Rearing Covenant Children for Life in the End-Time
Prof. David J. Engelsma
God must be the major premise of every textbook.
God must be the great assumption in every classroom. God must be the
Person Whose handiwork is investigated in every laboratory. This
means, of course, not some vague or distorted idea of God, but the
living and true God, the God of the Bible. "In the beginning God"
must be the watchword of all truly Christian education. In textbook,
classroom, and laboratory the student will learn to think God's
thoughts after Him. Unlike the student in a nonChristian
institution, he will learn that human thought is never really
creative in the strict sense, but always derived from the prior
thought of God—that human "creative" thought is really the
unfolding, in man's intellect, of God's eternal decree by which He
has, from all eternity, foreordained all that comes to pass in
time. What is new to the mind of man is as old as eternity to the
mind of God - J. G. Vos, What is Christian Education?
My esteemed co-workers in the great calling of
rearing the children of Christ!
My original intention, upon being asked to address
you on the instruction and preparation of covenant children for life at
the end of the ages, was to marshall the evidence that the end is
near, in order to impress on us all that the task of Christian education
There is the evidence from the brute creation: its
multi-voiced groanings in earthquake, volcano, and storm.
There is the evidence from society: the abounding of
its lawlessness; its love of pleasure; its thoroughgoing
man-centeredness, in which the number, 666, is writ large.
There is the evidence from the nations. There are
wars and rumours of wars. At the same time, there is the nations'
susceptibility to, and deep yearning for, oneness and the peace and
prosperity that oneness can provide. Thus, the nations can be delivered
from the terror of mutual, mass destruction. Thus, they can share the
various resources of the earth, if not equitably, at least so as to
ensure survival. Thus, the "nobler" aspirations of mankind for
brotherhood can be realized. In the language of Daniel 7 and Revelation
13, the turbulent seas throw up the Beast. In this connection, there is
evidence from political developments—socialism, communism,
totalitarianism, and the welfare state; evidence from economics;
evidence from international alliances; and more.
There is the evidence from this world's thought and
philosophy, both educated, e.g., evolution, and popular, e.g., that the
sole standard of human morality is man.
Not least, there is the evidence from the church.
There is apostasy. There is the gradual fixing of the church's duty, and
construing of her message, as a duty, and message, concerning earthly
justice and peace in the here-and-now. There are the alliances of the
churches and religions, not only the mergers, but also the co-operation
in what is considered the church's really important task. The Beast that
is like a lamb—the false prophet—of Revelation 13 serves the first
Beast—Antichrist—and teaches all men and nations to worship the Beast.
On second thought, I decided not to treat the subject
this way. It is not that these things, these evidences, do not bear on
the appropriate and vital subject. They do. Scripture predicted them.
What our Belgic Confession declares in Article 5, in support of
its doctrine of the Bible's authority, holds true here: "the very blind
are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling."
Scripture predicted them for us to recognize, as signs of the end; and
Scripture predicted them so that Protestant Reformed parents, teachers,
and preachers would rear covenant children with some degree of urgency.
Nevertheless, I will not come to you in this way. For
one thing, world events are always subject to personal interpretation:
what one regards as a loud footfall of the Antichrist, another may view
as merely the personal folly of a president or judge.
For another thing, the kind of approach that I have
sketched is subject to the warning, that the saints have always noted
disasters and disobedience as harbingers of the end of the world in the
very near future. Amidst the uproar of his day, Luther prophesied the
end, if not quite in his lifetime, then soon thereafter. I myself heard
a minister suggest the end in 20 or 30 years.
Also, incitement to an urgent task by way of a vivid
representation of the evils in the world has a way of dissipating with
the good food and enjoyable fellowship of the banquet that very evening.
It is difficult to keep this stimulation. The shenanigans at the UN are
far removed from the daily routine in South Holland, Loveland, and Grand
In addition, the call to Christian educational arms
with the alarms of the evils of our time can so easily make Christian
education a grim and gloomy business. There are Christian schools set up
on account of socialism, communism, and liberalism, where the teachers
are coldeyed; the teaching is an almost anxious preparation of children
for the impending conflict; and the gym classes, a training of boys and
girls to handle rifles and grenades. This is not what the raising of
covenant children should be.
Let us adopt a different viewpoint, that of Holy
Scripture in I Corinthians 7:29-31: "But this I say, brethren, the time
is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they
had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that
rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they
possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the
fashion of this world passeth away." This approach is not less radical,
but more radical; it does not make life today less serious, but more
serious; it does not make teaching less effective, but more effective.
Life in the End-Time
The apostle is concerned in the passage with earthly
life—the earthly life of believers and their children. He refers to
several of the most basic of human activities and relationships.
