Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This is the second part of the speech delivered at the Convocation of the Protestant Reformed Theological School on September 7, 1999.
And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.
Men For The Gap
God is pictured in the text as casting about for men who will stand in the gaps.
It is clear from the context that the prophet has officebearers in mind. This verse appears here in the text as the conclusion of sharp condemnation of Judah’s prophets, priests, and kings. “There is a conspiracy of her prophets…” (v. 25). “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things…” (v. 26). “Her princes … are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls…” (v. 27). “Her prophets have daubed … with untempered mortar … divining lies…” (v. 28).
This is the reason God could find no man to stand in the gap. The kind of men for whom God was looking were unavailable. The ones appointed to be in the gaps had joined the enemy and were working for Zion’s destruction from within. Leaders had turned traitor. No one could be trusted to stand in the gap. The men available would only have knocked additional stones out of the wall to make the passage of the enemy into the city easier.
The prophet does not mean that the people of God themselves are not to stand in the gaps. Indeed they are. And the prophet has a word to say also about their contribution: “The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully” (v. 29).
But the point that has to be made is that no army can fight without leaders, no citizenry can be rallied to the battle without a clear trumpet call, no soldiers in the ranks can fight effectively without men to guide them to the gaps, lead the way into the gaps, and show them where and how to fight.
That totally pathetic word of Jehovah, that word which makes one who loves Zion weep with shame, that word which spells Zion’s doom, is “I looked for a man…. But I found none!”
The gaps are there. Where are the men to lead the people? Where are the preachers who will cease their endless prattle that all is well in Zion and shout to the people about Zion’s dangers? Where are the leaders in the churches who will once and for all quit worrying about being nice, and pleasant, and good ol’ fellows, and who will warn the people that Zion’s walls are crumbling and the city is about to go down to defeat? Where are the leaders who will wave the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), at the head of Christian soldiers of the cross and call them to battle, to battle unto death? Where are they? Are they attending their committee meetings, visiting nicely over a cup of tea, soothing God’s people by telling them that those who shout danger are the ones troubling Zion, healing the wounds of the daughters of God’s people slightly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace?
It is not only that those who should be in the forefront of the battle are openly and boldly expressing their desire to see the enemy win. It is not only that so many are unfit that women are now set in those positions of leadership where only men ought tostand. But it is also that even those who profess to love Zion are timid, fearful, unwilling to move unless they can fight from positions of guaranteed safety, hiding in trembling and shaking fright behind every corner of every building in the city, carefully straightening their neckties while Jerusalem’s walls are crumbling, and diligently counting the troops behind them so that they will be sure, before they march forth to battle, that they outnumber the enemy.
God, through Ezekiel the prophet, is disconcerting when he uses the singular: “I sought for a man among them….” One man. Just one.
I find two reasons for this disturbing, yet comforting singular.
The first is to the everlasting shame of the church. There is not even one!
The second is that God can use just one. One is enough. One will often do. An Athanasius contra mundum (against the world). An Augustine against Roman Catholic Pelagianism. A Gotteschalk against the powerful men who tortured him. A Luther at Worms with his “Here I stand. I can do naught else.” Finally, a Hoeksema and an Ophoff: “I prefer facing a firing squad to signing the three points.” One man and God, it has been said, is a majority.
This is because the strength of Zion is the Lord of Hosts, mighty in battle. And the Captain of our salvation is our ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ.
“But I found none.” None. Not one.
Our Seminary and Men for the Gap
But this is seminary convocation; and I must make this text bear upon the work of another year in our theological school.
Let it be said, first of all, that I believe with all my heart that we have men in the PR churches to stand in the gap. There are men in the gap now. They are there every Lord’s Day. They are there during the week, fighting against the enemy.
We may and must be thankful for them. We must not sap their courage and attempt to destroy their morale with words of encouragement to the enemy. We must pray for them, follow them into battle, put ourselves under their leadership, march behind them in the cadenced steps of the Word of God.
But the seminary is my concern tonight. The seminary must prepare men to stand in the gaps. Such is, without any doubt, not only its most important calling, but its only calling.
The seminary is, so to speak, officers’ training school. Especially the training of ministers.
Let me reiterate what it is in which that training consists.
Men attending seminary must, most importantly, be taught to preach. The church does not need executives, board chairmen, administrators, scholars with Ph.D.s from prestigious universities, church planters, number-sensitive leaders of mega-churches who preach a “number-sensitive gospel.” The church needs preachers. Nothing more, nothing less. Seminaries must teach men to preach. Nothing more, nothing less. Every subject of the curriculum must be taught only if it helps men be better preachers.
The strength of Zion is Jehovah God; and the battle for Zion is fought with only one weapon: the Word of God. By that Word Zion’s recruits are irresistibly called into battle, are armed with the weapons needed to fight, are taught the wiles of the devil, and are steeled for the rigors of hard and ceaseless sacrifice.
Let the seminary continue to train preachers.
