The undersigned has been requested to fill the rubric, Our Doctrine, in our Standard Bearer during the present illness of the Editor, the Rev. H. Hoeksema. We accept this appointment because we cannot refuse it, and with the personal desire that our services may not long be necessary. The reader will understand that we venture forth on our new assignment with considerable fear and trepidation. This writer is strongly conscious of the fact that the articles which will appear under the heading, Our Doctrine, cannot begin to approach the material which until now has been presented to our readers. Besides, we believe that this assignment should have been offered to a minister other than the undersigned. We say this not because we would shirk our duty, but because it is our conviction that others are more capable to fill this rubric than we. However, we accept the appointment. We have no other alternative. It is our duty to do what we can during the present illness of our editor. It is our prayer that the Lord, in harmony with His will and eternal wisdom, may continue to restore Rev. Hoeksema to health and strength. And we also pray that our readers may constantly bear in mind that the undersigned is merely attempting to “fill in” and that they may derive some spiritual benefit from these articles.
A word of introduction may be considered in order. It is not the purpose of the undersigned to try to follow painstakingly in the footsteps of him who until now has filled this rubric. We will attempt to present unto our readers our treatment of this subject, although we will, of course, avail ourselves of the material which the Lord has given us through the Reverend Hoeksema. We will endeavor to treat our subject practically.
To be sure, doctrine is the crown of life. We understand, I am sure, that doctrine and life are inseparably connected. Without life, spiritual life, no maintaining of sound doctrine is possible. This axiom is verified throughout the history of the church. All departures from the objective testimony of the Holy Scriptures are rooted in man’s refusal to serve the Lord as He is. Carnal man would conform the Lord and His Word unto his own carnal desires. “Every wind of doctrine”, writes the apostle, Paul, in, ‘born in the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” We must not present the matter as if man, ignorant of the truth, is nevertheless groping toward the light and therefore making a serious effort to serve the living God. The very opposite is true. Man rejects the living God and the truth of His Word because he is carnal. And he changes the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man because that is more in harmony with his own sinful wishes and desires. It is for this reason that the modern church of today proclaims the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, denies the Incarnation and the atonement, the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, His ascension, and His personal, visible return upon the clouds of heaven. The natural man has no need of such a Savior and consequently distorts and changes the Christ even as they would have Him be. And therefore the people of God must be continually on their guard against their own carnal flesh which always opposes the strictly divine Word of God. From this we may conclude that no maintaining of sound doctrine is possible without true, spiritual life. The church that becomes carnal will always distort and corrupt the truth of the Word of God.
If, however, it be true that no maintaining of sound doctrine is possible without spiritual life, it is equally true that no life is possible without sound doctrine. God’s Word must be a lamp before our feet, and a light upon our path—. We cannot entrust the guidance of our footsteps to our own heart and mind. Invariably we would be led astray. The Word of God is the only divine medium of the revelation of Himself as the God of our salvation. It alone throws light upon our pathway. It alone enables us to fight the good fight of faith against the powers of sin and darkness within us and round about us. Many and skillful are the forces of darkness which are encamped against the church of God in the midst of the world. The only sword which can enable us to ward off every attack and dart of the enemy is the sword of the Spirit and the Word of God. God’s Word enlightens our night of sin and guilt and proclaims unto us the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Lord. God’s Word alone enlightens our spiritual night of sin and darkness and guides us in the constant putting off of our old man of sin and the putting on of the new man. And God’s Word alone speaks to us of the hope of everlasting life. Without the Word of God we would be hopelessly at sea, wholly incapable of fighting against the forces of sin within and without. We understand, therefore, that, if sound doctrine without life be impossible, life without doctrine is equally impossible.
Besides, we must emphasize in these articles our doctrine. We will emphasize the glorious truth of the Word of God as confessed by our Protestant Reformed Churches. This we will do, the Lord willing, not because we regard the truth of our churches as a pet theory, a sort of hobby horse which we love to ride. But it is our conviction that the truth of our churches is indispensable to a true, spiritual walk. Sound doctrine and spiritual life are inseparable. And this surely applies to the glorious truth of our churches. “Common Grace”, because it proclaims what we and the world have in common, necessarily places the Church of God in the very midst of the world. It is indispensable to know that God is God alone, that He is the sole origin of our salvation, that He alone does all things for His own Name’s sake, and that He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may be unto the praise of the glory of His grace and the proclamation of His virtues. How glorious it is for our spiritual life and comfort in the midst of the sin and darkness and the guilt of this world to know that the work of atonement was finished by Jesus Christ, our Lord, and that “the work which He has once begun shall by His grace be fully done.” What is our only comfort if not that we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, body and soul, and that the God of our salvation has known us in Him even from before the foundation of the world. If that be a pet theory or a hobby horse, let it be,—we care not. It is the anchor of our salvation, the only sure basis of the Christian’s comfort in the midst of the world.
