Anniversaries are occasions to pause and to look back. And this fortieth anniversary of our Standard Bearer is no different; we too wish to pause and take a backward look at the forty years of the life’s history of our magazine. Such a backward look, however, should serve a better purpose than that of merely indulging in fond memories. I have no doubt that many such memories,—memories of glorious times in the history of our churches,—might be recalled at this occasion. Some of us, who perhaps had a part in the organization of the Reformed Free Publishing Association or who have been readers of theStandard Bearer from the beginning, some who have lived through entire history of our churches, can reminisce at an occasion like this from actual experience. Others, the fortunate possessors of all the forty volumes of our magazine, cannot relive in their minds and hearts the experiences of the past perhaps; but by paging through the literally thousands of pages of those forty volumes they can in their souls “live along” with their parents and grandparents in their experiences of years gone by. And who, especially among those who can still appreciate the Dutch language, does not enjoy “digging back” into the earlier volumes of our magazine? To this latter class,—if I may be personal for a moment,—I belong, for I am only a year and a half older than our Standard Bearer. And how often, when doing some research on a certain subject or text in an earlier volume, I have been sidetracked by some eye-catching title into reading up on some subject altogether unrelated to the one I originally intended to look up.
Both interesting and instructive such reminiscing can be. Just try it some time. Many a chuckle can be aroused, or many a tear of sympathy. Not infrequently a feeling of righteous indignation can be stimulated when one relives in print the struggles against injustices committed or lies and slanderous tales spread abroad. Not difficult is it to be overwhelmed with triumphant joy and filled with courage to face the future when one reads of glorious victories in the cause of the truth or witnesses the valiant efforts of our leaders to vindicate the Reformed faith over against its deniers and detractors and calumniators. And how many thousands of words of thorough-going exposition of Scripture, of clear and uncompromising delineation of a Reformed world-and-life view, of soundly practical instruction; of admonition, of comfort, of warning, of encouragement one can find by opening these volumes. Even such reminiscing is not necessarily idle, but can be immensely profitable.
Nevertheless, our look backward must serve a better purpose.
That purpose should be, in the first place, to take stock. We should look back to the very beginning of our Standard Bearer, examine its origin, its initial claim, its purpose and aim, in order to judge whether and in how far our magazine has been true to its claim and purpose down through the years. Moreover, in the light of this judgment we must determine whether our course is in need of correction or not; and, if not, then we must determine, if our course is a true one, to progress along that same course.
In the second place, the purpose of this anniversary stock-taking, this inventory, should be a rededicationto that original purpose, and that too, on the part of editors, publishing association; and readers.
Let us, then, with that purpose in mind look back.
It has sometimes been said that the Standard Beareris the paper of the Protestant Reformed Churches. If the latter term is used loosely in the sense of “Protestant Reformed people,” then this statement is correct, generally speaking. For there is no denying that our Standard Bearer is of, by, and for Protestant Reformed people. But strictly speaking, the statement is incorrect on two counts. ‘In the first place, our magazine is not ecclesiastically bound, but is free. It is neither published nor controlled by a church organization, but by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. In the second place, the statement is historically incorrect: for the Standard Bearer is olderthan the Protestant Reformed Churches. The Protestant Reformed Churches were not organized on the basis of the Act of Agreement as Protesting Christian Reformed Churches until March, 1925; but the first issue of the Standard Bearer was dated on October 1, 1924. In fact, there is no doubt about it that the publication of the Standard Bearer contributed in no little way to the events that were climaxed by the ousting of the ministers Danhof, Hoeksema, and Ophoff and their consistories in late 1924 and early 1925.
Older even than the Standard Bearer, however, is the Reformed Free Publishing Association, which was organized originally to undertake and support the publishing of the writings of Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema. Two brochures, entitled “Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Pure Paths)” and “Om Recht en Waarheid (For the Sake of Justice and Truth)” had been published by the RFPA before our magazine made its appearance. The latter of these brochures was published shortly before the Synod of 1924. The Revs. G. Vos and W. Verhil (deceased), then, of course, not yet ministers, were members of the publicatiqn committee at that time. And in this brochure, written by Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema, the last chapter is entitled “Our Plan To Publish A Monthly Paper.” In this chapter the authors not only make known the plan to go ahead with the publishing of a periodical, but they set forth the nature and purpose of the planned periodical. Space does not permit me to quote the entire article, but I will translate a few passages in order to show what the original aims of the Standard Bearer were.
