The following is an article/letter written by Dr. Van Til in 1933 during a period of time in America known as the “Great Depression”, for which “Black Tuesday” the stock market crash is also known. He wrote this around Thanksgiving, and so I present it to you near this Thanksgiving day. May God bless you readers.
But Ye Are Rich
by Cornelius Van Til
Copyright © 1933, The Banner Vol 68, Christian Reformed Church in NA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
On this Thanksgiving Day we rejoice with fear and trembling. The depression is still on. The economical situation has improved, some say, a little; others say, none. At best we feel quite uncertain about the future.
Not only is it that we as individuals, ignorant to a large extent of government affairs, feel uncertain. The government itself seems to be uncertain. Outspoken and honest men tell us that the government is experimenting. It has embarked upon a new program. This new program is, moreover, quite different from any other it has ever embarked upon before. How can it help but be uncertain as to the outcome?
Even the wisest counsel of the wisest economical experts does not relieve the oppressive feeling of uncertainty. The forces with which these experts deal are unwieldy. The factors that enter into the situation are so numerous and so diversified that men hesitate any longer to speak of economic laws. The law of supply and demand seems to some to have failed.
On Prayer Day and at other times we have prayed for an abundance of crops. The Lord has answered our prayers. He has given us plenty. He seems even to have given us too much. At any rate the government has destroyed thousands of pigs. So we seem even to be uncertain what to pray for, and what to give thanks for. A poor crop seems to bring better prices. Yet a very poor crop would certainly bring a shortage. Uncertainty seems to be written on the whole economic situation. How then can we celebrate Thanksgiving Day?
Some would seek comfort for all our ills in the power of science. The economic experts called in by the present government are bringing the insight of science to bear upon the task of government. But they only reflect the general attitude of science today. That attitude itself is one of uncertainty. Scientists used to think that they dealt with irrevocable laws. They used to think that all man needed to do was to discover these laws and live in accordance with them. Today science scarcely dares to speak of laws at all. It tells us that it deals with “contingencies,” that is, with uncertainties. The naive Marxian socialist, to be sure, exists, but he exists only because he has had no time to read what science says today. Science today says that it has “no pronouncement to make” since she does not know whether she is dealing with truth at all. Science professes to be working in a universe of chance. Uncertainty at best is the last word of science.
Others would search for a remedy in the field of philosophy. But philosophy can scarcely be distinguished from science today. Philosophy is so anxious to deal only with the “facts of science” that it does no more than make some generalizations on these facts. Philosophy has given up the “quest for certainty.” It no longer looks for eternal laws. It, too, deals with “contingencies.” It, too, deals only with chance. Uncertainty at best is the last word of non-Christian philosophy.
Still others would look for relief from uncertainty in religion. They think that religion somehow gives them the right to be certain where science and philosophy do not. But such comfort does not last long. It is bought at the price of inconsistency. If science actually teaches that there may or may not be a resurrection from the dead I cannot get rid of this uncertainty by an appeal to religion. If religion teaches something different from science both cannot be right. I must then ask which one is right.
Now modern religion, generally speaking, has taken for granted that what science teaches must be right. Accordingly it has also clothed itself in the garb of uncertainty. Modernists speak inbeautiful language about “spiritual values” and “abiding principles.” But this is only because they have not yet had time to read as fully as they should what science says today. Modernism wants to build its religion upon “scientific fact.” But according to science all values and all principles have come by chance. According to science today, the “spiritual” is derived from the physical and the “eternal” from the temporal. That all things flow and all things change is the highest wisdom of Modernism. There is no more certainty for the man dying in the faith of Modernism than there was for Socrates when he drank the hemlock cup.
Even would-be orthodox movements in religion partake of the gospel of uncertainty that science and philosophy teach. Frank Buchman thought it fine when his friend prayed: “O God, if there be a God, change Bill Pickle, Mrs. Pickle and the little Pickles.”
Yesterday, Today And Forever The Same
Where then shall we go? And for what shall we give thanks? Or shall we give thanks at all? Indeed, we shall give thanks. If ever, we ought now to go directly to the root and source of our comfort and joy. If in prosperous times there was danger that we should rejoice in the gift without the giver, there ought to be no such danger now. If ever, we ought now to realize that the Giver is himself the greatest gift. “I, the Lord, change not,” said God to Israèl, and we are by his grace the Israèl of God. In the midst of all the uncertainty that surrounds us on every side comes the same word of comfort and joy to us: “I, the Lord, change not.”
