Twenty-one issues ago we called your attention to the fact that we were beginning our fiftieth year, and that we conceived of this volume-year as a running of the last mile before reaching the more important milestone of the completion of our fiftieth year of publication. Now we have reached that milestone, our golden anniversary. This is the climax of this golden anniversary year, the grand finale!
Here we raise our Ebenezer, our “stone of help.”
For hitherto hath the Lord helped us!
And He will help us in the future!
Two of my colleagues—one older, one younger—accepted the tasks of looking backward and looking forward, respectively, at this significant occasion. That rather automatically limits me to a consideration of the present. In this connection, there are especially two questions which we should consider. In the first place, where do we stand today? And, in the second place, what is our present task, or calling?
Our Present Position
There are several aspects to our answer to the first of these questions. Let us briefly consider them.
In the first place, we stand on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. We stand unashamedly on the basis of Holy Scripture as the infallible Word of God, and we hold to the Three Forms of Unity as our subordinate standards, as well as to the old Reformed Liturgical Forms as confessions of a secondary order. It was because we did not want to depart from these creeds, but cling to them, that ourStandard Bearer was first published fifty years ago. And it is because, through the faithfulness of our covenant God, Who has preserved us, we still maintain the position of our Reformed confessions, that ourStandard Bearer occupies its distinctive position today.
This is important. There was a time when it was almost trite to speak of standing on the basis of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity: almost all Reformed people made that claim. And while it is true that many give a certain lip service to that claim today, nevertheless the climate today has changed. Many have become ashamed of the confessions and speak of them as little as possible. Men chafe at the “narrow ” confines of the creeds. To many the Reformed confessions are ecclesiastical museum pieces. Some subscribe to the creeds tongue-in-cheek and with mental reservations. Some wish to do away with them altogether. Others wish to revise them in the name of relevance. Still others seek to replace them by modernistic and generalized statements of belief, in the interest of promoting so-called horizontalism, social activism, and revolution. But we of the Standard Bearer are Reformed and are not ashamed of our Reformed confessions. We purpose to maintain them in all our writings. And we believe that in such a time as this it is above all things necessary that the people of God be instructed in the knowledge of the truth set forth in our confessions, so that they may be doctrinally articulate, may be armed with the whole armor of God, of which the girdle of the truth is essential, and so that thus they may be spiritually ready for the battle and prepared against the onslaughts of false doctrines and false philosophies which are so numerous and fierce in our time.
In the second place, we maintain the position of our creeds antithetically, that is, over against all the departures from the Reformed faith which are sweeping the churches today, and particularly over against all departures from and compromises of the truth of sovereign, particular grace. This has been true from the very beginning of our fifty years of existence. In fact, it was for the purpose of providing our original editors a forum for the development of their views over against the pernicious theory of common grace that the Standard Bearer was begun.
We have been criticized for this. The charge has more than once been made that we are only reactionary and that we have only a negative basis and a negative reason for existence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that it has always been characteristically Reformed to oppose and to exert one’s self to expose false doctrine. This is part of the calling of the church in the maintenance of the truth. Moreover, it is quite in harmony with the confessions themselves, and certainly in harmony with the requirements of the Formula of Subscription. Besides, the truth of the Word of God is always presented antithetically in Scripture itself. In fact, the Yes to the truth always implies the No to the lie; and the truth cannot be maintained except by way of rejection of false doctrine and unless the people of God are well equipped to discern the truth from the lie.
Moreover, practically speaking, today it is more necessary than ever before to warn against false philosophy and to call God’s people away from the path of error and false doctrine to the straight paths of the truth of God’s Word and our Three Forms of Unity. Why? Because the forces of the lie are more powerful, because the forms of the lie are more numerous and more insidious, and because the voices raised in support of false doctrine are more deceitful, more strident, and legion in number. All the more reason this is for the Standard Bearer to sound the trumpet-call to battle with clear and certain and distinctive notes!
