Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Address to the RFPA Annual Meeting
This is an important occasion, since tonight we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Standard Bearer. On October 1, 1924 the first issue of theStandard Bearer appeared in our homes. At that time it was predicted that the magazine would have a speedy death. Maybe it would last five years, at the most ten. Later it was said that it would die out with our churches when Rev. Hoeksema passed away. Today the Standard Bearer is still coming to our homes and has a wider distribution than ever before.
We can certainly thank God for that. We can also be thankful for the faithful writers who in our early history contributed so much time and effort to instruct us through its pages. Rev. Herman Hoeksema and Rev. George Ophoff burned a lot of midnight oil to get theStandard Bearer to come out on time, and have left us a heritage of invaluable material.
If you were to ask, what is the distinctive truth that distinguishes the Protestant Reformed Churches from other denominations and gives her the right of existence, we would answer, the truth of God’s covenant.
We should understand that at the beginning of our history there was no agreement as to the truth of God’s covenant. When I was made candidate for the ministry I was advised by a certain Mr. Elhart of our Southwest Church not to preach on the covenant for a long time. “For,” said he, “there are about as many covenant views as there are theologians.” That was a bit of an exaggeration, but the point was well-made.
There were two outstanding views. The one was of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, who spoke of the covenant as a contract between two parties opposing a third. And he made the basis for infant baptism his presupposed regeneration. There was also the view of Rev. Heyns, who spoke of the promise that is given conditionally to every baptized child. He taught a certain baptismal grace, whereby the child was placed in a sort of neutral position, whereby he could choose to be saved or could become a covenant breaker. This view is similar to that maintained by Dr. Schilder.
Already in the very first issue of the Standard BearerRev. Hoeksema described the covenant as a relationship of friendship between God and His people in Christ. This view he developed throughout the years, as would be evident to anyone who might read the back issues of the Standard Bearer.
This important truth, which we all dearly cherish, has been developed particularly along the lines of God’s sovereignty, the antithesis, and its particular, unconditional character.
On that I wish to broaden out a bit this evening.
As we all know, Rev. Hoeksema was strongly theocentric in his thinking and in his writing. I recall the first radio sermon that he delivered, in which he spoke on the subject, “God is.” In the second he spoke on the subject, “God is God,” and in the third, “God is a covenant God.”
He made it a practice always to begin with God. If hewas speaking on the subject of love, he would say, “God is love! God loves Himself as the one and only good. He loves His people in Christ, and spreads His love abroad in their hearts, that they may love Him and declare His praises.” When he spoke of truth he would stress that “God is truth,” and that God reveals His truth in Jesus Christ “who is the way, the truth, and the life.” There is no love, no truth apart from God, as we learn from the infallible Scriptures.
Thus when he spoke of God’s covenant he always stressed that God is the covenant God, who lives His own glorious and blessed life of intimate fellowship within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity think as one, speak as one, and work as one, for all God’s works are carried out from the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. God is ever blessed in Himself and has no need of men’s hands to be worshiped by them.
The triune God wills to reveal Himself in His Son, in Christ Jesus. Therefore Christ is the firstborn of all creatures, the firstborn among many brethren, and the first begotten from the dead, that in him all fullness of blessedness should dwell. And Christ is made the head of His church, the Shepherd of the sheep given to Him of the Father.
Moreover, God has willed to reveal the fullness of His glory on the dark background of sin and death. God wills sin, but only to show forth the glory of His name through the salvation of His people in Christ Jesus.
One cannot help but marvel when he reads Genesis one. ‘”In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The earth is one of the smallest planets, yet it was created first. On the fourth day God, created the sun and the moon and the billions upon billions of stars. But the earth is the center of history.
On the sixth day God created man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The psalmist declares, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?” Yet man was made a little lower than the angels, to be crowned with glory and honor in the day of Jesus Christ, when God would make all things new.
Therefore man was made in the image and likeness of God in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, to know God, to love Him and serve Him. In his relation to God as his sovereign friend, Adam was God’s friend servant. In his relation to the earthly creation he was king; guardian of paradise. And in his relation to the human race he was our representative head and our first father.
Adam lived in intimate covenant fellowship with God, who met him at the Tree of Life, walked with him and talked with him in intimate communion of life. It was Adam’s joy to do God’s will.
