It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
Father in heaven, we as a communion of churches are privileged to commemorate fifty years of existence.
As we do so, O Covenant God, we are moved by the testimony of Thy Spirit in our hearts to join with Thy servant Jeremiah, with the despised and persecuted and mourning remnant in captivity, with Thy church and people throughout the ages, and to confess before Thy face, “Great is thy faithfulness!”
When we contemplate these fifty years, then we can find a thousand reasons to humble ourselves. We can discover unnumbered reasons why we should have been consumed. We can recount numerous occasions when we would have been consumed.
Yet here we are!
And that we are here fifty years after our beginning, that we may still be the very same churches that we were fifty years ago, that as representing the cause of Thy Son, of Thy truth, of Thy covenant, we have survived to this very moment—that we are not consumed is not because of ourselves. It is of Thy mercies. It is because Thy compassions fail not. Great is Thy faithfulness!
Above all else, it is this that impresses us deeply.
And it is this that we desire to confess before Thy face.
Thine be all the glory!
O Lord, when we contemplate our history of fifty years, then we behold the very same wonder that was before the eyes of Thy prophet Jeremiah. With our own eyes we see the same wonder that Thy church throughout the ages has beheld again and again. We view—only now in reality rather than in a figure—the wonder which Moses beheld when he approached the mount of God.
The wonder of the burning bush!
A thorn-bush Moses beheld: a thing of no significance, a shrub of the desert easily consumed by the fire, completely helpless over against the fire. One would expect that bush, burning fiercely, to be consumed in a moment and to be no more. Yet it kept burning, and it was not consumed.
That wonder we, with Thy people throughout the ages, have beheld many times. We have beheld it in reality. And as surely as we represent the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, as surely as we are of the party of the living God, as surely as we are marked as Thy church according to its distinguishing marks of the preaching of Thy Word, and the right administration of the sacraments and of Christian discipline—so surely, O Lord, we have ourselves experienced this very wonder in our own fifty years of existence as Protestant Reformed Churches. And at this occasion of our anniversary, we contemplate it with awe!
Jeremiah beheld that wonder, and he speaks here not for mere men, not for any nation whatsoever. He speaks for himself and for the remnant of Judah in captivity, for the church of the old dispensation. We contemplate that wonder, and we understand that the burning bush is the church: the church organically, as the gathering of believers; the church institutionally, with its ministry of the Word and sacraments; the church from the viewpoint of its members, the individual believers. And concretely, we understand that we and our children, our churches and their ministry of the Word and sacraments, our churches organically as manifestations of the gathering of believers and their seed—we represent that bush, or rather, that burning bush represents us. This we firmly believe, O Lord, with all our heart! By Thy grace we are Thy church!
And we are not consumed!
Come, ye people of God, and contemplate this fact with me: and then confess it before the face of our Covenant God!
To what does this being not consumed refer? It is not to be understood in a natural sense. It does not mean that as people, as men, for various reasons, such as war or famine or tribulation or death, God’s people are no more in the world. God wills that His people shall be in the world as long as the world is; and all the assaults of the world, the enemy, the devil and his host, cannot destroy the people of God in that sense. For that same reason, this confession, as we take it upon our lips, cannot have reference to our mere outward, natural existence as Protestant Reformed Churches. That in itself, however necessary it may be, is not important. And for that same reason the mere fact that a denomination known as the Protestant Reformed Churches, a mere handful of small and struggling congregations scattered from ocean to ocean and going unnoticed among the masses of humanity and the imposing ecclesiastical organizations of our times, has succeeded in existing for fifty years—that is not the point, and that is not reason for celebration.
No, the reference is to being not consumed in a spiritual sense. To be consumed means to be destroyed spiritually, and thus to lose our spiritual identity. For old Judah to be consumed would mean that God would completely extinguish them as a separate nation, as the people of God, and would let them be swallowed up by the nations of the world. For the church of the New Testament day, and therefore for us as churches, to be consumed would mean that the Lord would take the light from the candlestick, would take His Spirit and grace out of our :midst, so that we would become world, or worldly church, false church—the object of His consuming wrath! It would mean that we would no more proclaim His Word, no more love and stand for and fight for the truth, no more adhere to the faith of our fathers according to our Reformed creeds, no more adhere to and defend the blessed truth that God’s grace is always particular, no more glory in the wonderful gospel of God’s everlasting and unconditional covenant of friendship, no more stress the calling of God’s people to be in the world but not of the world. We would have lost our spiritual identity as the manifestation of the church of Jesus Christ, lost all that makes our being Protestant Reformed and having existed as such for fifty years significant. Moreover, for the individual believer, member of the church of Jesus Christ, to be consumed would mean that he falls from grace, that the new life in him is snuffed out, that he forfeits all the blessings of salvation, and that ultimately he is consumed in everlasting desolation.
But we are not consumed. . . .
We might have been consumed.
Nay, we surely would have been consumed! How does Psalm 124 put it? “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then, they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.”
