Last time we penned down a few thoughts in connection with the graduation address which we delivered to the class graduating from our South Holland, Illinois, Protestant Reformed Christian School June 8, 1971. Since one of the principle purposes of this department is to treat educational matters, we would at this time like to give some of the thoughts of the graduation address we delivered two nights later to the graduates of our Adams’ St. Protestant Reformed Christian School, in Grand Rapids.
The class text was Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Plainly the text contains two elements separated by the word but. After the word but we find the main part of the text. Here is the gospel, here is the comfort of the Word of God, “The word of our God shall stand forever.” The section that precedes the butcontains the background on which Isaiah would have us see this glorious truth. The last part of the verse contains comfort and hope for us. The first part tells us the situation in which we find ourselves and because of which we need comfort and hope. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth. But is that all we can say? Nay, in the face of this terrifying fact we find comfort in the truth that the word of our God shall stand forever.
Now it does not take us long in life to learn that which Paul declares in his first epistle to the Corinthians, namely, that there are different kinds of flesh. There is the flesh of man, of beasts, of birds and of fish which not only look different, but have a different taste. And although it is true of all flesh that it is as grass, and the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field, Isaiah has only our flesh, the flesh of man, that is, our human bodies in mind. For in verse 7 he de declares, “Surely the people is grass.” He has people in mind here and the word of our God for that people.
He sees a similarity between the grass of the field and the flower of the field and these bodies of ours. Certainly our flesh is not grass. It is flesh. Isaiah uses the expression figuratively, for in one instance he does say, “All the goodliness therefore is as the flower of the field.” That little word as is important. And the similarity that Isaiah sees between our flesh and the grass is that both appear strong and healthy in the morning of their life but soon wither, fade, and are gone! Withering and fading are the beginning of death. They show that the process has begun and cannot be reversed. It is not the same as drooping to say the grass is withering. It is not simply a case of the flower losing its rich color, lovely texture and delightful scent. It is a case of dying and of being no more. On the one side of that wordbut, therefore, we have the process of death setting in upon our bodies.
And at this time we would consider that these flowers that fade are our youth. It is possible to consider the rich, the noble, those of high social standing to be the flowers of the field, the goodliness of the grass. These do stand out among the grass as far as man’s judgment is concerned as being a step better than the common run of the human race. But we certainly may also consider our youth to be those fading flowers. We may do this because they are beautiful. The beauty of life and health and strength shines in their faces and their well-built, capable bodies. They do not yet have our wrinkles, our gray hairs, our stooped shoulders and our halting gait. They are a delight to behold.
But let us also remember that it is the flower that brings forth the seed whereby the plant is perpetuated the next year. And in that sense also our children are our hope for the human race not only, but for the Church of Christ to be continued after the withering process has removed us from the earthly field. Where we stand, they will stand. They are the flowers that will and do insure the presence of this “grass” tomorrow and next year and until the end of time.
But the Spirit of God is no respecter of persons. As the wind blows off the hot desert upon the luscious, green, sturdy grass and withers it by nightfall, so our flesh which is grass is withered by the blast of God’s Spirit that comes out of the fire of hell! All flesh is touched by it, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All have died in Adam and become guilty before God. It is appointed unto all men once to die.
And it is well that our youth take heed and remember this. It does not look at the moment as though they are in any danger of withering. They grow stronger every day, it seems. They go from strength to strength. It might seem quite out of place to remind of this at such a joyous occasion as their graduation, their attainment of this new level of their formal education, by their strength. But it will not take them long to find out that they too are only grass and fading flowers. All the men and women whose lives they studied, all the authors and poets whose works they examined were at one time flowers of the field. Where are they today? Not one of them remained. And none living today will escape that blast of the Spirit of God in the heat of His holy anger.
It is a matter of wisdom to consider this truth now before those days of the evidence of the fading are there. We want our youth to be happy at their graduation, but we also want them to be everlastingly happy and truly happy. Therefore it is quite fitting to listen to this word of God and to speak it clearly and loudly also in the midst of our rejoicing because of some achievement in this life. Then we can begin to give them the hope they must have now, and when the fading makes its clear mark upon them.
