“The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Reverend Herman Hoeksema has departed from us, and is gone into glory! Just a few more months, and he would have reached the age of the strong. Seventy-nine years he sojourned among us, and the Lord took him out of all the suffering of this present time into the presence of Him whom he loved and served. He was born in the Netherlands on March 13, 1886, and in the early morning hours of September 2, 1965 he folded up his feet into the bed and gave up the ghost. He is therefore now no longer with us.
And what shall we say at his passing?
Shall we presume to express eulogies, and utter paeans of praise concerning him?
Indeed, he was a great man! Even those who opposed him would freely attest to that! And if eulogies are in order, then surely they could be uttered with respect to him!
He was first and foremost a theologian, par excellence! He stood on the shoulders of his forebears, and went beyond them! He contributed to the Reformed theological climate expositions of doctrine that surpassed those of his predecessors!
He was also a great teacher and preacher! We remember him especially in his prime, when he could hold you spell-bound in his audience. He could set forth the truths of God’s Word so clearly that you could see them, and never forget them!
He was a prodigious worker! Who at one time could prepare for and deliver as many as three and four sermons on a Sunday; and at the same time he prepared instruction for his students and taught in our seminary. At the same time he was editor of The Standard Bearer, filling most of its pages for many years, while he also prepared and published many books, brochures, and pamphlets. All this he did while often he was in the midst of ecclesiastical strife which demanded his attention and called for his leadership!
He was an invincible debater! Who understood and used extreme logic, which sent fear into the hearts of those opponents who knew him!
He was a fighter in the good sense of the word! Who fought against every semblance of corruption incipient in or threatening the church. And who did this all the years of his ministry!
He was the faithful pastor of what at one time was one of the largest Reformed Churches in our country, a congregation of over 500 families and 1300 souls. Who, though he was not always able to care for the pastoral needs of his flock because of his many other pressing duties, nevertheless always had his congregation at heart, and gave consolation to them that needed it!
He was a very dear friend and brother in Christ! Whom we knew personally for over fifty years, and most intimately for the last thirty-five. Who was always ready to help with advice and comfort when that was most needed!
He was, last but not least, a beloved father! Who loved his family, his dear wife who preceded him in death by almost two years; and his children for whom he provided of the very best, often under difficult and trying circumstances!
Perhaps you, my reader, if you knew him, could also add to the list we have enumerated!
Indeed, our departed leader was graced with many talents and exceptional gifts. And the churches to which he gave such faithful leadership have suffered a great loss!
But to all this eulogy and praise, he would, if he were able, be the first strenuously to object; and against it he would violently protest! For you see, he was also a very humble man! But even this statement, though not specially cast in the form of eulogy, would have been seriously objected to by him. He would inform you in no uncertain terms that he was by nature proud and haughty. He would insist that he was thoroughly corrupt, that there was no good in him! But that was exactly his greatness, that he understood by experience the awful depravity of the human nature, and that even after grace comes, there is but a very small beginning of new obedience. He found his hope only in the sovereign and redemptive mercy of his God! Man nothing, and God everything! That was the tenor of the Gospel he preached, and the Gospel he lived!
Much rather, yea, very much rather would he that our attention be called to his God!
If there was one thing which we have learned from him and to which he gave expression in all his preaching and teaching, it was his beautiful conception of God which he formed out of the Holy Scriptures. How often, we recall, the expression he made: God is God! And how bitterly he opposed every attempt to make an idol of Hi! Like Elijah of old, who on Mount Carmel cried into the ears of the people: Jehovah or Baal! Choose whom ye will serve! So he would thunder from his pulpit: It is either—or; never: both—and! It is God or the idol! How often, when in the midst of doctrinal controversy, he would call attention to the fact that every departure from the truth is to make an idol of God!
And so, at this time we would draw our attention away from the deceased, to the God of his and our salvation! In this great God the bereaved family will have to find all the comfort they need in this time of sorrow. The congregation he served in particular, and our churches in general, which shall be required to go on without him, will also have to look to this God for all their comfort and guidance! There are those who have predicted that our churches would pass out of existence when their great leader would disappear from the scene. But those who spoke thus have never known his and our God!
We would call your attention to our God on the basis of the text as it appears above this meditation!
The words of this text are found at the conclusion of the series of blessings Moses pronounced over the tribes of Israel just before his death. You may recall how Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, also pronounced blessings on his sons before he folded up his feet into his bed and yielded up the ghost. And now Moses, the servant of the Lord, was about to depart this life; but before he does so, he pronounces blessings on these generations of the sons of Jacob! And he concludes that all these pronouncements will be realized only because: “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heavens in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky.” And he continues in our text to say: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Full of infinite perfections!
Moses mentions only one of His attributes here: His eternity! That already refers to God as the Wholly Other! The word translated “eternal” in the original looks at God’s eternity from a peculiar point of view. The word literally refers to that which is before, before in antiquity. Here it most probably means: that which has no beginning. The idea then is, that everything in creation has a beginning, but God is before this! He has no beginning. He is before the beginning. In the beginning God was, He did not become! And when we read in the text of “everlasting arms,” this also refers to His eternity, only here it emphasizes: no end! Thus the idea of eternity in the text is: without beginning and without end! Moses, in the Psalm we read in your hearing (Psalm 90:1, 2) declares this same truth: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
But we know from all the Scriptures that God is full of infinite perfections! This is not the time or the occasion to enumerate and define all these virtues of our God. Let it suffice only to mention some of them: His Immutability, Independence, Omnipresence, and Omniscience. His righteousness, holiness, love, grace, and power! And let it be understood that the sum total of all these virtues make up, so to speak, the one, true, triune, blessed God!
The radiation of these virtues is His glory!
