(This special submission is the text of the sermon preached by Prof. Cammenga on the occasion of the installation of Rev. Brian Huizinga as professor of theology in the PR Theological Seminary on September 4, 2019.)
“… whose I am, and whom I serve.” Acts 27:23b
Whose are you? And whom do you serve? Those are the two most important questions in the entire world. They are the two most important questions that every child of God must face. They are the two most important questions that every minister of the gospel must face. And they are the two most important questions that a professor of theology in God’s church must face.
These are the two important questions that will be asked of you [Rev. Brian Huizinga]. Four questions will be asked of you later, at the conclusion of the reading of the Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology. But those four questions really boil down to these two questions: Whose are you and whom do you serve?
The most important question is not, Who are you? That is considered to be the greatest possible question by unbelieving philosophy and unbelieving psychology: Who are you? But that is not the most important question. The far more important question is, Whose are you? The answer to that question determines everything—absolutely everything. So, I ask you and the church asks you and God Himself asks you, “Whose are you?” The answer to that question determines the answer to the second question: Whom do you serve? Whose you are determines whom you are committed to serve. If you are your own and belong to yourself, which is the motto of unbelieving men today, as ever it has been, and which is the deception that our fallen, sinful nature supposes to be true, then we will serve ourselves. However, if we do not belong to ourselves, but belong to another, belong to our God and to our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, then it follows—it must follow—that we do not serve ourselves, but serve Him.
This is the apostle’s confession in the words of our text. That is the form that the text takes. It is a confession. Glorious confession! Heartfelt confession! “Whose I am, and whom I serve.”
Paul spoke these words while he was a prisoner for the gospel’s sake on the way to be tried before the emperor, Caesar in Rome. He had been captured in Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey. While a prisoner in Jerusalem, his nephew (his sister’s son), had discovered a plot against the apostle’s life. For safe-keeping, the apostle had been moved from Jerusalem by night and under heavy guard to Caesarea, the capitol of the region of Judea, where the Roman governor had his residence. There in Caesarea Paul was kept a prisoner for some two years. First, he was imprisoned under Marcus Antonius Felix. Later, Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus. It was in the course of his trial before Fetus that the apostle Paul finally made his appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11). In this passage, Paul is on his way to Rome, traveling by ship. Having set sail from Caesarea, Paul and his company eventually landed in Myra on the southern coast of Asia Minor. There they boarded a second ship that was headed to Rome. Very likely, the captain of the ship hoped to make it to Rome before winter. There was always a bonus for the ships that braved the Mediterranean the last weeks of the sailing season. Having landed off the eastern coast of the island of Crete, it was determined that the ship could not make Rome before the sailing season ended. They would have to winter in a safe harbor and wait for a few months until the new sailing season.
Against Paul’s advice, the captain of the ship attempted to round the island of Crete in order to seek safe haven for the winter in a port on the southern side of the island. It was while attempting to sail that short distance that suddenly a great tempest arose. A fierce northeast wind known as Euroclydon blew Paul’s ship out to sea. For fourteen days, Paul and his company were at the mercy of the fierce winds and waves, as they were blown across the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, the ship ran aground and Paul and all who were on board made it safely to land. There was no loss of life. Everyone made it safely to the shores of the island of Melita or Malta. Although the ship was destroyed by the battering of the wind and waves, passengers and crew were alive. That was what God had revealed to the apostle Paul in a dream the night before, which was Paul’s testimony in the text and in the verses that immediately follow. Paul gathered everyone around him and informed them: “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (vv. 23–25).
To the centurion, to the captain of the ship, to the ship’s crew, and to all the other passengers, this was Paul’s testimony: “There stood by me this night the angel of the God, whose I am, and whom I serve.” I call those words to your attention briefly under the theme, “Whose I Am, and Whom I Serve.” Notice three things with me. Notice, first, that these words make clear that Paul was conscious of belonging; secondly, that he was committed to serving; and finally, that he was confident of blessing.
Conscious of belonging
“Whose I am.” That comes first in the text. It comes first because it is the more important of the two parts of the text. The more important part of the text is the apostle’s consciousness of belonging. That determines everything else. That determines what follows: “And whom I serve.” For good reason that is where the Heidelberg Catechism begins in the first question and answer: “What is thy only comfort in life and death? That I belong—that I belong—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Everything else follows from that belonging.
