Lord's Day 42 (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 28, 1937
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
The eighth commandment, which asks for our obedience this afternoon, is the commandment regarding possessions and property. That embraces the whole area of industry and trade, the area of our daily labours, of buying and selling, of occupation and business. All the broad area which we call our social-economic life. We cannot mention everything that falls under this commandment, what fits in here and deals with these requirements. But I don't have to mention it all. For you know straightaway, we deal here with money, what we do with it, how we use it, whether we have little or much.
The sins in this area are many, just like in the area of the seventh commandment. Happily, in the area of sexual life, many people still think it to be an abomination to live like animals. But we did see the previous Sunday that sin is not just found in the coarse, repugnant forms in which some commit these sins, but in the decent, respectable manner in which all are guilty of this sin. That is adultery - I said something like this - when we attempt to make of our marriage something for ourselves, an institution of all kinds of joys that are allowed, a means to enrich life and make it agreeable.
That is adultery, when we live chaste and yet withdraw our marriage from serving the Lord, when our marriage does not stand in the sign of sacrifice, if we do not conscientiously make it subservient to sanctifying God's Name, the coming of His kingdom and fulfilling His will.
That is adultery - that is how we can also say it - when we behave decently in marriage, but at the same time withdraw ourselves and our married life from the Lord, place ourselves outside of the covenant, with the erroneous idea that the covenant is only for heaven, the spiritual life, eternity and salvation.
It is often said that marriage is the bond between one man and one woman. And anything different is wrong. That is true, it belongs to it. But marriage itself is more: man and his wife together with their marriage must give themselves to the Lord. It is not so that the man is one party and the wife the other, but it is so that the man and his wife who became one flesh are the one party, the other party is the Lord. Then marriage is in the covenant. Then it has its own place and significance in the kingdom of heaven and its future. Then we are serving the Lord.
Paul saw this clearly in Rom. 1, God must be retained in our knowledge. Not only the man obeyed by his wife and the wife loved by the man, but God acknowledged and served by both. Otherwise in His wrath He will give these decent, civilized people over to reprobate minds, to improper conduct. Then they will yet come to do those things they now see as abominations.
That was the core and nucleus of the seventh commandment.
It is with special purpose that I refer to this. It is not just to find a connection between this commandment and that of the previous Sunday for those who were not there. It is not my intention to illustrate the connection so that those who were not present can pick up the thread of these Catechism sermons. It also is not my purpose to give a summary of the main points. But this afternoon I must add the consideration which we saw last week as the sense, the core of the seventh commandment, which has also its meaning for the eighth commandment.
I mean this: also of the eighth commandment, this is the core: that with this piece of our life we stand in the covenant and that it is important that here too we must keep the laws of the covenant. Here too it is important for us to live before the Lord in communion with each other.
We will succesively deal with:
1. the basis of social life.
2. the restoration of social life.
3. the demand for social life.
1. The Catechism goes very deep when it develops the eighth commandment: God forbids not only such theft and robbery as are punished by the magistrate. It seems that this is the way most people think about this. They are careful not to touch the money of their neighbour, to keep out of the hands of the magistrate. When they manage to live and keep out of the hands of judge, they think they have fulfilled the eighth commandment. Certainly, that is true, but it is only part of it. A minimal part. It is difficult to say it in percentages, otherwise I would say: at most 1%. For the tresspasses that are punished by the magistrate are an almost invisible part of the trespasses that the Lord punishes here. The forms of theft that bring us in prison mean nothing in comparison with the forms of theft which will condemn us, if God does not prevent it and we do not repent. I will therefore not speak at all about the theft that is punished by the powers that be. For we all know that we may not steal.
There are other ways to hurt our neighbour, where the police do not intervene, but which are judged by public opinion. Things which are not punished, but are dishonest. Yet we must be careful that public opinion does not make out the law for us, neither a general human sense of fairness and equity or the voice of our conscience concerning what is mine and what is not. Of course the voice of our conscience, our personal conscience and the mass conscience has great significance. Committing this sin is checked more by the latter than by the strong hand of the government. The power of the sword whereby the magistrate checks theft, is not nearly as strong as the sense of fairness and equity, wherewith the Lord in His "common grace" restrains the power of this sin.
