The Standard Bearer – Looking Back

As our thoughts travel back across the years, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of our Standard Bearer the cry of the Psalmist arises in our hearts: 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. (Ps. 103:1-2

Classis East was in session in November of 1924. The matter before this body was the demand of a previous classis that Rev. H. Hoeksema and his consistory sign the Three Points adopted by the synod a few months before. No other ministers had been placed before this demand, except Rev. H. Danhof of Kalamazoo and Rev. H. Hoeksema of Grand Rapids, Michigan. But that is hardly the point here. The point I wish to make is that one of the delegates arose at this November meeting to reprimand Rev. Hoeksema forThe Standard Bearer, the first issue of which had appeared in October, only a month previous to this. “Why,” he asked, “why did you ever begin to publish that new paper, The Standard Bearer“? Rev. Hoeksema was sitting at the edge of his seat, one arm resting on the back of the pew, the other hand on the pew ahead, ready to rise to give answer. A cloud of amazement had swept over his face, as those who knew him will so well remember his look of perplexity. It was as if he would say, “How can anyone ask a question like that?” Soon a ready smile caused his eyes to gleam as rising, he said, “What else could we do? The church papers, The Banner and De Wachterrefuse to accept our contributions. Yet to obey the mandate of the synod, we as well as all the others are called to enlighten the churches on the subject of common grace, which the synod regarded as still in need of further investigation.” 

Yes, The Standard Bearer had made its first appearance on October 1, 1924, the significant year of the adoption of the Three Points by the Christian Reformed Church. This new magazine had already made a tremendous impact upon friend and foe alike. Those were days in which the whole Christian Reformed denomination, but particularly the city of Grand Rapids, throbbed with the excitement that centered about the common grace issue. If one saw a group of people wrapped in conversation on the street corner, one could be quite sure that the issue of the day was receiving its pros and cons. On a warm summer evening one had but to walk the streets of the southeast part of the city, (which was perfectly safe in those days), and he would hear voices, loud and clear, bursting from the various homes, all concerned about the same issue. The daily Press even carried front page news items about the proceedings of the Classes and the happenings in the churches. 

The Standard Bearer had come to stay. Anyone who still is privileged to possess an early issue will know how brown and tattered these copies are from their constant use. It is no fiction that copies were, exchanged from one to another, were eagerly perused in the public library, and were even carried in the coat pockets of young men visiting their girl friends. 

In the first issue of The Standard Bearer appears an editorial explaining the reason and the purpose of this new periodical. After mention is made of the Free Publishing Association, which made itself responsible for the publication, we read,

This society, which already for some time has given strong support to the above mentioned ministers (the Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema), will devote themselves to this same task in the future through this monthly magazine. They feel that they must fight for the cause of the Lord, not only against the enemy which stands outside of our own church communion, but no less against the enemy within the gates. They want others to lift up the banner, instruct the people of God and lead them in the battle, which is inescapable and must be fought. The real need for leadership is felt in regard to ecclesiastical problems, doctrinal differences, prevalent views, and the practical application to our daily lives. And although they have no intention of limiting themselves in this struggle to the publishing of The Standard Bearer, they nevertheless want this periodical to lead the way in the bitter struggle. 

At the same time, the position of the editors is hereby also explained. The writers want to allow God’s Word to speak, and want to labor in the reformatory and progressive Reformed spirit. They insist on a Bible-believing, not phi1osophical conception of the Word of God. And they seek to apply the proper emphasis of the will of God to Christian living, along the entire line of human activity. Thus not everything that has been presented in history as Reformed truth will blindly be branded as Scriptural. Nor do they underwrite every presentation of the fathers, no, not even when the shadow of error fell upon the faulty views of the Confessions of the churches. Caution is indeed required in doing this. Yet the true welfare of the church demands that the full light of the Word of God is kindled in regard to everything that pertains to the promotion of the cause of the Son of God. For being children of God, we must be blameless and upright, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we shine as lights in the world; holding forth the Word of life. From that we may not desist. The editorial staff of the Standard Bearer seeks to equip the church for that task. (Translated)

In this same first issue Rev. Hoeksema began his series on “Doctrine” with the contribution, “God is God.” This may well be considered the keynote upon which all the contents of The Standard Bearer is based. Just as this is the keynote of the preaching, echoing the grateful response; “For this God is our God. He will be our Guide even until death.” Those who formerly attended the preaching in the Dutch services of our churches will recall how these services were concluded with triumphant song of the Psalmist: 

Gij tech, Gij zijt hun roem, de kracht van hunne kracht, 

Uw vrije gunst alleen wordt d’ eere toegebracht. 

