We laymen have many obligations to our pastors. We must pray for them, and most of us do. We must check up on their preaching and teaching after the manner of the Bereans, who, having heard the apostle Paul, searched the Scriptures daily to make sure he was right (Acts 17: 11 ). Most of us are too lazy to do that. Occasionally it may become one’s duty to criticize one’s pastor. Then one must take pains to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). And, although we should always beware of flattery, it is no sin, but rather a duty, to praise a faithful minister. In what follows I want to do that.
In the shop where I work, I have close contact with a member of another church. On Monday mornings we usually swap Sabbath experiences. He is not just a pew-warmer. Last Monday I asked him how he had fared the previous day. He answered, “Not at all well.” Said I, “How so? You went to church, didn’t you?” “To be honest,” said he, “I did not; 1 attended a synagogue instead.” Puzzled, I queried, “What made you do that?” “My pastor,” he replied, “and I’ll tell you how. You sec, he preached on the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal: He warned against a number of practices that this commandment condemns and exhorted to certain virtues that it requires. He upheld the right of private property. This, I thought, was very timely in an age of socialism, communism and state totalitarianism. Well and good. But never once in the entire sermon did he name Christ or even allude to him. In other words, that sermon might as well have been preached in a Jewish place of worship, and, as far as the sermon was concerned, it might be said that I attended a synagogue.”
To say that I was shocked is to put it mildly. But at once there came to my mind the conclusion of a sermon preached a few months ago on that very text by my pastor. Of course, I don’t recall all he said, but it amounted to this: “It has become evident that we are all of us thieves. And we all need to be saved just as was the thief at the Saviour’s right hand on Calvary—by faith in the Crucified One, by being washed in his blood. Or is there some one here who more closely resembles the haughty thief to the left, who felt no need for a saviour of his soul?” I told my partner in the shop about this and I also told him that, no matter what his text may be, my pastor never fails to preach Christ. I could honestly say that. And I didn’t mean that Christ is named in every sermon. I meant that Christ is central to each sermon.
The Infallible Bible
Our daughter Jane is a confessing member of church and a college student. She attends a college with a Christian tradition.
The other evening we were reading for our family devotions the story in John 5 of the healing by Jesus of a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. When we had finished, Jane said, “You don’t believe, do you, Dad, what is said there about an angel coming down and troubling the water?” Naturally I answered, “Why shouldn’t I? It’s in the Bible, isn’t it?” “Well,” said Jane, “our professor of Bible tells us that likely it isn’t true at all and almost certainly it wasn’t always in the Bible. In fact, he says there are several passages in our Bible that were added to the original or altered from it.” Jane drew her own conclusion: “If the professor is right. had we not better dismiss as outdated the notion of an infallible or inerrant Bible? We just don’t have such a Bible.”
That I was taken aback is the understatement of the year. I practically ordered Jane to see the pastor about this matter and to do so without delay. When she seemed hesitant, I suggested that after the next Sunday’s evening service we discuss the matter with the minister over a cup of coffee. Jane consented. My wife got busy on the telephone. Things worked out as I had hoped. The preacher and his wife would be glad to visit with us the coming Sunday night. Sunday night came. After some casual conversation and a little coaxing by me Jane stated her problem. In answer the minister gave us a talk on Scriptural inerrancy and what he called “textual criticism.” Very little of it, if indeed any, went over my head. He has a way of making things clear. Following are some of the things he said.
“The Bible itself, for instance in II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:21, tells us that the human authors of the Bible, although by no means mere robots, were so controlled by the Holy Spirit that what they wrote was the very Word of God. The original manuscripts, sometimes called autographa, then. were inerrant. The Christian Church has so confessed throughout the centuries, and that organization of scholars from numerous denominations known as tile Evangelical Theological Society does so today. To deny the inerrancy of the autographa is to undermine the Christian religion. Yet that is often done by men who would be known as Christian scholars. For one example, in Christian Beginnings, a book. believe it or not, used in some self-styled Christian colleges, Morton Scott Enslin denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was baptized by John in Jordan. The same book is a blatant rejection of Christian supernaturalism.
