(The text of the address given at the Dedication Program of the Protestant Reformed Seminary Building)
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Theological School Committee, esteemed colleagues of the faculty, students, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ; the Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad! This first of all! We rejoice tonight in what God has done and not in what we have done. To rejoice in our accomplishments would be quite vain and very sinful. We must be careful lest we fall prey to that great evil.
If we ask, what has God done to make us glad this evening, the answer is: He has given us a fine building for the work of our Theological School. Though modest by comparison with many other seminaries, it is a beautiful facility with all the necessary rooms for the various functions and affairs of the Seminary. There is an assembly room for practice preaching, chapel, and denominational affairs; an office and a workroom for business affairs and the publishing of the lectures,Theological Journal, and syllabi for the various courses of study; a library, bookstore, three fine classrooms; and a large faculty lounge which doubles as an office for conference and study. All these are completely and beautifully furnished. Certainly this is a great thing which the Lord has done for us and we are glad. It is the Lord Who inclined the hearts of our membership to see the need and to give liberally so that we have not only adequate but beautiful facilities to meet the needs of an expanding curriculum and enrollment. And there it stands, the Protestant Reformed Seminary, on that southwestern hill overlooking the entire greater Grand Rapids area. After nearly fifty years of history, the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America has a home of its own. Certainly we ought to rejoice in humble thanks for that!
But if this be the end of our rejoicing, it shall prove quite hollow. In the final analysis it is not the building which counts: that is only brick, stone, steel, and wood. To rejoice in that would be to rejoice in the earthly, which perishes. It is the world, not the church, which rejoices in buildings and lands. So we rejoice in this: God has preserved the TRUTH among us! Think of it! We are able to say at this late date in history and in the context of rampant apostasy that the faith of our fathers, that great heritage of the Reformed Truth, is living still in our hearts and lives. That is the great thing the Lord has done for us whereof we are glad.
To this end we dedicate the new building. It must be dedicated as the place where the task of the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches continues to be performed as long as time endures. And, that task is: the defense and exposition of the Truth set forth in the Confessions (Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordrecht, Belgic Confession of Faith) according to the Holy Scriptures. This must be done in order that young men may be trained to be pastors and teachers in the churches.
In order to reach this purpose of dedication we call your attention to I Kings 8:55-61; the passage containing the concluding speech of Solomon to the children of Israel at the dedication of the temple. In the form of a prayer to Jehovah Solomon reminds Israel of three great truths evident in the completion of the temple. The first of these is: “. . . there hath not failed one word of all his good promise . . . ” (vs. 56). God in His covenant faithfulness has given rest to His people. This implies a calling: “. . . The Lord our God be with us . . . that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments . . .” (vss. 57, 58) Finally the purpose of this obedience must be: “. . . That all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else.” (vs. 60) It is true, of course, that our seminary does not occupy the place in our fellowship which the temple did in Israel. Yet, there is a legitimate parallel here to our place and calling as part of God’s church. Therefore as we dedicate this building let it be along this same threefold line. Let us acknowledge, then, God’s great faithfulness. Let us dedicate this building to sanctified obedience to the Word of God and let us do this in order that the purpose of God may be attained: “that all the earth may know that Jehovah is God”.
I. God’s Great Faithfulness
At the dedication of the temple, Solomon simply could not help but be reminded of the great faithfulness of Jehovah. He thought, no doubt, about the deliverance from Egypt, the wilderness wandering, the conquest of the promised land begun by Joshua and completed by his father, David. Now the inheritance is complete and God’s dwelling place is made permanent on Zion’s holy hill. Jehovah is present with His people in the sanctuary. All this can only mean; “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise.” Precisely according to every word of His promise God has given His people the rest of Canaan. The only response to that can be: “Blessed be the Lord.”
