Lord's Day 39 (1937) - 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, February 7, 1937
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
When we considered the holy law of our God, we became aware of its exalted style and majestic structure. For the first commandment requires of us not to place our confidence in any creature, but in God alone. God as the only One God will be acknowledged as such. And those who do not acknowledge Him as the only God, they have themselves cut off in advance from fulfilling the other commandments. When we do not acknowledge Him as the only God, we will not serve and honour Him as God. That is the first and basic commandment.
But then the second follows right away: when God is the only God, He wants to be served as the only God. Then, our service of Him, and our fellowship with Him, may not diminish His honour and majesty. That is why He forbids - negatively - to make a visible image of the Invisible, and via that image have communion with Him; but He demands - and that is positive, that we shall listen to the Word of God. God cannot be seen but He makes His Name to be known. That is why we serve Him only when we exercise fellowship in His Word, His Name. And then we made the change to the third commandment: God gives His Name, His Word, His truth not only to know, but He wants us to use it to build and found our lives upon it. That is why God is highly indignant when we take that Name in vain; when we use the truth to serve the lie, when we use the cement of life to put dynamite under that life. That is how the third commandment speaks of the use of God's Name.
The fourth commandment continues in that line. For here we receive rules for the use of God's Name on the Sabbath day: there is a special day instituted by te Lord, a certain place chosen by Him for His Name to dwell in. He requires from us, that as His people we shall call upon His Name and serve Him.
On a previous occasion I pointed out to you that with the sabbath obedience must begin for all of life. The day of rest must dominate all our working days. That day of fellowship with God must give direction to our fellowship with people. Obedience to this commandment must reveal itself in obedience to all relationships of life: marriage and family, our association with the fellowman, in commerce and business, in our conversations etc. It is a foregone conclusion that the family comes first: that is the first relationship in which the Lord placed us. Via the family we come to all the other relationships and associations, as the well-known three: Church, State and Society. As members of the family we enter the other spheres and take our place there. So I will speak about the fifth commandment as the commandment that regulates authority in all of life's connections.
1. the basis of authority.
2. the origin of authority.
3. the character of authority.
1. At the present time we hear many complaints about the disintegration of life as it is lived today. On the one hand we see authority that turned into terrible tyranny, which chokes all freedom and natural development. On the other hand there is a freedom that rejects all authority and devours itself in licentiousness.
The disintegration of life is revealed in both. For what is beautiful in human life is lost: the pure, natural development of life dies in the straight jacket of tyranny. But it also dies when all restraints are removed, when there is no more pruning and there is a growth of wild shoots; in the long run these wild shoots are in the way: and healthy, normal growth is restricted. After that, dead branches appear.
However, these last years there is a change to be seen in all countries which is becoming visible in many circles.
For, in the years after the First World War that spirit of revolution was quite general. Authority was no longer acknowledged and the authorities were negated or scoffed at. It was a period of rebellious children in the family. A period of spiritual privatering and the fluttering about of a butterfly in the ecclesiastical area. The period of labour-unions who simply made their demands and were very able in sending an ultimatum to their employer; the period of anarchistic agitation.
Seldom were so many complaints heard about children, especially the older youth, but also about schoolchildren, who tyrannized the family. Seldom were the offices in the Church and their authority negated as in the last period: and one para-church movement came up after another.
Seldom had red (socialist) organizations so much influence, talked menacingly, and did we hear of so many strikes, in many countries, since the war until now. The communist agitation was very serious. But now it appears that things are changing. They are coming back from revolutionary paths in every area. Good things are being said of family life and a lack of discipline is resisted. Church is again written with a capital letter and so is Office. And they warn against the forming of sects. Young people look for leadership; semi-military organizations are formed that require strong discipline.
Concerning social life, we still hear of strikes, but the number of riots is decreasing, even in France. The red of some parties is bleaching from red to pink. Concerning politics: Italy and Germany have ruled out communism. Spain wrestles to achieve the same: over against revolutionary dissolution, they ask again for the strong hand of authority.
Presently they are again looking for authority, and also the office. There is something wholesome in returning to the paths of obedience, of the powers that be: they returned from their ways because life was coming apart at the seams. Children are looking for authority because they see that they are ruining their lives. The Church is honoured above the sects because the souls suffered leanness in the para-church movements. In social life the change is somewhat slower, especially in the North - I believe that nowhere change is so slow and repentance comes with so great difficulty as precisely in society - but it can be seen. They now understand in labour circles, it is not difficult to make greater demands, but by so doing the economy is not built, but broken down. And with many labourers the "red" term "community" is already being changed for another term: order. This word may remain fashionable for a while.