The one to whom Paul belongs is God. That is the text: “For there stood by me this night the angel of God.” “God…whose I am, and whom I serve.” He belongs to God. This is not just a fact, not only the reality of the situation, but this is the apostle’s own conviction. He is conscious of this. He knows that this is true. It lives in his mind that this is so, and he confesses the truth of this before friend and foe alike: “Whose I am.” He would have others know that this is what he is conscious of. He would have others know that this is the controlling principle of his life. It is a truth in which he rejoices, a truth that he gladly confesses. It is a truth that makes all the difference in his life and for which he is eternally thankful. “Whose I am.”
It is a confession of ownership, of possession. But more than that, it is an expression of love for and delight in that belonging. It is not an expression merely of ownership, as I might say, “My book. My car. My golf club. My boat.” It as an expression of endearment. The apostle’s words bespeak love and delight, as of a husband who says concerning his wife, “She is my wife.” As a father says concerning his child, “My son,” or, “My daughter,” so does God say over us as He said over the apostle, “Mine, Paul is mine.”
This is what the apostle has in view in the text. This is the conviction to which he gives expression when he says, “Whose I am.” Paul is God’s. The God to whom Paul belongs is the triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are three things that are included in this truth.
First, he is God’s by virtue of God the Father’s election of him. Of that Paul was conscious. That is what Paul has in mind, first of all, when he says, “Whose I am.” He means, “Whose I am because of His choice of me in all eternity. He choose me to be His own dear son from eternity.” God had set His love upon the apostle and chosen Paul unto Himself. In eternity, God had said of Paul, “Mine, mine!” That is what Paul celebrates in the text. Clearly, for the apostle, election was no cold, abstract, theoretical dogma with little connection to everyday life in the world. No, election is the foundation of everything, the basis for everything that Paul went on to say about himself. The assurance of God’s sovereign election of him is the foundation of everything in the text.
What enhanced that, what magnified the assurance of the Father’s election of him, was Paul’s consciousness that God had not so elected everyone. On the contrary, many who were no less sinful than he was, many with respect to whom he was no more deserving, had not been chosen by God. Humbling truth! That made all the greater the wonder of it all in Paul’s own mind: “Whose I am!”
Second, Paul is God’s by virtue of God the Son’s redemption of him. The cross is in view in the text. Paul acknowledges that; that belongs to his confession in the text. That, too, is what his words imply. That which was the heart and center of Paul’s own preaching is heart and center of the confession that he makes here. “Whose I am for Christ’s sake. Whose I am because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.” That adds to the wonder of it all: “Whose I am.” That “I” was a fallen, guilty, totally depraved sinner, who was altogether unworthy of salvation and unable to save himself. That “I” was a “persecutor and injurious,” as he says in 1 Timothy 1:13. That “I” was one who hunted Christians from city to city, and harassed Christians to the death. That “I” was a vile, lost sinner who had absolutely no claim on the love of God for him. He was a sinner who had done absolutely nothing to deserve the love of God or done anything to call forth God’s love for him. On the contrary, what he deserved was wrath and judgment, eternal suffering and death. Paul has his eye on Jesus Christ in the text, the one who stood in his place and endured the wrath of God he deserved. Rather than deserving to be the object of God’s love and favor, Paul deserved damnation. Paul’s confession magnifies grace, the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ. The grace of God that is altogether undeserving. “Whose I, even I, am.”
Third, Paul is God’s by virtue of the work of God the Holy Spirit within him, the indwelling and saving work of the third person of the ever blessed Trinity. The Spirit of God had worked repentance and faith in the apostle. The Holy Spirit had turned him from being a persecutor and injurious to being a conscious, willing servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. By the Spirit he had been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and death in which he was enslaved; the Spirit had translated him into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. It was the Spirit who had worked in Paul obedience to the call of the gospel and obedience to the call to be an apostle and a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Whose I am as a minister of the gospel.” That, too, is what he means.
That must be your consciousness tonight, brother, as it must be the consciousness of every single unworthy sinner called by God through the Spirit to the gospel ministry. That must be in your consciousness as you are installed as the fifth professor of Dogmatics in the history of our Protestant Reformed Seminary. That must be your conviction as God calls you at this critical time in the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. You must be confident of the Spirit’s call of you, and therefore, of God’s call of you to this special work. “Whose you are as a minister of the gospel and professor of theology.”
