A Summary of the Lecture Given by Dr. W. Hendriksen in the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, Thursday evening, December 9, 1954. Please note that this is not the lecture but a Summary.
Mr. President, Friends!
The material of my lecture is distributed under five headings, as follows:
l. ITS SKIRMISHES
Every age has its doctrinal controversies. The early church had its theological and Christological battles. People quarreled about the trinity and about the natures of Christ. In the market-place one person would shout, “There was a time when he (Christ) was not (did not exist).” And another would shout back, “There was never a time when he was not.” There was also the controversy with reference to man’s freedom and his ability or inability to contribute to,ward his own salvation. How is a man born, free or bound? Subsequently—think especially of the lime of the Reformation questions were asked with reference to the final “say-so” in religious matters, with reference to the relative importance of “faith” and “works” in attaining salvation, and with reference to the nature of the Church and the sacraments. Moreover, there has always been a dispute about “the end of the world.” In recent years this phase of the conflict has come somewhat into the foreground.
Now in view of all this it certainly need cause no surprise that today, too, we notice opposing trends of thought within the bosom of the Church, also within the bosom of denominations which at one time or another in the past officially accepted Reformed Confessions. Throughout this lecture I am referring to them a a group and not to any one particular denomination. Surely if formerly there were controversies which at times might even be termed battles, we can expect skirmishes today.
We should distinguish, I believe, between a battle and a skirmish. Not every dispute is equally serious or equally basic. Though in unity there is strength, uniformity is the death of any church. It has been well said that in essentials there should be unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity. Surely, when both sides are careful to define their terms and to prove in all their argumentations that they are really trying to base their conclusions upon the infallible Word of God, controversy may not be too deplorable.
Thus skirmishes are in evidence today—and have been for a long time—with respect to such questions as:
“Is God kind to all or is he kind to his people only?”
“Does the unbeliever know anything concerning God and/or the universe?”
“Is cooperation of any kind permissible between believers and unbelievers?” To a certain extent such disagreements may be called skirmishes.
However, there is real danger that at times the “skirmish” may begin to assume the proportions of a “battle.” Something that should cause concern may be injected into the controversy. Yes, “the skirmish” may lead to “the main engagement,” like the distant rumbling precedes the storm.
Let us then study:
II. ITS MAIN ENGAGEMENT
Now, on this point clarity is needed. Although it is certainly true that the denial (by the school of Karl Barth) of tenets of faith, more or less basic, has exerted its sinister influence upon circles which may be characterized as “traditionally or confessionally Calvinistic,” yet the basic point at issue is not what some people surmise it to be. If the question be asked, “Do you subscribe to the proposition that the Bible is the infallible Word of God?” many would answer immediately, “Yes, indeed!”
But this does not necessarily mean that fill of these individuals can be trusted. The real issue is something else. The main engagement is fought over this closely related question, “Granted that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, are we willing, in actual practice—for example in settling controversies or in every-day actions and attitudes—to permit that Word to exercise full dominion over us?” The question is not, “Do you say that the Bible is God’s infallible Word,” but, “Do you really mean it?”
Let me illustrate. Here, for example, is a man who, when confronted with the question with reference to Scripture’s infallibility, gives an answer that is thoroughly satisfactory. But the next day, meeting with a group of individuals of impressionable age, he tells an off-color story which causes the checks of Christian young men to glow with righteous indignation and which brings a blush to the countenance of chaste maidens. Surely, though the mall who told that joke may be ever so ready to subscribe to a doctrinally sound proposition about the Bible. he is a dangerous individual, not a safe guide for young people.
Here, again, is a church-organization which has been established for the purpose of studying the Word of God. But in discussing various questions hardly anyone ever refers to the Bible. So, one day a member tells you, “I do not care to remain with that society, for it never gets down to rock-bottom. The men (or women) argue and argue, but no one bases his conclusions upon the Word.” Yet, when asked the question, “Do you accept the Bible as God’s infallible Word?” every member would immediately answer, “Certainly.”
Or, let us say, here is a man who writes a book or gives a lecture. In that book or in that lecture he discusses fundamental issues. Perhaps he even attacks the position of another author or speaker. But not only is his language so abstruse that not even a man with a high degree of intelligence (who happens not to have specialized in the author’s or speaker’s hobby) understands him, but in addition the line of argumentation—so much at least is clear!—fails to give evidence of the fact that the writer or speaker has made a careful study of Holy Writ. Is he unaware, perhaps, that Scripture might have something to say anent these matters? He surely is not ashamed of the Bible, is he? This man, too, in answer to a pointed question, would affirm his belief in Scripture’s infallibility, but he seems to make very little use of this important book.
