Previous article in this series can be found in the November 1, 2004 issue, p. 52
The origins of the Standard Bearer shaped the character of the magazine. It was born out of the controversy in the Christian Reformed Church over common grace. The original writers intended their new publication to be doctrinal and polemical, setting forth the truth and exposing the lie. To this purpose the SB has remained true for eighty years.
Through the years, a host of articles critical of the CRC have been published in the SB. Sometimes the writers picked apart a Banner article, or perhaps a writing in the Dutch CRC publication De Wachter. The SB reported on decisions of the CRC synods, demonstrating departure from the Reformed faith or walk.
Why so much attention to and criticism of the CRC? Was it the goal of the SB simply to prove that the PRC was right, and the CRC wrong?
Was it to justify the existence of the PRC that all this ink was spilled criticizing the mother church?
Was the purpose intentionally to stir up unrest in the CRC in order to enlarge the membership rolls of the PRC at the expense of the CRC?
Or was it, perhaps, malice that motivated H.H and G.M.O. and the others, a matter of spite, and desire for revenge?
All these evil motives have been ascribed to the SB writers over the years.
Reading the old issues has led me to the conviction that the answer is: None of the above.
To be sure, this is not to claim sinlessness for the critics of the CRC who wrote in the SB. Herman Hoeksema did not either. Twenty-five years after he had been expelled from the CRC, he wrote of how difficult it is “when one is maltreated and finally cast out by the Church, to keep the spirit of Him Who was meek and lowly of heart” (Vol. 25, p. 53). More than once H.H. publicly acknowledged that the SB was hardly a perfect magazine.
One indication of H.H.’s attitude towards the CRC was that he did not use the SB to exacerbate the division between the two denominations. On the contrary, in the late 1930s he wrote a lengthy paper on the topic of the possible reunion of the CRC and the PRC and printed it in the SB in both English and Dutch.
There is evidence, especially in articles of H.H., that the criticism of the CRC arose out of a genuine love for God, His church, and His truth. This was love for the mother church, first of all. Surely it is evident in H.H.’s impassioned “Open Letter to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church” in June of 1932.
H.H. begins with an assurance to the CRC Synod of his “sincere interest in the well-being of the Christian Reformed Church, that is, in their true and spiritual well-being, their growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The letter, he writes, is in obedience to the Lord’s admonition found in Hosea 4:2 that “His faithful children…plead with their mother, the Church in the world. Emphatically this…admonition is enjoined upon the hearts and minds of the faithful children, as is evident from the urgent repetition: ‘Plead with your mother, plead!'”
H.H. maintains that the pleading voice of the PRC has gone forth in lectures, sermons, pamphlets, and books, and, “last but not least, in our…Standard Bearer.” Once again, he acknowledges that this activity of pleading has not been without fault.
Think not, reverend and worthy brethren, that our efforts and labors were inspired by personal malice and envy. Neither must you imagine that we were motivated by the desire to build ourselves into a Church organization of tolerably good size and large numbers. Surely, I gladly confess that all our work is imperfect and defiled with sin, that carnal motives and desires often corrupt our best works. I feel that often, in the heat of strife and controversy words are spoken that had better been left unspoken, paragraphs are written that had better remained in the pen. No doubt, the same imperfection will be found to characterize our labors, the plea we had with mother. Yet, by these faults and imperfections you may not judge our work.
Then he explains his motives for repeatedly addressing the CRC.
On the contrary, the deepest motive of our strife and labors has always been a sincere desire to lead mother in the way of God’s precepts. Love to her prompted us to plead with her, not to rest, till she might put away her whoredoms out of her sight and her adulteries from between her breasts. This I may confess before God and you all.
Love for the church of God, not only manifest in the CRC, but in the PRC, compelled the mainstays of the SB to point out the errors of the CRC. That is to say, it was necessary that the SB make crystal clear the differences between these two denominations.
H.H. makes this point in his editorial of December 1, 1932, in which he responds to a Banner article by a Rev. J. Vander Mey. Vander Mey argued that the CRC must develop the doctrine of common grace. H.H. concurs, in light of the decision of 1924, which both adopted common grace and instructed the churches to make a serious study of the doctrine. With regard to such a development, he writes:
And such a course would, perhaps, have a good effect, yield positive fruit for the Churches.
In the first place, a proper emphasis on the theory of common grace would, I hope, open the eyes of many for its danger and diabolical deception. Now they are asleep to the danger that is, nevertheless, very real. And they are carefully kept in their state of spiritual slumber.
In the second place, the lines would be more clearly drawn than they are now between the Christian Reformed and the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Not that I like the separation as such.
But I do like healthful conditions.
And I do not like the present situation at all. The Christian Reformed brethren almost create the appearance of unity in doctrine with the Protestant Reformed Churches. Occasionally one may even hear that there is really no difference between the two Churches, the remark being made by leaders of the Christian Reformed Churches.