In the second place, these preachers must be taught to fight. The gaps are there. They are the vulnerable points in Zion’s defenses. They are the places where the enemy concentrates her forces. They are where the battle is the hottest. Men must be prepared for war. It is all-out war. It is a battle to the death. It is heated and fierce. Men who will not fight against the enemy get in the way when they stand in the gap. Stand aside, God says to them. Let the warriors in. The gaps must be defended. The way to defend is not the way of white flags, coffee with the enemy, blandishing words of praise to those whose only purpose is Zion’s destruction. The way to defend is to fight. I know of no other way than that.
In the third place, the text reminds us too that the walls have to be built.
Undoubtedly the reference is first of all to those parts of the walls where there are breaches, where stones have been knocked out of place, where gaps appear that need to be repaired.
Two things come to mind.
The first is that the walls are rebuilt by sound doctrine. The walls are, after all, the doctrines of the church, which have ever been Zion’s strength. Preachers must be trained in the seminary to know, understand, love, and defend sound doctrine.
If they are not prepared for that, they are of no use in the battle. Preachers have to be taught to rebuild the gaps by teaching and preaching sound doctrine, so that the truth may stand firm once more over against the lie.
But, secondly, these same preachers must develop the truth as well. The truth is always developed in battle with the lie. No truth comes out of ivory towers, far from the noise and smoke of battle. No truth comes out of morality-preachers who cave in to the incessant cry for practical preaching. The walls of Zion are built under fire, with the enemy at hand, amid the arrows and shot of a powerful foe. The truth is developed when the truth is attacked.
Such men the seminary must train. Consciously, deliberately, with all its energies fixed upon that goal.
For 75 years the seminary has been committed to training such men. We ought to be thankful for this. It is the strength of our churches. It has not happened often that God sustains a seminary that long in the truth of His Word. May that training be our goal in the year ahead.
Judgment for Unfaithfulness
The Lord speaks in the text and in the following verse of His anger that in His search for a man, none could be found: “Therefore have I poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath.”
The nation was destroyed. Judah was led into captivity. Jerusalem was left a smoldering heap of rubble. Zion’s walls existed no longer.
But the nation is punished, for the nation is responsible for the lack of a man for the gap.
So it always is.
The responsibility for men to fill the gap lies, in the first place, in the home and in the local congregation. Parents are to blame when none can be found to build the wall. Congregations must answer to God when no men climb Seminary Hill to attend classes there.
Not only must parents and congregations point the young men of families and churches to the magnificent calling of being warriors on behalf of God’s troops, but homes and congregations must tell their young men of Zion’s wars, Jerusalem’s present dangers, and the need for men to stand in the gap. Let them show their sons that the battles to be fought are a part of the battle of the ages, that the warfare is unending, and that life itself is a battlefield. Let them try to turn the ears of their sons to the call of the trumpets, the cadence of marching feet, the noise and fury of the combat.
When parents, congregations, and the seminary do their work, then men will be there to stand in the gaps.
But where no men are found, judgment will come. I presume there are many denominations which are full of ministers. I recently read that the list of ministers looking for positions is very long. The pulpits have their robed orators; the land is flooded with administrators. But where in all God’s world are there men for the gap? When none can be found, none among the thousands of ministers, then judgment comes.
God is angry. The cause of His truth and His righteousness is the only cause of value in the world. But none can be found to stand for it. Judgment is the inevitable result.
Such judgment is inevitable because when no one can be found in the gaps, the enemy pours in. Soon his brigades flood the pulpits of the churches, take over the positions of power, implement their devil’s agenda, and make the church a habitation of dragons.
The gaps are undefended. What else can be expected?
But let it be clearly understood that apostasy, worldliness, and the resulting unfaithfulness of churches is God’s judgment upon those who will not fight for God’s truth and for the cause of God’s Son. The enemy is unopposed because professed preachers commit treason. The gaps are undefended because good men are too timid to fight and look askance at the slaughter in the gaps. The breaches are enlarged by the enemy because too many shout “Peace, peace!” — when there is no peace.
Will it be so in our churches? May God graciously forbid.
Maybe the day is not so far off when retreat to the “keep” will be necessary. So let it be.
I wish to close with two reminders.
The one is this. The cause of God cannot go down to defeat. It will be victorious, for the enemy has been defeated at Calvary, where the Captain of our salvation fought alone and conquered; the enemy is in the hands of our Christ, who moves their armies according to the will of God and who cannot permit any harm to come to His cause. The strength of Zion is her God. And God cannot be defeated in any battle.
The second is this. It is a glorious thing to fight on behalf of the King of kings. It is not an onerous task, a burdensome obligation, a ceaseless grief. It is glorious. It is thrilling. It is filled with the excitement of salvation. For we fight in a cause which cannot go down to defeat. The day comes when the shouting and the tumult dies, when the battlefield is stilled, when the smoke of battle drifts away, when the enemy is slaughtered in the streets of the Holy City which has become Egypt and Sodom, and when the weary Christian warrior exchanges his helmet for a laurel wreath, his armor for a white garment of spotless purity, and his sword for a palm branch of victory.
May that hope press upon you and give you faithfulness.