Hence, a practical treatment of our doctrine does not necessarily imply an ignoring of its theoretic aspect. Fact is, we shall attempt to emphasize our doctrine. This lies in the very nature of the case. In the first place, the rubric which the undersigned is expected to fill is entitled “Our Doctrine”. This presupposes that these articles will therefore necessarily be doctrinal in content. And, in the second place, how can the church practice the truth except she know that truth?! The truth has made us free. Only in the light do we see the light. In fact, this emphasis upon sound doctrine is all the more urgent in our present day and age which is not characterized by a profound seeking and enquiring after the glorious mysteries of the infallible Word of our God.
Nevertheless, we will attempt to present “Our Doctrine” in a practical and popular style. As stated above, the Word of God is a lamp before our feet and a light upon our path. The Holy Scriptures have been given that the man of God may be perfect and thoroughly furnished unto every good work—. It is, therefore, the very purpose of the Scriptures to lead the people of God upon the way of life, to guide their feet through the midst of the world, to enable them to fight the good fight of faith, and occupy their name and place in this world unto the glory of the living God who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Life is the purpose and fruit of doctrine. May these articles contribute a little to a richer understanding of the Word of God and of the glorious truths once delivered to our Protestant Reformed Churches. And may we understand that, inasmuch as they have once been delivered unto us, it is our responsibility to know them and to live them.
Let us, as a Protestant Reformed people, ask ourselves the question, “Do we love our Confessions?” Are we acquainted with their contents? This, dear reader, is a very pertinent question. It is simply an undeniable fact that a truth-loving church is also a confession-loving church. The history of the church throughout the ages abundantly verifies this. All we need do is look round about us today. Is it not a fact that in the measure that a church has departed from the truth of the Word of God that church has also become less confession-minded? Has it not become the hue and the cry of many churches today, “No creed but Christ.” And is it not true of those churches who shout this from the house-tops that they have trampled underfoot the most precious truths of the Holy Scriptures? Why is this? And what is our reaction, particularly as Protestant Reformed young people, towards our Confessions, commonly known among us as The Three Forms of Unity?
The objection which is most commonly raised against our having confessions may be considered strange indeed. We are, I am sure, all acquainted with it, more or less. Confessions, it is alleged, are the work of man. And they would be satisfied with nothing less than the Word of God. I call this a very strange and most incongruous objection. What are the facts? Is it not true that the very people who object to the confessions because they are the work of man do not hesitate to humanize the very Word of God? Let us grant this objection for the sake of argument. What, then, do we find? On the one hand, anyone who is somewhat acquainted with our Reformed Confessions will readily admit that they do not extol the work of man but the work of God. They emphasize divine predestination, man’s utter depravity, the particular and efficacious character of Christ’s atonement, the need of conversion, the irresistible character of divine grace, and the certain perseverance of the saints. And, on the other hand, they who object to our confessions, deny these Scriptural truths. They humanize the Work of salvation. Man, according to them, decided whether he shall be saved. Divine predestination is either silenced or denied, Christ’s death is presented as having occurred for all men, man is not utterly depraved, salvation is offered instead of sovereignly bestowed, and the question whether there is a perseverance of the saints, is left unanswered—see the Five Points of the Remonstrants. Is it not strange to deny on the one hand our confessions because they are the work of man, and on the other hand to deny the divine character of the work of salvation? How must we account for this obvious contradiction?
Of course, we do not subscribe to the assertion that our Confessions are the work of man. To be sure, we grant that they were written by men. And we also understand that they are not to be placed on a par with the Word of God. Confessions are binding only inasfar as they are based upon the Word of God. And they must also be continuously tested in the light of the Scriptures. A church that loves the truth and recognizes the infallible character of the Holy Scriptures will not blindly accept the Confessions without interpreting them in the light of the Word of God. This does not mean, however, that they are therefore the work of men. For, what are our Confessions? Our Confessions, or Reformed Symbols, are not the work of men but the product of the Church of God even as that Church is led by the Spirit of Christ Jesus into all the truth. This, I believe, is evident from the Confessions themselves. It is only in this light that we can understand their language. Were it not for the fact that our fathers were prompted by the Spirit of God one can never explain why these Reformed Symbols should speak the language they do, a language which glorifies the living God and proclaims the divine character of the work of salvation. Also the Scriptures teach us, however, that our Confessions must be regarded, not as the work of men, but as the product of the Church as that Church is led by the Spirit of Christ Jesus. Did not the Savior, upon His ascension to the right hand of His Father and His reception of all power and glory and wisdom and honor, comfort His disciples with the promise that he would send the Spirit Who would lead them into all the truth?
