(At the annual meeting of the publishing association which prints the Standard Bearer, inspirational speeches are given— usually by one of the ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches. At one of the meetings, in 1945, the late Rev. H. Hoeksema delivered the following address which was subsequently distributed in pamphlet form. Its message is surely as pertinent today for the Standard Bearer as it begins the second half-century of its publication.)
THE STANDARD BEARER AS A WITNESS
Rev. H. Hoeksema
Well I remember, and, perhaps, some of you with me, the gathering that was held, now more than twenty years ago, that resulted in the organization of your association. The purpose that convoked the brethren was to provide ways and means for the publication of the writings of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema. It was a time of controversy in the churches. The debate centered chiefly in the question concerning “common grace.” Already the two pastors mentioned, who had earnestly endeavored to shed the light of the Word of God in this problem, and who insisted that God’s grace is upon His people only, were attacked from every side, and threatened with ecclesiastical discipline. The official organs of the churches were closed to them, so that they could not use them as an avenue through which to present their ideas to the people. Hence, some brethren, deeply interested in the truth of Scripture and of our Reformed faith, conceived of the idea of creating an organization that would sponsor the publication of whatever the two pastors might write in the interest of the development and maintenance of the truth that was dear unto us all. The Reformed Free Publishing Association was the result. Whatever was written in the form of pamphlets and books by the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema this society proposed to publish. And it was, in part, due to their efforts that also a regularly appearing publication was started in the form of our Standard Bearer.
Now, when I call your attention for a few moments to the Standard Bearer as a witness, I may well connect my remarks with the name of your association. It is called the Reformed Free Publishing Association, and in this name I find expressed the character and purpose, not only of your association, but also of the periodical whose publication you are sponsoring. It isReformed, that is, it is devoted to the development and defense of the Reformed faith. It is free, that is, it is non-ecclesiastical in the institutional sense of that word. It is a publication, that is, it intends to reach the public and to witness for the Reformed truth. And, therefore, it is supported by an association, it is not sponsored by the Synod, but by the free association of brethren that are interested in the truth and its propagation.
The Standard Bearer means to be a free witness of the Reformed truth. But what do we mean when, in this connection, we speak of the Reformed truth and of witnessing for it through the Standard Bearer? To be sure, by Reformed truth we mean the truth of Scripture as it is briefly and officially expressed in the Reformed Standards, particularly in the Three Forms of Unity: the Netherland Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordrecht. The Standard Bearer intends to be confessionally Reformed. However, this is not to be understood in the sense of a dead Orthodoxy, that is perfectly satisfied with what our fathers developed and expressed of the truth, and proceeds from the assumption that they have said the last word about it. Such an attitude would be the expression of a conservatism without life and love of the truth, such as our Reformed fathers certainly would have condemned. No, we do not intend merely to repeat, and rise in defense of what has been officially laid down in our Standards. But taking our stand on the basis of those Confessions, we make it our aim to continue in the direction plainly indicated by them, to criticize much that is offered as Reformed truth, and is not, and, always endeavoring to maintain the very heart of the Reformed faith as our starting point, to advance, to a purer and richer development and expression of the truth as such, and its application to every phase of the life of the believer in this present world.
The Standard Bearer wants to send forth a trumpet blast of no uncertain sound.
It purposes to send forth a testimony that is very specifically Reformed.
With regard to this specifically Reformed truth, we may assert that its very heart is found in the idea of the covenant of God. It is true that, in order to give a truly Reformed testimony, this truth concerning the covenant of God dare not be divorced from the doctrine of sovereign predestination. Election has rightly been called the cor ecclesiae, the heart of the Church. And yet, fundamental though this truth may be, and though its heart-beat must be discernible in even part of the doctrine proclaimed by one that lays claim to being Reformed, it is not the most peculiar, not the most distinctive of Reformed principles. There are other denominations, besides those of the Reformed persuasion, that adhere to the truth of God’s sovereign predestination. But the doctrine of the covenant of God is a distinctively Reformed heritage. The reason for this fact, that it was in Calvinistic circles alone that the truth concerning God’s covenant was developed and given a central place in the system of doctrine, is that in those circles more than in any other strong emphasis was placed on the glory of God as the sole purpose of all the work of God, both in creation and in re-creation, and that this glory is realized in the highest possible degree in the revelation of God’s covenant. Especially is this true if the very essence of that covenant is found, not in the idea of a pact or agreement, or in a way of salvation, but in the fellowship of God’s friendship, the highest revelation of the covenant-life of the Triune Himself. When, therefore, we say that it is the purpose of the Standard Bearer to send forth a specifically Reformed testimony, we mean especially that it purposes to witness concerning the covenant of God, as He Himself realizes it through Jesus Christ our Lord, according to His sovereign good pleasure, in the way of sin and grace, and along the antithetical lines of election and reprobation; and that, too, in connection with the organic development of all things.