But you all know, even our consciences cannot be trusted. Consciences can be seared as by a hot iron, and God can give man over to the masses and the voice of the conscience becomes weaker all the time and finally becomes silent. There are many sins in this area against which public opinion does not raise its voice, sins that are no more seen as sins. Sins that have become habitual. There is more meanness and dishonesty than we know. The eighth commandment is not: be sure that in doing business you will not at any time have to face the government. It is not: be sure you will not oppose public opinion or the conscience of the people. But the eighth comandment is God's law. We must live here in such a way that the Lord does not turn into our enemy. Or positively, live in such a way, also in this area, that the Lord may be well pleased, and not hide His face from our conduct.
That is the important question this afternoon: how do we use our goods and money in a way that is well-pleasing to the Lord?
How must we live our social-economic lives without having God's wrath resting upon it? It speaks for itself that in the worship service we can not, nor may not go into all the ins and outs here. The worship-service cannot be a manual for all possible concrete questions. That is the task of our organizations. It is their task to work out contracts, wages and prices, in connection with the concrete situations of our day and local circumstances, according to the Lord's demands. In the worship service we can point out the main principles from Scripture. We can tell you in which direction social-economic life must go: will it be according to the Word of the Lord?
And then we must as with all commandments of the Lord, remember the paradise story. I know it is true, we cannot begin every sermon with Adam, go through the whole Bible, and finally end up by saying something about eternity. That is not preaching. Yet, Christ Himself taught us that with the commandments we must look back to the beginning of our history, i.e., life as it was in paradise. When the Lord in Matt. 19 disputes with the Pharisees about a writing of divorce bill, and the Pharisees appeal to Moses and the way it was done in Israel, He says that because of the hardness of your hearts he allowed you to send your wives away. But from the beginning it was not like that. That is to say, the norm for marriage is not derived from Moses, for he had to take into account the hardness of their hearts; the norm can only be found in life as it was from the beginning.
The same is true of the eighth commandment. The norms for the use of money and goods; that norm is given of the situation as it was in the beginning. When we would live according to God's will, it is not sufficient that our life answers to today's laws or to the unwritten laws of usage since time immemorial, but it must be a life in accordance with life as it was in the beginning. It must be on the same level, it must answer as it did then, to the laws of creation; life must develop along the great lines as the Lord showed to man in the beginning.
That is how we come to paradise and learn how to live with material goods as in the beginning. There is no need to say much about it; in the beginning there was the covenant. In that covenant man was God's child, enjoying the love of the Father. That is why the Lord gave to His children in the covenant dominion over all His goods: Have dominion over the earth and subdue it. You may freely eat of all the trees in the garden. That is the rich man of the Covenant from the beginning. The child of God that received all things, who may enjoy everything, and has dominion over all things.
Of course not in a way that man can do whatever he will. It is not so that the Lord returns to heaven and gives the earth to man. Not in a way as if heaven is God's area, where He alone is ruler, while man would be sovereign on the earth. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof:
The earth and the fullness which it has stored,
The world and its inhabitants belong to the Lord.
God is and remains the great Possessor of all things. Man will never be owner. No grain of soil is ours, no blade of grass, no drop of water, no penny.
Everything is placed under man's management. I would almost say as a loan. But that is not the right word. For it gives the impression it is of the Lord, but He gave it to man for man to use for his own profit. But that is not the way it is. The Lord did not give it to renters who use God's gifts, just like tenant farmers, who take all they get out of the soil for themselves, and not for the owner. The Lord did not give man the right to over-cropping. But He made him - that is that beautiful word of Scripture - into a steward. A steward is manager over the estate, he may eat of it, but he manages the estate not for his own profit, he must have the interest of his master at heart. He is not appointed to enrich himself, but that his master may be rich.
That is the covenant in social life: man is the Lord's child, he may enjoy everything that is of the Father. But he is a steward: he himself may not profit of his work, he must work for the benefit of his master. Not one hour that he works is for himself, but at all times he works for the Lord. We will return to this momentarily; but people do not understand this anymore. Everything the world offers they accept as a matter of course. They say that is their right. The world is ours: who is master over us? This is man who thinks he is the sovereign owner, not accountable to anyone, but who simply lives for himself. That is life in all its misery, as we know it today: a life of brutal egoism by great and small.
People live outside of the covenant. Whatever they receive is their right. Not a favour. Whatever they receive they do not see as their inheritance. What they possess is outside of the covenant. They do not see their labour as something inside of the covenant, as an office, as a service in love to the Father, as caring for His interests; but as caring for their own interests.
