How the gates of hell attempted to destroy the Church of God and of Christ shortly after Christ’s resurrection from the death and His ascension into heaven! Think of the efforts of the godless leaders of the people, the Sanhedrists, as they first threatened the disciples by word of mouth and then commanded them to be beaten, and this for no other reason than that they had spoken and witnessed of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Whom they had crucified and slain, declaring of Him that He, the crucified and glorified Lord, had healed the impotent beggar who sat daily in the gate of the temple. Think of Paul who had one all-controlling passion: to destroy this cause of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This apostle may have done this in ignorance, but it is surely true that the gates of hell were operating through this learned man of Tarsus. Think of all the sufferings which Paul was compelled to suffer for the name of Jesus, listed by the apostle in II Cor. 11:22-28. Did not all the apostles suffer martyrdom, with the exception of the apostle John?
How the gates of hell sought to destroy the Church of God in the second and third century, called “The Heroic Age”! The people of the Lord were called an impossible people, and the Church of God was regarded as a menace to all society and civil governments in the midst of the world. This was also the charge hurled at our Lord Jesus Christ. And, principally, this is the accusation hurled at the Cause of God throughout the ages; and it will surely reach its greatest fulfillment at the end of the ages, in the days of the antichrist. The persecutions suffered by the followers of the Man of Sorrows, as endured, e.g., in the arena in Rome, are surely familiar to all of us!
Greater, however, was the suffering heaped upon the flock of the Lord in the days of the Reformation. It has been said that the affliction visited upon the faithful people of the Lord in those days was at least five times greater than in the days of the Roman emperors. And all this will reach its climax in the days immediately prior to the coming of the Son of Man upon the clouds of heaven. Of those days it is written in the Scripture that they will be shortened for the sake of the elect.
How comforting is the truth that the Lord always gathers His Church! It is only in the light of this truth that we may believe that the Lord will also realize His purpose in the future. The Arminian cannot have this comfort. He can never say that the Lord’s churchshall be gathered. We understand, of course, that there can never be any certainty upon the basis of free will. A chain is never stronger than its weakest link. If the salvation of a sinner be dependent upon the free will of a sinner, one can never have the assurance either that any individual sinner will be saved or that the Church of God will be gathered and completed throughout the ages. However, if the Lord Himself accomplishes His counsel, who will be able to prevent or frustrate it?
What is the result of this, according to this ninth article? Well, in the first place, in connection with the blessed truth that the elect are always gathered in due time—which, we understand, is God’s time—this applies, first of all, to this present time. The Lord takes care of it that His elect are always gathered, so that there is always a true church on earth and in the midst of the world. This, of course, takes place, on the one hand, through the mission work of the church as performed among the heathens. Of course, we must understand that also this is determined by the will of the Lord, and that as stated by the fathers in Article 3 of Head I of our Canons. But this gathering of the church also occurs when the church backslides and becomes the false church. The Lord sees to it that reformations always occur in the midst of the church. We cannot, of course, call attention to this in detail. But we do well to understand that this, too, is the work of the Lord. It is He Who always gathers His elect people again. The Word of God abounds in this truth, in the Old as well as in the New Testament.
That the elect are always gathered in due time also applies to the final gathering of all the elect in everlasting glory. Then the body of our Lord Jesus Christ will be complete. Then all who belong to that body of Christ, as according to God’s election, shall have been gathered together. Not one shall be missing in that day. It is surely not necessary to emphasize that this is exclusively the work of the Lord. How foolish it is for man to try to gather the church of God. He spends millions of dollars to win souls for Christ, hires untold singers and orchestras, etc. What folly! What nonsense to go through all this trouble to win souls! Man cannot win souls anyway. This is exclusively the work of the Lord. The Lord does not need all this assistance. He gathers His church through His Word and Spirit.