Before we think upon the sunshine and the rain, before we think upon the health of body and of mind that we, our loved ones, and our nation have received this year, let us think upon the changeless God. All the waves and billows of uncertainty cannot overwhelm us; He is the anchor of our soul. All the winds of chance cannot sweep us away; we are planted upon the Rock. He keeps us in the hollow of his hand; only if He could change would we have to fear.
God changes not. Hence he has made this world of change. God has made the “facts” of science. God has made these facts to work in accordance with laws. The “contingency” of facts is only apparent. Even the winds obey the will of God. When they bring the summer drought they are yet the messengers of God. His purpose is wrought out by them.
What is your only comfort in life and in death? The beautiful answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism tells us. That answer should mean more to the Church of God today than it has ever meant before. As Christians living in this age we have been more deeply immersed in what seems to be nothing but a universe of remorseless and meaningless chance than ever our forefathers have been. It is only God’s changelessness that keeps life from being anything but a farce and a puppet dance. It is only God’s changelessness that keeps life from being a shipwreck. All the powers of time and change are in his hand. Change is subordinate to the Changeless One. Thanks be to God, our Creator-God.
God changes not. Hence this world of change will change. This world will have a “new deal” yet. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Paradise lost will be more than regained. At present the earth is cursed because of the sin of man. It does not naturally bring forth thorns and thistles. The world is abnormal now. It will get “back to normalcy” one day. Mere man could not change the world so as to destroy forever the purpose of God for a good and beauti-ful universe. The “change” that man has wrought will be used by God to make a change for the better yet.
Naive Marxian socialists still build utopias. They speak of progress. Other types of socialists, disillusioned to some extent though they are, also build utopias. Hence they are still more naive. There can be no real change for the better in a world of chance. Modernist preachers tell us there will somehow be peace and prosperity in the future. Will the generations of men take to the “spirit of Jesus” by chance? Socialists and Modernists are like children who dream sweet dreams and feel that “somehow” as by magic their dreams will come true. But we have a changeless God. We have a God who will yet show us good. The future is ours because it is our God’s. We are progressive. We lay plans for years to come. We lay plans for eternity. Our labors are not in vain in the Lord. The changeless God has a changeless purpose with the world, with us and with our children. He realizes his purpose though us. Will He not then provide? Thanks be to our Provider-God.
“For I, the Lord, change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” God upholds the universe in spite of the sin of man. But for the eternal mercies of God a sinful world could not exist for an instant. We are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. The evil that man has wrought could not undo the eternal purposes of God’s grace for his own. Our hearts adore his changeless grace. No one can erase our names from the book of life. Nothing separate us from the love of Christ. Thanks be to our Savior-God.
Our Creator-God, our Provider-God, our Savior-God, he is our God. We are the sheep of his pasture. He leads us beside the still water. He feeds us by day. He watches over us by night. “In peace will I both lay me down and sleep: For thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety.”
Thanks Be To God
What more can we say? Nothing more. There is nothing more that we could desire. Instead of with anguish and fear our hearts are filled with confidence and joy. These things said the “first and the last” to the church at Smyrna, in the midst of its poverty, in the midst of its persecution, in the midst of its uncertainty. Did it appear to them as more theory? Did it seem to them that the ministers who brought this message that they were rich in God though poor in the world had no sense of the needs of men? It did not. It comforted them. It was the only message that really did comfort them. It gave them courage for the martyr’s death. It gave them strength to carry on with the daily task, disheartening as it would seem in itself.
That gospel of a changeless God we have been allowed to preach in our churches. That gospel of a changeless God we have been allowed to teach in our schools. That gospel has led our aged loved ones in comfort to the grave. That gospel has strengthened us for every task, upheld us in our every weakness, and prepared us for our every emergency. That gospel we have brought to others. That gospel we may still bring to others. It is the everlasting gospel. It is the gospel of the changeless God. Though our hearts should be tempted to enumerate the difficulties, the privations and visitations of these lean years, though we should look around and find that naught but the message of fear comes to us from every side, and though the “fact” should seem to indicate and the “experts” should seem to corroborate that all is uncertain ahead, yet will the Spirit testify to the truth of his Word and interject, subdue and control with the words, “But ye are rich.”