That is not how it was from the beginning. At that time the child rejoiced in everything the Father in His favour gave him; therefore, all his labours were a work of gratitude, a life for the Father. He did not think about his own bread, that he had to work for it. In no way: he ate. People today ask the question, "For what did he work, if he received his bread anyway? Why did he not quit his labours?" To ask that question betrays our wrong attitude to this area of our life.
Why do we work? To earn our bread. But that is not how it was at the beginning!! Why did Adam work: Not to earn his bread, but because he received his bread. Think of Adam and the way he worked! Did he work for bread? As if their was one thing more godless! As if there was one thing that signified a more practical denial of the covenant. Imagine that Adam cared for the garden in order to eat. He did not work to eat. But he ate in order to work.
That is the basis for the eighth commandment, the constitution as it was purely fulfilled at the beginning. Not: first work, then bread. But: bread first, then work. It gives us a right vision at the character of his work: he does not work for his own interests, but he works at developing the world for the Father. Love for the Father, who gave him everything, that is what drives him to labour. What drives him when he labours is love for the Father, He Who placed him in the office of steward. Is there something more beautiful than the father who entrusts his son with his business? Is there something more scandalous among man than a son who shames that trust, and keeps it all for himself and steals from his father?
Of course, Adam could not do all that work by himself. He had to do it with the generations that were to follow. That covenant community could eat everything. But that community must work together to develop Father's world. It was the Lord's intention that there should be a community of stewards, working in unison, each in his own place and with his own talents, doing the work of the Father.
And it was successful, the community of man was solid. They worked together without drifting apart. There was also communion with the world: the earth did not resist but accommodated willingly to man's dominion. In this way the growing population would have disclosed the treasures of this world and enjoyed them like children, but also out of love for the Father exploit this world for Him. That was social-economic life at the beginning.
2. But you know that sin came in between. Then there is the breach between man: no longerworking together, not helping each other, but removed from each other, against each other - I already mentioned this when we dealt with the sixth commandment. Then there came the breach with the world: the world works against man and is not in His service anymore. He cannot remain its master. No longer is he master over creation.
But there is especially the breach with the Father; man has no more rights to anything. And while he still stretches forth his hand to creation, there is theft. He will no longer serve as steward. He does not want to be steward, and he cannot be steward any longer. He lives for himself. That is the end of social-economic life.
But then there is also restoration in Christ Jesus. That restoration is revealed in paradise. God prepares skirts of skin for man. In His grace He leaves them the use of creation. That is no common grace; no, that is special grace. Man may keep the world, for Christ shall obtain that right for him. By the work of Jesus Christ that shall be fulfilled in the fulness of time, the Lord again institutes the covenant of His grace. In that covenant, man as child again receives his inheritance. Again he receives his office; to be steward over all that the Father has. In Christ Jesus he receives his childhood back, and with it the bread of children. And with it, also the office of a child: to be in the things of the Father.
And in Christ Jesus, on account of His work, for the children the curse is lifted from life: all they do shall succeed. Their labour is not idle in the Lord. That does not mean that all their labours will succeed, at least not what the world would call success. It does mean that all their labours will be fruitful, even though it seems to be a failure. No curse can ruin the results of their faithful work as stewards, for they are the things of the Father. It is His world that He loves in Christ. They are not the things of man, the actions of bunglers, but it is the world of the Father. It is for Thy sake, O Head and Lord, Thy sake for which we labour!
That is not only true of Church or school or evangelization or missions. It is true for all of the economic life, of all business: not only the store of A and the farm of B and the factory of C and the transport business of D. But all these together are of God, Who for Christ's sake looks on all these in grace. How could God bring the curse into life, after Christ bought and delivered that life with His blood?
And so they are not just individual enterprises but they are all departments of the one great enterprise of the Father, apartments in His one building. And we are just stewards, the one here, the other there.
I also told you - with the sixth commandment - in Christ people are re-united, they no longer are competitors of each other, which work against each other, but brothers, who work together on that one work of the Father. In Jesus Christ the social-economic life is restored. I know, that restoration is not yet complete. There still is sorrow in the labour of our hands. Often there is yet a rift between people. But there is restoration. Our labour is no longer cursed. There is chastening and trial in order that we should be parakers of His holiness. There still is a distance between God and man: but the Spirit of Christ is in us and drives us together.
And so there is a beginning of restoration. Christ working by Word and Spirit makes that redemption effective; and in that work He reckons with chastenings and trials. "For he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water......." (Psalm 1: 3).