Committed to serving
“Whose I am, and whom I serve,” the apostle adds. Adding that, the apostle gives expression to his commitment to serve the One to whom he belongs. The second part of the text is closely related to the first part. They are not two unrelated things that he says about himself. “Whose I am,” on the one hand, “and whom I serve,” on the other hand. But the two parts of the text are intimately and necessarily related. “Whose I am and because I am His, whom I also serve.” That is the relationship between the two parts of the text. You do no injustice to the text to read it that way: “Whose I am, and therefore whom I serve.”
That he serves God concerns the whole of the apostle’s life. Every aspect of his life is service of God. But especially does the apostle have in mind his service in the office of apostle. Above all, he has in mind his work in the ministry of the gospel, on account of which he is presently a prisoner on his way to trial before Caesar in Rome. Now, certainly, this applies to every Christian. Every child of God is a servant of the Lord. The child of God is in every area of his life, in every circumstance of life, in every relationship of life, a servant of the Lord. The Christian life is a life of service to God. This is what ennobles the Christian life. This is what dignifies every earthly calling, no matter how lowly that calling may be—husband and father, wife and mother, factory worker or homemaker, construction worker or caretaker of the household. Whether work in the office or on the farm, on the construction site or behind the steering wheel of a truck; whether pounding nails or picking up garbage, changing a baby’s diaper or packing groceries, doing schoolwork or cutting the lawn, it does not matter. Whatever the Christian does, he does as service of God. This is the nature of the life of the child of God: service to God. This is the Reformed doctrine of vocation.
Nevertheless, there is special application to the work of the minister of the gospel, to those who are called to serve in the office of pastor and teacher in the church. And what is true of the ministry of the gospel generally, is true specifically of the work and calling of the professor of theology. The work of the professor in the seminary is and must be work done in service to God.
The word for “serve” in the text is the word that refers to worship. Throughout the New Testament Scriptures this word generally refers to the worship of God. It is not the word that refers to the service rendered by a servant or a slave, but it is the special service of God that is worship. You may also read the text that way and do no injustice to it: “Whose I am, and whom I worship.” This is the meaning of the word elsewhere in the Scriptures. It is the word that is used in the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, when Satan confronted Jesus in Matthew 4:9 and promised Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would fall down and “worship” him. It is also the word used in Romans 1:25 of the wicked who change the truth of God into a lie and “worship and serve the creature rather than the creator.” It is the word used in Hebrews 12:28, where we read, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” This is the Reformed doctrine of vocation. Our earthly vocation is worship of God. Worship of God is not limited to Sunday and what goes on in the church building. Every earthly calling in which the child of God may legitimately be engaged is worship of God. This is not to deny or to minimize the corporate, public worship of God in the gathered congregation on the Lord’s Day, but it is to emphasize that our worship of God is more than that and consists really of the whole of our life. This is the Christian life: worship of God, doing everything that we do with a view to Him, for the praise and for the glory of His name.
Is this your view of your earthly calling, whatever it may be? Is this the view that we ministers have of the office of the ministry of the gospel? Do we preachers view our work in the church this way? Do we look at our work as worship of God? Does this live in our minds as we go about the labors of the ministry, day in and day out, week after week? All the aspects of our work—the handling of the Word of God, the making of sermons, the teaching of catechism, the visiting of the sick, the counsel of God’s people in their distresses—do we view our work as part of our worship of God? Will this be on your mind, brother Huizinga, in all of the labors to which you are called in preparation to taking up the actual work of teaching in the classroom? Will this be what lives in your mind as you make those Hebrew grammar lessons, as you work to develop your lectures for Dogmatics, your development of your Old Testament exegesis courses? Will it be on your part worship—worship of God? “Whose I am, and whom I worship.”
It belongs to this service of God that it is the service of the one only true God. This is the One whose we are and whom we serve. The only God, the only Lord God; there are no other gods besides Him. Significantly, that is underscored in the text. The text is literally, “for there stood by me this night the angel of the God whose I am, and whom I serve.” He is the God, the only Lord God, besides whom there is none. This is the truth that you are called to defend and to teach in the classroom of the seminary, and in your writing and preaching. This is the truth that is lost even in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today. It is said by some that the God of Christianity is one God, and that there are other ways to heaven besides the Christian religion and faith in Jesus Christ. That false teaching is contradicted by this text. He is the God. The gods of the heathen are idols vain. Included are the gods of the false religions, the god of Roman Catholicism, the god of apostate Christianity, the god of free will, the god of Arminianism—false gods, every one. The God is the God of Holy Scripture, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. There is no salvation in any other god than this God. This is the God proclaimed by the Reformed faith. Upon Him alone the Reformed preacher of the gospel calls all men everywhere to believe.
