Lord's Day 38 (1944) - Prof. Benne Holwerda
Note about the translator: Mr. Gilbert Zekveld was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He farmed for many years in the Bowmanville area of Ontario where he was actively involved with Christian Reformed and later Orthodox Christian Reformed church life.
This sermon was delivered Sunday, April 2, 1944
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
What does God's law teach in the fourth commandment? That is the question that commands our attention tonight. But we can and will not dissociate this question from the other question wherewith Lord's Day 32 began the whole life of gratitude and also opened this segment of gratitude, i.e., Why must we do good works? And that beautiful answer of the Catechism, "Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His image. Christ writes the fourth commandment in our hearts. He does that out of love for God, ourselves and the neighbour. Now you understand where the consideration of this commandment must lead us. I bring you now the Word of Christ Jesus who writes the fourth commandment in the heart. While considering the gospel of the law of the Sabbath I ask your attention for three things:
1. the Sabbath sacrifice, by which we show our gratitude to God.
2. the Sabbath peace, by which we are assured of our faith.
3. the Sabbath light, wherewith we win our fellowman to Christ.
Beloved, Christ Jesus bought and made us free with His blood; that also means: He redeemed us to celebrate the sabbath. Because of our sin we don't know that anymore; we lost the Sabbath. The sabbath was known in paradise: the Lord rejoiced in all His works, for He saw it was very good. He took us to Himself that we with Him would celebrate and share in His joy. That is how it was at the beginning: man entered into the rest of God's sabbath, sharing in the Father's joy of creation. That time is gone: the world over which God could at one time rejoice He cursed for the sake of our sin; man who at one time shared in God's rest and was partaker of all His joys, He cursed, kept the sabbath from him. But God so loved the world: He holds on to that world and He returns to His sabbath rest. Jesus Christ came into the world that the Father would again deliver all of creation, that God would again rejoice in all His works. And He came into the world, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life; He came that again we could celebrate the sabbath.
But now He does not just redeem us to sabbath rest, He also writes the law of sabbath in our hearts; He renews us through His Spirit so that we again love the sabbath. I have already used the word "sabbath" several times and did not tell you what it means. You must understand that it is about celebrating God's feasts, about entering into God's rest. But the question remains: what does that restand that joy of God consist of?
We don't know that anymore, even though we read that Lord's Day a hundred times. The sabbath: it is for us a question of the Sunday and of what we may and may not do. But the catechism sees it different: on the day of rest, Sunday, we must come to God's house and diligently attend the assembly of the saints, but we must also all the days of our life rest from our evil works. It is not just only on Sunday, but our life from Monday morning to Saturday afternoon just as well. All our days we must celebrate God's feasts. Sunday, but also Monday, and Saturday, all our days.
Of course, Sunday still has its own place. God's feasts are not dull, for He is the God of manifold deliverances, and the God of manifold grace; that is why on Sunday He comes with a special feast program. But that program does not always announce what we read on it, what we at all times see on it. About what we can do or not do on Sunday. What does the Lord demand of us in the fourth commandment? What did He place on His feast program? First, that the minstry of the Gospel and the schools be maintained. The Lord wants to see the Church doors open and ministers in the pulpit. For in preaching He comes to us - not in mysticism, not in ecstasies - but in preaching, that is where we meet Him and there we enter into His joy. That is the feast of God on Sunday, that he comes again to us in the preaching and He rejoices with a sevenfold rejoicing when Sunday approaches and the Church doors are opened. When Christ renews us by His Spirit, we demonstrate our gratitude for the deliverance that He will speak to us. That is why the Sunday is not just a free day when we can sit and rest, but it is a joy about the Church service and office of preaching. So, this is written in our hearts: that we may go there, that we may help pay for it, and that in that Word we have access with confidence. When we experience it as a feast when the Word is preached, our place in Church will not be empty, for it is good to be near to God. And with joy we sacrifce part of our free day and the pleasures of the world and the lazy-boy chair, for we know what it is to go to the God of our rejoicing.
It means at the same time that the schools be maintained; theschools for our children are not meant here, but the schools where theministers of the Word are formed. The Lord wants ministers in the pulpit. Because I may celebrate with Him that feast of a full church building, Imust help to make the preaching of the Word possible; Christ renews me byHis Spirit so that I love our schools and seminaries. When in His grace He grants us two schools (Kampen and the Free Universtiy), He teaches us to love both and we are ready and willing to pay for both, and our prayer rises to the throne grace for both our schools. And when we open our heart for only one of the schools then we resist the liberating power of Christ.
