Introduction - Dr. Peter Y. De Jong
Preaching, a glorious and gratifying calling indeed, is always hard work. The Word of the living God is to be expounded and applied to the congregation according to the intent of the Holy Spirit. This takes faith, a faith steeped in prayer and patience which commits itself to proclaiming "the full counsel of God."
Of all the sermons (and these are of several kinds according to the Infinite riches of the Word) none requires more effort on the part of the preacher than Gospel proclamation rooted in Old Testament historical materials. Anyone acquainted with the Word can learn how to tell its stories with a degree of skill. Nor is it at all difficult to distil from many of its periscopes some moral lesson or devotional Inspiration. But this is a far cry from opening up the riches of God's revelation in Christ Jesus, which is the sum and substance of the Old as well as the New Testament. "Ye search the scripture," said our Lord to the Jews of his day, "because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me." (John 5:39) But how can the preacher find the living and life-giving Savior in those pages without reading into the specific texts what does not seem to be there at all? Here are questions, problems, issues which for most Bible students do not lend themselves to simple but satisfying resolution.
To assist the student who seeks to wrestle seriously with Holy Writ this article together with one penned by the late Prof. Benne Holwerda have been prepared.
Both articles, written originally in the Dutch language, come from a time when in the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerd) in the Netherlands these issues were being vigorously discussed.
Preaching for some generations had been a chief concern in those churches. In large measure it had occasioned the revival of spiritual life and the reformation of the congregational life both in the days of the Secession of 1834 and the Doleantie of 1886. But by the time of the death of both Dr. A. Kuyper Sr. in 1920 and Dr. Herman Bavinck in 1911 a spiritual malaise set in. Church attendance, especially among the more highly educated, declined. The faith which is unto godliness no longer gripped the hearts of many as it had done earlier.
Often doctrine was preached with little spiritual warmth and, conviction. Respectability in the eyes of fellowmen and, perhaps, of God seemed to replace true religion as a life of covenant fellowship with God, To many leaders in the churches the earlier reformations which had thrilled the hearts of thousands throughout the land seemed to stagnate. Despite intense religiously oriented activity in all areas of human endeavour -- in education, politics, missions, philanthropy, labour relations, social services, and missions -- all was not well with the churches.
But by the end of the 1920 signs of a new springtime began to show themselves here and there. Much of this gained strength during the next decade but often In the face of ever greater opposition until the fateful decisions of the synod of 1944 irretrievably tore the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerd) of the Netherlands apart.
In the earlier and more hopeful days the leaders concentrated their attention to a large extent on preaching. For them it was the God-ordained means unto salvation for all who believed. Unless sound preaching was revitalized In obedience to Scripture itself, little hope could be held out for a true spiritual reawakening and reformation of life. And much attention in those discussions, which filled the pages of church periodicals, pamphlets and books, was directed to preaching on Old Testament historical materials The exemplaristic, moralistic sermons on those stories of God' dealings with Israel had to make way for proclaiming the mighty words and deeds of God-in-Christ as revealed on those sacred pages. Scripture once again had to become its own interpreter. Issues dealing with exegesis, hermeneutics, and homilesis especially in their relation to the Old Testament canon came to stand in sharp relief. What first had offered so much inspiration and encouragement to many soon was marred by the rise of a vicious party-spirit Personalities and periodicals and even institution of theological learning came to stand in strong opposition to each other in consequence of which a breach was forced upon the congregations throughout the land by the synod of 1944. And with that further fruitful discussions among those who had been one in ecclesiastical fellowship ceased. 'The churches which submitted to those synodical decisions began Increasingly under a new leadership to choose another and, in our judgement, fatal path to restore vitality to their life.
Much of what was published until 1944, however, remains unusually informative and valuable for us as Reformed people today. Here clear positions were taken against the efforts to revive spiritual life by means of a liturgical renewal which often stressed "form" at the expense of content and at times valued the sacrament above the proclamation of the Word. At the same time especially K. Schilder and his colleagues and disciples exposed the insidious errors of the Barthians who claimed to be restoring the Old Testament to its rightful place in the life of the churches. Only against this background can the reader understand the two monographs, which have been prepared In the English language for our use here.
Far too little attention both during those years and afterwards has been paid to those instructive discussions and debates on this side of the ocean. Apart from a passing reference or two both in the Reformed and the Christian Reformed churches (largely the spiritual daughters of the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerd) in the Netherlands) these have been ignored. All of us are deeply indebted to Dr. Sidney Greidanus whose doctoral thesis, Sola Scriptura Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts (1970), describes, analyses and evaluates the issues involved in the discussions of those years.
For the initial translation of these two monographs we express our appreciation for the arduous work done by the Rev. John H. Piersma, presently pastor of the Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church of Whitinsville, Mass. Translation of such material from one language into another nor the least from Dutch into English, takes a heavy toll in time and sweat and even tears.
Some slight modifications have been made. Longer and often involved sentences have at times been divided. Transitional words demanded by the Dutch but unnecessary in English have been here and there omitted. For the sake of greater clarity as well as smoother reading a few words and phrases have been added, hopefully without doing any injustice to the original.
Today, we fear sound preaching on Old Testament historical materials is not a strong suit in the Reformed and Christian Reformed, the Protestant Reformed and the Netherlands Reformed congregations in Canada and the United States. Not without a large measure of justification many of us as preachers within these ecclesiastical fellowships which owe so much to the Secession of 1834 and/or the Doleantie of 1886 can be accused of holding to "a canon within the canon." Hopefully these two writings, together with ongoing discussions, will in some measure remedy a great and apparently growing defect. Those commissioned to preach the unsearchable riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus are to open up the "full counsel of God" as set forth in Holy Writ. And this includes, let it not for a moment be forgotten, also the historical materials of the Old Testament.
June 1983, Dr. Peter Y. De Jong.