This is a short speech about the antithesis between church and world. Rev Clarence Stam held it for the Canadian Reformed High School Society of Burlington-West on November 5, 1975.[i] It remains as relevant for today as it did then, if not more so given today’s increasingly antichristian sentiments.
Arrows in a Warrior’s Hand
As a starting-point for this little speech this evening I would like to choose a remark made by the late Prof B. Holwerda in a speech held at the meeting of the “Unie School met de Bijbel” entitled, “Your Calling towards the School with the Bible”.[ii] A remark which really was the expression of a deep desire, “I wish that the motive of the great enmity would grab us again!” And he added, (I wish) “that we would again see that God’s Name must be hallowed in our WHOLE life here, and in ALL relationships. Then we would again understand what Christian education is, and we would stand behind it again!”
Holwerda was speaking about the great enmity which the LORD has placed between the seed of the snake and the seed of the woman, the struggle between Christ and Satan (cf. Gen. 3:15). From this remark it is clear that Holwerda feared that the awareness of this God-determined enmity between Christ and Satan, the Church and the world, was falling away in this time.
We understand Holwerda’s fear if we note that he spoke these words in the year 1941, when the times indeed were strenuous and difficult. For many consecutive years the Reformed Churches had been entangled in an institutionalized system of theological and philosophical constructions which were REPLACING the sound doctrine of the Bible and subsequently weakening the Church. There was a developing crisis because of heresies and hierarchy. The nations were stunned by revolutions, dictatorships, and warfare. Especially young people were being confronted with a mass of new theories and scientific developments and with an explosion of lawlessness. Many of them were unable, uneducated to cope with the tremendous changes presented to them. Holwerda began to wonder if the Churches were awake enough to meet these changes and answer to the challenge.
This same worry compelled Holwerda to say in 1945 (after the World War and the Liberation), “I am convinced that a tremendous structural crisis is apparent in the realm of the spirit…; I am convinced that the Bible is clear in this respect that the lawlessness and nihilism of our time is not just a passing phenomenon, but that this spirit belongs to the style, the scheme, and the structure of a world which is speeding towards its end!”
Holwerda knew: the world wars have brought about a STRUCTURAL crisis. They have hastened the development of technology, science, and philosophy, a reassessment of values and ideals. They have brought about a lasting crisis, or rather, have again brought this crisis to the foreground. Holwerda was one of the first to realize: the times are very decisive. If the Church does not regard and assess these developments with the conviction that she has been called to the great enmity between Christ and Satan, these developments will enslave her in the end. I wish the motive of the great enmity would grab us again!
There is a crisis. There ALWAYS is a crisis, because God has set enmity and hostility between Christ and Satan, the Church and the world, enmity which will last till the Day of Judgement.
In this light Holwerda spoke about Christian Education. The prime significance of Reformed education lies in the fact that the youth of the Church must be educated and equipped to meet the crisis of the times, to take a stand and a position on the issues, to meet the challenge of the times and preserve the heritage of faith, “which was once and for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude). Furthermore, Holwerda understood that the challenge of this structural crisis was to be met in ALL fields of life,[iii] in technology, in science, in biology; the challenge pertains to all spheres and all subjects, not only in elementary but even so in secondary and university education. In all fields, at all levels, the crisis must be met!
As a matter of fact, the Lord gives us children so that He may engage and activate them in the crisis of history, so that He may call them to the motive of the great enmity! Our children are born to bear armour, to carry the full armour of God (Eph. 6), in the enmity against a world of spiritual powers!
In this respect, Holwerda points to Psalm 8:2, “By the mouths of babes and infants thou hast founded a bulwark because of the foes, to still the enemy and the avenger”. Remarkable, even babes and infants are included in this enmity, are born into the crisis of history. The voices of our children are – from the beginning – devised to be a bulwark, a defensive force against the enemies of the Lord. The cry of a baby is a trumpet of the kingdom of heaven! Those infants have been born and called to be a continuing bulwark of truth in a world of lies.
Holwerda also expressly mentioned Psalm 127, a psalm of remarkable depth for our subject. On the one hand this psalm speaks about the necessary blessing of the Lord: HE builds the house and watches over the city! It is the Lord who is victorious in the crisis and will end the enmity. But He USES us, and gives us our children so that He may also use them in that crisis. “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.”
