It is to be doubted whether there is any reader of these lines, if he be one brought up in a Reformed Church, who has never heard the above words, “To the utmost of your power”. It is also to be expected that all parents of the Reformed faith are able at once to tell where this phrase is found. Every parent in the Reformed Churches has given the promise that he will “to the utmost of his power” bring up his child in the fear of God’s name. It is in the third and last question that is asked those who present their children for the sacrament of Holy Baptism that we find this expression.
In a series of five essays we plan to consider this promise we have given and wherein we declare that we will instruct our children “in the aforesaid doctrine. . . .to the utmost of our power”.
It is not being written merely for those who have already made this vow. We trust that our young people will also carefully follow us in the discussion of this vital problem of education. It is well for us who have made this vow to he reminded of our promise and its significance. It is also beneficial for those who as yet are single or childless but who someday will also take this vow on their lips that they may do so intelligently and sincerely. Our two predecessors in this department have treated the field of education in the school and in the church, and we felt that a series of essays on education in the home should now appear in this department.
We consider it an important question for us to ask ourselves, “What did I promise to do to the utmost of my power?” With this question we will deal in this first installment under our general heading: “To The Utmost Of Your Power”. There are similar questions that demand consideration. We ought to ask, “What is that power which I must use to the utmost? Is it physical power? Mental? Spiritual? Financial? Or is it all of these together?” We ought to ask ourselves, “What is the utmost of MY power, and am I using it all to fulfill MY promise?” Another question that presses for consideration is, “Can I improve my present methods so that I can use all my power, and is it possible for me to increase my power?” These and related matters we hope to treat in the issues of the Standard Bearer which are to follow.
What did I promise to perform to the utmost of my power?
In the second question asked in the Baptism Form, mention is made of the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testament, in the articles of our Christian faith and that is taught here in this Christian Church. To this doctrine the third question of this Baptism Form refers when it asks, “Whether you intend to see this child when come to years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause it to be instructed therein to the utmost of your power?” In brief then we have promised to instruct our children in the doctrine contained in the Scriptures as it is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
It is our intention to consider this doctrine from the viewpoint of the heading of this department, “IN HIS FEAR”. In other words we would have you consider with us that we have promised to instruct our children in the Fear of the Lord. Gods has given us the Old and New Testament with the doctrines they contain in order that we may fear Him. We would like to say a few things about this fear of the Lord which must be found in our children. A man must first know what work he is called to do before he can put his shoulder or his mind behind it and can exercise his powers, mental or physical, to accomplish it.
The word fear as used in the expression, “the fear of the Lord”, has a beautiful meaning. It does not mean fear in the sense of fright and dread. We are well aware of the fact that the word “fear” comes from a verb which means “to tremble” and that it is often used that way in Scripture. Thus we find it inwhen it is said of Adam that he was afraid (feared) after he had eaten of the forbidden fruit. But we believe that the solution is to be found exactly there too. As man is by nature, as he is apart from regeneration and the comforting word of God that his sins are forgiven him for Christ’s sake, he must tremble before God and has no reason to do anything but tremble in fright and dread. However when the word fear is used in con junction with the believer who sees God in Christ, this fear of the Lord ceases to be fright and, dread. The believer has no reason for such a fear. His fear becomes one of reverence and awe. The doctrine contained in the Old and New Testament is given to work such a fear in us and not a fear of fright and dread. God need simply send an earthquake or thunders and lightnings to work such a fear in man. But when He desires to work in His people the fear of reverence and awe, He speaks to us m His Word and reveals Himself to us in the Son of His love.
Did not the angel say unto Zacharias, “Fear not”? Were not these same words spoken to Mary the mother of Jesus? The heavenly host broke forth to sing of the Christ child’s birth and thereby explained to the shepherds why they need not fear. The women at the empty grave were told not to fear because they sought Jesus who was crucified but is now risen from the dead. There is no fear of the wrath of God possible for those who believe the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testament. The Psalmist also sings in Psalm 27, “Jehovah is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Should our reply be, “Let us fear God”? Not if we mean fear in the sense of fright and dread of His wrath. He is our salvation, and that does not simply mean that He saves us from all our earthly enemies. It means that He ‘has saved us spiritually in Christ through Whom He has saved us from His own wrath.
Does that mean that we must never speak of divine punishment to our children? Does it mean that we never warn them of God’s terrible wrath? Does it mean that we may never explain to them that man ought to tremble exceedingly before Him? Of course not. The Scriptures are full of such things. But the fact remains that as believers we have no reason to fear that wrath of God. We must teach our children of that wrath, but likewise must they be taught the “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” whichmentions in speaking of our “being justified by faith”. That fear of the Lord is surely an eternal reality which shall remain with us forever even in heavenly glory. Does not declare that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? Surely that wisdom will remain with us, yea, even be perfected, in heavenly glory. Similarly, this (fear which is the beginning of wisdom will never leave us. What is more, in heaven that fear will not have any trace of the element of fright and dread of God’s wrath. That will be quite impossible. And here below, when we teach the doctrines contained in the Old and New Testaments, we teach Christ and the good news of the gospel that in Him we have justification and reconciliation and fellowship (and fellowship excludes the idea of fright and dread) with God.