A parallel situation obtains for us at the occasion of the dedication of our new Seminary building. The occasion itself simply impels us to look back over the course of the nearly fifty years of our existence as Protestant Reformed Churches. Practically synonymous with the origin of our denomination was the beginning of our Theological School. The beginning was small and there did not seem to be much prospect for the future. There were only a few students, three protesting Christian Reformed congregations, and one of these was very small. Though we never did become big, God provided in a wonderful way. Churches were organized until we numbered some twenty-four or-five congregations by the late forties. But there was always trouble. The history of the Protestant Reformed Churches has been stormy. By the beginning of the second semester of the very first Seminary term one of the faculty, the Rev. Henry Danhof, resigned and with most of his congregation in Kalamazoo became independent. The churches were never large, they were widely scattered, and often beset by internal difficulties. Then there were the sad events of 1953 when nearly two-thirds of our clergy and membership departed from the truth. And, even apart from all this, the Protestant Reformed Churches have either been ignored or despised for the truth’s sake. One can well imagine that our leaders must often have wondered what would come of it all. But, God has been faithful. He provided a goodly number of students, professors of theology, and a beautiful building in which to work. We are still very small as denominations and seminaries go, but surely the fact that by the grace of God we have built this building is testimony to the faithfulness of God. Indeed, “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise!”
But there is a much greater testimony to the faithfulness of God and that is: WE HAVE NOT CHANGED! We are still preaching and teaching both in the churches and on the mission fields the same precious Reformed Faith of the Scriptures as expounded in the Creeds. The same truth prevails in our fellowship, the truth on account of which our fathers were expelled from the mother church. From our youngest to our oldest pastor comes the same blessed truth of the Word of God! And with the same emphases! The absolute sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, God’s eternal covenant of friendship with His elect in Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the gift of God; without shame and without a bit of compromise this is what is being taught in our Seminary and preached from our pulpits. It is an account of this that we are becoming more and more unique among the seminaries of the world. The Theological School is unique in having a faculty of professors who believe heart and soul in the inspired and infallible Scriptures, — this is rare in our times! We are unique in our uncompromising commitment to the truth of the Word of God set forth in the Reformed Creeds; the truth in all of its constituent parts is defended and taught without the slightest reservation on the part of any of the professors. Creation in six days by the Word of God according to Genesis 1 & 2, the fall of the human race into sin, the flood and all the miracles recorded in the Bible, sovereign election and reprobation, the eternal covenant of grace established, maintained and realized by God in Jesus Christ by His Spirit and Word; all these truths and more form the content of all the instruction given in our seminary just as they always have in the past. This, more than anything else, is clear testimony to the truth: “there hath not failed one word of all his good promise!” We did not accomplish all this. God forbid that we should ever boast in ourselves. God by His wonderful grace preserved us in the truth! One aged saint of one of our Western churches is fond of putting it this way, “Our God kept us by the truth.”
Let us dedicate this building, ourselves, and all that God has given us to thankful praise to our faithful God Whose promise has not failed. And may it be by God’s grace that we and our children and our children’s children, should the Lord tarry, say: “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise.”
II. The Call To Obedience
This means we must dedicate the use of this building to sanctified obedience to the Word of God Solomon made that very clear to the children of Israel. The fact that God realized every word of all His good promise implied a calling for Israel. Israel must walk in God’s ways by keeping God’s commandments, His statutes, and His judgments. And, because Solomon knows only too well that Israel can never persevere in obedience in its own strength, he prays that Jehovah may be with them just as He had always been with their fathers, that He may never leave or forsake them; but, that He may maintain His cause by inclining the hearts of Israel to obedience. (I King 8:57-59)
Surely this is our calling today! God has not failed in all these years; He has faithfully kept every word of His promise. This means we are to walk in His ways by keeping His commandments, His statutes and His judgments. We are to be faithful to His Word. Apart from thankful obedience to the Word of God in the days to come all these blessings become a witness against us. To this end let us dedicate our new building. Let it be the place where the Word of God is always honored, where professors and students alike always bow before the Scriptures in humble submission.