What are we afraid of? Is it the scholarship of the liberals? But is scholarship a commodity on which they have a monopoly? Hardly! Here, for example, I have an article which was published in an exegetical journal of note. Its author states that he does not believe that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. He gives as the reason for his disbelief the “fact” (?) that the early church-historian Eusebius taught that “another John” (not the apostle) wrote that Gospel.—But the critic is definitely wrong, for Eusebius never said that!—Here, again, is a book which deals with the subject of New Testament Introduction. It boldly states that the apostle Paul could not have written the Pastorals (I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus), for the simple reason that “as a matter of fact Paul was never released from his Roman imprisonment,” hence he never had time to write the Pastorals.—Many years pass by, and during all this time authors by the score simply copy the word of “the great majority.” Then one day (rather recently) I pick up an issue of an exegetical journal illid notice that it contains an article which bears the title “Paul’s Life After Acts.” The author shows that the position which you and I have always accepted—namely, that Paul was really released from his Roman imprisonment (hence, could have written the Pastorals)—is by far the most probable, and that all the historical evidence points in that direction!—It would be easy to multiply examples. Why not permit the Bible to speak for itself? That, I take it, is real scholarship.
Let us then do this in connection with a few of the questions that have been bothering some of us.
(1) “Is God kind to all or only to his people?”
Holy Writ answers as follows:
a. God blesses all his creatures. Read the following passage in your Bible: Genesis 39:5. Note that Jehovah actually blessed the house of that worldly man, Potiphar. Now, don’t try to evade the issue by saying, “But. . .it says, for Joseph’s sake.” Of course, it says, “For Joseph’s sake.” Stress that fact as much as you wish, but please be fair enough to admit that in this passage it is stated in so many words that Jehovah blessed Potiphar’s house! And do not begin to use arguments like this: “But that cannot be true because God had reprobated Potiphar from all eternity,” etc. When the Word of God plainly states a fact, you have no business to say, “It cannot be true.”
Read also Psalm 33:5; 145:16, 17 Jonah 4:10, 11 (look that up in your Bibles). Then note that according to Paul, Romans 1:21, God’s wrath is upon the wicked because “they did not give thanks.” Certainly if they did not receive any blessings, there would have been no reason to chide them for not having given thanks!
b. When God blesses his creatures, he does this because he is kind and merciful, just as he also wants us to be kind and merciful. Read it for yourself in Luke 6:35, 36 and in Matthew 5:43–48.
So the question is “Is God kind to all his creatures?” must be answered in the affirmative.
Nevertheless, we hasten to add, “The believer is more than just God’s creature. He is also God’s child. God is his Father in Christ, and that means, of course, that when the believer receives anything—rain, sunshine. anything else—then in his case the kindness of God toward all his creatures and the love of God for his elect “kiss each other.” Read Rom. 8:32. It is this aspect of the truth which is often neglected. Yet Scripture speaks very dearly.
(2) “Does the unbeliever know anything concerning God and/or the universe?”
Also with respect to this question the Bible gives a definite answer. As far as surface-knowledge is concerned, the unbeliever knows many things:
a. He knows something about matters pertaining to this world. Jabal knew something about tents (Gen. 4:20), and Jubal knew something about music (Gen. 4:21).
b. He also knows something about God, enough to deprive him of any excuse (Rom. 1:20, 21). He is constantly confronted with God’s revelation in nature, whose voices reach him from every side.
c. He may even know something about matters pertaining to God’s special revelation and/or to matters touching the way of salvation. Think of Baalam, Judas Iscariot, Demas. Read also Matthew 7:21–23; Luke 12:47; John 1:11 ; Hebrews 6:4–6.
But, as far as these worldly individuals are concerned, to them, all such knowledge is surface-knowledge. In their lives it neither proceeds from the heart nor ever reaches to the root of any matter. Scripture is very dear also on this point. It states that the unbeliever “hinders the truth in unrighteousness.” He suppresses the truth of God’s general revelation (Rom. 1:18). Since this is so clearly stated, why is it that certain individuals are always quoting from the works of those men who, at least to some extent, were suppressing (holding down, curtailing) the truth? Why is it that some almost leave the impression that they think more of Plato than of Paul, or Socrates than of Christ? How can it be justified that by them “the glimmerings of natural light” of which our Confession speaks (Canons of Dort III and IV.4) are apparently transformed into “the blazing brilliance of the noonday sun?” I call this policy ridiculous and…dangerous!