Pity then the graduates and, the youth who are deceived by speeches the world delivers. Pity those who are deluded into thinking that man by his achievements will build a barrier against that wind from off the desert, will insulate mankind against the breath of death that God sends forth. Man’s word about what victories we will have over diseases and sicknesses is not worth the breath with which they are uttered. You can hear man boast and claim his “victories” of heart transplants, and new surgical methods, of antibiotics and therapy. He has a long list of dreadful diseases which we hardly need to fear. And he is sure that cancer also will soon be cured. He has set in order many programs that will nullify the power of that wind with its withering heat and flower-fading power. He is sure that without the cross—which he despises—he will remove the curse. But his word does not stand very long. For some fifty, sixty years he talks and seeks to encourage and give hope. But tomorrow he is gone! And instead of the diseases he has “conquered,” the Spirit of God comes with a dozen new ones; while over the whole world hangs not only the air pollution that threatens more cancer and lung diseases but dreadful nuclear explosives with fatal radiation to make our heart attacks and cancer look tame and relatively painless and mild. No man shall stop the Spirit of God. No man can stand His tornado and hurricane, His lightning and His earthquake. Let the boasting of man go in one ear and out that same ear. Do not even entertain it a moment as having any real value.
But the word of our God is worth listening to and gives us hope when the heat out of hell begins to cause us to wither and fade. That word is His word of promise in Christ that this flesh will be raised again in the day of days. And then not to be brought back to this field as Lazarus came back only to die again. Nor even back to Adam’s glory in paradise before he fell, but into the everlasting life of glory in the new Jerusalem. There we will know no sorrow or sighing, no night and no death, no pain and no distress.
And this is a particular promise. All flesh, indeed, will be raised, but all flesh will not be glorified. The word of our God is a very particular word, even as He is a particular God. That He is called our God is not simply due to the fact that He is the God Whom we confess. But it means that He is our God in a special way. He is our God in Christ. He is not simply the God Who created us. In that sense He is the God of all creatures. But He is the God Who saved us in Christ and is become our Covenant God, our Father Who loves us because of what He has made us to be in Christ. Because He is our God in that sense, there is a word of promise to us from Him.
And that word of promise stands! He is the unchangeable God Whom no creature can change in the least. What He promised, He will continue to promise. He never changes His word. He never goes back on His word. And not only is He the unchangeable Jehovah, He is also the Almighty God. Promising us this deliverance, through death, from death and hell He is also able to do it exactly as He promised. We may and do change, for we fade and die. He does not and cannot change. We have strength as He is pleased to give it to us. He has infinite strength in Himself and depends upon nothing or no one outside Himself. The withering and the fading do not deny His unchangeableness. Neither do they deny His almighty power. His word of promise stands, not in spite of these, but through these.
For that word of promise has already been fulfilled, not in us yet but for us. God sent His Son into the fiery blast from out of hell. God nailed Him to the tree as our Head and sent forth on Him all the fury of hell that our sins call for; and He endured it all till it was burned out, and He could triumphantly cry, “It is finished!” Then God raised Him the third day from the dead for us. Forty days later God took Him to His right hand in glory to prepare the way for us to come through death to this glory that death cannot touch. And because it is realized already for us, we may be sure that it will also be realized in us according to His ever-standing word.
When the aches and pains of withering come, when the miseries and afflictions of fading make themselves known to you, remember this word of God that stands forever. The aches and pains, the miseries and afflictions will not always stand for you. They will for those who cannot say that He is their God in Christ. Yea, they will increase and be inexpressibly awful, because the word of our God stands forever. His decree to punish the unbeliever also stands forever. But we have the promise, and we have a standing word of promise that an end comes to our woes.
Read then all the books you can, but set the book of God’s Word first and as that in the light of which all words of men are to be understood. Hold not to man’s word unless he is echoing the word of our God. Listen not to the proud boasts of men who are withering and fading away at this very moment. Listen to the God of life Whose word is never broken and stands forever.