This we confess, O God of our fathers. As far as we are concerned, we could not for a moment continue to exist. Were it not for Thy mercy, we would surely have been consumed long ago. For we have no strength to endure and to resist the enemy. In ourselves we would be swallowed up by the enemy—the enemy from within and the enemy round about us. Besides, we always make ourselves unworthy of being called Thy people and Thy church: for we have only a small beginning of the new obedience. Time and again we showed ourselves, also during those fifty years, to be unfaithful, worthy not of Thy favor and Thy preserving mercies, but worthy only of Thy fierce wrath. For sin dwells within us. Indeed, we are redeemed and forgiven, and also delivered; but sin remains in us. Sin remains in us individually; and sin remains in the church in the midst of this world. Sin remains not only in the form of the carnal seed that is always present among us; but sin remains in all of us who are Thy children. And—we confess it—sin as such must needs bring the fire of Thy wrath. One sin is sufficient to consume us. Moreover, from the very beginning of our history there were enemies round about us, seeking to destroy us. They deprived us of a name and a place and an office in the church. They persecuted us and deprived us of even a place to worship Thee. They scorned and mocked and ridiculed. They said, “Let them alone; they will soon wither and die.” Soon there were enemies who arose from within, from among our own familiar friends. Ecclesiastical Quislings they were, who sought to destroy us from within, who strove to turn us from the faith of our fathers, to lead us into paths of error. They plotted, they threatened, they cajoled, they misled multitudes. O God, Thou knowest what fierce storms came upon us as churches through all those fifty years! Thou knowest how the enemy did all in his power to seek our destruction. Yea, and Thou knowest how unworthy and how weak we proved ourselves to be. Thou knowest how often we were inclined to trust not in Thee, but in an arm of flesh. Thou knowest what lukewarmness, what indifference, what disobedience to the truth, what carnal lusts frequently characterized us. And Thou knowest—and we confess—that all these are but proofs of the general truth that it is the ever-operating tendency of sin to draw us away from Thee, the living God, to offend Thee—so that as far as we are concerned, in ourselves, we cannot exist and must needs have perished long ago!
But we are not consumed! Still we are!
Still the light is on the candlestick! Still God’s covenant is with us and our children! Still we are the people of the living God! Still we stand as a citadel of the truth in a day of great and ever-increasing apostasy! Still the sweet sounds of the gospel of sovereign grace are heard from our pulpits. Still we may have faithful ministers and elders and deacons who love Zion and Zion’s God. Still we have a seminary where Thy Word is taught and where faithful ministers are trained. Still a clear and unequivocal witness may be sent forth from our churches. Still the seed of Thy covenant may be instructed and trained in Thy fear.
Indeed, we are not consumed!
It is of Thy mercies, O Jehovah!
That Judah was not consumed in Babylon, that the church throughout the ages was not consumed in its darkest hours, that we as congregations, as a communion of churches, as individual believers are not consumed—all this is of Jehovah’s mercies!
That is the only explanation. We are not worthy that we still are; neither are we stronger than the enemies in ourselves. But the mercies of Jehovah, wonderful deeds of mercy, always have saved and always do save the church in the midst of the enemies.
Thy mercy, O Lord, how wonderful! Thou art the merciful God in Thyself, Who eternally willest Thyself as the infinitely blessed God. And Thou art merciful unto Thy people, willing to make them blessed as Thou art blessed, willing to deliver them out of their misery and into the highest possible bliss of Thy everlasting tabernacle.
And Thy mercy is revealed in a multitude of mercies, concrete acts of mercy which we experience. The mercy of forgiveness, the mercy of deliverance, the mercy of preservation, the mercy of restoration, the mercy of consolation, the mercy of hope in the midst of despair, the mercy of strength in moments of faintness, the mercy of encouragement at times of discouragement—all these, and many more mercies Thou hast shown us. And all these multiplied by the numerous occasions in our history when we would otherwise have been consumed!
Mercies revealed centrally in our Lord Jesus Christ we have experienced. For that He came, Thy only begotten Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh was pure mercy. That He died, that He was cast into the crucible of Thy wrath, that He was not consumed, but raised from the dead—this was the revelation of pure, sovereign mercy! And that we are in Him by a living faith, this, too, is pure mercy, O God. And from this central deed of Thy mercy flow all the other mercies which we have experienced. Through our Lord Jesus Christ all Thy dealings with us are deeds of Thy mercy. They are new every morning! Thou watchest over us, and there is never a deed done by Thee to us that is not a deed of mercy and that does not have for its result that we are not consumed.
Thy mercies, O Jehovah, are too numerous to recount!
Is the reason in us? God forbid!
Thy compassions, O Jehovah, fail not. The source of these mercies is only in Thee, the unfailing, overflowing Fountain of mercy! The source is in Thy love toward us, a love that is free and sovereign and infinitely great, the love wherewith Thou hast loved us from eternity! It is that love that bums toward us as compassion as long as we are in the world, as long as we are in the present misery.
It never fails!
It never ends. Nothing can extinguish it. For it is Thine! And because it is Thine, it is independent, eternal, unchangeable. Never is there a moment when this fire of compassion does not burn and glow in Thy divine heart.
And in this unfailing compassion is the source of all the mercies. No matter what betides, no matter how the enemy raves, no matter how great the danger, no matter how hot the fire, no matter how weak and undependable we are, no matter how great and numerous and scarlet our sins, no matter that “we sometimes through weakness fall into sin,” the burning compassion of Thy love protects us till we shall be saved to the uttermost!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
True to Thyself and to all Thy divine perfections art Thou, O Jehovah. True to Thine own Triune covenant life art Thou. True to the sworn oath of Thy promise art Thou. And therefore stable and dependable is Thy Word to Thy people. True and faithful art Thou, as Thou hast revealed Thyself in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that in spite of all our unfaithfulness. Thanks be unto Thee, our unfaithfulness can never affect nor change Thy faithfulness.
Great, infinitely great, unsearchably great, O Jehovah, is Thy faithfulness!
Amen, so let it be!