[Note: This (and subsequent) editorials are the content of the speech given publicly at the seminary convocation for the current school year, held in September of 2013. Even though the seminary year is now half finished, the need for the saints to pray is no less pressing. The speech is given here with only slight modification.]
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
Of all the daily benefits that God gives to His people, surely prayer is one of the most precious. Every Christian knows the tremendous importance of prayer in a right relationship to God, as well as for his life as a Christian. My purpose is to call attention to the importance of bringing our petitions to God continually. More specifically, as we begin another year of instruction in the Protestant Reformed Seminary, I wish to urge you listeners, and now readers, to pray for the seminary.
We are all aware that in some circumstances the request “pray for us” can be made thoughtlessly, perhaps flippantly, or even superstitiously. It may happen that nonreligious people, who never darken the door of a church on Sundays, find themselves in a tragic situation and ask you to pray for them. Unbelieving rulers in our nation, whose lives and policies indicate that they do not know the Lord, yet will say in a time of tragedy, “Our thoughts and our prayers go out to those who have suffered loss at this time.” Still others have prayer-chains and prayer requests that ask others to pray for such mundane things as sick pets or lost luggage. The effect on us might be that we shy away from asking someone to pray for us. But that would be a wrong reaction.
The Bible gives us good direction in this matter of praying for each other. Paul, in most of the epistles that he wrote, made it plain that he was praying for the saints in that congregation to whom he addressed his inspired epistle. The Bible instructs us into pray with each other, to confess our faults one to another, and pray for each other that we may be healed. On more than one occasion, the apostle Paul specifically asked believers to pray for him and for his fellow laborers, the missionaries and the ministers. He does so point-blank in a verse that stands all by itself: . Without any specific requests for what they ought to pray or even a reason why they should pray, he simply exhorts: “Brethren, pray for us.” Likewise in the passage that we read tonight, : “Brethren, pray for us.” And the writer to the Hebrews has the same request in his final chapter ( ): “Pray for us.”
Hence, I feel entirely justified in taking that inspired admonition, “Pray for us,” and applying it to us and our situation, specifically applying it to the seminary and to all of you, friends and supporters of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The (speech) article is organized with three points, which constitute three reasons why you ought to pray for the seminary, reasons that will at the same time give the content of proper petitions on behalf of the seminary. 1) The spiritual nature of the work. 2) The difficulties faced. 3) The importance of the work. For those reasons I urge you to pray for the seminary, for the professors, for the students, for the staff, and for the Theological School Committee that oversees the work of the seminary.
The Nature of the Work
The nature of the work demands that prayers be offered for it, because it is a spiritual work. That makes God’s gifts and blessing indispensable.
If the work were a physical labor, for example, if the work in which we were engaged involved making aluminum windows and doors, or building houses, or computer programming, we would not have a convocation where we call people together and admonish them, “Please, pray for us.” When Scripture addresses this matter of praying for each other, it never does so concerning success in business, or even that we would have enough money or have good health. Rather, always, it is the spiritual needs of the church that are in view when the Bible exhorts, “Pray for us.” The work of the seminary is a spiritual work.
Seminary work is spiritual because it is the work of the ministry of the Word. All the professors are ordained preachers of the gospel, ministers of the Word and sacraments. They have themselves served in the ministry of the Word for at least ten years. They were called by the churches to perform a vocation that is an aspect of the gospel ministry. That is how seminary instruction is to be viewed: an aspect of the gospel ministry. The Spirit, through the apostle Paul, indicated that that was the nature of the training of men and an aspect of preaching. Paul did that, in the first place, by his own example. He selected young men and called them to accompany him on his journeys in order that he might teach them and prepare them for the work of the ministry. He did that with Timothy, to whom he wrote two epistles. He did the same with Titus and with others. That, first of all—the very example of the apostle Paul, taking men along and training them as he went—indicates that it is the work of a preacher to train men for the ministry.
Secondly, inPaul writes this: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” That is a clear reference to Timothy’s being ordained a minister of the gospel. Hands were laid on him. Now Paul says, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee”—a necessary gift, one that Timothy must draw on, must use, to be a faithful minister of the Word. How did Timothy get that gift? That gift was given, says Paul, by prophecy, that is, by preaching. How did Timothy hear preaching that prepared him, gave him a gift, and equipped him to be a minister of the Word? We know that from a child he heard the Holy Scriptures, he was instructed in Holy Scripture, and surely, after he was converted to faith in Jesus Christ, he heard preaching about Jesus Christ. But it was especially the preaching that he heard through the instruction of the apostle Paul that gave him the gift equipping him to be a minister of the gospel. Paul’s specific instruction to the young man was a form of preaching.
Add to that, in the third place, Paul’s command to Timothy found in: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same [what you heard from me] commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” All the professors and students, and anyone who goes regularly into the seminary building, will recognize that verse as the one inscribed in stone and set into the wall at the entrance of our seminary. This is our “theme verse” for the seminary. This verse is significant, for in it Paul taught Timothy that part of his duty as a preacher was to instruct other men to be preachers, that they might convey the truth to still more. It is the work of an ordained minister to prepare men to be preachers.
