[It was the year 1950. The Protestant Reformed Churches were in the process of celebrating their 25th anniversary. On what would have normally been an occasion of great joy, there was reason for sorrow. Disagreement on fundamental doctrinal issues was evident in the churches. It seemed not impossible that a rift would occur. Rev. H. Hoeksema writes his editorial for the March 15th issue of the Standard Bearer in a spirit of gloom and disappointment. At the same time, he pinpoints the reason for the existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches and expresses their calling for the future. G. V B. ]
Rev. H. Hoeksema
It is by no means with an unmixed feeling of joy thatThe Standard Bearer celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the existence of our churches. Rather is our sentiment expressed in the text from Ezra 3:10-13, on which the Rev. C. Hanko preached on the occasion of this celebration; and while we are thankful to the Lord for what it pleased Him to do for and through our Protestant Reformed Churches in the past, nevertheless we feel like “many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers”, who “wept with a loud voice”, when they compared the foundation of the house of God that was then laid with the glory of Solomon’s temple which they had seen.
The reason for this attitude on our part must be evident to all that read our papers.
AS Protestant Reformed Churches we no longer present a united front as far as the truth is concerned.
And although it might probably be expected that no church in the world could stand for any length of time on the basis of such pure and strong Reformed truth as that which is represented by the Protestant Reformed Churches; and although, years ago, at an outing of our young people, I said that I conceived of the possibility that, if I lived long enough, I would be cast out once more; yet it cannot but be a cause of deep sorrow when, after so short a time, this departure from the pure basis of the Protestant Reformed truth becomes evident.
You probably consider me a pessimist.
But this I deny.
I am thoroughly convinced that God will preserve His Church through Jesus Christ our Lord even unto the end of the world, and that the gates of hell shall never overwhelm her. And in that faith no one can ever be a pessimist.
But, at the same time, I am also thoroughly convinced that Christ uses His Church as His battle host over against the powers of darkness, that His Church is where the Word of God is maintained and preached in all its purity, that the Protestant Reformed truth is the expression of that pure Word of God, and that exactly in the measure that we depart from the basis of that pure Protestant Reformed truth we lose our power as the battle host of Jehovah, and compromise with the enemy.
Recently there are indications of such compromise.
It is not necessary for me to point out those indications. You know as well as I do to what I am referring.
It is being said that some are emitting an entirely different sound from that which is blasted from the trumpet of those men that always stood for the Protestant Reformed truth, that the conception of the latter is not the doctrine of our churches, and that most of the Protestant Reformed do not think as they. And a conditional theology is being introduced the sound of which is surely foreign to our Protestant Reformed truth.
The statements to which I refer above have never been openly challenged, still less contradicted. And as long as they are not given the lie, I have no choice but accept them as true.
Are you surprised, then, that on this twenty-fifth anniversary, I rather mourn than celebrate with rejoicing?
But, I ask, what is the heritage of the Protestant Reformed Churches? Is there any part of the truth which they have emphasized and further developed in distinction from other Reformed Churches?
To this question some, perhaps most of us, will answer: the Protestant Reformed Churches deny the theory of common grace. And that is, of course, true. But that is a mere negative answer. And we must have something positive, No church can live by a mere negation.
Others will answer more positively: the Protestant Reformed Churches teach the doctrine of sovereign grace; and that is also true. But, after all, that is not their peculiar heritage and their particular contribution to Reformed theology. Do not all Reformed Churches believe, officially at least, the same truth? Do not even some Baptist churches confess this? It may be true that the Protestant Reformed Churches lay more emphasis upon this truth than other Reformed churches, but it cannot be said that the doctrine of sovereign grace is their peculiar heritage.
If you ask me what is the most peculiar treasure of the Protestant Reformed Churches, I answer without any hesitation: their peculiar view of the covenant.
And what is their particular conception?
It stands closely connected with their denial of common grace, and with their emphasis on the doctrine of election and reprobation.
Moreover, it emphasizes and carries out the organic idea.
Briefly stated, it teaches that God realizes His eternal covenant of friendship, in Christ, the Firstborn of every creature and the First begotten of the dead, organically, and antithetically along the lines of election and reprobation, and in connection with the organic development of all things.
That is, in a nutshell, the peculiar Protestant Reformed heritage.
He that has been captivated by this beautiful Reformed truth must have nothing of anything that smacks like Heynsian theology, nor will he ever retrogress into a traditional conditional theology.
But rather than go backward, he will go forward and continue to develop the pure Protestant Reformed truth of God’s eternal covenant.
To do this is the specific calling of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Failure to do this is our death. It is the end of our distinctive existence.
And that is the reason why, under the present circumstances, I cannot wholeheartedly join in with the joy of celebration.