There is something charming in the struggle against communism. We won't glorify Germany and Italy, but Russia is not everything either. Those who saw the situation in that country, return disillusioned. Just read the papers, the revolution devours its own children. But today when we come face to face with the fifth commandment, we must see this commandment in the centre of our life, in these days of reorganization and change. Now we see the change taking place from anarchy to tyranny, of rejection of authority, to overstepping its bounds; as Church of Christ we must have an open eye for these events and determine our attitude toward it.
O, concerning these words of the fifth commandment as we see them here, we cannot say much about them. Honour thy father and thy mother. All children know what that means and how in everyday life they have to live accordingly. But we must see the depth of the commandment, the core of it.
What takes place today is that which was spoken by the Preacher, "I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servant upon the earth" (Eccl. 10: 7). You know how the preacher was deeply touched by the monotonous cycle of life: the sun rises and the sun goes down. Every day the same. What has been, it shall be. Today it may be gone, but tomorrow the people want it back. All of life is a process of coming and going. From the one extreme to the other extreme. But at no place do we find the much sought after rest and deliverance. That is what the preacher saw happening in the area of the fifth commandment. Today the Prince is on the throne and his servant is cringing and submissive. But tomorrow the slave rides on the horse and the master walks beside it.
Those in authority today do not make a right use of it, they abuse their power and oppress their subjects. Until they are sick of the tyrant and cast off his yoke: then crowns will roll. But life is not yet what it should be. What the Preacher emphatically wants to show us is that the redemption of life never comes to pass by changing over to the other side. By experiencing the misery of the far left, the people call for the far right, thinking that is where they will find happiness. But after a while that is unbearable, and they change to the far left once more. Deliverance is not in change. Redemption is not in moderation, the golden road in between. Many think it to be so: not too red, not too black. Not too harsh, but not too soft either.
However, these moderate people are always trampled under foot. Ultimately, the radicals always win. It is not the golden road in between. Deliverance is not caused by shifting from one side to the other. Not with the degree of the shift either. Only by radical repentance. For what is wrong with people that reject authority in all areas of life? That they see humanity as a loose group of souls, who live together but have nothing to do with each other. Liberty, equality, fraternity; we are all free, have the same rights, that is the constitution of the revolution. Therein it is so sharply defined: humanity is not an organic whole but a pile of loose sand. Everyone the same, where nothing binds the one to the other.
The value and significance of each person is what is preached: everyone is king and therefore does not need to tolerate any one above him. Everyone really lives for himself alone.
This egoism and individualism is the root-sin of the revolution: they don't know the community; only the communion of companions in distress who profit from each other, but not the communion of love, where we live for each other. Each looks out for himself. The individual is important. But when this does not work, they call for the strong man. Then they don't talk about individuals, then they really live for the community. Then the masses, the totality has become important, represented in a leader. But that is not the community of love, where each personally develops, but the community of power to which all become subject. The red revolution will at all times exploit the community on behalf of the individual and rejects authority. The black revolution sacrifices the individual to the whole and rejects freedom.
At the present time, especially in politics, the contradiction is very marked: N.S.B (Dutch Nazi Party) and Communism.
But the same thing can be seen in the family; families where the children rule and those families where the parents maintain order by strong discipline. Families where the children demand and families where children are in bonds. We find it in the Church, in all kinds of para-church movements, there is a lack of appreciation for the offices. There is also an overestimation of the offices like it is in the Roman Catholic Church.
It is so in society. On the one hand are the socialists, beside them the liberals. Both miss communion. It is simply not known.
One says that the one is of as much value as the other. The other side says that the community is more than all. But over against both we confess that God created man from one blood. Not just souls seperate from each other; not the masses, enclosed by an oppressive band. But humanity from one blood. Branching out from big branches into smaller branches.
That is how these things relate to authority. The parents above the children. But communion is also instituted here; there is the band of blood, and so of love to each other which is anchored in love to God. In other words, God created these relationships on the basis of communion, in the bond of love.