Hence, what are our Confessions? And we answer without hesitation that they are the product of the Church as that Church is led by the Spirit into all the truths of the Word of God. Mind you, they are the products of the Church. It is of the utmost importance that we see this point. They are not the work of an individual. They are the work of the Church, the Body of Christ Jesus in whom the Spirit of all truth dwells. They are not even the work of children of God, however noble and pure their motives and intentions may be. They are brought forth by the Church, the organic body of our Lord Jesus Christ. This implies that the Church gathers as the Church of God, not individualistically, but organically, and that that Church convene under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in prayerful subjection unto (His will, with the earnest desire and longing in her heart and soul that that Spirit may lead them into all the truth.
To understand this procedure we must bear in mind the position of the Church of God in the midst of the world. That Church of God loves the truth of the Word of God. That Church proclaims that truth. However, we are as yet in the midst of this world. And that wicked world hates the truth of the Scriptures. They attack the truths which God’s people confess and profess here below. They proclaim heresies. They hurl at the Church of God every wind of doctrine which are born in the sleight of men, who use cunning craftiness to deceive the Church of the living God. We cannot at this time trace these attacks of evil men throughout the ages. And now the Church convenes under prayerful subjection to the Holy Spirit to answer these evil attacks upon the Word of God. And the Spirit leads her into the truth of the Scriptures and enables her to refute these heresies with the Word of God which is the sword of the Spirit. Thus are brought forth the confessions which the people of God so dearly cherish and for which they have been willing in ages past to shed their life-blood.
We now also understand why a truth-loving church is also a confession-loving church. These confessions are the product of the Church of God as she was led by the Spirit of Christ Jesus. Does it not border on conceit for anyone to ignore or despise these symbols of the Church of God? Does it not leave a strange impression upon us when any individual or group of individuals ignores this work of the Spirit of God in His Church throughout the ages? And is it not somewhat repulsive, yea, should it not be repulsive to us when so little regard is shown for all the blood of martyrs which has been shed in the past whereby the people of God have sealed their confession of the truth of the Word of God. To love God and the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus surely implies that we will also love the work of that Spirit in His Church in the past.
These confessions are of great importance to the Church of God. Firstly, they are the means by which the Church as a whole can express her faith over against the world, or by means of which a group of churches can express their faith over against other churches. It is, of course, the divine calling of the Church to be a living testimony of the grace of God, to let her light shine everywhere, and to give constant expression of what she believes to be the truth revealed in the Word of God. Our Confessions are a wonderful means for our churches to be such a testimony over against the world and also other churches who have deviated from the clear teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
Secondly, they are the means to preserve the truth as it is delivered down the line of generations and through all the ages. God develops His covenant throughout the ages from generation to generation. His Church is gathered organically. And, as these truths are handed down within the Church from generation to generation, our Confessions are a wonderful means unto this development and preservation of the truth.
Thirdly, they can serve as a bond of union, upon the basis of which churches of one belief can unite. This, for example, is also true of our Protestant Reformed Churches, united, as we are, upon the Three Forms of Unity: the (Heidelberg Catechism, the 37 Articles of Faith, and the Canons of Dordrecht. And, as such, they also serve to preserve unity within the fellowship of those churches who have thus united.
And, fourthly, they are wonderful means of instruction. This hardly needs any elucidation. Instruction in our various classes in our Confessions is surely admirably suited unto our mutual increase in all the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the grace of our God.
We shall attempt, in this series of articles under the heading, “Our Doctrine”, to discuss the fundamental truths of Holy Writ as they have been systematically arranged in the various loci of our Dogmatics and which loci generally follow the line as given us in our Confession of Faith, the 37 Articles. We shall attempt to be as practical and as popular as we possibly can. Much is in favor of this procedure. First of all, the undersigned will then have a rich source from which to draw. Years ago, the Reverend Hoeksema wrote along these lines in the Holland language. These articles will, of course, furnish the present writer with valuable information. Secondly, we believe that there is a crying need in our churches for articles of this nature in the language of the land. Much of the Standard Bearer in the past has been written in the Holland language. A systematic discussion of our doctrine in the English language will, undoubtedly, fill a need in our churches, especially for our Protestant Reformed young people.
Thirdly, the undersigned is fully aware of the task unto which he has set himself, and the severe limitations of his ability to fulfill this task. He welcomes any suggestion which will serve the interests of this rubric. May our God bless the efforts put forth by him and may they be used by Him unto the glory of His name and our mutual increase in the knowledge of the grace of Him who is the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus, our Lord. And we humbly trust that our young people will avail themselves also of this opportunity to become founded in the blessed truths of the Word of God, to read not only these articles but the entire Standard Bearer, in order that our paper may continue to be a blessing in the midst of our Protestant Reformed Churches.