Marriage is mentioned first: "they that have wives …" This is an
institution that is fundamental for church and society. It is a
relationship of crucial significance for the married person himself and
every other aspect of his life. Included are the home and the family.
Next, he refers to the entire human effort to enjoy
pleasure, comfort, security, and success; on the national and
international level, this is the endeavour for peace and prosperity:
"they that rejoice ..." He has earthly pleasure in mind. In itself, you
understand, this is innocent: we want a house; we try to be healthy; we
like to be good at our job; we desire to sit, peacefully, of a Friday
evening, in front of the fire, with a good book, without creditors
banging on our door and without a toothache. The disappointment of this
is the weeping of the passage—the suffering of all kinds of earthly
pains: no lodging; loss of job; sickness; bills; and what not.
Third, he brings up the economic aspect of life:
"they that buy …" We are to think of labour; business; finances;
property—the marketplace. We really did not need Karl Marx to inform us
that this has a large place in the life of a man, including the
Lest anything escape the sweep of his net, the
apostle adds, "and they that use this world …" The "world" here is not
the wicked world of men who are enslaved by the Devil and whose culture
and civilization are impressed with his mark; but it is the cosmos that
God created in the beginning—the earthly creation. It is the earth, the
waters, and space; it is the raw materials and the earthly products made
of them; it is the various ordinances established in the creation by
God. The subject is nothing less than our use of the earthly
creation—any use, and all use: breathing the air; feeding the body;
ploughing the field; driving a car; climbing the mountains.
Besides the all-embracing reference to the activities
of men in the creation, there is mention of two fundamental, earthly
forms of these activities. The first is time: "the time is short." This
is the time of our own personal life. It is also the time of the
existence of the world itself—what we call history. The second is "the
fashion of this world." This is the way in which creation is set up for
human life and the way it appears. Our world is such a world that there
must be marrying; pleasure and sorrow; buying and selling; and all
the rest of ordinary human life.
So, the subject is the big subject: the life of man
on this big ball—the life of your students and of you yourself.
Our lives are being lived in the end-time. This is a
fact, altogether apart from any and all "signs of the time," in nature,
society, and the church. It was the end-time, and Christians had to live
consciously in the end-time, in the apostle's day, almost 2000 years
ago, when there was no apostasy as we see today and when there was no
Communism. No doubt, it is true that the very end is closer now than
then; but to say so is really to miss the point and to overlook what
really makes the present time, the end-time.
Two great truths make the present, the end-time—the
last days. First, the "time is short." "The time" is the period of time
from the ascension and exaltation of the Lord Jesus to His second
coming; it is the history of our careering globe, anno Domine.
This time has been shortened! From the ascension to the second coming,
the line of time is a straight line. It must not, however, be thought of
as a dead line, but as a taut tendon that is pulling us and the world
towards the End with the greatest pressure. Everything necessary has
been packed into this "time;" there is not one unnecessary, wasted
moment. John expresses this by saying that Jesus "comes quickly."
What is true of history is also true of each
Christian. The time of the life of each of us has been shortened. This
means more than that, really, none of us lives very long. It means that
God has made the life of every one of us as short as possible, with a
view to each one's attaining to Christ and his own share in Christ's
glory. There is not a wasted moment! The life of each is just that long,
as is demanded by his preparation for the End. Think of that, when you
teach your children. Nor does it hurt, now and then, to remember that
some of your students may never reach 50, or even 20.
The great truth here is that there is a Goal of time,
towards which history and the believers are straining: the Day of the
public, universal glorification of Jesus Christ the Lord and, by the
mercy of God, of all who are His.
The second truth that makes the present time, the
end-time, is that the fashion of this world is passing away, is
perishing. The entire cosmos in its present set-up and appearance will
be destroyed; it is not going to last forever. Peter tells us when and
how this will happen: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in
the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise,
and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the
works that are therein shall be burned up" (II Peter 3:10). Since this
is timed according to the Goal of time—the second coming, this will
happen quickly, as soon as possible. Everything is rushing towards the
destruction of the fashion of the world.
In fact, the fashion of the world is passing away
continually. It is perishing right now, while we are using it and
struggling to get a little chunk of it. This is true in two ways. First,
God in judgment is destroying the fashion of the world. This is the
deepest meaning of the pollution; the trouble in marriage and family;
social strife; economic distress; war; and catastrophes in nature.
Judgment is not the one, sudden stroke at the End, but an ongoing,
ever-increasing act of God that culminates in the conflagration and
earthquake of the End.
The other way is our own passing away from the
fashion of the world. When I die, the fashion of this world passes away,
for me. And I am always in the process of dying.