And as to the knowledge of spiritual matters, is not I Corinthians 2:14 clear enough?
(3) “Should the believer cooperate with the unbeliever?”
Scripture clearly shows that to a certain extent there should be contact. “Else must one needs go out of the world” (I Cor. 5:10). Jesus did not pray that the Father would take the disciples out of the world. These disciples, moreover, are a light shining in the darkness; they are the salt of the earth.
But does that mean now that the very essence of Calvinism is hearty cooperation with the world in all social endeavors, without a distinct program (based upon Scripture) and without distinct organization? Moreover, must we begin to stare ourselves blind upon the rim of the wheel of society? In establishing his kingdom on earth, does God operate “from without inwardly” or “from within outwardly?” Has it ceased to be true that “out of the heart” are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23)? The emphasis surely should not he placed on a program for social betterment (though there should be such a program!) but on the spreading of the Gospel of salvation in Christ. With Paul we should strive to become “all things to all men in order that we may at least save some.” Our supreme task and challenge is to “bear witness” to the world.
Let us never forget that no better solution of man· kind’s problems—including the social problems, which certainly should not be ignored!—has ever been found than the eager acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ready response to his redeeming love. The truly converted individual will also wish to treat his neighbor fairly! It is he who is now ready to study scriptural principles touching such matters as peace, warfare, education, business, industry, labor, etc. The only true approach to any problem—also to the problems that have been bothering people who belong to traditionally or confessionally Reformed denominations—is the biblical approach.
Today’s battle is the battle against the unbiblical approach.
III. ITS OPPOSING FORCES
This is not a simple matter. The line of cleavage does not run between your denomination (whatever denomination that may be) and all other denominations. Rather, it criss-crosses. On the one side are all those people who not only say that they accept Scripture as the infallible guide, but who also strive to show in their reasoning and in their actions and attitudes that they mean it.
On the other side are those who merely pay lip-service to the slogan of the Bible’s infallibility. Remember, these are the very people who are ever ready to brand you as “a Biblicist,” “a pietist,” “a man who worships a book,” etc. Did you ever notice that on virtually all matters these people take the more “liberal” view?
IV. ITS DECISIVE CHARACTER
We have called this “To-day’s Battle.” We call it this because today it is being waged more treacherously than ever before. Today the devil uses the method of “cryptic infiltration” (to borrow a term from a friend). See what the Rev. Kenneth MacRae says about this in his excellent article “The Strategy of Modernism” (Reformed Review, January, 1954). That author shows how today Satan expels conservative leaders from their positions of influence in the Church of Jesus Christ, and how he uses all the old terms which have endeared themselves to the hearts of God’s people, and invests them with a new meaning.
Yes, this is today’s battle. Tomorrow may be too late. Our Lord has predicted the Great Apostasy. In its most sinister form it will occur just prior to his own glorious Return. Hence, we should be militant. (There certainly should be no objection to this term!) One course of action is entirely wrong. Let us not establish another Maginot Line. Let us not aim our guns in the wrong direction! Let us not aim them in the direction of those who are waging a heroic battle against Barthianism! Let us see clearly who is our real enemy. Remember, today’s battle is the battle against the unbiblical approach. In this battle let us be sure that we are stand ing on the right side, on the side of those who really love the Word.
V. ITS FINAL OUTCOME
Now there are many people who do not seem to worry very much about the final outcome of this battle. They reason this way, ‘Has not the Lord promised that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the Church?” As they see it, this means, “The forces of hell will never prevail against my denomination. God will certainly take care that my denomination remains sound in doctrine and God-fearing in life. I will safely leave this to God, and I myself need do nothing whatever about it.”
I call that interpretation a wicked interpretation. If it were true, then all those denominations which were at one time sound and pure would still be sound and pure. But we know that this is definitely not the case. Surely the worst enemy of any denomination is the man who is constantly saying, “What happened elsewhere cannot happen in my church.”
It is true, of course, that the forces storming out o( hell’s gates will never prevail against the real Church, that is, against those who belong to the company of God’s elect. But those are also the very people who build on the true foundation. Let us never forget that this true foundation has a seal which most beautifully expresses, on the one hand, God’s protecting care with respect to his own, and on the other hand, the believers’ responsibility to live a life of spiritual separation from the world.
“Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal,
The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness” (I Tim. 2:19).
To those who are thus minded the victory is assured.