Quite in general it is stated that the magazine “will be devoted to the development of the truths of Holy Writ according to the requirements of the present day circumstances of our people in this country, and in a manner adapted to duly developed, vitally interested members of our Reformed churches. . . . . .Still less will we direct ourselves to a very few, or to a definite group; nor will merely limit ourselves to the treatment of the subject of common grace as such.
“That last is just exactly not our purpose. On the contrary, we are concerned to instruct and to help the Reformed child of God in the living of a full, deep, all sided Christian life for his Lord, in every relation, on every plane, and in every sphere. But because we fear rhe dividing up of the ever organically coherent life (of man) into fixed territories, as not only takes place on the standpoint of common grace, but, if one is consistent, as must happen with compelling necessity, therefore we have in the past pointed to the danger that therein threatens for God’s people, and shall, of course, continue to do so in the future. . . . . . Both theoretically and practically, according to our conviction, the doctrine of common grace must necessarily lead to world-conformity.”
Or listen to this: “We shall let Scripture speak. To it we must be bound by the Holy Spirit. It does not befit us to engage in philosophical reasonings about it, however apparently neutral and learned, but fitting .is the subjection of heart and mind to its judgment. God’s Word must instruct us concerning God, ourselves, and the world of creatures around us. Outside of it we have no source from which to obtain knowledge. . . . . . Man as God’s image-bearer, as God’s king under Him over creation, and as God’s friend and ally, had to know God’s will, had to know all that God according to His sovereign purpose thought to do with and with a view to, as well as through, the world of His creatures. God’s friend had to know what his Friend did.
“With this glorious covenant idea we hope to spend considerable time in the future. . . . . .Thus we arrive at the antithetical line. . . . . . .”
Or, to quote no more: “Scripture must teach us. In it God must speak to us. According to it must be our world-and-life view. It must teach us concerning sin and grace, curse and blessing, reprobation and election, doom and bliss . . . . . . .”
And the authors pledge themselves not only to write defensively, nor merely to engage in negative criticism, but to be positive and constructive.
I have reproduced only a few snatches of this chapter in which the original plan and purpose of our magazine were set forth; but these are enough, I am sure, to indicate clearly what the character of our Standard Bearer was intended to be.
And so, on October 1, 1924, the Standard Bearermade its first journey into the world. Needless to sayI it made an impact.
Forty Years’ History
To recount all the history of the Standard Bearer’s forty years is neither possible nor necessary here. Our purpose is to get the over-all picture of those forty years and to evaluate them.
In retrospect, certainly one of the first impressions one receives is that of change. Time always brings with it change, and our magazine has been no exception. Many changes have there been. One change which immediately comes to mind is the change of personnel in our editorial staff. Today, of the original and early staff members our editor-in-chief is the only one left; and we look forward to the time when, the Lord willing, he will return to the columns of our magazine. Some became renegade to the cause at an early date. The Rev. G.M. Ophoff was at an early date co-editor of our paper; and what a tenacious and valiant battler for the truth he was! But the Lord has promoted him to glory. The Reverends G. Vos and W. Verhil were from the outset staunch supporters of and laborers for the RFPA; and not long after our churches were established these two brethren became regular contributors to our paper. The latter of them passed away before half of these forty years were completed, so that not a few of our younger readers will not even remember him. The former has only recently said“Vale!” to our readers, after many years of faithfully contributing to various departments in his own, unique style. Many will remember him especially for his writings on the Psalms. And who can forget that little more than ten years ago a large number of our ministers, most of whom had at one time or another written for our magazine, faltered in battle and faithlessly deserted the flag of the truth?
Other changes there have been. There was the gradual, but inevitable change in language, from a predominant use of the Holland language in our early history to the complete elimination of the Holland in more recent years. There have been changes in format, in the division into rubrics, in the assignment of subjects.