And such a situation is not healthful because it is not true….
Let the Christian Reformed brethren, with all that in them is, develop the theory of common grace.
Let the Protestant Reformed Churches develop themselves on the basis of the truth that God’s grace is always particular.
For the good of the church, and for the right knowledge of truth, H.H. would continue his polemical editorials.
Under the next editor, Homer C. Hoeksema, the same purpose prevailed. However, by that time (the 1960s), the SB was less focused on the CRC. The SB would describe the bitter fruits of common grace in the CRC, and her steady departure from sovereign grace in favor of common grace—the approval of movies and the dance, denial of limited atonement, tolerance of evolution, unbiblical divorce and remarriage, to give a few illustrations.
The mother would not hear the pleading.
Being Spent for Christ
The history of the SB is a history of writers willing to spend themselves for the cause of God and His truth. The amount of work performed by the first writers is staggering! The stalwarts in the initial monthly issues of thirty-two pages were Danhof, Hoeksema, and Ophoff, with limited contributions from a few others. Shortly thereafter the Danhofs stopped writing, and the load—a crushing load!—fell chiefly on H.H. and G.M.O. By God’s grace, they persevered.
Although the ranks of ministers swelled considerably in the next fifteen years, H.H. and G.M.O. carried the SB through the 1930s and into the 1940s. A random sampling of issues in the 1930s reveals that these two men regularly wrote sixteen to twenty pages of each issue, with H.H. taking the larger load. As late as April of 1939 they combined for twenty-two of the twenty-four pages!
Let us put this into perspective. Ask almost any high schooler about a five-page paper for history, and the response will probably be, “That’s a lot of work!” Many a college student feels the burden of a ten-page research paper. Seminary students know the hard work required to finish a paper of thirty pages.
On average in the 1930s, Ophoff wrote a seminary length paper (plus) every month. H.H. wrote that every two weeks. That is astounding! From 1924 to 1958 (for G.M.O.) and 1964 (for H.H.) these faithful stewards of the mysteries of God filled the SB, hardly even taking an issue off. Filled it, they did, with solid, Reformed stuff, not fluff.
They accomplished this while teaching nearly all the courses in the seminary, serving as pastors and preachers, giving public lectures and speaking on the radio, serving in the meetings of consistory, classis, and synod, and on special committees besides. In the case of H.H., he was also preparing books for publication.
It must be understood that the crushing burden was not merely the amount of writing. By far the greater weight was the responsibility to stand for the truth issue after issue, page after page. How easy it would have been to allow the younger men to do the writing in the 1940s, and not lead the charge against the rising errors. Who could have blamed these ministers, so burdened with other responsibilities, if they had caved in to pressure and allowed others to transform the SB into a glossy church/news rag? Or, consider the temptation to compromise, when but a (seemingly) slight compromise on the doctrine of the covenant could have obtained acclaim from a leading Dutch theologian (Dr. K. Schilder) and probably forged a union of the tiny PRC and the much larger GKN Liberated. How devilishly tempting!
Concern for the defense and development of Reformed doctrine is evident from G.M.O.’s rebuke of a minister (in 1949) who found room in Reformed theology for conditions. Wrote Ophoff, “Did it not once occur to you that…you might with one thoughtless stroke of your pen be breaking down and destroying what others by hard work in the way of unwearied study of the Scriptures have built up?”
And when the very men whom they had taught rose up and rejected the truths of sovereign, particular grace and election as applied to the covenant, one wonders whether these giants in the faith ever had the weary thought to leave the field, to give up the battle.
That did not happen. When in the early 1950s the truth was threatened by the pernicious error of the conditional covenant, the SB led the fight against it, first in the bold polemics of G.M.O., and then in the clear and antithetical development of the doctrine by H.H. Others joined them in the defense of the truth, to be sure; but God used these two men in particular.
There is no earthly reward that could have motivated these men to expend such energy and labors. Nor is there a human power that could bear such burdens alone. By the grace of God they did it for the cause of Christ, for the sake of His church, and out of zeal for His truth. No plausible explanation is possible, but that they were willing to be spent for the sake of Christ. And spent, they were. They toiled until they could labor no longer, until strokes removed the pens from their worn and trembling hands. About a year after their respective strokes, they died.
That is part of the legacy of the Standard Bearer—hard work, marked by diligence to get the magazine printed month after month, and by faithfulness to the Reformed faith. The same characterized the labors of the subsequent editors, H.C. Hoeksema and D.J. Engelsma.
A rather frequent ending of H.H.’s articles, a paraphrase of Jesus’ words in John 9:4, was this: “Let us labor while it is day, ere the night cometh in which no man can work.”
They did labor.
So, now, must we.