3. That restoration is not something which takes place without our cooperation. Of course, you must have a good understanding of this. It is purely by grace that God in Christ restores the world, also the social-economic world. It is not our work. But that work of restoration will not be complete without our work as God's fellow labourers. Scripture teaches: "Work out your own salvation". In the beginning the Lord works alone, but in succession our work is added, whereto the Lord enabled us by His grace. That is how the Lord calls us in the eighth commandment to be His fellow-labourers, to restore this area, to work out our own salvation here, that we may be saved.
"Thou shalt not steal", that is to say: with money and goods you must behave according to the law as it was at the beginning. In these things you must be revealed as achild-steward. In communion with others you shall give yourself to the things of the Father; not to your own particular business, but the great work of the Lord. But what do we see today? What do we see in the Church? How do people work? Each for himself alone. No one for God! That is to say; no one knows himself to be steward. Each for himself alone, i.e., they stand beside each other as individuals, loose from each other. There is no bond, no communion, not helping each other by the common task. Much more a working against each other. We are not in the covenant with these things. With our money and our goods we do not serve the Lord and our neighbour.
Why is it we don't want to be stewards? Not fulfil our covenant office? Because in these things we don't know ourselves as children of our Father.
The more I think about these things, so much sharper do I see that all this misery is caused by our unbelief. We do not work as stewards, we appoint ourselves to be owners, we simply don't know ourselves as children by faith. We do not believe that we have our bread already, by grace, through Jesus Christ. We still behave as if that is why we must work. Who of us does not work to eat, toil to bring together, who does not sweat for few possessions? We are discouraged by a little adversity, and we sigh: what shall we eat? What shall we drink? That really means, I have to do it myself. I must work, I must do it all myself!
Why do we still pray for our daily bread? Well, that is what Christ taught us, that is why we do this. But the life of our labours witnesses against our prayer. We want to earn our bread by working for it. We depend on our work for this. In this way our labour became a curse because in our labours we deny what we confess in our prayers. He who works for bread, saying: how else will I eat? - we will recommend him for his zeal. He is fervent and diligent. But the Lord says of him: All these things seek the heathen. Your Father knows what you have need of. It would be strange if the children had to toil to earn their bread. You must tell them: children, I will see to it that you have enough to eat. Do what you can, but be not concerned about your bread. And when the child displays an attitude that it is his work that brings bread on the table instead of father's, that is the same as doubting father's integrity. But that is how we live in reality before the Lord. But He says of our life: Am I a Father? Where is My honour? Where then is your trust, that your bread, your children's share, will come to you by grace? For I look after that?
But there are still those that do not understand these things. They will criticize such sermons. They think this will make people careless. And those who understand, live so little accordingly. If only I could make them understand. In the home, the child receives his bread. From father. Not because he worked for it. Love prepared his bread. He does not have to work for it. That is how we are in the covenant. As children, who are certain of their bread, as much as they need. In Christ we have our bread. And woe to him who would work for it, who works in order to eat, instead of eating in order to work. For all these things, the heathen do. But to His children the Lord says: All is yours. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. And of all these you may freely eat. For your work's sake? No, for Christ's sake.
We have our bread. And that ennobles our work. Now fear has been taken away. People say: when someone is certain of his bread, he will turn lazy. But Scripture says: the child that eats mercy-bread, works hard, because of gratitude.
Now I will turn to what it is to be a steward. Everything is yours, but you are Christ's. And Christ is God's. that is to say: everything is granted you in Christ. But in the covenant you have to serve the Lord therewith. O yes, we listen when that is said in Church. But tomorrow we behave as if we are owners. Then everyone looks after his own interests. After his home, his business, the farm. As stewards, again in the time of their Lord, and with the strength of their Lord, and with the goods of their Lord, busy to work for self. And the Lord's work is not done. And this after by grace being restored to stewards. Is that for which Christ shed His blood: that we, just like the heathen, are very busy for ourselves? Go, see the people and ask for money for the work of their Lord: Church or school or missions or Free University or Seminary. I don't want to complain, for we see progress. For this I am very thankful. I see therein the power of the Word. But as yet, we have not arrived. And progress is not at all general.
Ask yourself; for what would you sooner pay, for God's house or your own house? For Church and school, or for your own business? For an organ in Church, or a radio in your home?