“However, the original manuscripts of Holy Scripture have disappeared. We have copies of them or copies of copies. And, although the copyists were not inspired so as to do perfect work, it is evident that all the time God kept watching over his Word with a very special providence. The inaccuracies that crept into the text are few and minor. And how much safer it is to cross a river on a bridge that is covered at a few points with a millimeter or two of water than to attempt to walk across that river with no bridge at all! In the meantime the perfectly legitimate, and even necessary, science of textual criticism is striving right along to establish the authentic text of Scripture. Let it be remembered, the authentic text is the real Bible; and it is inerrant. Even of our Bibles as we have them today it holds what Edward J. Young has said so well in Thy Word Is Truth. ‘In his mysterious providence God has preserved his Word. We do not have a Bible which is unreliable and glutted with error, but one that in most wondrous fashion presents the Word of God and the text of the original.’”
Jane is a smart girl, and when his talk was finished, she put what I thought was a pretty sharp question to the minister. She asked him, “It God is concerned about an infallible Bible, why did he not in his providence see to it that the original manuscripts were preserved?” He answered, “To think God’s thoughts after him at that point, as at any point, may be difficult, even impossible. But the great Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper has ventured a plausible opinion. He has suggested that, if we had a wholly perfect book, we would more than likely worship that book much as the Israelites worshiped the brazen serpent that Moses had made at God’s command; and certainly God doesn’t want us to worship anybody or anything but himself.” The minister concluded, “As it is, don’t forget that the Christian faith is based on the firm foundation of God’s infallible revelation.”
When the preacher and his wife departed, Jane was happier than I had seen her for some time. Evidently her mind had been set at ease. And this layman had learned something. In the course of the week I wrote a note to Jane’s Bible professor reminding him of his duty to confirm his students in the faith and not to jolt them out of the faith by adroitly dispensing haH·truths about the Bible. I hope he won’t think me brazen. I also hope he won’t look down on me from an ivory tower.
The minister and an elder came to pay our family an official visit. “Huisbezoek” my parents used to call it I know that the rules of the church assign that work to the elders, but I was glad to see the minister participate. After all, if I am not mistaken, he also is an elder, and he surely needs to know his people if he is going to preach to their needs. Well. in this instance the preacher conversed a bit on spiritual matters with each member of the family in turn. John’s turn came. “John,” said the pastor, “let’s take a look at the second question of the Heidelberg Catechism. As you know, it names three things that we must know in order to live and die happily. So let me ask you three questions related to those three things. First, do you abhor yourself because of your sins?” Frankly, I didn’t like that question. Was the pastor forgetting that John is an exemplary child of the covenant? Wasn’t he virtually insulting the boy? But evidently John didn’t feel that way at all. He stared at the floor and said softly, “I surely do.” Came the second question: “John, realizing that you are a hell-deserving sinner and that you cannot possibly save yourself, have you abandoned yourself to the crucified Christ?” John looked up and with a tremor in his voice replied, “Yes, I have.” “And now, John,” inquired the pastor, “do you with all the love of your heart serve the Christ who died for you and now lives for you?” With tears sparkling in his eyes John stammered, “I wish I did.”
Last night John told me that the next time the consistory meets he is going to make confession of his faith in Christ. He added, “Don’t think, Dad, that I’m doing it because I think I’m good enough.” I had received food for thought. Only he who knows from experience what it is to be under conviction of sin will truly commit himself to Christ for salvation and service. That holds of covenant children too. Evidently the pastor knows that.
