* Paper read before the Conference of Ministers of the Reformed Church in the U. S., and of the Protestant Reformed Churches, October 1946.
Besides this spiritual tension in the life of the individual Christen he is also constantly under pressure because he, while in this life, is of the earth earthy. On the one hand, the child of God is a heavenly citizen. He has been born again from above. He has become a stranger here below, also, mind you, a stranger upon the earth. Also the earth as such has become strange to him. Really, he does not belong here, sojourns in an altogether strange world, a foreign land. He is a citizen of heaven but he is still wandering in a desert land. On the other hand, however, that same Christian is also earthy. He is earthy himself. He continues to have flesh and blood. And he also finds himself amidst earthy relationships. He has a father and a mother, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, sons and daughters, and to all these he is united through bonds of flesh and blood. Consequently, what a tension! The child of God is constantly, as it were, in a vise. And he is aware of this strain, this pressure especially when he must choose between his Christ and his flesh and blood. It can and does occur in the life of the child of God that, while the love of Christ prompts him, it does not prompt those who naturally are dear unto him. And he is aware of the word of his Lord that whosoever does not love father or mother or brother or sister or son or daughter above Him is not worthy of Him. The child of God is betwixt two. He must choose for the one and resist the other. The same illustration applies to the bread-question of our present day. To adhere to the principles of our Lord of lords, keep our garments pure and unspotted also in the field of economics and labor and refuse to be affiliated with labor organizations which would render it impossible for us to confess the Name of Christ and at the same time suppress my flesh and blood as it cries for daily bread. Hence, the child of God is constantly betwixt two. To this we would add that, as he speeds to the end of his life, his new life draws him more and more toward heaven and, behold, he is not always reconciled to the thought that he must leave this earth.
We can also speak of tension as experienced within the Church of God, in distinction from the tension of the individual Christian. There is, on the one hand, the calling of the true Church of God as the body of Jesus Christ, our Lord. As such we must reveal our spiritual identity and walk as a people redeemed by the Lord, born from above, shewing forth the praises of the living God, and walking with uplifted head unto the city which has foundations. This Church of God however, is constantly under pressure which is exerted upon her by the carnal church which also constantly reveals herself. This carnal church attacks the Church institute and organism. She would either subject the Church of God unto her own evil designs and carnal purposes or destroy her from off the face of the earth. Unto that end these powers of darkness attack the organism and also the institute of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith in and confession of the Christ, our seeking of the things above, our heaven- mindedness must be obliterated. And to secure these results they also attack the Church Institute. The preaching of the gospel must be replaced by a word of man; it must be shorn of its divine note; it must cease to be a power of God unto salvation; it must more and more serve to rivet the attention of the people of God upon the earth and the things below rather than upon God’s covenant and upon the things above. Also Christian discipline is the object of their attack. Briefly, the Church as the organic and instituted body of the Lord must cease to function; it must disappear; and the cause of God must be no more upon the face of the earth. We can well understand the pressure underneath which the party of the living God must constantly labor. We are called to preserve the purity of the Church of God also against all the infernal attacks of the carnal church. And, while combating this particular mode of the devil’s operations, we realize constantly to our sorrow and distress that we must deal with the fifth columnist within our own nature, and that the carnal church has a tremendous ally in the motions of sin as they continue to operate within the child and church of God itself.