But through sin the last is made impossible, and then the basis of communion is undermined. Then there is no more a bond and no more cohesion between authorities and subjects. At least no bond of love. At best the result will be a communion of interests, one is in need of the other; or a community of blood: race, blood and soil. But no bands of love. Therefore no inner cohesion but only decay.
Then the family becomes a group of people which by accident live in the same house, but live only unto themselves. Or it becomes a mass establishment where one rules and the rest pine away.
Then the Church is a gathering of religious people who listen to a speaker and have a committee for church-business and a couple of people to look after the poor. The office is not seen; nothing else is seen, and believers are bereft of their freedom and their whole spiritual life is laid in bands, as it is with Rome.
Business around us is turned into a number of individuals where everyone serves his own interests, where the employer is an exploiter and the employee an idler. Or it will serve the liberal spirit, where the labourer is used like a piece of machinery.
And so I come to speak of Jesus Christ and the redemption of life through Him. We humans, we ruined fellowship with each other, but we cannot build it up again. Man can destroy the organism but cannot restore it. But now the grace of Jesus Christ.
We heard it this morning, He died so He could gather the scattered children of God into one body. He would bind scattered humanity into one body through the Holy Spirit. This is what we now have, the communion of the Spirit, i.e., the communion of love. Where the one stands, not beside the other, but is turned toward the other, lives for the other. Now not everybody loves just himself. No one is sacrificed for the other. But all love God, and therefore the neighbour as oneself. So is life restored to true fellowship with Jesus Christ. And so the relationships of authority can flourish again; no liberty without authority; no authority without freedom; but governmnent and the subject joined by love.
2. For you must understand that authority endures, it remains. The Lord does not make all people alike. They are indeed members of one body. But not all members have the same place and the same function. It has pleased the Lord to order life and society and to give one authority over the other; the man over his wife and they together over the children. The officebearers have authority over the congregation, the government over its subjects and the employer over the employee. The Lord employs authority to keep and strengthen that fellowship. Society cannot get along without authority, for then it becomes anarchy. And authority cannot get along without the community, for then it becomes tyranny. That is why authority is necessary.
It is important that in restored society authority functions again correctly and is again rightly confessed. That is why we say: authority is from God. That is to say, authority originated with the Lord. And we back this up with the Bible, from chapters like Romans 13. But too often it escapes us how serious and forceful this really is. Rulers are God's ministers, says Paul, as are all others who bear authority. But that is not just because they say so that they are ordained from above. But this is so, because they represent the Lord. People do not understand the concept "office" anymore.
When I say that the mayor holds a weighty office, you will agree with me: he is appointed by the Queen. No: he represents her here, he performs in her name. So, we must obey him as if he were the Queen herself. That is how it is with the office: the officebearer is not just one sent by the Lord, but a deputy representing the Lord. Someone who performs not with human authority, not with moral authority, not with spiritual superiority, but with the authority of the Lord Himself. That is why children must obey their parents: not because they are older, or know more, or have more experience; but because they are bearers of divine authority. Before their children they represent the Lord. When they command, the Lord commands, Who as His deputies He placed over the lives of their children.
That is how it is in Church. The minister has authority, not because he is learned, and knows much about the Bible, but he has authority, for he represents the Lord Jesus. And that is why the congregation must hear, not because the sermon is interesting, or a good piece of work, but there stands the representative of Christ. And sleepiness in Church is not just being impolite toward man, but toward the officebearers and their Sender. That is also true of elders and deacons. They come to you as representatives of Christ, with His authority. We don't say, "What does he think?" I will not be silent for his sake. But you must obey Christ. "That is some consistory", people will say at times. Then they take things in their own hands. That is revolution against Christ.
We must not be subject only to those people in consistory we get along with. Even when there are people in consistory whom I personally do not like, I must submit to them when they speak in the the name of Christ. When they make mistakes, I will still honour them as ambassadors of Christ. I do not say that we may not see these mistakes, but I do say that we may not forget that they are the Lord's representatives. A minister is not perfect when he preaches. But he may not be criticized like a politician when he speaks. The latter speaks with his own authority, the authority of an expert. But the minister does not speak with the authority of an expert or someone learned - that is what people think: one cannot talk to a minister for he is a learned man. But it is like this: we cannot say anything to a minister, for to him was given authority over the congregation.