Why is that? It is because of what preaching is, namely, God’s speech to His people. When God speaks, He reveals Himself. He gives the knowledge of Himself to His covenant people. At the same time, preaching is a means of grace. Through preaching God furnishes His people with the necessary spiritual gifts to be godly husbands and fathers leading their families, to be covenant wives and mothers in the home, to be children who go off to school, and also the gifts to be preachers of the gospel. This is God’s means, His powerful means, to teach about Himself and to equip men to serve Him in their life and especially in the church.
Seminary instruction is a form of preaching. We say that the young people, in catechism classes, are given an official kind of teaching that prepares them to make confession of faith. In the seminary, we rightly say, we are giving students an official kind of teaching, a form of preaching that is equipping them to be ministers of the gospel. That is what seminary instruction is.
Therefore, people of God, if you believe that you ought to pray for your pastor and your missionaries (and you ought to), so ought you to pray for your professors in your seminary, and for all the same reasons. Pray that the professors may be faithful in the office that God has given them to fulfill their calling; that the Spirit may continue to equip these men as He must equip your pastors and your missionaries to fulfill these duties; that they may be bold to set forth the truth, the whole counsel of God, without compromise; that they may be vigilant to guard against every new form of the lie that Satan introduces into the world and into the church; and that they, with courage, may fight the battle against every form of that lie. Pray for the professors that they may have wisdom as they deal with the students, as a minister must have wisdom in dealing with all different sorts of members in the congregation. Pray that their lives as professors may be godly lives, that they will adorn the gospel that they preach with a life of good works. Pray for the professors.
Pray also for our students. Pray that God will use the instruction to prepare them for the gospel ministry. That is the goal. All the instruction (dogmatics, church history, Bible history, church polity, counseling, exegesis, Greek, Hebrew, and much more), every bit of the instruction, as well as all the counsel that is given to them privately in the study, all the admonitions, all of it has the goal of equipping these men to be preachers of the gospel. Seminary instruction shapes men, molding them for the work God gives them, namely that of being Reformed preachers—which is, of course, for us, to be Protestant Reformed preachers. The preaching in the seminary develops their gifts, the natural gifts that God has given them. It assists them in overcoming some of their weaknesses. It helps them to develop their strengths.
But the whole of the seminary training is not merely a matter of teaching seminarians to preach, to be able to get up and speak and use gestures and voice to communicate effectively. The whole of the seminary training is intended to develop them spiritually, in order that they may be fit heralds of the gospel and faithful shepherds in the sheepfold of Christ. Surely you can see, then, that the work of the professors in their instruction and the work of students in their learning require the blessing of God because the labor is a spiritual work. It demands God’s blessing.
All the professors need God’s blessing to do the work God sets before them, just as your pastor needs God’s blessing to do his work. A pastor must be diligent. He must be faithful to study the Word, to prepare sermons, and to speak with boldness the Word that the Spirit gives him. Paul requested that for himself in Ephesians 6:19, 20. Pray also for me, he wrote, “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds.” Then he repeats: “that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” We professors make the same request of you: Pray for us that we may speak boldly the gospel that God has entrusted to us.
It is true, however, that all the minister’s labors, his careful exegesis and preparation of sermons, all the work that he does, will be of absolutely no avail unless the Spirit prepares the hearts of the listeners in the church, gives them faith to believe the Word that he preaches, gives wisdom to the congregation to help them apply the Word to their daily lives, gives them the grace to be able to live out of the Word—unless the Spirit does all that, all the minister’s labors in the study and all his dynamic preaching is of no avail. So also it is true that the professors may speak clearly and boldly the Word of God as they ought to speak, but if the Spirit does not apply that to the hearts of these young men, it is of no avail. That, therefore, is what we pray for: that the word of instruction that is given may find ready entrance into the hearts of the students, into their souls. That they will take hold of it and embrace the truth that is set before them.
By the grace of God, we note with most humble thanksgiving, the Protestant Reformed seminary, some 88 years now, has continuously had sound instructors. Every last one of them faithfully set forth the truth of the Word of God, the glorious heritage of the unconditional covenant, the glorious heritage of sovereign particular grace, from Herman Hoeksema and G.M. Ophoff, to the present day. Yet we all know that there were men who sat under that instruction, graduated from the seminary, and went out into the ministry, but did not have a love for the truth they were taught. These graduates did not have an unwavering commitment to that truth and were willing to give it up. Pray, then, that the students will receive the Word and submit to the instruction. Pray that God will not only convict them of the truth but give them a love for the truth, and that they will leave the seminary in due time molded by God to be faithful preachers of the gospel. The work is a spiritual work. Pray for God’s blessing on it.
… to be continued.