Wij steken ‘t hoofd omhoog, en zullen d’eerkroon dragen 

Door U, door U alleen, om ‘t eeuwig welbehagen. 

Want God is ons een Schild in ‘t strijdperk van dit leven, 

En onze Koning is van Israel’s God gegeven. 

Those who cannot appreciate the Dutch psaltery anymore, will forgive me this slight diversion. Those who still do enjoy the Dutch will agree with me, that no reminiscing of the past would be complete without this. Let me share this blessed experience with you, in as far as that is possible, by referring to the English text ofPsalm 89:17-18, from which this is taken: “For Thou art the glory of their strength: and in Thy favor our horn shall be exalted. For the Lord is our defense; and the Holy One of Israel is our King.” 

These were difficult years, these first years. Soon the lion’s share of the writing fell squarely on the shoulders of the Reverends Hoeksema and Ophoff. Not as if they had little else to do. They had their congregations, requiring the usual preaching, catechizing, sick visiting, family visitation, and all the accompanying duties. This was sufficient to keep any diligent minister occupied. But besides that they were giving a full course of theological training for students that were being prepared for the ministry of the Word in churches which were being organized in various places. Particularly Rev. Hoeksema was also called to make repeated lecture tours throughout the west, even as far as California. Yet the deadline for each issue had to be met. I recall meeting Rev. Hoeksema on a train in Spencer, Iowa. There had been a washout on the railroad caused by heavy rains during the night. In order to arrive at the classis meeting at Hull that same day, he had called ahead asking for someone to pick him up. Upon arrival we found him busily engaged in typing an article for the next issue of The Standard Bearer

Others were added to the editorial staff from time to time, which was also appreciated. But both Rev. Hoeksem’a and Rev. Ophoff burned much midnight oil to remain faithful to the task God had committed to them. One of the sons of Rev. Ophoff made the remark at one time that he best remembers from his childhood that he would awaken at night and see the light in his father’s study still burning. The question is often raised why our churches did not make direct contact with all the areas in which churches of Reformed persuasion were located, to let them all know of our existence. The answer is given above. God simply did not supply us with the means at that time to reach out farther than we did. Yet The Standard Bearer reached many more, both at home and abroad, than we shall ever know. The full repercussion of this defense of the truth of God’s Word is certainly God’s work, and as such is preserved in the annuls of eternity. 

This witness of the Protestant Reformed Churches and of the truth entrusted to us remained faithful to its calling even in the years of “strum” and “drang.” In the late 40s and in the early 50s heavy storm clouds hung over our churches. The history of the Protestant Reformed churches is from their very inception intertwined with the history of The Standard Bearer. And the opposite is also true. I take the liberty to quote from an editorial by Rev. Hoeksema, written in connection with the twenty-fifth anniversary of our churches under the heading, “Protestant Reformed.”

It is by no means with an unmixed feeling of joy that The Standard Bearer celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the existence of our churches . . . 

The reason for this attitude on our part must be evident to all that read our papers. 

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.

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 a 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? (S. B. Vol. 26, pages 268,269)

Our churches, and The Standard Bearer likewise, were preserved by the power of God throughout that stormy period, to remain a witness of the Reformed heritage in the church world. The work continued, the witness remained faithful to its original purpose, the readers drank in the contents with a keener interest even than before. 

I hasten now to the fortieth anniversary of the existence of The Standard Bearer. Those of you who own or have access to the early volumes of our periodical will find moments and even hours of joy in paging through them. At times you will silently weep, at times become deeply disturbed by the bitter struggles of the past, but always you will express in your soul the sentiment with which I began, and which is the theme of the meditation in Volume 41, page 4, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2) In this volume it becomes evident that none other than Rev. Hoeksema’s son, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema, has taken over the editor’s tasks of The Standard Bearer. He writes : “In Retrospect – Forty Years.” He speaks of looking back in the sense of reminiscing, which can be both interesting and instructive. But he adds:

Nevertheless, our look backward must serve a better purpose. 