In the third place, and in close connection with the preceding, there is no question about it that theStandard Bearer has exerted itself to expose the many-sided error of the theory of common grace and to vindicate the truth of God’s sovereign, particular grace. This we have seen from the very beginning of our fifty years—and we still see today—as a peculiar aspect of our calling.
Was it simply an accident of history, so to speak, that it was the common grace conflict of 1924 which gave rise to our origin? Was it, perhaps, merely out of a desire to vindicate ourselves and our right of existence over against those who cast us out in 1924? Is this effort on our part a kind of majoring in minors, a constant harping on insignificant doctrinal differences, a futile poking into old sores and trying to keep up a fight that already belongs to rather ancient history? If any of these be true, it is a pity that the Standard Bearer ever came into existence; and it is more of a shame that it has existed for fifty years.
No, it was ï¿½ and is ï¿½ because the error of common grace in all its facets goes to the very heart of the Reformed truth. This is the reason why we have always exerted ourselves to demonstrate the error of this doctrine and to warn against it. Down through the ages the battle of the church has, in one form or another, always been concerned with this. Always there have been attempts to deny the particularity—and with it, the sovereignty—of God’s grace. Always there have been attempts to universalize the love and grace of God. Hand in hand, there has always gone the attempt to deny the totality of man’s depravity. At bottom, this has always been the deepest issue in the battle of the church for the truth. Is God GOD? Or is man on the throne? No, this has not been our peculiar battle only with respect to the stand of the Christian Reformed Church taken in 1924. Turn where you will in the Reformed scene or in the ecclesiastical scene at large, and you will discover the battle for the truth has had this character. In 1924 this universalizing tendency took the form of the Three Points. In the 196Os, it took the form of a universal, saving love of God and a universal atonement in the same Christian Reformed denomination. Today the same universalizing tendency is still present in the idea that the nature of the Word of God is only saving! In other lands and in other denominations, even where common grace in any form is not an officially declared doctrine the same error is found. The specter of this universalism looms large in the history of doctrine. And turn where you will today, you will discover this error and the effects of this error everywhere; you will discover, too, that the ecclesiastical forces promulgating this error are larger and more powerful than ever before; and you will discover that those who desire over against it to maintain faithfully the truth of sovereign, particular grace in all its implications constitute an ever smaller remnant.
In the fourth place, however, let no one listen to the fiction that our Standard Bearer has been only negative or only polemical. In large measure, in fact, that we were polemical in our writings has been only because necessity was laid upon us. After all, when the enemy attacks, is it not a fool or a coward who does not defend his heritage? But that we have been purely negative or polemical is a lie fabricated out of whole cloth! Literally thousands of pages have been written in the course of the positive development of the truths of Scripture and the confessions, especially in the development of the cardinal Reformed truths of God’s everlasting covenant of friendship and His sovereign grace. Let me remind you that the recently republished three large volumes of The Triple Knowledge, the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism, appeared first in serial form in our magazine. The same is true ofBehold, He Cometh, Rev. Hoeksema’s exposition of Revelation. Much of the substance of his Reformed Dogmatics also found its first expression in theStandard Bearer. Call to mind that there have been well over a thousand thoroughly Scriptural meditations published over the years. Think of the fact that the late Rev. G. M. Ophoff, and others, wrote hundreds of pages of exposition of the Old Testament. Think of the New Testament expositions, the expositions of the Psalms by the late Rev. Gerrit Vos, the hundreds of articles on church history, on the history of doctrine, on the Church Order, on the Netherlands Confession, on the Canons of Dordrecht, on Christian education, on the Christian life, on current events in the churches. I make bold to say that it would be difficult indeed to find a record of fifty years of Christian journalism such as that set by our Standard Bearer.
Note well, I say this in all humility. For not only would I be the first to admit that our work has been marred by many weaknesses and imperfections, but I am also well aware of the fact that we do not “count” in the field of religious journalism. We have always been small, and we are small today. Undoubtedly it is a good thing that the Lord has kept us small—good for us as editors, at least. That tends to keep us humble, too. And above all, let us remember that what we are and have and have been is all of grace! We have nothing to boast of ourselves!
But this does not detract one iota from the factualness of what I have written above.