What then must we teach our children when we teach them the fear of the Lord? We teach them a fear of reverence and awe. This (fear is a profound respect for and solemn wonder before God in love. It means that we teach our children God’s virtues and glory so that in love they may respect Him and marvel before Him because they behold Him in His glory. The more one sees the virtues of another, the more respect and reverence he will have for that one. A new president, for example, is elected. You know little or nothing about him die speaks to you, and what he says, yea even the way he says it, determines to a great deal your respect for him as a leader and public servant. He has been in office for a year or two. If he has done little and conditions become worse rather than better, your respect for him diminishes accordingly. It happens sometimes that a man does such great things, more than you expected or thought could be accomplished, that your reverence and respect for him may even be classified as awe. His deeds fill you with wonder and amazement, and you wonder after him.
Such is the case with us and our attitude toward our fellowmen. Still more must it be our attitude to God who alone does ‘wondrous things. Before Him we really ought to stand in awe at the works of His hands. And we have promised that to the utmost of our power we will hold before our children the virtues and praises of God as He reveals them to us in His Word in order that they may respect Him and wonder after Him. Israel was commanded to do this. Read Psalm 78 for a clear example of this. Israel was to hand down from generation to generation the mighty works of God in Egypt, at the; Red Sea, in the wilderness and in the promised land that each succeeding generation also might fear God. In our Psalter we sing, “Let children thus learn from history’s light to hope in our God and walk in His sight, the God of their father to fear and obey, and ne’er like their fathers to turn from His way.” That applies still today, and that is what we promised to do unto the utmost of our power, namely, to teach our children to hope in their God, walk in His sight and fear and obey Him.
Psalm 111 is also very interesting and enlightening in this regard. In the last verse of the Psalm we read those well-known words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The first part of the Psalm overflows with declarations of God’s virtues and gives these as the reason why He ought to be feared. It declares that His works are great, honorable and glorious. It speaks of His righteousness, His grace and compassion. It speaks of His goodness in providing meat for those that fear Him. His faithfulness to His covenant is mentioned, and it is stated that He sent redemption unto His people. His name is holy and reverend, the Psalmist also declares. Then, after speaking of all these virtues of God and that His name is reverend, the Psalmist declares that the fear (reverence in love) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. He who sees these virtues of God and loves Him, because of them is wise. He who sees God’s works about him and ascribes them to nature, fate, providence or to his gods of wood and stone is not only blind, but is a fool, and has not even the beginning of wisdom. He who fears the Lord points unto Him and in a profound respect for His virtues bows before Him as the God of all glory and virtue. If our children are not taught that fear, then the whole education they receive is absolutely worthless. They still do not know a thing that is worth knowing.
Of course, we are speaking of the covenant child in whose heart God has implanted His love. It is that child alone who can be taught the fear of the Lord, for this respect for His virtues must be rooted in love. There is a respect of fright and dread. The man who goes lion or tiger hunting respects the strength and craftiness of his foe. Therefore he takes every possible precaution because he fears what may happen to, him otherwise. It is not a fear in love. The devils likewise fear God and walk delicately before Him, but their respect for Him is not rooted in love. The covenant, regenerated child can respect God’s virtues in love because God has implanted His love in them.
When one does so fear God with the reverence of love, he will wonder before Him. He will stand in awe before Him, and if I may put it that way, he will stand, figuratively speaking, with his mouth wide open in amazement at what he sees of God. And he beholds God in the tremendous work of creation and providence or contemplates His sovereignty, His holiness or righteousness, or stands at Calvary or at the empty grave. He will be speechless with an awe rooted in profound love. He stands breathless. God is so great, so just, so wise, so good! He will find himself thrilled in his inmost being as he beholds God as the “Wholly other” like unto whom there is none other. He is thrilled in his soul that this God is his God forever and ever. That is the fear of the Lord.
Such a degree we do not find in our children. Yet it is there. Our children do not cry out in their soul, “O God how good thou art”. They do not with Thomas say, “My Lard and my God”. However in their own childish way and according to their ages they will manifest this fear. Listen to them sing once, “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” There is the fear of the Lord. If we teach them all the things “the Bible tells” them so, and if we teach them all the doctrines contained in the Old and New Testament, their fear will increase.
We had three other remarks we intended to make in this first installment. Our allotted space is more than up and to finish would take too much extra room. Let us note them now, and the Lord willing, we will discuss them in the next issue. 1. Another important element in this fear is trusting in God. 2. Only those who fear God thus will obey Him, the theory of Common Grace to the contrary. 3. The fruit of this fear will be praise to God, and that is the high purpose for which we are redeemed. All instruction whether in the home, in the school or in the church must serve that purpose. But more of this later.