That purpose should be, in the first place, to take stock. We should look back to the very beginning of our Standard Bearer, examine its origin, its initial claim, its purpose and aim, in order to judge whether and in how far our magazine has been true to its claim and purpose down through the years. Moreover, in the light of this judgment we must determine whether our course is in need of correction or not; and, if not, then we must determine, if our course is a true one, to progress along that same course. 

In the second place, the purpose of this anniversary stock-taking, this inventory, should be a rededication to that original purpose, and that too, on the part of editors, publishing association, and readers.

Concluding his article, he writes,

What now, must the end of this be? Shall we boast, that is, of self and of our own work? God forbid! In the first place, let us with humble hearts,—editors, publishing society, and readers,—give the thanks and all the praise to our covenant God. It is all of Him, and we have nothing whereof to boast, except our boast be in Him. 

In the second place, let us be appreciative of our heritage as it has been preserved and enriched for us by our Standard Bearer. And by appreciation I mean not a mere empty sentiment of appreciation, but an esteem of such a kind that it moves us to be better and more thorough readers of our magazine, moves us to be more loyal and dedicated and generous supporters of it, moves us to instill in our children that same inclination to appreciate, to be instructed by, and to support this magazine. 

In the third place, even as so often in the past our Standard Bearer has been of such great service in bearing the flag of the truth outside our immediate Protestant Reformed circles, so let it become more effectively and in greater outreach a witness for the Reformed faith in our times,—times of turmoil and crisis in the Reformed community,—we have a solemn duty to let our testimony be heard to the utmost of our ability. To achieve that purpose we need a greater outreach, more dedicated efforts, and even more generous support than we have had heretofore . . . 

The time is certainly short. The night cometh, in the which no man can work. Let us labor while it is day! 

And may the Lord our God bless our labors.

These are significant words, well spoken, that should not pass by unnoticed. They apply today with as much emphasis as ten years ago and possibly even more so. This fiftieth anniversary of our Stand Bearer, followed next year by the fiftieth anniversary of the existence of our churches, must be a time for reflection, dedication, with prayer and thanksgiving. 

For time rushes on, ever more swiftly as the end approaches. And changes are the necessary result of passing time. This is certainly true in the unfolding of the work of the counsel of our God in these past fifty years. No generation has ever seen such sweeping, radical changes as we have. The slow, chugging Model-T has been replaced by cars that can eat up the miles in comfort, by planes that travel faster than sound. People who considered it quite an excursion to visit relatives and friends fifty or sixty miles away, and who would plan for weeks a trip any farther than that, now span the country and cross the seas. Modern cities with their bustling activities, huge factories belching smoke, and their busy shopping centers have replaced the quiet, sleepy towns with their neighborhood grocery stores. Inventions appear on the market that stagger the imagination, bringing amazing changes in our way of life. Man probes into the bowels of the earth, into the hidden mysteries of the sea, into the broad expanse of the heavens, into the marvels of man’s physical being, and even tries to delve into the secrets of man’s soul. Yes, times do change. We experience today a world-wide revolution in every sphere of life, politically, economically, socially, and even religiously. Upheavals that happened in certain local areas or countries now affect the whole world. God is openly denied, sin is no more sin,—man determines according to his own standards what is wrong or right. Pseudo-Bibles appear on the market, pseudo-religions arise everywhere, often stressing the mystical that appeals to man’s superstitious and carnal ambitions, flatter the pride, and create false hopes for a world free from warfare, poverty, sickness, pain, grief, death; yet a world without God. The times are evil. Pseudo-prophets,—preachers,—Christs make vain boasts. Satan knows that he has but a little while and is making the most of it. 

Yes, there have also been changes in The Standard Bearer. That is only natural. The first editors, including the Revs. Vos and Verhil, have passed on into the Rest. Some of our former editors, who gradually took their places in the editorial staff, are still with us and are still contributing faithfully. But many new names appear in the masthead. For that too, we are thankful. The format has changed from time to time. The subscription list continues to grow. Our magazine travels to many countries besides our own, even to the far ends of the earth. That gives us great joy. But we are especially grateful that it can be said without reservation that the content has not changed. It is still founded foursquare on the infallible Word of our God. It still opposes every form of heresy that lifts up its head round about us, and that without compromise in the truth. It still develops the truth of God’s covenant in all its riches. And it still covers the entire area of the believer’s life in covenant relationship to his God and in his God-given place in the world. In all that our God has been good to us. 

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”