That is the the wonder of Christ's liberating power, that two groups of Christians, both with their own history and with their own stamp, their own seminary, are brought together in one Church; He teaches them to set historic alliances and preferences under the discipline of His Spirit. The wonder in our Churches is 1892, when A and B came together. This is fifty years later, and we are further removed from unity than ever. In 1892 we saw the wonder: people of different backgrounds, of a different theological type, the one with historical bonds on Kampen, and the other with such bonds to the Free University, joined hands, and they sat beside each other in Church; not because they were such pious people, or they agreed with each other, they still quarreled before and after 1892; but they sat together in Church and they prayed together because the liberating power of Christ Jesus conquered, and all their traditions and historic attachments they placed under the discipline of His uniting Spirit. A good date 1892. Then there came another good year in the history of our Churches: 1905. I will not mention the formula about which they quarrel today; the misconception is very great on both sides. But I mean the spirit of 1905. The A brothers had their understanding about the covenant, and the B people had one totally different. They debated, at times sinfully contested, for in them too was the old man, on both sides. But finally the Spirit conquered: they found each other by the Word of God, and bound each other to the confession, but left room for each other's meaning. Before God and each other they promised to leave room within the one Church for the theology of Kampen and for the constructions of Kuyper. The same rights and the same possibilities for both.
But this is 1944 and Professor Schilder is removed from office. From this place and this stage I do not speak about that decision. But I will speak about the terrible threat that faces our Churches; about the misery since 1936 which now gradually finds its tragic solution. In 1936 it happened that the one group collectively denounced the other; without bringing an accusation against someone personal. It happened in 1936 that Synod publicly revealed these questions, but they did not come from the Churches. That is when it started. Our people knew nothing of what went on but the fierce polemics, which beclouded the matter from both sides, alas, but behind the polemics was what was for for the Churches a fatal fact, that the case against the adherents of the old A-theolgy was publicly placed on the order papers; they did not have the same rights like it was in 1905. And when in 1942 the decisions were made, they did not even think it necessary to rehabilitate the group that was publicly accused; the tension remained; and they still refused to grant the group the same possibilities of development in order to acknowledge the right of promotion.
That is the great problem, the question for both ideas to rank equally, that is not solved, and that will break our Churches, if the Lord does not in grace prevent this. It could have been so different; they really worked hard, but a chaos cannot be prevented anymore. It is too bad this could not be avoided; and that we did not have the courage to turn around. Even today. O yes, we can dismiss the subject and say: that professor wanted to know it better all the time, he knew better than Synod. But that was not the problem. The problem is that the line from 1892 and 1905, the line of the same rights, room and possibility for development for both, is left. The Synod has authority, they say, and must we not trust these people? I will not deny it. But what really is the difference, that whole question of power, when brotherly love is quenched and the Churches are falling apart? We must again learn to bow before authority, not of a professor, and not of a Synod, but for the authority of the Word of the Lord; there is no other authority in the Churches, all other authority is derived from the latter and subject to it. Our Churches appear to be completely powerless in relation to the great problems of the times, the problems of these war years; and when the war is over, and we live in a totally confused world, when the prince of darkness will show himself in all his power, the Reformed Churches shall stand there with empty hands; they consumed themselves. I can only pray that the Lord will work a miracle, and that the Spirit of Christ may convert us to the fourth commandment: that the schools, plural, may be maintained; that there shall be room within the frame of the confession for different views, that not anymore the one construction looks for the overthrow of the other. I ask you to multiply your prayers for our Churches, the Synod and Prof. Schilder.
2. Then is there also Sabbath peace by which we are assured of our faith. For I said a while ago: Christ knows that we have difficulties in believing, and therefore He renews us by His Spirit, also to obey the fourth commandment, that we by the fruits may be assured of our faith. For why does He bring us into His Church? To hear the Word and make use of the Sacraments. With His Spirit He drives us to hear the sermon, and takes us to the baptismal font with our children and to the Lord's Supper. He teaches me to long for the Sunday, the sermon; He makes me come to the morning service and to the evening service; and being obedient, doing the good works of the Sabbath, I am being assured.