Sin entered in through the temptation of Satan. But God is faithful. He keeps covenant. He comes to Adam and Eve with the promise of a seed. God says to Satan: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between her seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
What an amazing wonder. It was the woman who fell first. Yet it is the woman who is mentioned as being saved by child-bearing. The see that is promised to the woman is Christ. Galatians tells us that the seed refers to Christ. Scripture speaks, not of many seeds, but of one, which is Christ. And, as we read later, that includes all those who belong to Christ, the body of Christ, the entire assembly of the elect. To be brought into glory through the cross of Christ.
That brings us to the doctrine of the antithesis, which is hardly understood anymore today. Already in 1924 common grace was thought to serve as a bridge between Jerusalem and Athens, between the church and the world. At that time a paper appeared that was called “Religion and Culture.” The church and the world seemed to have so much in common, especially the many blessings of God. The world had developed so far in knowledge that, as one professor expressed it, Socrates in his philosophy had climbed up all the way to heaven. All he lacked was a bit of special grace and he might have been saved. Today the distinction between church and world is virtually obliterated, so that the churches are moving in the direction of post-millennialism.
In describing history, many teach a dualism. History is often described as a battle between God and Satan. Satan made his first attack in Paradise. God put up Abel, but Cain killed him. The world became so wicked that God was forced to send the Flood. After that, the conflict goes on even to Christ, so that Satan crucifies that Christ. And the battle of the ages still continues; but we need not fear, because the ultimate victory will be the Lord’s. This whole idea is nothing less than blasphemy and unworthy of God. The devil is not a power outside of God, but is a creature of God who must serve God’s purpose.
Over against that error, we hold that God maintains the antithesis. Already on the first day of creation He created the light and formed the darkness. Light is the combination of all color; darkness is the absence of color.
Soon after, God set up the tree of life in Paradise, and placed over against it the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life was God’s “Yes.” The tree of knowledge was God’s “No.” To eat of the tree of life meant life; to eat of the tree of knowledge meant death.
God spoke of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Throughout history there is the conflict between Christ and Belial, holiness and unholiness, righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil, church and world, heaven and hell.
The church is called to fight the battle of faith against all the forces of darkness. For it is exactly through that conflict that she is purified, strengthened, preserved, and prepared for glory. God is for her and nothing can be against her. She is more than conqueror in a world that is doomed for destruction.
This is most beautifully expressed in II Corinthians 6:14-18: “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, And I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord almighty.”
The Lord casts the wicked far from him. He dwells with the lowly, with those with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, who tremble at His word.
It was particularly in 1953 that a strong emphasis was placed upon the particularity and unconditionality of God’s covenant.
When Rev. DeJong and Rev. Kok were in the Netherlands they told the professors of the Liberated churches that our churches had no official covenant doctrine, and that there was ample room in our churches for the Liberated view of the conditional promise.
This set off a series of articles in the Standard Bearermaintaining and defending our covenant view.
Once more, reference was made to the promise to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).
Let me remark a moment that this speaks of a unilateral covenant. God says, “My covenant,” and, “I will establish my covenant.” And this covenant will be established with Abraham’s seed, which is Christ.
The Liberated interpreted that to mean that all those included in the generations are in the covenant, so that all baptized children receive the promise. Moreover, they held that the promise is conditional, depending upon their acceptance later in life.
The promise is to Christ and all those who are included in Christ, as is evident from Galatians 3. Scripture regards the church organically. God tells Abraham that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The children of the promise are regarded as the seed. Therefore he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart. Therefore it is not all Israel that is called Israel, but true, spiritual Israel is the chosen of God. In the New Testament Paul refers to the church as “saints in Christ Jesus.” And our Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the holy, catholic church, as “gathered by the Son of God, and chosen unto everlasting life, agreeing in one faith.”
God’s promise is particular and unconditional. We are saved by grace, and by grace only. All of God, nothing of man. Of Him, through Him, and unto Him are all things forever and ever. That truth we cherish and defend.
In conclusion I wish to stress that our early leaders were theocentric in their thinking and writing. They put God first and began with God. We do well to emulate them in that.
Moreover, they left us a heritage that we love and cherish. The truth of God’s covenant, which is taught throughout all of the Scriptures, and may well be considered a fundamental truth, appears on virtually every page of the Bible. We are called to preserve it for future generations.
That truth also has a strong appeal to those who still love the truth of the Scriptures. That is evident from the recent conference that was held in Scotland, as well as from much of the response that our Standard Bearerreceives from time to time.
The Standard Bearer has always been our vanguard, our witness to the church-world round about us. Our opposition still comes, not so much from the world, although that is worsening, but from the church-world round about us. To them we must continue to witness of the truth entrusted to us. May we be faithful unto death.