(The text of the address given at the convocation of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, September 4, 1974)
There are some statements in Scripture which capture in just a few words the entire truth. Jesus’ word recorded in Matthew 10:34 is one of these statements: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The Savior states His purpose in coming with these words. We ought to understand that this is not the only such statement from the Lord. He tells us elsewhere, for example, that He is come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; or that He is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Hence, we must not conceive of this word as an exhaustive definition of what Jesus came to do on this earth. This word does, however, get at the heart of the Savior’s purpose in coming. Jesus came to save His people from their sins by way of His atoning death on the cross as sealed in His resurrection from the dead. Thus the Son of God in the flesh fulfilled the eternal counsel of God and in Him and His Body, the Church, the glory of God shall be perfectly manifest in the new creation. But all of this is accomplished exactly in the way of Christ’s coming not to send peace on earth but a sword.
The meaning of our Lord’s Word is quite obvious. Christ did not come to send peace on earth, He came to send a sword, i.e., conflict, war, bloodshed. He came to set people at variance and to cause division! What Jesus presents in these words is what has come to be called in the Reformed faith and tradition, the antithesis. By this term we mean the separation put by God between the truth and the lie, Christ and the devil, light and darkness, good and evil, sin and grace. We mean the conflict resolved at the cross of Jesus Christ. And most emphatically we mean the calling of the Christian to be not conformed to this age but transformed by the renewing of his mind in order to prove the good and acceptable will of God.
Now it is not merely coincidental that Jesus states this purpose in this context. He is commissioning and qualifying the twelve apostles to go and preach the gospel of the kingdom to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Nowhere does the conflict become more sharply revealed or the battle more hotly contested than where the gospel is preached. For this reason the Savior encourages the twelve concerning the opposition they will encounter and the persecution they will experience as they go preaching. They have no reason to fear for the Father cares for them. There is no cause for dismay or disappointment when the gospel they preach is rejected and opposed, for Jesus’ very purpose in coming is not to send peace but a sword!
And there is the word for us as we begin another season of seminary instruction. The antithesis is maintained and realized in the church and in the lives of the people of God by means of the preaching of the gospel. It is the business of the seminary to train preachers of the gospel for the churches. Hence, we speak on the subject; “Peace, A Sword, And Our Seminary.”
There is an apparent contradiction here. “I am not come to send peace on earth” appears to be the exact opposite of what the Bible says elsewhere concerning the mission of Jesus’ Christ. At His birth announcement the angels speak of “Peace on earth and good will among men.” The prophet, Isaiah, in Isaiah 9 of his prophecy lists among His Names: “The Prince of Peace.” There are many passages which speak of Jesus’ purpose in coming in terms of His bringing peace. Ephesians 2:14, 15 teaches that Christ is our peace, that He made both one, broke down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity between us, making one new man out of two; and now notice, so making peace! In Luke 1:79 Zacharias sings of Him as He Who came to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” But here Jesus states emphatically; “I am not come to send peace, but a sword.” How must we understand these words? How can Jesus be “the Prince of Peace” if He came to send a sword?
There is, of course, no contradiction. The Bible is a perfect harmony. Jesus’ statement of purpose is precisely according to the eternal counsel of God. God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus according to which He saved the Church, created the worlds is; war, division, strife, a sword. The revelation of this purpose of God is given already in Paradise. In Genesis 3:15 we read: “And I will put enmity (hatred) between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This word was spoken by God to Satan moments after Satan had tempted our first parents to fall. God said there is going to be hatred between the two seeds: namely, that of the woman or the church (elect) and that of the serpent, or the world (the reprobate). There is conflict here, strife, a battle and bloodshed! And the first instance of that bloodshed soon followed when Cain slew his righteous brother Abel.
The Bible from this point on records the history of that great conflict between the two seeds. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of the impending judgments upon the ungodly and he was translated that he should not see death. Noah for a hundred twenty years was a preacher of righteousness. He testified clearly “the flood is coming” and he gained not one convert, in all that time. Nimrod and the world of his day built their tower of Babel in defiance of God and His cause. The patriarchs were strangers in a strange land. The conflict was revealed in that it was Israel in, Egypt’s bondage. It was the heathen of Canaan against God’s chosen. Finally, it was the whole world united against God’s Old Testament church: Assyria, Syria and Babylon! Wherever, therefore, God revealed Himself in the old dispensation there was division, strife, a sword.
The climax to this battle came in the fullness of time when God sent the promised Son into the world. The sword became obvious already at His birth, or shortly thereafter, when Herod attempted to destroy Him and it continued all through the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Wherever Jesus Christ appeared there was the sword. He was tempted of Satan after being 40 days and nights in the wilderness, He was contradicted, denied, and rejected of men. Always there was during those three and a half years of His public ministry the deliberate attempt on the part of Satan and the world to destroy the cause of God represented in the person of His Son. That became most clearly revealed at His cross where the whole world cried, “away with Him, crucify Him,” and attempted to destroy Him forever! But it was at the cross that the Prince of Peace crushed the head of the serpent. The Bible tells us that at the cross Christ destroyed him that had the power of death, even the devil. And death is swallowed up in the victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After the ascension and return of Jesus Christ in the Spirit the battle continues even though the issue has been decided and the victory has been won through the cross. If tradition be correct only one of the twelve apostles died in bed. So it has been throughout the ages. By means of false teachers in the church, the temptations of the world, the devil and his host oppose the gospel and attempt to destroy the cause of Christ. It is a battle which rages even in the lives of the children of God. It is the struggle between the old man of sin or the flesh and the new man in Christ. A daily and bitter struggle it is. The apostle Paul’s anguished confession of his own struggle against sin recorded inRomans 7 is testimony enough!