The Comfort of Scripture
Recently I was hospitalized for ten days, On alternate days the pastor called on me. For several reasons I appreciated his calls immensely. Without being in a hurry he made them brief. He showed a deep interest in my physical condition but never gave me any medical advice. He left that strictly to the doctors. Most important of all, instead of wearying me with such vapid talk as “Keep smiling” and “Worrying never did anybody any good yet,” he comforted me from the Word of God. For instance, he reminded me that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28) and, making a sharp distinction between punishment and chastisement, he stressed the truths that, God having laid on him the iniquity of his people, Christ was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities (lsa. 53:5, 6), and that the Lord chastens those whom he loves and scourges every son whom he receives (Heb. 12:6). On his final visit he gave me in no more than five minutes a most helpful insight into the meaning of the book of Job.
My pastor is indeed a good under-shepherd, for he kept pointing me to the divine Shepherd. He made the shepherd psalm, numbered 23, and the shepherd allegory, recorded in John 10, very real to me. I love him for it.
I have heard it said repeatedly, and have read it too, that our children and young people don’t understand the theological “jargon” to which we adult church members are accustomed and that therefore we should, in teaching them, make use of a new, an up-to-date, vocabulary. Often that advice is accompanied with a warning against “indoctrination.” We ought to put questions to the young, we are told, and let them find their own answers.
I confess that that line of talk irks me more than a little. Is not Christian doctrine derived from the Bible, and is not the Bible the book of all ages as well as all nations? To be sure, the confessions and catechisms of Christianity are not to be equated with the infallible Bible, but were they not derived from the Bible and are they not the products of the guidance of Christ’s Church in its study of the Bible by the Spirit of Truth? I am told that the Apostles’ Creed goes back all the way to the fourth or fifth century of this era Of course, there is a difference of opinion as to the meaning of “descended into hell,” but who can deny that as a whole this creed excels in simplicity? The statement drawn up by the Council of Chalcedon concerning the person and natures of Christ is admittedly more complicated, but it has served the Christian Church well for more than fifteen centuries. I have known men and women who could neither read nor write but lmd a good understanding of the five points of Calvinism. Am I to believe that our teen-agers, who are getting a highly touted education, are stumped by the language of the Canons of Dort? Or are they lacking in interest?
Besides the children to whom I have already referred we have two others: Mary, who is fourteen, and Jimmie, who is twelve. Both are taught by our pastor in catechism classes. Jimmie has had just a smattering of doctrine, Mary some more. The other evening J sprang this question on Jimmie: “What is the difference between justification and sanctification?” Without hesitation he answered, “Justification is something on the outside of you; sanctification is something on the inside of you.” “Not too bad,” I thought. When I put the same question to Mary, she said, “Justification saves from the guilt and punishment of sin; sanctification saves from the pollution and power of sin.” I thanked God for the teacher our pastor is.
Declaring All the Counsel of God
Preaching is often said to be the chief task of the minister. So far as I nm concerned, that statement can stand. For that reason I began this article with a commendation of my pastor’s preaching, and for the same reason I shall now conclude it with another commendation of his preaching. His preach· ing is well-balanced. Maybe it would be better to say that his preaching is full-orbed . He doesn’t just stress certain teachings of the Bible that he likes a lot and neglect others that don”t suit him so well because they don’t fit so well into his philosophy. Contrariwise, to use Paul’s words, he strives to declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Let me give a few examples.
How often one hears it said that the Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility and that we human beings with our finite and sin-darkened minds cannot: harmonize them with each other. No doubt, that is true, and it follows that we must uphold both these truths without compromise. That our pastor aims to do. Some time ago he preached one sermon on two verses from John’s Gospel: “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (6:44) and “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life” (5:40). He told us that, if a man is saved, God gets all the credit and, if a man is lost, man gets all the blame That surely was putting it bluntly and boldly, but, I dare say, not too much so.
