The subject which I have chosen to consider with you this evening is “The Standard Bearer’s Witness.”
The first thing which we ought to do in approaching this subject is to clearly lay hold of what we have in mind when we speak of The Standard Bearer. In general, of course, we may very briefly state that The Standard Bearer is a Reformed theological journal. Thus, in the first place, it is a theological journal or magazine. As such it is not primarily concerned with the more external aspect of church life. It is, for example, not concerned usually with the activities, projects, and happenings which take place within our Churches. Such activities may, of course, be reported and reflected upon by the paper, but this is only of secondary importance. The primary function of our paper is to treat, discuss, and develop those things which are of theological importance: The goal toward which we aspire is that the truth of God revealed in Scripture may be studied, analyzed, and expounded. Our primary concern is with doctrine, the doctrine of the Word of God. In the second place, our paper is a Reformed magazine. This is evident from the name of our association, The Reformed Free Publishing Association. We are dedicated, thereby, to the theological truth which was set forth by the Great Synod of Dordt in the three forms of unity. That truth we believe to be a correct rendition of the revelation of God in Scripture. Its elucidation and propagation we seek. This all we state in a general way. We are more or less familiar with it, and we need not spend a great deal of time in its consideration this evening.
Of more particular concern to us this evening are the distinctive features of our particular paper. We want to know what it is that sets our paper apart from others. There are actually many papers that claim to be Reformed journals of one sort or another. We are concerned with those features which distinguish ours from these others.
The most generally recognized of these features is, perhaps, one that derives from the history of our association and of our magazine— the antithetical stand which we have always maintained over against the error of common grace. This, we said, derives from our history. The error of common grace, instilled into the Reformed Churches by Dr. A. Kuyper, was first publicly called into question by the Rev. H. Hoeksema through his writings in The Banner. For many years these writings went relatively unchallenged until the controversy of 1924. One of the byproducts of that controversy was that Rev. Hoeksema as well as Rev. H. Danhof was refused the right of expressing his views in the publications of that day. As a result our association was founded to provide freedom of theological expression also to those men.
As might be expected, especially the early issues of our paper were in a large part dedicated to exposing the errors in the theory of common grace. The truth of God’s grace was examined from every point of view and found always to be particular. The challenge went out from the pages of our paper to all that would deny this. Few were willing and none was able to meet this charge of The Standard Bearer. From this, perhaps more than from anything else, The Standard Bearerhas received its reputation; it denies and opposes the error of common grace.
In close relationship to this we find the second distinguishing mark of The Standard Bearer which we would note its positive exposition of Reformed doctrine. This is in a sense nothing more than the other side of the same coin. It is the positive side of opposition to common grace. Such positive development is always vitally necessary. One can not oppose evil who does not know the way of righteousness; one cannot hate the world who does not have the positive love of God within his heart; one cannot expose error who does not know the truth. The same is true of a theological journal; in order to serve its purpose it must positively expound true doctrine.
The positive side of the common grace controversy is the Setting forth of Reformed truth. Common grace in essence calls into question and compromises each one of the five points of Calvinism or the five heads of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt. The Standard Bearernot only refuted negatively but it expounded these principles of Reformed doctrine positively. This it began to do in the very early issues of the paper. All different aspects of Scripture study and doctrine have been set forth in harmony with the principles set forth by our fathers. This has become one of the most beautiful and enduring characteristics of our paper.
The third feature which we would notice about our paper has raised it to a very unique position — it has been used in the development of new theological insight. This is a blessing which we should be sure to appreciate as a unique privilege. Many are the years and decades which have passed at times in the history of the Church when doctrinally speaking the best that could be said was that the Church held its own. In the comparatively short history of our paper, however, the Lord has blessed us with the services of the Rev. H. Hoeksema and in that position has used him to provide new insight into the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The one development in doctrine of which we would take particular notice this evening is in regard to the truth of the covenant of grace. The Reformed Churches have always felt that the doctrine of the covenant holds a very important place in orthodox theology; but, they have not always shown great clarity of vision in understanding it themselves. Attempts have been made. Some have said that the covenant is an agreement between God and man; others have found its essence in the promise of God to His people; still others have merely called it the way in which God saves His people. These all have, proved disappointingly superficial at best; and at their worst have led to very serious error. (We might almost wonder if the error of common grace has not developed in the past in connection with one of these erroneous views of the covenant.) It was the editor of our journal, the Rev. H. Hoeksema, who first developed this doctrine of covenant from an entirely different point of view. He found the essence of the covenant of grace to be, not merely an agreement or promise, but the relationship of gracious love and friendship which God has established with His elect people in Jesus Christ. This has shed an entirely new light, not just on the various aspects of the covenant doctrine, but upon the whole scheme of Reformed theology. It serves as a unifying principle which brings all doctrines into close and intimate relation with each other and with personal spiritual experience and life. Through it all doctrine becomes very practical, not with the superficial practicality of a concentration upon externals, but by bringing all of the revelation of God into profound significance for our experience of covenant communion with our God.