So we see there is no contradiction between this word of Christ and what Scripture says elsewhere of the purpose of His coming. Christ is indeed the Prince of Peace and He came to bring peace. But not the peace of the world—He came to bring the peace of the kingdom of God. He did not come to bring peace to the ungodly on the earth. The gospel of the kingdom of heaven is not one of earthly peace or tranquility for all men. The message of Christianity is not one of reconciliation and harmony or even one of co-existence among the people of the earth. And it certainly is not one of union between the church and the world or between light and darkness! Christ came to send a sword! He came to fight and to destroy the ungodly as God had purposed from all eternity. According to the book of Daniel He is the Stone cut out of the mountain by no human hand which grinds to powder the kingdoms of this world. He came to bruise the head of the serpent and He dealt the death blow at the cross! The cross is the destruction of the forces of unbelief under Satan. And the Word of the cross destroyed the anti-Christian wisdom of this world. By that same cross Jesus Christ brought the peace of the Kingdom of Heaven to His people. And that is the significance of this word for our seminary.
God has been very gracious to us from every point of view. From an external viewpoint or materially we have been given beautiful facilities in which to work. All the means and resources to provide good, sound, Reformed theological education are at our disposal. But far more important and wonderful is the fact that God has preserved His truth among us. Consider that with me: in an age of doctrinal apathy He has kept us doctrinally sensitive! In an age of almost unprecedented departure from the truth, He has kept us faithful to it. In an age of compromise and conformity, He has kept us standing fast. He continues to sanctify us in an age of immorality and lawlessness that knows no bounds. He, the God of our salvation, has done all of this! The praise and thanks belong to Him alone. But don’t you see that our calling in this light becomes the more serious? The gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached. The gospel which has as its content the Holy and inspired and infallible Word of God must be preached. The Scriptures must be preached. The Word which declares the kingdom of heaven is at hand must be preached. Hence, the Word which declares the absolute sovereignty of God against the background of the total inability of the natural man to do any good. The gospel which has as its theme, salvation by grace through faith and that not of ourselves—it is the gift of God, must be preached. The gospel which proclaims the destruction of the kingdom of man and the triumph of the Kingdom of Heaven to be realized at the appearing of Jesus Christ is the Word which must be preached. And the preaching of that Gospel is the only means by which the truth will be maintained over against the lie, our churches will continue to manifest the marks of the true church of Jesus Christ in the world, and the only means by which God’s people will be set at variance with all unbelief and sin.
And let it be underscored it is the seminary’s business to train faithful preachers of that gospel. This is the great need of the churches. The Church of Jesus Christ does not need all kinds of “special ministries.” The church does not need psychological counselors or youth ministers. Neither does our seminary specialize in all these areas—and may God forbid that it ever should in the future. What the churches do need is faithful preaching. The church needs preachers who will in obedience to Jesus Christ wield the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God! Preachers who will proclaim, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” preachers who will not corrupt the Word by coming to the church with excellency of speech and worldly wisdom, but preachers who will speak out of sincerity in Christ and who will be determined to know nothing but Christ crucified among God’s people—this is the great need of the churches. And to train such faithful preachers and to be trained as such faithful preachers of the gospel God calls us together tonight as Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
God’s Word to us is plain. Professors of Theology, teach these students the Word of God, vindicate sound doctrine over against all heresy repugnant thereto. Let these students see the Reformed Truth of the Holy Scriptures in all of its power and beauty. Give these students just that, nothing less and nothing more. That is your charge from God Himself. And this charge from God means you will be opposed. The gospel does not appeal to men. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, it cuts and divides asunder, and pierces even to the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts of the heart. For the truth we are called to teach many have given their very lives. Be encouraged by the Word of Christ Who said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
Students, as preachers some day, the Lord willing, you will stand in the vanguard, you will be in the front lines of the battle! You may be sure that battle is going to increase in its intensity for sin is developing and the man of sin .is more and more becoming evident in the world in which we live. All things are obviously rushing madly toward the end. Study! Work hard! Pray! The gospel for which you are training and being trained to preach demands your all!
Church of Jesus Christ, pray for us. We are grateful to God more than we are able to express for all your prayers, gifts, and words of encouragement in the past. We beg you to continue to remember the seminary. It needs the support of God’s people. And all of us together ought to set ourselves to the task with joyful zeal! In the face of the inevitable opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ which we shall surely encounter we are not afraid. We fear none of those things which shall come to pass, for the very hairs of our head are numbered and we are of more value than many sparrows for whom our heavenly Father cares. Our Father in heaven Who numbers the hairs of our head will surely provide for us. We shall be hated of all men for Jesus’ sake. But Jesus said: “He that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me.” And in all the battle as we bear the sword which Christ came to bring we have His reassuring word: “He that endures to the end shall be saved.”