And that means that we have a tremendously rich heritage. If you are one of those who has the fifty volumes of the Standard Bearer in his library, you have a veritable gold mine of instruction and information. Not only that, but standing on the shoulders of our fathers, we occupy a distinctive position TODAY! We are fifty years later in history, and that means fifty years richer! While our Standard Bearer has not changed essentially, but still bears the same standard, the flag of the truth, you and I have the distinct advantage and privilege at this fiftieth anniversary of all the development and enrichment of those fifty years.
From all this it follows that ours is a very serious responsibility.
First of all, to be sure, we are called to deep and heartfelt gratitude to our Covenant God. Let none of our celebration of this anniversary be self-congratulation. Let us bless the Lord, and forget not all His benefits. And let us esteem very highly our heritage, and let it never become commonplace to us!
In the second place, let us not stagnate. There is a certain danger of this, I believe, when we reach an important milestone such as this. We have attained! We have come of age! We have it made! But nothing could be more wrong! Our calling is to hold fast that which we have, indeed. But remember: that is, at best, always a battle. If we fail to hold fast what we have, if we fail continually to drink at the fountain of the truth all that we can, we shall not only stagnate, but go backward. That is simply a law of life. We as editors must go on in the tradition of these fifty years, laboring with all that is in us for the defense, but also for the further development and enrichment of our heritage. And we as readers—and I say emphatically readers, not merely subscribers—must likewise go on.
In the third place, we must pass the standard on to our children, the next generation of God’s covenant people. Here, I believe, is an area which can stand attention from us all. By word and by example we must teach our children, at a rather early age, to read ourStandard Bearer. Do not imagine that this is something automatic among our young people. Especially today that is not the case: we don’t live in an age when such reading—or any reading—is automatic. If you would have your young people read this or any worthwhile religious literature, you will have to teach them to read. And after you have instructed them to read, you will have to check up whether they have followed your instructions.
In the fourth place, we must get the Standard BearerOUT! This, I believe, is one of the greatest responsibilities we have today. And it is in harmony with the original purpose of our magazine to be a witness.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that we must bend every effort to distribute ourStandard Bearer on a larger, much larger, scale than heretofore. As surely as it is true that we have something very precious in our Standard Bearer, so surely it is also true that we may not keep it to ourselves, but must spread it abroad. In fact, if we largely keep it to ourselves, I would take that as an indication that we do not count our magazine very valuable and that we have somewhat of an inferiority complex about it.
No, I have no illusions that there are large numbers of people who are receptive for what our Standard Bearer presents. But everywhere today, both at home and abroad, there are pockets, small groups, of Reformed believers who must be reached, people who will be surprised and happy to find that there is a magazine such as ours.
No, I do not mean in the first instance to strive for more subscribers. That is good: I like to hear from our Business Manager of periodic increases in the number of paid subscriptions. But that is not the goal in itself. Besides, when the distribution increases, the subscriptions will also increase.
But WE must get our magazine out! We must witness!
I mean that the number of Protestant Reformed subscribers and readers has always been far larger than the number of those outside our churches. I would like to see that proportion reversed, and more than reversed! Not, you understand, by a decrease in the number of Protestant Reformed readers. No, but by a vast increase in the distribution outside of our churches, and that, too, initiated by us!
We are making a beginning with this issue. I understand there are 4000 copies of this issue being printed, most of which will be distributed.
We must—and can—do more of this. I say: we can! For the Lord has put us in a favorable financial position at present to make a beginning at this task. Moreover, our people have royally supported this cause in recent years, so that we can do more. And I believe that experience shows that if and when there is a special financial need, our people meet this need. A side benefit will automatically be a larger number of paid subscriptions. Experience shows this, too! When theStandard Bearer is more widely distributed and becomes more widely known, it “catches on.”
But let us get busy at this task!
Let our Board and our RFPA and all our supporters catch this vision and put their shoulders to the wheel!
These are my thoughts at the completion of this fiftieth year.
May the Lord be pleased to prosper our Standard Bearer as a witness while our Lord Jesus tarries!