But, in the second place, in spite of whatever changes have come with the passing of the years, one fact stands out: the Standard Bearer has not changed essentially, but has been faithful to its original purpose. Friend and foe will admit this.
No, the editors will be the first to admit that their work has not been perfect by any means. But with our limited talents and abilities, with our sins and weaknesses, under the pressures, not infrequently, of a crowded schedule, and under the strain sometimes of disappointment and discouragement, our striving has been to wield sanctified pens in the service of the Reformed faith.
A survey of the forty volumes of our Standard Bearer, I believe, will bear out my claims.
First of all, our magazine has covered an amazingly broad range of subjects of interest to the Reformed believer. Doctrine, exposition of Scripture, defense of the Reformed truth and exposure of error,—these have abounded in our periodical. And there is a veritable gold mine of material available in the forty volumes completed. But besides the above, there is scarcely a subject left untreated, nor an aspect of either the faith or the life of God’s people on which the Standard Bearer has not expressed itself and given sound leadership and instruction. Church government, church history, history of doctrine, the confessions, Christian education, social and economic affairs, politics, practical problems of morals and life, the decisions and affairs of other churches in the Reformed community and-of the church at large, both here and abroad,—all these have come in for their share of attention, some more and some less.
In the second place, true to its announced intention, our magazine, though in the nature of the case it has often been necessary to be critical and polemical (for we are in the church militant), has by no means been exclusively negative. On the contrary, the Standard Bearer has served well in the positive development and enrichment of the Reformed viewpoint. Where will you find the doctrine of the covenant or the doctrine of sovereign predestination and sovereign grace, for example, so richly, so thoroughly, and so consistently maintained and developed as in the pages of our periodical? Where will you find such a wealth of sound exegetical material as in these forty volumes? Where will you find a magazine which so unflinchingly defended and set forth the Reformed position with regard to the multitude of problems which always face the churches of the Reformed community?
In the third place, the Standard Bearer has consistently,—and successfully,—attempted to let the light of Holy Scripture fall on every subject treated and every problem analyzed and every solution offered. And this was the original purpose of this paper: “We shall let Scripture speak.. . . . .God’s Word must instruct us concerning God, ourselves, and the world of creatures around us.”
In the fourth place, although our Standard Bearer has never hesitated to delve deeply into the truth, has not hesitated in a day of doctrinal indifference to be doctrinally orientated, nevertheless our magazine has not been an abstruse theological journal. It has spoken,—and such was its original purpose,—out of a concern “to instruct and to help the Reformed child of God in the living of a full, deep; all-sided Christian life for his Lord, in every relation, on every plane, and in every sphere.”
What, now, must the end of this be?
Shall we boast, that is, of self and of our own work? God forbid!
In the first place, let us with humble hearts,—editors, publishing society; and readers,—give the thanks and all the praise to our covenant God. It is all of Him; and we have nothing whereof to boast, except our boast be in Him.
In the second place, let us be appreciative of our heritage as it has been preserved and enriched for us by our Standard Bearer. And by appreciative I mean not a mere empty sentiment of appreciation, but an esteem of such a kind that it moves us to be better and more thorough readers of our magazine, moves us to be more loyal and dedicated and generous supporters of it, moves us to instill in our children that same inclination to appreciate, to be instructed by, and to support this magazine.
In the third place, even as so often in the past ourStandard Bearer has been of such great service in bearing the flag of the truth outside our immediate Protestant Reformed circles, so let it become more effectively and in greater outreach a witness for the Reformed faith in our time. This writer is convinced that especially in our times,—times of turmoil and crisis in the Reformed community,—we have a solemn duty to let our testimony be heard to the utmost of our ability. To achieve that purpose we need a greater outreach, more dedicated efforts, land even more generous support than we have had heretofore.
Finally, let our editors,—all of them,—pledge themselves with renewed consecration and courage and vigor to devote their very best efforts toward continuing to make the contents of our magazine conform to its original purpose.
The time is certainly short. The night cometh, in the which no man can work. Let us labor while it is day!
And may the Lord our God bless our labors.