Any number of preachers nowadays emphasize the love of God at the expense of his justice. At least one preacher in our town tells his audiences that a God of love would never demand the bloody sacrifice of his Son for sin nor would he send anybody to eternal hell. Other preachers, who would not think of going to those extremes, seldom, if ever, warn their hearers “to flee from the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7) and in their preaching the call to repentance is far less prominent than it was in the preaching of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, Peter and Paul Not so our pastor. On Good Friday be preached on John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; a.Jl(1 he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Speaking of the cross of Christ, hr described it as “the supreme revelation of the infinite love of God and at once the supreme revelation of the absolute justice of God.”
Our pastor likes to preach series of sermons on Sunday evenings. Not long ago he preached a series on the theme “The Five Points of Calvinism and As Many Reasons for Christian Missions.” I thought it an arresting subject. It has many people guessing. But the preacher came through wonderfully. Among other things he told us that those who think the doctrine of election a hindrance to missions are as wrong as wrong can be. “God has his elect,” he declared, “in every kindred and tongue and people and nation. All the elect must be brought into the Kingdom, and the one God-appointee: means to that end is the gospel. So election demands missions.” He went on to state the equally obvious fact that election guarantees results for missions: “By the preaching of the gospel the elect not only must be brought in but we most certainly will be.” As for the atonement, he pointed ou that many say it made possible the salvation of all men, bu what those who so teach really mean is that the atonement made it possible for each man to save himself by of his own free will accepting Christ in faith, and that is a way of saying that the death of Christ made salvation possible for no on!” He went on to proclaim the blessed truth that the atonement not only made possible the salvation of aU who are ordained to eternal life, but actually saves them, the very-faith wrought in their hearts by the Holy Spirit being a fruit of the atonement. “That definite, effective, saving atonement must,” he affirmed, “lie at the heart of the missionary’s message, and only because of that atonement will his preaching bear fruit unto salvation.”
I must confess that one series of sermons announced by our pastor had me puzzled for a while. He told us in the church bulletin that he was going to preach a series on “Biblical Solutions of Social Problems.” Among the problems he listed were “the Race Problem,” “the Liquor Problem,” “the Sex Problem,” “the War Problem,” etc. “What!” thought I, “Are we actually going to hear the social gospel from our pulpit?” The one thing that kept me from blowing up was the promise that we would be given “biblical” solutions. Came the Sunday evening for which the first sermon of the series was scheduled. The sermon had an exceptionally long introduction. I got the impression that the preacher was attempting to justify his preaching on social problems. Likely he was trying to do just that. He told us that as long ago as 1913 Professor Berkhof of Calvin Seminary delivered a public lecture titled “The Church and Social Problems,” in which he argued that, while the gospel is primarily a message for the individual, it does have social implications that must be recognized in preaching; that the November, 1939, issue of the conservative Westminster Theological Journal contained an article on “The Christian Pulpit and Social Problems,” which made a plea for preaching on social problems on the basis of the universal Kingship of Christ; and that only a few years ago Carl F. H. Henry, at present editor of Christianity Today, wrote a book in which he took fundamentalist preaching to task for its neglect of social problems. I was not much impressed by those facts. They left me rather cold. Was the preacher appealing to men? However, he went on to tell us, and to prove, that the Bible has a good deal to say on social problems. For example, the prophet Amos rebuked the rich of his day for selling the poor for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6), the Lord Jesus discoursed more than once on the perennial problem of divorce (Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3–12), the apostle Paul in more than one of his epistles dealt with the relation to each other of employers and employees (Eph. 6:5–9; Col. 3:22–4:1), and both Paul and Peter instructed Christians as to their proper relationship to civil rulers (Rom. 13:1–7; I Pet. 2:13–17 ). The truth was stressed that God has given Christ to be Head of the Church not only, but Head over all things (Eph. 1:22). I had begun to melt. The first sermon of the series was on the race problem. The preacher expounded tile text: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). Christ proved to be the solution of the problem. And the pastor assured us that throughout the entire series to come Christ would be the answer.
That night, before retiring, I thanked God on my knees for a pastor who was earnestly striving to declare the whole counsel of God and withal was determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Cor. 2:2).