And, thus let our seminary be a place where preachers of the Word are trained. This has always been the emphasis. It must always be the emphasis. And for good reason! If God’s people are going to be obedient to the Word and live lives of gratitude to the praise of God; if indeed they are to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved, they need faith in Christ; and the Bible says to believe in Christ one must hear Christ, and to hear Christ one needs a preacher who is sent. (cf. Romans 10:13-17) God’s people need preachers committed to the Word, preachers who will say, “thus saith the Lord.” They need such preachers so that in all their wanderings, troubles, sicknesses, sorrows, and burdens they may hear the voice of Jesus.
Our Seminary is unique in this respect too. Everyone knows that preaching has fallen on hard times these days. The office of pastor-teacher (the “parish ministry” in today’s terminology) is held in disrepute. Seminaries are training specialists in church administration, institutional chaplaincy, social ministries, and what have you! By the grace of God our Seminary still trains men to know the truth and to preach and teach the Word. To this let us dedicate ourselves and this new building. Let us do it in the awareness that this is what the church so sorely needs in our times — preachers of the Word! The church needs pastors who truly represent Jesus Christ, good Shepherd of the sheep. By preaching the church will be saved; and only by preaching will the church be saved! Let the world call that preaching of the cross “foolishness”! By that “foolishness” God destroys the wisdom and power of the world and saves His church! (I Cor. 1) Our prayer then as we dedicate this facility is: “Lord incline the hearts of thy people to walk in all thy ways by keeping thy commandments, statutes, and judgments. Never leave or forsake us, Lord. Be with us as thou hast been with our fathers. Maintain thy cause among us. Give us preachers of the Word, Lord; and continue to give us a Theological School to train them.”
III. The Purpose
For what purpose ? “That all the people of the earth may know that Jehovah is God.” (vs. 60) That was God’s purpose with Israel. He redeemed them from Egypt’s bondage and gave them the rest of the promised land, and lived with them in covenant fellowship as their God and Father and called them to obedience to His Word in order that all the earth might know that Jehovah is God. By divine intent God’s glory is inseparably bound to His people in Jesus Christ. Everything serves them in order that they may serve Jehovah so that His glory may be revealed in them.
That is God’s grand purpose always. Why, we may ask, has God elected a church in Christ to everlasting life, why has He washed that church in the blood of Jesus, why has He called and sanctified that church and why does He preserve that church? Why must the church preach the Word, train pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry? Why? The answer is: “That all the people of the earth may know that Jehovah is God!” That is God’s purpose with the Protestant Reformed Churches and their seminary. Sometimes, often even, we can be so very short-sighted. Our churches are small, the denomination so insignificant on the church-scene, we cannot accomplish much. Then we ask, what’s the use? Why spend all the time, effort and money to erect a building in which to train a few men for the ministry and missions? It seems so hopeless. Let it be said, we must never think and talk this way! Our task as Protestant Reformed Churches and as part of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, the task of our Seminary is world-wide! Jesus said it, too: “Go ye into all the world baptizing and preaching and teaching the gospel”, Think of that! ALL THE WORLD! All the people of the earth must know that Jehovah is God! Not in some post-millennial sense so that all will ultimately be converted so that Christ may come to claim His kingdom. But, all the earth must know in the sense that the elect out of every nation must be gathered, sin must be revealed as sin in all its horror and in all its terrible rejection of God. Then shall the end come. Christ will come and every eye shall see Him and He will judge all men. The present earth and heaven will be destroyed in the fire of God’s wrath and a new heaven and earth will be created. Then, all the people of the earth will know that Jehovah is God. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Every knee and every tongue! Of the wicked too. They shall have to confess out of eternal hell that Jehovah is God. The righteous shall know in glory!
To that end we dedicate this building! It is a glorious task! Let us be on with it! In great courage and boldness of faith, without shame or compromise, and without apology let us train pastors and teachers and let us vindicate sound doctrine. God is with us and God will use us. Nothing can be against us! Praise His Name!