“Overture 1812” is Tchaikovsky’s stirring musical picture of Napoleon’s triumphant march into, and his in glorious retreat from Russia. The fiery music of the “Marseillaise” inspires the soldiers as they march to Moscow. Alons ellfants de la patrie, Ie jour de gloire est arrive. Bravely, confident of victory, they enter the city: the trap. Then: the fire! Hasty retreat, flight, defeat, rout, disaster…Sauve qui peut! Now and then a brave bugler tries to sound the rallying tune, Alons enfants, but the notes begin to waver, the bugle-hand is unsteady, the bugler’s heart unsure, the bugle’s sound uncertain. As the noise and confusion increase, the battle cry grows fainter and fainter. The spirit is beaten. Disaster is inevitable.
Isolation Is Our Strength!
Nowadays, when I hear somebody sound the once-famous battle cry of that all-but-forgotten general-without-an-army of a century ago, I cannot help but think of the dying notes of the “Marseillaise” in “Overture 1812” and the ignominious defeat of those once invincible French legions. And, thinking, I compare Alons enfants de La patrie with In ons isolernent ligt onze kracht and “Napoleon” with “Groen.”
“Isolation is our strength.” Clear and strong, that battle cry rallied the few faithful round the banner of Van Prinsterer. Against overwhelming odds that ridiculous general led his followers to victory after victory. Groen died and Kuyper took command. On to Moscow! In to Moscow! Victory! The city is ours! Victoriously we have entered the enemy’s stronghold. We have captured the capital of the world. And now to the spoils!
What was it? Gelijkstelling. Equal rights.
Oh, what a terrible thing! But what rejoicing I listen to the voice of the victors; “We have now won equal rights.”
Equal rights with what? With whom?
Equal rights with unbelievers!
What demons had beguiled those stout, loyal hearts into believing that “equal rights with unbelievers” was a great victory? Oh, what a fall there was!
A Principle That Moves to Action
Tn the flush of triumph, in the strength of equal rights, it was hard to maintain isolation. Soon it became impossible. And what became of the battle cry? It became a beautiful, pithy saying; one of many, something like Caesar’s Veni, Vidi, Vici.
To Groen, “Isolation is our strength” had not been a mere battle cry; it had been his leitmotif, his principle. That principle motivated his action. Motivated by that principle, action is synonymous with victory. Groen did not wear his armor only when he faced his enemies; he went to bed with it; he got up with it. He wore it from the time he put it on till he died. He was buried in it. The scriptural principle of “isolation” means ceaseless war against the world’s lusty legions of unbelievers. It cannot mean anything else. For those legions are never conquered, unless Jesus lied. Those legions are always our enemies, unless Jesus lied. Those legions must always be opposed, unless Jesus lied. Groen’s words stated a principle that is true as long as this world stands, unless God is not true.
Battle Cry Or Museum Piece?
But with us, “isolation” is no longer a battle cry; it is no longer accepted and treated as a principle. Rather, it is treated as a museum piece; as the good sword of some famous medieval knight. It is admired, but not used. It is only for show. Many of our people have never heard it. Some of our leaders hardly know who said it. Some, if they want to quote it, must look it up before they dare use it. Or they may blunder into ascribing it to “the great Dr. Kuyper,” or to “the mighty Bavinck.” And it is used as with tongue-in-cheek, as if to say, “Of course, we don’t use that obsolete idea now, but in its day it was a marvelous slogan; it did the trick.” What a fall !
Well, what is the matter with us? What demons have beguiled our thinking? Do we not need isolation? How does our position in the world differ from that of Groen and his followers? Is the world around us changed from hating to loving God and his Cause? Are the unbelievers now our friends instead of our foes? Did our Lord Jesus tell us that we should fight for equal-rights-with-unbelievers and that he would give us the victory? Did he tell us to defeat the world and that we should make peace with her?
Or arc we perhaps stronger, spiritually, than our forefathers? Are we better armed? Are we such a mighty. massive force that the foe trembles at the very thought of us? Can we now afford to mingle with them and chum with them? What peculiar charm protects us that Groen and his people did not possess?
It is not my intention, nor am I prepared to show instances where our church is denying or neglecting the divine command that we be “separate.” I am only pressing the button that rings the alarm. I do believe that there is very real danger, but it is up to our experts to assess the danger and to direct the attack.
Understanding Our Terms
It is time that we restudy the meaning of “isolation.” We must try to understand what Groen meant by it. Citing instances and pointing out cases will do no good unless we first understand and agree about a clear-cut definition of isolation. Then we must test that meaning by going to the Scriptures. In its light we shall see light and not walk in darkness. Only then shall we be able to see cases and evaluate them.
Essentially, the world of Groen was no different from ours. His world was dominated by liberals; so is ours. Christians were forced into a corner then; so are they now. Education then was to make good liberals of the youth; the same attempts arc being made today, though the agencies used may differ. The school is not the only instrument that molds characters! Groen saw this danger largely in the instrument of the State schools; we may see it in other agencies if we are not blind. The foe is not less active, nor less clever, nor yet less vicious than he was in Groen’s time. Groen’s famous call-to-arms was, “In our corner we are safe! In our corner we arc strong. In our corner we may be the kind of parents God wants us to be. In our corner we shall be able to do what God wants us to do. Nowhere but in our corner can we be God’s covenant people!”
Isolation, a Divine Appointment
Do we understand that it is not the liberals who have forced us into this corner, but that it is God himself who has provided this place of safety for us? In this place he will nourish us. In this place we may be sore pressed, but not overcome (read Rev. 12:14).
How then must we be isolated? As Church we must be content to be in our diVinely appointed corner. There our main business is to worship and to glorify our God. From this corner as base we have duties to perform towards the world outside: preach, teach. If we do not maintain our isolation while making these contacts with the world, our power is lost. As individuals we must be insulated. Only then can we venture forth into the world in safety. Only then can we be a power for good. When rats gnaw through the insulation of an electric wire, the bare copper may shine like gold for a little while. but a short circuit will soon stop the How of energy.
The picture is very clear, I believe. As Christians we are “in the world but not of the world.” This is as true today as it ever was and ever will be. As wind and weather soon tarnish the bright copper, so the bright spirit of an uninsulated Christian will soon be dulled by worldly contact and then be short-circuited.
But Church and individuals, properly isolated and insulated, can “turn the world upside down.”
“He that does righteousness is born of God” (I John 2:29). A Christian is in real measure a holy person. He seeks to live according to God’s Word and will to do what pleases God and to avoid the things God hates. He trusts Christ as his Savior, wishes to obey his commands to follow him. He is not perfect-none will tell you that sooner than himself. He finds sin within him constantly warring against grace and trying to draw him away from God. But in spite of all shortcomings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy in doings, tastes, habits. like a ship beating up against a contrary wind, the general course of his life is in one direction toward God and for God. Such are amongst the number of those of whom God’s Son spake when he said: “All the Father giveth me shall come to me.” Not for anything good in us but because God works in those sinners he has chosen to save “both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” to learn his gospel; to believe it; to repent of sin and to follow Christ (Adapted from Bishop Ryle as in “Knots Untied.”)
It is written: “Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” Now Christ hung upon the cross, therefore he fell under that curse. But it is certain that he did not suffer that punishment on his own account. It follows, therefore, either that he was crucified in vain, or that our curse (the penalty due us for our sins from God) was laid upon him, in order that we “who believe on him might be delivered from it.”