As yet we do not see that the world makes things agreeable to us, that we posses money and goods, not to surround ourselves with all finery, but to do the work of the Lord. Each of us comes to the conclusion that our own things are so very important. Do you think that it is so important in this world that the one has his own house, the other a radio? Is that why we work?
Everything is created for God's sake. His sake is the important thing. And then, we ourselves will have enough and left over. Then we enjoy all God's gifts. But mostly that we are allowed to be stewards, co-labourers in that great work, the work of world redemption.
The eighth commandment asks us first of all for money for the Church, for labour in God's kingdom. Sometimes one gets the impression that people see the Church as something extra, a luxury. First this, then something else... and yes, then comes the Church. Almost the last in a series of other necessities. And the better situated do at times give the Church a tip. Neither understands that we are stewards and must do the work of the Lord.
If only we would see ourselves as we are in the covenant. If only we would live more abundantly from the faith. Then we would be stewards. And willingly give when we are asked to contribute for the work of the Lord. Many say: we must give so much. Of course, the steward is not there to make himself rich. But to give for those things that are necessary for the Lord's work.
Of course, in good times there will be a little left. And we do not waste it. It may be needed for the Lord's house at a later date. Not: I may need it later on. I must take care for later years. No: the Lord may need it later on, for His work. For the Church and all those things, for the poor, for the upbringing of the children. For many things. But then in faith believing. Without being worried. Not as little as possible for the great works of our God.
Then there will be perspective in our lives. About the forming of capital and so on. I have heard people say, that if farmers were not supported in bad times, they would have left their land fallow. No one may demand for them to risk their hard earned money.
I don't know about that. Of course, no man can demand that of them. No employee can make demands concerning the safe of his master. And there is no one who desires them to live like they lived in times of prosperity. All good and well. But I deny that someone would have the right before God to discontinue his business because he is losing money. It is not for him to ask what is unprofitable. He must only ask the question what is necessary for God's work, His Kingdom. Nothing else.
That is not the careless system that he who lives later must provide for other times. With God's work we may not be so reckless. But we may not see it, as if they were our cares, as if it was for the interest of our wallet. No one among us has his own business. For the earth is the Lord's. Be it that someone gains, be it that he loses: it is the Lord's. In prosperous times, and during a depression: the earth is the Lord's. No one works for himself, no one saves for himself, no one pays for himself. For no one of us lives for himself. We are the Lord's.
When that faith penetrates, that we are only stewards, the social relationships would be sound. Now the one organization is against another. As enemies. Now the one competes with the other. Pure self interest. But if we believed, the competition would still be there. But the deadly sting would be gone. The one would not attempt to finish the other financially. But the one would run a race with the other in the Lord's service.
Then no employer would exploit his employee, neither would an employee be a parasite to the community. Today there are many exploiters in all positions and ranks. Today it is like this: we have good weather while haying. But we could get a thunderstorm, let us get a labourer for half a day. We send him home with half a dollar. I must have made a lot more than ten dollars. The hay is in, just in time. Others did not see it. If that is all there is! When farmers see labourers as people they call upon when needed, and send away when they please, have no heart for them, that is pagan. That breeds the revolution.
That is how it is today; I can get work, but I will not make much more than when I go for unemployment insurance. The work is also quite heavy. I better take my U.I. That too, is theft. Here too, they have no heart for others. Neither for the work of the Lord.
Or take the following: they have nice furniture, and a lot more pretty things. But I have yet to pay for this and for that. Live above one's income. Let someone else pay for it. That too is theft. I know this evil is also among us. If we all served the Lord with money and possessions, we would serve one another. Not taking from each other, but help and support each other. Now there is the most coarse self-interest. It is in a different form, but here too it is the contrast "Barabbas-Christ". Do you look for your own interest or at God's right? We work hard as long as it is for ourselves. But we do not work for God and the neighbour.
That is how we think to advance. But that is the way to go under. That is the horse behind the cart. For he who does not work, neither shall he eat. That is to say, he who does not spend money and possessions in the service of te Lord, such a person does not work. And he shall not eat. Even when self-interest drives him to the greatest activity.
But he who believes in Christ and works as steward, he shall eat. Even in evil times. For his bread does not depend on his work. Not cut off by unemployment. He receives it daily as child of the Father. Stewards that enrich themselves will disappear. But he who is faithful in the Lord's business, he shall enter into His joy. Already today.
Sunday, February 28, 1937.