O, that people did have a better understanding of the offices. The minister is not the man who knows better than anyone what the Bible says. There could be someone in Church who knows more about Scripture and the confession. But although there was a theologian under the sound of his voice, he must bow before the authority of the Minister of the Word. Elders are no people who are good readers, or that can pray well with the sick, or people with talents for organizing, or people that must be respected for their talents.
Of course, gifts and talents are not without value. But thereby we shall not evaluate the elder; for then appreciation will end as soon as someone has no talents, or does not use them. People make lists: brother A is a good man, they say, and B is not bad either; but why is brother C. in consistory? I don't want him in my home. Someone like that does not understand the office. Then we only submit as long as we like what they do.
It is the same with the deacons. They are no errand boys, who must run at someone's instruction. That is how it is at times, some people have to stick their noses into their business. At times this can be appreciated, for instance, when you know of a case where someone silently suffers need. You can make the deacons aware of such a need. But there are also people who will make the decision concerning which families must be supported by the deacons and how much they should receive. In general the mistake is made that they give the members of consistory a number, according to their capacities, or how much they like them, but they are not honoured as officebearers. Then the minister is liked only when he preaches well and the elder who made a mistake is not respected.
I will now speak of the Government: thou shalt not curse the princes of thy people. Paul excused himself when he scolded the highpriest, for he did not know it was the highpriest. Paul evaluated the office. Not the personal worth of the bearer of that office. For, o, that highpriest that was about to judge him was debased. He was someone who did not have a good name. From his high seat he dared to play with God's law. He had Paul beaten without knowing where Paul had gone wrong. And Paul was right, for he was a "whited wall". Someone who looked good from the outside but he was totally corrupted on the inside. Paul did not say too much. Annanias was such a whited wall, a perverted, corrupt officebearer.
But he took that word back when he heard it was the highpriest. Did that change the matter? Did the fact he was beaten become any less serious? No, still worse. When the high priest does something like that, it is worse than when his servant does it.
Nevertheless, Paul retracted his sharp words. Not because Annanias was such a good man, a man with such great character, not at all; but because he was office bearer, he represented God and was His office bearer. And we must not forget that he who scolds the officebearer for his mistakes, scolds God. Paul right away acknowledges authority.
Annanias did not say this as a particular person, but as God's representative. And Paul had to submit to that. Of course that made it worse for Annanias and that was his judgment. Sin within the office is worse than outside of it.
But Paul could not fly off the handle like he did. He must submit to and honor authority of even a man like Annanias, for he was "office bearer". That is a right understanding of "office". It cannot be seen any clearer. An office bearer of the lowest moral order, as far as his personal qualities was concerned, not meriting any honour, was by Paul greatly honoured as God's representative.
That is how we must honour our Government: our prime-minister (Colijn), not because he does so well; even when he makes mistakes; but only because he is God's representative. Would someone follow him who cannot stand in his shadow, we shall honour that man also as officebearer. Not the person, but God's good pleasure decides here. Even when we have a bad government. Even when we see their faults.
This is also true in society, the employer has authority. Whether or not he knows what he is doing. Whether he is a good farmer or not; whether he is a good employer or not; whether he is good for his employees or not; he is officebearer, placed there by God, with authority given him by God. The employee must submit to this. In all areas of life the subject must acknowledge authority, even if he himself would be much better equipped to take that place. He must submit and not attempt to take unto himself authority or even assume the appearance of co-partnership. For that is rejecting the office.
Let us, even when the office bearer makes a mistake, honour God, who placed him into the office; then instead of revolutionary criticism, the prayer will be heard, "Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy" (Psalm 132: 9).
3. So I spoke to you about the one side of the commandment: that at all times we owe submission and reverence to all those who God placed over us; although they be people with great shortcomings. Submission and the duty to obey come to an end when they command us to sin. Only when as officebearers with authority, they compel us to commit a sinful act, we must refuse. For, we do not honour these people for what they are, but as representatives of God. Therefore, we honour them for the Lord's sake. But when they set themselves against God, we owe obedience to the Lord first. So when the parents demand a sinful act of their children, they must refuse. In the same manner the congregation can refuse to go along with consistory. But not when we do not like what they decided on or when we have a difference of opinion about minor things. That is why Paul says, children obey your parents in the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters, as unto Christ, doing the will of the Lord, and not of man. But now I will speak of the other side, for those in authority.