Secondly, that He is the one to whom you belong and whom you serve carries with it an implied warning. The Reformed minister of the gospel does not and may not serve mammon. That we must never forget, all of us who are preachers of the gospel, no matter how many years God may give us in the ministry. That you must never forget no matter how many years of labor He may give you in our seminary. We must never forget from a practical point of view, whose we are, and whom alone we serve. And that too is the implication of the text. Again, read the text that way and you do no injustice to it: “Whose I am, and whom alone I serve.”
You have been called by the church, brother, but you do not ultimately serve the church or the PRC. You have been appointed by the synod, but it is not the synod whom you ultimately serve. You and the rest of the faculty are under the supervision of the Theological School Committee, but it is not ultimately to those men that we render service. Our ultimate service, in the end, the One alone whom we serve, is the Lord God: “Whose I am, and whom I serve.”
I warn you tonight, as I warn myself, against the service of men. That is a real temptation. We must recognize it. I am convinced that it is an especially real temptation faced by professors in the seminary, that we are tempted to be men-pleasers. There will always be those ready to flatter you—not encourage you; there is plenty of room for that—but flatter you. These folks will have all kinds of complimentary things to say about you, about your preaching, about your writing, and about your teaching. They will put their arm around you and stroke your ego and, usually, they will attempt to win you over to their viewpoint or gain your support for their position. Beware of them! Beware of the temptation to serve men! Do not ever forget the words of this text when you are confronted by that temptation: “Whose I am, and whom I serve.”
And that brings me to the third implication of the apostle’s word here concerning his worship and service of God: The One to whom we belong and whom we serve is the One before whom we will give account one day. On that day, He will call us to give a reckoning. Woe to that man, woe to that minister, woe to that seminary professor who did not live out of the consciousness that he was the Lord’s! Woe to that man who did not actively, willingly, and consciously serve the Lord in his work in the office! Woe to that man who sought himself! Woe to that man who rather than to be used of God for the sheep, instead used the sheep for his own advantage! Woe to him! It will not go well with him, but ill—eternally ill. If we live out of the consciousness of whose we are and whom we serve, we are going to live also out of the consciousness of the coming judgment day.
Confident of blessing
Just in this way of serving the One to whom he belonged the apostle was confident of God’s blessing. That blessing of God did not mean that the apostle would not have to endure hardship and suffering, sacrifice and loss. I remind you of the apostle’s circumstances at the time that he spoke these words. He was in a life-threatening storm—only one among the many sufferings that he endured in his lifetime for the gospel’s sake. And he is on his way to Rome in order to stand trial before the civil magistrate for the faith of the gospel that he preached. He will be released for a little while, but he will be recaptured and retried and eventually will die a martyr’s death for the gospel’s sake.
That is the experience of every faithful preacher of the gospel, every true minister of Jesus Christ. There are always sufferings and sacrifices. There is always per secution and death. And as the end approaches—and we are living in the last days, the suffering will become more intense and the sacrifices greater.
But that does not take away from the blessing of which the apostle was confident. That blessing is indicated in Paul’s words: “Whose I am.” Implied is, “Whose I am forever; whose I am now and whose I will always be.” He is confident, then, that he belongs to God for time and for eternity, for life and for the life hereafter.
That blessing also comes out in the very next verse, verse 24. There the angel of God tells Paul not to fear: “Fear not!” Fear not, brother Huizinga. Fear not! Fear not the sufferings and sorrows, the persecutions and the sacrifices. Fear not the death that you may have to die.
“Fear not,” says the Lord, “because you are mine. You are mine and you serve me.” That was the word of God dispelling every fear in Paul’s life at this time: fear of men, fear of the storm, fear of an uncertain future, fear of suffering, and fear of death. That is the blessing of God enjoyed by every faithful servant of Christ.
The blessing of God enjoyed not because of, but always in the way of obedience. “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” Amen.