We and our children live in the end-time. We live in
the end-time in AD 1982, just as the saints lived in the end-time in
A.D. 60. We live in the end-time, whether we live in earthly peace and
freedom, or in war and slavery. We live in the end-time in such a
fundamental way, that the truth of it is at hand, day in and day out.
We need instruction in this. We need instruction that
this is indeed the truth about our time. It is so easy to forget and
ignore it. It is so easy to regard time apart from the Goal, i.e., Jesus
Christ, with the result that I regard time as an opportunity for me to
get a name, to become rich, or merely to live an easy life. It is so
easy to view the fashion of the world as permanent and stable, for me to
depend on and settle into.
We need instruction, how to live in the world in
light of this awesome truth of the end-time.
It is required of Christian school teachers that they
instruct the covenant children in this. You teach about the world and
about life in the world. You must teach life in the world in the
end-time. You must teach what kind of life is demanded by this, and
follows from this.
This is, in fact, the burden of the passage: how to
live in the world, and how to use it, in light of the end-time.
consequence of the shortening of time is the concern of verse 29:
"it remaineth that …" What follows from the passing away
of the fashion of the world is the concern of verse 31: "And they that
use this world, as not abusing it: for …"
If I may lapse, for a moment, into the language of
theology, the Word cries out, "Live eschatologically!"
The Appropriate Rearing
It is striking that the kind of life demanded by the
end-time, and, therefore, the appropriate rearing for life in the
end-time, is not that the children abstain from immorality—rebellion,
fornication, drunkenness, drugs, and the like. Paul does not say, "Since
the time is short, do not fornicate, or divorce and remarry, or have an
affair;" but he says, "Have a wife, as not having a wife." He does not
say, "Do not steal;" but he says, "Buy, as not possessing." We may not
content ourselves with admonishing the children not to be immoral.
Life appropriate to the end-time is human life that
"sits loose" to the world and to every aspect of earthly life in the
world. This is the explanation of the paradox: have a wife, as not
having one; weep, as not weeping; buy, as not possessing. Having a wife,
being comfortable, being uncomfortable, owning real estate, and every
other earthly condition are of no real importance. It is not of ultimate
importance whether one is married, or unmarried; whether one's earthly
life is weeping or rejoicing; whether one is a "has" or a "has not;" or
even whether one is a slave or a freeman, as the apostle says in verses
This is the holiness of indifference to the world. It
is what Calvin called "contempt … for the present life." Describing the
Christian life, in Book III, Chapter IX, of the Institutes,
Calvin wrote, "For there is no medium between the two things: the
earth must either be worthless in our estimation, or keep us enslaved by
an intemperate love of it." We must, said Calvin, "hasten to despise the
world, and aspire with our whole heart to the future life."
The life that is fitting for the end of time is a
life that runs the risk of being charged with carelessness towards
earthly things: world-flight! other-worldliness! pie-in-the-sky
Christianity! In fact, the charge is false. But you can certainly
understand why those "Whose portion is below! / Who, with life's
treasures satisfied! / No better portion know," as The Psalter
puts it, raise this charge against the life of the man who takes
seriously the apostle’s exhortation in I Corinthians 7, and practices
Such a life, and such a life only, escapes the fatal
danger of laying up treasures for ourselves on earth and having our
heart in the earth (Matt. 6:19, 21); of loving this present world, as
did Demas (II Tim. 4:10); of having the care of this world and the
deceitfulness of riches choke the word in us, so that we become
unfruitful (Matt. 13:22); of saving our lives and gaining the whole
world, only to lose our own souls (Matt. 16:24-26).
This kind of life spares us from many destructive
evils: covetousness, envy, ambition, drunkenness.
Our Great Teacher forewarned us that the danger in
the end-time would be earthly-mindedness. He used the object lessons of
the time of Noah and the time of Lot. What was the evil of the world
before the flood and of Sodom before the fire? It was not the violence
and perversion that we immediately think of, But: "They did eat, they
drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day
that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them
all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they
drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same
day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven,
and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of
man is revealed" (Luke 17:27-30).
They were wrapped up in this world: they had wives,
as having them; they rejoiced, as rejoicing; they bought, as possessing;
they used this world, as abusing it.
When Jesus, in a parallel passage, Matthew 24:42ff.,
says, "Watch," He is saying: "Watch, that you never put too much stock
in the present life."