Of this truth the Standard Bearer means to be awitness. I use this term to distinguish the nature of its testimony from the official preaching of the Word of God through the instituted Church, whether in the ministry of the Word within the Church, or in its missionary work to the ends of the earth. Our publication has sometimes been called a missionary. Strictly speaking, however, this is not correct. Christ has committed the task of preaching the gospel, not to individuals, nor to an association or to a Bible Institute, but very definitely to His chosen and called apostles, and in them to the Church. And for this purpose He also gave unto His Church in the world pastors and teachers, that through them the Church might fulfill its calling and mission to preach the Word. But theStandard Bearer, and the association that sponsors its publication, are not a part of the Church as an institute; they belong to the Church as an organism, and they function in virtue, not of the specially instituted offices, but in virtue of the office of believers. It is with this distinction in mind that we speak of our publication as a Witness.
It is also with this distinction before our consciousness that we say that the Standard Bearer is free, and that the society that sponsors it calls itself the Reformed Free Publishing Association. The freedom we thus denote is not akin to doctrinal licentiousness. We do not intend to separate ourselves from the institute of the Church. The very fact that we adopted the name Reformed Free Publishing Association, and that, therefore, we place ourselves on the basis of the Reformed Confessions, indicates the very opposite. But free we are in the same sense in which our Christian Schools are free schools. The Standard Bearer is not an official church organ. It is not sponsored by the church as institute. And this freedom implies that we are not hampered by purely institutional bonds, and are not motivated by mere, formal, institutional considerations or prepossessions. In 1928 the institute of the Christian Reformed Church meant to silence our testimony. They closed the official organs to us. They tried to put the yoke of the Three Points upon us. They cast us out of their fellowship. Much of this action was motivated by personal opposition, and the desire to maintain so-called “rest” in the churches, the rest of corruption and death. But the Standard Bearer remained free. No institution controlled it. Its voice could not be silenced. And free it should remain. Unhampered by considerations that are foreign to the love of Reformed truth, our publication purposes to continue to maintain and develop the truth as our God delivered it to us!
This also implies that the Standard Bearer is yours. It is not an organ of any consistory, classis, or synod. Nor is it under the sovereign control of the editors that fill its pages. It is yours. Even as our free Christian Schools are not ultimately controlled by the teachers, but by the parents, so the Standard Bearer, though its contents are the care of its editors, is your paper, it is a means through which you have the opportunity to sound forth the testimony in behalf of the Reformed truth, within our own circles and without. To have such a paper, to be able to let this testimony be heard as far as possible, is your privilege. To render this testimony as effective as lies within our power is your responsibility; and I do not mean only you who are present here, but all the members of the Reformed Free Publishing Association, and, in fact, all Protestant Reformed men; yes, and why not include our women also? You who are present here ought to make it your task to impress this truth, this privilege and this responsibility, upon those that are absent. Tell them that the Standard Bearer is theirs, that they ought to consider it a privilege that, in virtue of their office of believers, they may work for the sending forth of this testimony far and wide; and that they ought to assume their responsibility in this respect. In the Standard Bearer God has given us a work to do. Let us do it with all our might!
Has it been worth while? When we pass in review the more than twenty years during which our paper was published, may we say that it has been faithful to its original purpose? And has its testimony been effective? Has it born fruit? No one knows better than I that there is abundant room for criticism here. And many a time the Standard Bearer was criticized during these years. Its contents were too limited. Its articles were too long. The material it offered was too deep. I am well aware of it. Our powers are limited, and with the limited powers God gave us we must work. Then, too, in as far as the criticism was not destructive, but had a positive purpose, was offered not by those that refuse to put on their thinking-cap and put for effort to read and understand, but by those that read and are interested in rendering our publication as effective as possible, it was gladly received, and did not go unheeded.
Yet, first of all, I may confidently assert that anyone who will peruse the volumes of the Standard Bearer thus far published will have to come to the conclusion that, in the main, it was faithful to its purpose, and strove to serve the defense and development of the Reformed truth.
Secondly, the very fact itself, that through all these years the testimony of the Standard Bearer as a free witness might be heard, and that still its voice has not been silenced, is a cause of deep gratitude to our God, Who provided and still provides this medium of expression for us.
And thirdly, we do not say too much when, with thanks to God, we acknowledge the fact that our organ was a blessing, an instrument of edification and instruction, to many in our own circle, as well as a mighty influence outside of our Protestant Reformed Churches, both here and in the Netherlands. Hundreds outside of our own group have read it. Ministers have used its material for sermonizing. As soon as the war was over we received letters from Old Holland asking for it. Before the war it was an exchange with some thirty papers and periodicals in the Netherlands. Its volumes are carefully preserved in the library of the Free University. Some of the most important volumes written by Reformed men in the old country were sent to theStandard Bearer for review. Its voice was respected as often as it expressed an opinion with respect to points of controversy over there. Any many a paper reviewed the material of the Standard Bearer, when in book form it was sent to the leaders of the Reformed Churches in the land whence we came.
Do I recount all this to boast? Yes, indeed; but not in self. Rather let us marvel with a grateful heart that our God gave to so small an organ of so small a group as we are such a wide place!
And considering what God has done for us in the past, let us not grow weary, but continue, advance, and work while it is day, ere the night cometh in which no man can work! The privilege is YOURS!