That certainty grows in me from Sunday to Sunday, even though I myself don't know how. For doing good works, the certainty comes by itself. For therein I do discover the strength of the Word, it seizes me, it makes me captive so that I cannot get away from it; I discover the power of the Word in my own life and so experiencing the dominion of the Word in my own life, I continue to go from strength to strength. The Word dominates me, preaching steers and drives my life more and more, and then the peace of the sabbath is born. Doubt dies, for I know that the Lord seeks me; I also know that I found Him; for I heard His voice in the Word; I forget the minister and his peculiarities, for the Word took me captive. It is God's joy to speak to me and it is my joy to listen to Him; what else is the meaning of the certainty of faith?
I see the Lord come to my children, one by one; I hear His spoken promise, very simple and yet with the strength of an oath; I see Him seal and sign His Word, and I know my children hid in God. When during the week my joy loses its shine, when I cannot hold on to the joy by seeing so much misery around me, then there is that Sunday the Table of the Lord and I may dine on Jesus' Table; He is near me, very initimate, and He tells me: verily, verily I say to you, you belong to the covenant of grace; you have eternal life. And in the misery of my life, I see the coming light and peace of an eternal Sabbath. Christ brings me also in Church to pray. He also teaches me to love that work of the Sabbath. And while I pray, the Spirit prays in me with groanings that cannot be uttered, and so He carries me, praying, to the glory of the eternal sabbath. Praying, I am near to God, for with confidence I have access to the throne. In prayer I see fellowship with God becoming a reality. Now I know it is no illusion over which I rejoice; eternal joy comes near, I know it for sure, for the eternal sabbath already begins when I pray.
Those are the great riches of the worship service: of preaching, the Sacraments and prayer; with that I begin the eternal Sabbath in this life. Not to come to Church is not to begin the eternal Sabbath. If we make a wrong use of the Sacraments or do not take them, we will not enjoy the eternal Sabbath, for we refuse to make a beginning, where the Lord says we must begin: when we do not pray, we will not get there.
It is a great thing to hope for eternal rest. But the road to that rest begins in the Church. People always act as if it is a question how one must be saved. But Christ says that it begins in the Church, by the pulpit, by the baptismal font. From there I take you to the eternal Sabbath. Life is evil and it makes us afraid. Paradise is gone, the world over which God smiled and where man at all times played before His face is no more. Paradise is gone, today I cannot find God's good pleasure over this world, I see a mountain of wrath. As far as I myself am concerned, I laugh less and less. But celebrating Sabbath means to laugh, the great laugh of God and man rejoicing together because everything is again as it was, very good. How shall we learn to laugh again, the laugh that shall no more die? We won't make it. But Christ says: Sunday there is a service at 10 and 5 o 'clock. And again I learn to rejoice, for in the preaching I see rays of God's good pleasure over my tainted life, there again is the smile, here at the baptismal font disappears the fear about my children, for the certainty of God's good pleasure is as a dome above these little ones; here I sit at the Lord's Table and lift my heart to God in heaven, and with bread and wine comes the eternal Sabbath, and I have peace with God.
3. And Christ Who makes me delight in the sun of paradise, delights through me, my neighbour, and that light of the sun plays over his life also. There are the poor in the Church, and He teaches me to do Christian almsgiving; the only help that does not offend and does not hurt. Christian giving of alms which is not condescendingly friendly, which hurts no one's honor; for we stand beside each other, and we say: brother, Christ redeemed us both, we are on our way to the eternal Sabbath, and we go together. When I would stand above him to help like an official, yes, he would open his mouth and eat, but spiritually he would die.
But the Lord placed us beside each other, binds us together, and in my being moved with his situation, he discovers the redeeming power of Christ. Life is not lonely anymore, I am not alone in my need; and in his need too, he sees the coming of the eternal Sabbath, he knows that tomorrow he can continue, he is not alone. That is how it begins on Sunday, but it continues the rest of the week, even all our days. Christ teaches me to rest from my evil works, all my days; in all my life the light of the sabbath of paradise is revealed. The man who is outside of Christ, who does not believe in a sabbath, sees something wonderful; he sees another power, a power from paradise; they are still weak rays, but the warmth of them is felt. And then, the day breaks, and the morningstar rises in our hearts. Life is not so difficult anymore: Sabbath today, and tomorrow, yes, even tomorrow; and daily, more and more, we desire the rest which remains for God's people. For, there remains a rest for the people of God. Brethren, let us enter into that rest, for today is Sunday. Tomorrow let us enter into that rest, for I may rest all of my days from my evil works. I know that God's smile is on my life, and I can smile myself, and I teach my fellowman to smile; for the Lord and us, we see all things of this world, and we know it for certain: once again everything will be good; yes, very good.
Sunday, April 2, 1944.