This attitude of heart and fundamental posture of
soul will show itself in sobriety and moderation in earthly life. This
is a recurring theme in Calvin. The British poet, Davies, summed up the
Reformed style of life in earlier days this way: "simplicity, sobriety,
and measure." Holy indifference to this world is a foe of excess,
luxury, and extravagance, whether in eating and drinking; in dress; in
house; or in recreation. It is a foe of that which is called "abusing"
(the world), in I Corinthians 7:31. Literally, it is an
"overmuch-using." "Overmuch using" is, primarily, a use of the world
with one’s heart set squarely on the world. Invariably, it is also an
Let us teach the children this in the
end-time. This may seem strange, even paradoxical: as you teach them the
world and its fashion (and you must!), you teach them to "sit loose" to
the world, because it has no ultimate worth; indeed, in itself, apart
from the Goal, it is worthless, and life in it, vanity. This instruction
is never so effective as it is when it comes from you, the teachers, who
know the world and devote our life to instruction about the world. The
students cannot so lightly dismiss this teaching coming from you, as
they do when it comes from the preachers, by saying, "Well, they don’t
know anything about the world anyhow." As with all instruction that is
effective, however, it must be seen in your life, and for that, you
yourselves must believe it.
This does not make Christian education a gloomy task,
but a joyful, hopeful one, even as the life of holy indifference to the
world is a joyful, hopeful life.
Education with Eternity in View
The apostle of Christ is not advocating world-flight,
or even carelessness of earthly life. No schoolboy may respond
enthusiastically to your instruction about life in the end-time, by
shouting: "Hooray! This creation and earthly life in it really do not
matter; and, therefore, I need not study my math, or even go to school."
Paul does not conclude, "Have no wife;" "Do not buy;"
and "Try not to use the world, or use it as little as possible." Rather,
he commands: "Have a wife! Buy! Use the world!" That he intends a
careful use, a heart-felt, hearty use, is plain from all the rest of his
writings, including this very chapter, particularly as regards having a
wife. Calvin understood this well enough. Having exhorted "contempt …
for the present life," he continues, in the Institutes: "Still
the contempt which believers should train themselves to feel for the
present life must not be of a kind to beget hatred of it or ingratitude
The command is not to flee the world, but to use it
in a certain way; and this way is, not for itself, but for the Goal of
it all: the Lord Christ, His coming Kingdom, and the re-fashioned world.
Into this Kingdom, we and the children whom we
educate have already been translated. Our hearts are on it, and we seek
The present time must usher us into eternity. We use
the world in its present fashion for the sake of the world in its future
fashion. All earthly things and relationships are used and enjoyed, or
suffered, on behalf of the heavenly Christ. Nothing in time is permitted
to deflect from eternity; and nothing in the world, to compete with
Exactly this invests the present world, and our life
in it, with meaning and purpose—real significance. Even this poor,
perishing world is important, for although the fashion of it passes
away, the world itself shall be re-formed in the fashion of Christ. It
is eternity, the eternity of the coming Christ, that makes having a
wife, weeping, rejoicing, buying, and use of the world significant. It
is eternity, the eternity of the coming Kingdom of God, that makes
instruction concerning this world, and life in it, significant.
We live and rear our children with a view to
A Prayer on Preparing to Go to School
"Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by
taking heed thereto according to thy word" - Psalm 119:9
"O Lord, Who art the fountain of all wisdom and
learning, since Thou of Thy special goodness hast granted that my youth
is instructed in good arts which may assist me to honest and holy
living, grant also, by enlightening my mind, which otherwise labours
under blindness, that I may be fit to acquire knowledge; strengthen my
memory faithfully to retain what I may have learned: and govern my
heart, that I may be willing and even eager to profit, lest the
opportunity which Thou now givest me be lost through my sluggishness. Be
pleased therefore to infuse Thy Spirit into me, the Spirit of
understanding, of truth, judgment, and prudence, lest my study be
without success and the labour of my teacher be in vain. In whatever
kind of study I engage, enable me to remember to keep its proper and in
view, namely, to know Thee in Christ Jesus Thy Son; and may every thing
that I learn assist me to observe the right rule of godliness. And
seeing Thou promisest that Thou wilt bestow wisdom on babes, and such as
are humble, and the knowledge of Thyself on the upright in heart, while
Thou declarest that Thou wilt cast down the wicked and the proud, so
that they will fade away in their ways, I entreat that Thou wouldst be
pleased to turn me to true humility, that thus I may show myself
teachable and obedient first of all to Thyself, and then to those also
who by Thy authority are placed over me. Be pleased at the same time to
root out all vicious desires from my heart, and inspire it with an
earnest desire of seeking Thee. Finally, let the only end at which I aim
be so to qualify myself in early life, that when I grow up I may serve
Thee in whatever station Thou mayest assign me. Amen" - John Calvin
"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and
be will show them his covenant" - Psalm 25:14
"Instructed in true religion and in the knowledge of
good letters you are come in order to be able to work to the glory of
God" - Theodore Beza (at the opening of the remodelled College of Geneva
in June, 1559)