This commandment is of rich significance for all those in the office: for parents and consistory, for governments and employers. By now they understand that they have authority over others, not because they are better in themselves, or have more capacities or more money. They do not give thanks to themselves for the office, but to God, Who in Christ gave it to them. The office is never something to be proud of, to make an impression with, to boast of. It is always something that must humble us and make us feel small. Those who really know what the office demands, know it is difficult. Because they see the great responsibilty.
To be an office bearer is not thinking, now I can command. I will have them do things for me. Neither is it: now I can get back at them. It is not: now I can tell them what to do.
Alas, these sins occur and the power of the office is used to vex the subject and save one's own face. But that is not fulfilling the office. That is messing around. To be an Officebearer is: to represent Christ, in this special place with the people.
I think that some thought I said too much when I emphasized the office so strongly. Maybe some did protest in silence: then we can say nothing anymore! They can do with us what they want; the subjects are always powerless over against the abuses of office bearers. But now you understand, the officebearer is representing Christ; performing in His Name; with His high authority that endures no contradiction. But representing Him also with His infinite grace and mercy which heals life. With His authority that demands obedience. But also with His love that only serves and seeks to do good. You know the story of the footwashing: the highest Officebearer in the kingdom of heaven did the work of a slave, humbling Himself. There He gave us an example. You know, of course, in all areas of life we are in the kingdom of heaven. Not only in Church, but also in the family, the school, our business, the state. And when we received the office, we must serve after the example of Christ: with authority but also with hunility, with authority and with friendliness, being serious, yet with love. We receive the office only to serve.
Every officebearer is there in God's Name, to do what Christ would do: bear God's grace into life. That is the office of the pastor and consistory: to help bring God's grace into the life of the congregation. Do you now say, "We understand"?
That is also the office of parents: bring God's grace into the life of their children, to help bring that grace to rule in their lives. Not to exploit them, not to view them as a burden, but bring them up in the fear and admonishing of the Lord. You say: this we will do.
Furthermore, this is also the calling of Governments, to bring in the grace of Christ into the life of the nations. You must understand, I do not say they must care for preaching and missions; but that in the field of justice they must do the work of Christ. Is it not so? Is that not what Paul says: he is the minister of God to thee for good? One more thing: what is the task of the employer? Why has he his business? What is his calling with the farm? Why did God place people under Him? That the grace of Christ would shine in their lives.
Now you will say that this is purely idealistic. But I maintain his only task is to reveal the grace, the will and glory of Christ, in his business.
A farmer is not farmer to make a profit. A manufacturer has not a factory to make great treasures. His office is not for himself, and not for his employees. In his business he represents the Lord; he must show in that place who God is, i.e., Our Father.
The employer cannot lay off his employeesbecause he can make more money when he does not have to pay them. In their business they cannot do as they like and say, "I am the boss and you must keep silent; if not, you will be laid off".
And Paul says, "masters do the same to them". That is to say, serve the Lord, and not yourself. As servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Oh yes, each of us would like to be the employer. Each of us thinks he is able. And each of us is almost defiant that there is so much class distinction.
Ah yes, - but how many really want to be officebearer? To bring in the grace of Chist? You know what the problem is? That the employee remembers what the employer should be; and the employer, what the employee must do. And so, brethren, our social life breaks down.
Christ died that He should make the children of God, employee and employer, into one. Now He says to the one: I give you the office, to do and be for your employees, what I am for them. Without threatening. And to the other He says: serve Him whom I chose; submit to him, as unto Me.
This is the first commandment with a promise; that it may go well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
Yes, let us listen well. In the Church, in the family, in the state and in your business too.
When something could be seen of that, that office bearers did not please self, and not only see the shortcomings of those under them; if they would only look to God's commandments, the demand to represent Christ before His people.
If all children, all members of the congregation, all citizens, all employees lived according to the commandment: serving the Lord with good will from the heart, and not man. And therefore, not in rebellion, resisting the office.
The farmer talks about the farmhand, the farmhand talks about the farmer. But who speaks about Christ? The officebearer and the subject, both must submit to Christ. If we would only do that. If we would confess this in social life and in all other places, things would be so different. "That it may go well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." You know this is Old Testament language. But "live long on the earth, that it may go well with thee"- is what we confess: I believe in life eternal. I have already the beginning. Yes, for that is true rest.
Sunday, February 7, 1937.