This exalted and glorious God we could not know unless He came down to show Himself to us! He creates a creature, and after the fall of man recreates a creature that is capable of receiving that revelation. And He condescends to give us that revelation! The sum total of His glory is the multiple display of His attributes! This glory is seen in creation, the works of His hands! Therefore the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament His handiwork! And Paul tells us that this revelation is even to the extent of the perception of His eternal power and Godhead, so that men are without excuse! More particularly, however, these virtues and His glory are revealed in the work of redemption! Therefore the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” when they behold the Babe of Bethlehem! And therefore the shepherds and the wisemen rejoice in the birth of the King of the Jews!
The central revelation of this glorious God is in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is come in the flesh! Of Him the Scripture repeatedly asserts that all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily! Therefore He could say to Philip: He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father! As I have said to my congregation often: All that we shall ever see of God shall be seen in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord! And so it is!
This God is Israel’s God!
He is not the God of all men! Contrary to the modern conception, according to which God is the Father of all men. And so they speak of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. This view is opposed by all of Scripture!
Nor is it true that God wants to be the Father of all men, so that on God’s part He has a strong desire to be the Father of all, but it depends upon man whether or not he will accept Him as Father. For also this view is opposed by all of Scripture!
Nor is it true that His grace and love are intended for all men! A view which is creeping into even Reformed circles today! Let it be said without any equivocation: God’s grace and love are always only particular—never common! That is the truth of the Word of God throughout!
The truth is He is the Covenant God of Israel! And we hasten to add: of Israel whom He hath chosen. For also here, all is not Israel that is called Israel. Nor is he a Jew which is one outwardly, whose circumcision is only in his flesh; but he is a Jew, a true Israelite, whose circumcision is of the heart. God is, according to Scripture, the God of His chosen people in Christ! With them He has established an everlasting Covenant. Concerning this great doctrine respecting the Covenant we are most thankful to God for the new light and development given to us through our now departed brother. He, more than any other of the theologians of the past, has developed and presented most succinctly in his writings, particularly in his dogmatics which will soon come off the press. God, the in Himself Covenant God because He is triune, has willed to form in and through Christ Jesus a people with whom He establishes and keeps an eternal Covenant of grace!
Of this God, Israel is most ill-deserving! Moses describes them in another portion of Deuteronomy (Deut. 9:3-5) repeatedly as a stiff-necked people. They were a people who rebelled against Jehovah all the way from Egypt to the borders of Canaan. Always they refused to enter Canaan, the land that flowed with milk and honey, a type of heaven and rest! Israel is a people that is estranged from the womb! There is nothing in that people that could move God to choose them! Surely God could never have chosen you and me because He foresaw some good in us that moved Him in His choice. Depraved and undone we are by nature; as Isaiah describes us, so we are: “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” (Is. 1:6a).
Yet this people hath Jehovah formed for Himself; they shall show forth His praise. (Is. 43:21). If God delighted Himself in that people, it can only be because His grace to them is purely sovereign and free. He chose them in order that they might become conformable unto His image. This judgment God’s people will always make of themselves as they by grace see themselves in the light of His Holy Word and Law!
This great and glorious God is a safe retreat!
He is our asylum, a refuge, our hiding place!
As we mentioned before, Moses uses the same word in Psalm 90:1, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” But God is not only an abiding place, He is also a refuge! This would imply that God’s people are always threatened with danger, and to them God is a place of refuge. Also implied is the fact that He was that in the past, that He is now, and always will be!
Underneath are the everlasting arms!
Not only hands in the palms of which we are engraven by the steel point of His eternal counsel, as described by Isaiah (Is. 49:16); but arms of everlasting strength! O, those arms of love that reach down to lift up and embrace! Like the mother reaches down with her arms to snatch her darling babe from threatening danger and to draw that child in loving embrace to her bosom, so our God is described in our text. Anthropomorphically, of course, the Scripture describes God to us in His watchful, loving care of His beloved people!
In Him the Israel of God is perfectly safe!
He is the antitype of those cities of refuge which were placed strategically throughout the land of Canaan during Israel’s sojourn in that land! Those cities where sinners could flee for refuge, and where they would be safe from avenging justice!
In Christ Jesus, the God of our salvation, we are safe for evermore! He is our hiding place! His arms wrought our salvation. Under the avenging wrath of a holy God, we were snatched up by His powerful arms and delivered from that wrath, while all the vials of that wrath He bore by Himself and in our stead! With His everlasting arms under us, we are safe!
For the church of all ages!
For the church in the day of Moses and Israel! All the blessings Moses pronounced would be of no avail without the truth of our text! But Jeshurun must know that the eternal God is his refuge, and always underneath are those everlasting arms!
All through the history of the church in the New Dispensation! Each time the church sought an arm of flesh to help, she was put to shame! But when her eyes were on the God of her salvation, she weathered all the storms, and was perfectly safe!
Also for us!
The bereaved family! This God was your father’s God! And I would exhort you to put your eye of faith upon Him!
For all our churches in general! Our future, as well as our past, does not rest on a man. Thankful as we are for all God has given us in our great leader now deceased, we believe God will raise up other leaders to go before us. But our confidence is not in any man whose breath is in his nostrils only so long as God does not snuff it out. In Jehovah alone, our Covenant God, in and through Christ Jesus are we sheltered safely, and His arms of strength omnipotent will hold us fast! I would exhort you to fix your eye upon Him! And when the wicked mock, and sneeringly ask what will you do now that your leader is dead? Tell them of your God Who has saved you, and will yet save you unto the uttermost!
And for First Church in particular! For over forty years you have had this God presented to you in all the preaching of your now departed pastor. Believe this Word of God! Never forget it!
Indeed, always underneath are the everlasting arms!
Amen, and Amen!