And the glorious task of that church is: to love their Savior and to serve and to praise Him. This, too, we read in this ninth article of this head of our Canons. For He loved them as a bridegroom his bride, and laid down His life for them on the cross. How true it is that this can be confessed truly and sincerely only by the Reformed Christian! The Remonstrant cannot really say this. In the first place, only the Reformed child of God can confess that the people will praise their Savior. After all, according to the Remonstrant, he contributed something to his salvation. He cannot ascribe all the glory to the Lord. Man did something, too. And what man did is vital. Fact is, had man not contributed his part to this salvation, no man would have been saved. It is true that, according to the Remonstrant, the Lord prepared this salvation. This heavenly Host prepared the meal. But, in the work of saving the sinner, God offers this salvation to all who hear the gospel. And it is the sinner who accepts this offer, who agrees to be saved. And without this concurring will of the sinner the Lord is not able to save a single soul. As the undersigned heard Billy Graham say once: if man does nothing, God cannot do anything for him. Isn’t this a terrible presentation. And, in the second place, notice that the fathers, in this ninth article, say of this Bridegroom that He laid down His life upon the cross for His people. Again they speak of the cross as the foundation of our salvation. And this, too, is truly Reformed and Scriptural. The cross of Christ is the foundation of our salvation. According to the Arminian, the efficacy of Calvary depends upon the free will of the sinner. As far as the Arminian is concerned, the possibility exists that, although Christ died upon the cross for sinners, none would be saved. But the fathers of Dordt must have nothing of this. They present the cross as the foundation of our salvation. The cross does not save us because we believe, but we believe because the cross has saved us. All our salvation rests upon and in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, Who delivered Him for us all (the elect) will surely with Him freely give us all things. Then, upon the cross of Jesus Christ, our Lord, our salvation was settled once and for all. This is the comforting truth of the atonement of Him Whom we confess to be our Savior, our Bridegroom Who laid down His life for His bride!
When we discuss the Rejection of Errors which the fathers add to each head of the Canons, we do well to bear in mind that these errors, as stated by our fathers in these articles, are not necessarily admitted by the Arminian. He will probably raise his hands in holy horror when confronted with the accusation that he is guilty of these heresies. There is a Dutch saying that the heretic “kemt niet met de klompen aan.” This means that he does not approach us wearing wooden shoes. He does not approach so that we are aware of his coming. He approaches stealthily. He hides his heresy underneath a cloak of the truth. He deceives the church of the Lord. Those are always his tactics. The apostle Paul speaks of this in Eph. 4:14, and we quote: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” What a severe, cutting, but true indictment the apostle here hurls at the heretics. Imagine! He speaks of the “sleight of men.” This word “sleight” means literally: to play with dice. This means that the heretic is a gambler. He “plays” with the Church of God! He gambles with the truth to seek his own aims. And, employing the sleight of men, he resorts to cunning craftiness. Literally, we read in this passage that he employs cunning craftiness unto a system of error. He uses cunning craftiness which is designed to set up a system of error. He is wickedly clever. He concocts a system of error which is designed to deceive the people of the Lord. The Arminians were guilty of this. This is evident from their Five Points of the Remonstrants. Some of these articles are drawn up in such a way that it is difficult to discern truth from error. And the heretic does this deliberately. He knows that the people of God love the truth. So, he does not reveal himself in his true identity. He is really a wolf but he comes in sheep’s clothing. He approaches you as a friend. He, although deliberately distorting the truth, comes to you as near to the truth as possible. How true this is today! The modernist makes use of terms which are derived from the Word of God. He speaks of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His coming again to set up His eternal kingdom. He also speaks of sin and grace. But he lays a meaning into those terms which is completely foreign to the meaning of the Word of God. This is also true of the Arminian. He speaks of election and reprobation and will appear horrified should you accuse of denying these Scriptural truths. He speaks of atonement and will accuse you of misrepresentation should you lay it to his charge that he denied this fundamental truth. He tells you that the sinner is saved by grace and that faith is a gift of God and will denounce any effort on your part to accuse him of .the error of denying these revelations of the Word of God. But he surely does not interpret those truths in the Scriptural sense of the word.
Do we understand the implication of this? How important it is that we remain distinctive in the full sense of the word! To recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing demands on our part the power of keen and spiritual discernment. How difficult it is to recognize him! How important that we be constantly on the alert, “on our toes.” Sometimes we may hear the complaint of those who say that we are too distinctive in our preaching and teaching. They claim that all that is necessary is that we preach and teach positively the Word of God. They lament and bemoan it when the preaching is distinctive. How sad it would be should we heed this outcry of some! The Scriptures, however, declare that we must divide the Word of God rightly. The Word of God declares that we must no more be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine. The Word of the Lord demands on our part an unceasing vigilance, that we must constantly be on the alert. And our Church Order demands it of us, as when we read in Art. 55: “To ward off false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the Ministers and Elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation, or warning, and of admonition, as well in the Ministry of the Word, as in Christian teaching and family-visiting.” May our churches ever remain faithful unto that end!