And finally, permit me to call your attention to this tension of the Church as experienced in her struggle with the world. When we speak of the world we refer to that sphere of life, outside of the pale of the Church, directly controlled by him who is the prince of the powers of the air and a liar and a murderer from the beginning. We refer, to be sure, to that mass of individuals, who are not of the Church of Jesus Christ, our Lord. But we also would include the lusts of the eyes and of the flesh, the pride of life, that earthly sphere of life as it is directly brought forth by the workers of iniquity unto the satisfaction of the flesh. The children of the world create, bring forth their own sphere of life whereby they can satisfy the desires and lusts of their own evil heart and mind. The Church of God exists in the very midst of this world. Everywhere this conflict between the Church and the World erupts and breaks forth. Always they stand absolutely over against each other. The contrast between the two is irreconcilable and must never be erased in any sense of the word. In every sphere of life, whether labor or art or science or economics, the Church and the Word exist and live and breathe and act from diametrically opposing principles. In the field of labor the Christian faces the alternative of joining the fellowship of those who know not the cross of Christ and the hope of heavenly glory and thereby denying whatever is sacred to his faith, or of refusing to impose upon himself this burden of Belial but also thereby exposing himself to physical want and distress. Everywhere this wicked world bears down upon the child of God. Everywhere temptations surround him and he stands exposed to the enticements of the evil one. And ultimately the entire world will be controlled by him, who, to be sure, has been in the world throughout this New Dispensation, but will finally culminate in that son of perdition, with whom also the carnal church will be united. Then the final and monstrous attempt will be exerted to destroy the cause of the living God and of His Christ. This conflict between the Church and the World also exerts a tremendous pressure upon the child and church of God. How well we then understand the word of the apostle in: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” And also with respect to this uncompromising conflict the Christian is aware of a constant tension within him. He must, fight the good fight of faith, the fight which has in faith its source and origin. He must oppose without compromise any attack of the enemy which would deprive him of what he has in Christ. He must be a light in the midst of darkness, the party of God over against them who know not his Lord. He must love and uphold the truth and condemn every lie. And he discovers, while fighting this good fight of faith, that he is literally betwixt two, the life of his new man which is from above, and that of the old man which is from below. Indeed, he must cry out, “O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!” But he thanks God through Jesus Christ, his Lord, in whom he has the victory now and will receive it in the day when all shall be made new.
This tension of the Church must have a purpose, a divine purpose. The question might reasonably be asked, “Why must the people, the church of God, be subjected to this tension, and that throughout the ages?” Let us understand the question correctly. We do not at this time inquire concerning the struggle in which the party of the living God is constantly engaged with the world. To this question we would submit the answer that it is the sovereign will of Jehovah that His people tarry in this world, manifest their light in the midst of darkness, fight the good fight of faith over against those who would vainly oppose the cause of God unto the condemnation of that wicked world and unto the eternal revelation of that fact, not only that victory is of the Lord but also that throughout the ages, God’s people always had the victory and the wicked world was but an instrument in the hand of our Almighty God. The wicked will eternally confess upon bended knee, not only that the Lord is King but also that He always was King, also when they were vainly exalting themselves. The question which we ask, however, pertains specifically to the child of God as he must constantly experience a tension in his own spiritual life, so that, even in his struggle with the world, his old man is constantly in league with the forces of darkness.
I have stated that this tension must have a divine purpose. This matter can surely not be viewed dualistically. The conflict within the child of God must never be understood as if two mighty opposing forces were contending with each other for the upper hand with the issue being in doubt until the end. If this were true it would be impossible for the Christian to take upon his lips that shout of triumph of the apostle in Romans 8, namely, that he is more than conqueror through Christ that loved him, or, as we read in the same chapter, that all things work together for our good, for good unto them who love God and are the called according to His purpose. Neither is this phenomenon to be attributed to an attempt on the part of God to save whatever He can, or even to be understood as if the Lord were saving His own in spite of the many powers of darkness who would hinder Him in this work of salvation. We may say that God saves His own “in spite of the forces of evil” but only from the viewpoint of those forces of evil and as they are morally responsible for their attacks upon the church of God. But to use this expression from God’s viewpoint is definitely dualistic. God never saves in spite of the enemy but always through that enemy. A dualistic conception of the divine work of salvation is impossible. It is contrary to Holy Writ which teaches us literally inthat He forms the light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil, and He, the Lord, does all those things. And this conception is surely impossible in the light of the teaching throughout the Word of God, that God is God and He alone.
What, then, may be God’s purpose with respect to the tension of His Church? I believe that God has willed this phenomenon to call eternal attention to the fact that His grace, His grace alone, is imperishable, and that the child of God must sing the praises of his God, and of his God alone, forever. If anything shall be marked indelibly in the memory and the consciousness of the people of God into all eternity it is this: He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. The only reason why the people were saved unto the uttermost is surely not because it was of him that runneth or of him that willeth. To the contrary, this is the experience of the people of the living God, that, if left to themselves, they never would have run unto the end, would invariably have chosen the things of the world. And this is the experience of the Church of God that salvation is of grace, of grace alone. It is for this reason that the Lord leads His Church upon a way that must eternally witness of our promises unto sin and of the imperishable character of the grace of God. Who, then, shall deliver us from the body of this death, now throughout our lives and, finally, in the day of Jesus Christ? We thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. In Him we have the victory. In Him alone we have the victory. Let us say this, now and forever.