Finally, there is one more feature of our Paper which must be considered of major importance— that is the contribution of the Rev. G. M. Ophoff in the exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures. In a very real sense Rev. Ophoff has opened up the Old Testament Scriptures for us. His endeavors in this field have been thorough and unceasing. Never has he been content to find in the Old Testament nothing more than a series of moralistic lessons such as is only too commonly done. From Genesis through Malachi he has sought out and found the gospel of God’s covenant grace in Jesus Christ. Clearly he has shown that the Old Testament saints experienced it, the types and shadows reflected it, the songs of Israel exclaimed it, and the voices of the prophets expounded it. The unifying principle of all Scripture has been lucidly revealed through his pen. I am sure that all of our ministers will readily agree that nothing is more helpful in interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures than the writings of Rev. Ophoff in our Standard Bearer.
In conclusion, therefore, we find that in our paper, The Standard Bearer, we have a very distinct and precious heritage. ‘In the past it has been used by God for the defense, exposition, and development of the true doctrine of Jesus Christ within the Church. In the present we believe that these same principles continue to distinguish our paper. We can only hope and pray that He will also so use us on into the future.
This brings us to the second main aspect of our subject, namely, the witness of The Standard Bearer.
Concerning this we should note, in the first place, that when we speak of witnessing we do not have reference to a sort of missionary work. Missionary work is an official function which belongs exclusively to the institute of the Church of Jesus Christ. It cannot take place through papers and publications. It is the living preaching of the Word. It can only be performed by one who is officially called and sent by the Church to preach the Word of God to those that are without. This work we cannot perform. We cannot do it as individuals. Neither can we do it in association.
Witnessing, however, is another thing. That is a duty which belongs very particularly to the office of every believer. This witnessing consists of giving testimony to the truth which God has given us and implanted within our hearts. By the grace of God we have received the truth and concerning it we may not keep silent. As servants of God we must express that truth. We are like a city set on a hill which must not be hid in darkness. This is true of us as individuals; it is also true of our association. We have considered together the living-heritage of true doctrine which we have in our publication. The Standard Bearer, Having this heritage we may not keep it to ourselves. We must also give expression of it to others. This was quite evidently the intention of our association from the beginning. We read in our constitution that the purpose of the R.F.P.A. is “to witness to the truth contained in the Word of God’ and expressed in the Three Forms of Unity.” This is also the clear implication of the name of our paper, “The Standard Bearer.” The standard referred to here is equivalent to the emblem, banner, or flag which is borne before troops which are entering a battle. Such a standard is intended to serve a dual purpose. It encourages the men that follow it, and it testifies to those who do not. This is quite exactly the function which our publication should serve for us. It bears before us the standard of the truth of the Word of God. In doing this it should encourage us who follow it and it should be a testimony to and against those who do not.
More concretely what this means is that we should take care that the truth which is written upon the pages of our paper should be distributed very broadly. Good Reformed writings are only too rare in our day. Having them, we should not keep them to ourselves but should distribute them about us on every side. Many of us have rather close contacts with members of the Christian Reformed Church, to say nothing of those who left us in 1953. They should be given the testimony of’ Reformed truth found within our paper. More broadly, we live in communities in which there are members of Reformed Churches, Presbyterian Churches, Methodist and many others. To them our witness and testimony should be brought. Ideally the witness of The Standard Bearer should go forth throughout our nation and even unto the very ends of the earth.
This brings us in conclusion to the very real problem of how we can possibly do this.
It is encouraging for us to note that our Board has taken steps in this direction already. For the last few years it has been making extended work of distributing copies of The Standard Bearer to many that are not on our subscription list. There is one difficulty, however, against which we always meet. We cannot afford to make free distribution of our paper to a large number of people for any extended length of time.
Because of this fact I have a concrete suggestion which I would like to submit this evening. Should it be not completely practical in itself, it may nonetheless set us to thinking in the right direction. The various phases of this suggestion I will divide into three different steps. 1. A request should be sent to the editorial staff of our paper asking that they prepare a special series of articles which in a concise and a direct manner would set forth the various facets of our Protestant Reformed truths. 2. Once these articles were printed, we could have the printer rearrange the type in shorter columns and reprint them in the form of pamphlets. This would involve a minimum of expense. 3. These pamphlets could then be forwarded to such groups as the Prot. Ref. Action Committee of Doon, Edgerton and Hull, the Church-Extension Committee of South Holland and Oaklawn, and to individual committees that could be organized in our various congregations. These committees could then mail them out to various people of their communities and states, and perhaps in some instances even more broadly than that, both nationally and internationally.
Before we close, we can hardly resist speculating upon what the results of such a program might be. In the first place, such a series of pamphlets as is proposed would be beneficial for our own people. Properly preserved and indexed they could form a handy source of reference in every home. In the second place, such broadly distributed reprints fromThe Standard Bearer would serve as a very good means of advertisement for our paper and could easily lead to an increase in the number of subscribers. In the third place and more than anything else, we would be filling our obligation to our God to witness as broadly as possible to the truth which He has given to us. Finally, however, it is not inconceivable to expect that such a broad program consistently carried out could lead eventually to the opening up of new fields in which the official missionary ministry of our Churches could engage.