means to place down, deposit, entrust to one’s charge. Notice, this is an imperative. It is not something we may or may not do. We have no choice in this matter. God’s command is that we entrust, commit these things to faithful men!
This is the calling of the professor. It determines his method of teaching. What we have learned is a discernible body of truth out of the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Reformed Confessions. This truth is not subject to various interpretations or applications. It is not merely to be discussed or debated. It is not up for grabs. Much less is that truth to be contradicted, denied, or undermined in any way. The truth must be faithfully entrusted to the charge of faithful men who shall thus be able to teach others.
his is done only one way: by expounding the Scriptures as interpreted by the Confessions over against all heresies, especially those errors of the present day.
This is utterly crucial. At least two fundamental principles of the Reformation are involved. The first is the formal principle, sola Scriptura. The inspired, inerrant Scriptures are the sole authority for the faith and life of the child of God. The second and closely related principle of the Reformation is the perspicuity of Scripture. Scripture is not an enigma. It is not hidden, obscure, or able to be understood only by highly educated experts. Scripture is uncomplicated, simple, clear, and easy to understand. When one stands before the Scriptures he either wrests them to his own destruction in unbelief or he believes them with childlike faith. And the latter is by grace alone.
Of course students and professors may question, debate, discuss, and probe. They must feel free to do this. But they are free to do this only within the bounds of Scripture as interpreted by the confessions! What is committed to the students must be learned; but that learning is under the ministry of the Word, and it must be mixed with faith. That precious truth, the Reformed faith as given to our churches, must become the burning conviction of their hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit. When it becomes that, then they will be faithful men who are able to teach others. And by this means God’s church will be gathered, defended, preserved unto eternal life out of the whole human race.
This is God’s Word tonight to all of us. All of this takes place within the context of the churches. The Seminary is no ivory tower; it is not merely an academic institution of higher learning. The Seminary exists for the sake of the churches and to prepare its future ministers and missionaries.
The Seminary occupies a place which is indispensable for the life and well-being of the churches. It is a sacred trust God has given, a holy calling, a task utterly impossible! None is worthy to commit the truth to faithful men. None is worthy to receive it and to teach it to others. And none is capable of doing either!
Beloved in the Lord! The seminary needs your love, concern, support, and above all your fervent and constant prayers. Pray that God will give us faithful men who are able to teach others. Pray that God will enable our new professor and the faculty faithfully to commit the truth to these men. In this way God gives us grace to do the work for the gathering of His church, the coming of His kingdom, and the glory of His ever blessed Name! Amen.
The above is the unabridged text of the sermon preached by Prof. Decker at the installation of Rev. David J. Engelsma into the office of Professor of Theology. The sermon was preached in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois on August 31, 1988.