Our children are like “arrows in a warrior’s hand”. In other words, they are WEAPONS to be used in a battle. I realize that this figure of speech will not appeal as much to us today as it would have in Israel’s time. A bow and a quiver of arrows are no longer common articles; we don’t use them except for sport. But in those days, the bow and the arrows were a necessity, a means of self-defence against the many enemies.
The bow was the basic weapon. But a bow without arrows is useless. Therefore, the writer of the psalm exclaims, “Blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them.” Only the man with a good supply of arrows will not run out before his time, will not be ashamed and helpless in the battle. The more arrows you have, the longer you can maintain the fight! A good bow needs a quiver full of arrows.
Notice the scope of the comparison. The bow is the man, a father in Israel. He must launch the arrows, bring them INTO the battle. He propels them, they must fly. And his children are the arrows, the ones who make the actual contact. The notion is: a man who has many children may be considered happy; they are like arrows in a warrior’s hand!
The man is warrior, called to the great enmity! And his children are arrows; they must be activated by him to the same struggle. The bow and the arrow are one, are extensions of each other. As Holwerda remarks, the fact that our children are called “arrows” or “bulwark” proves that the Bible regards children in the perspective of the great enmity between Christ and Satan; they are born to battle and must be equipped for it!
That’s one reason the Bible honours big families, says Holwerda. If there are many children, more can be activated and equipped to fight the good fight of the Lord! In Psalm 127 we even read, “He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gates.” You will understand, the “gates” has the connotation of the public area just beyond the city wall where all transactions are taken care of: buying and selling, settling of differences. And the idea is clear: a man who comes to the gates surrounded by an escort of strong, healthy sons cannot be treated in a humiliating way; he will be respected and not put to shame. His enemies know that he does not stand alone, but is served in his battle by his own children!
We often say, “He who has the youth has the future”. But then you indeed must have the youth. Your quiver must be filled with arrows that fly the right way, children who indeed understand the great enmity and are equipped for battle. It has always been a blessing in the Reformed Churches that the families dared to be and could be big. Not because (perhaps I hear someone thinking) the battle is determined by NUMBERS, but because the bearing and rearing of children is ALSO a command, a means used by God to maintain the enmity between Christ and Satan. The Church must be strong, now and in the future; children must be born unto the Lord into the covenant. That is the prime task of Christian women, says Paul in 1 Timothy 2:15: “Woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with modesty”. Is this not the N.T. counterpart of Psalm 127, a warrior with arrows, a woman who understands her calling to fulfil her share in the great enmity between the seed of the snake and the seed of the woman? Those are truly liberated women who do not seek themselves and their own pleasures but, if and when called, are enjoined with Christian men together to fight the great fight of the Lord and bring forth children of the covenant. Liberated from the service of Satan, liberated unto God!
Arrows in a warrior’s hand. Which implies: our children must be cut and sharpened to serve the purpose. And every true warrior sees to it that his arrows are in GOOD SHAPE. He will not go into battle without arrows or with soft and dull arrows: he will be put to shame if he does! Which means – N.T. style – he will see to it that they wear the armour of God in the crisis of the times to maintain the enmity God has set. There’s biblical proof for Christian education, if I ever heard it. Only those who are not warriors, who do not wish to bend like a bow, do not have arrows in their quiver.
I don’t hope I’m sounding too militant tonight. I am not militant Reformed in that sense; the word “militant” has too many modern connotations. But I would like to maintain the great antithesis which God has placed between us and the world, between our children and the children of the world. Sometimes I think that in this respect parents are becoming too soft, are not sharpening their arrows enough. If that’s the case, even Reformed education will not help.
You are the warriors. You must equip them, together with those called to this task. The times today are also very grave. The world is still speeding towards its end. Arrows are flying left and right. You are in the crisis, you and your children! God put the crisis there! He set enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the snake. Are we motivated by HIM who will give the armour and who has already won the victory?
Holwerda was right. Only when the Church maintains the great enmity set by God in all things and on all fields, is there a future. There is no neutrality, no compromise, no sphere-sovereignty.
May I sign off with those words of a man who was wide awake that memorable year 1941, when so many were already fast asleep: I wish the motive of the great enmity would grab us again!
[i] Published in Clarion volume 25, no. 2 (1976) and reprinted here with the Clarion EIC’s kind permission.
[ii] Published in the book, De Betekenis van Verbond en Kerk voor Huwelijk, Gezin en Jeugd (The Significance of the Covenant and Church for Marriage, Family, and Youth), Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1966.
[iii] Ibid, p. 95.