Theodore Vander Groe (1705-1784) had little expectation for the time in which he lived. He was deeply saddened by the spiritual and moral declension of the people and the church of the Netherlands. Human wisdom had made its way into church and society. Increasingly, preachers had positive thoughts about man’s abilities. Would a divine wonder really need to happen in man’s life? If only man believes and leads a virtuous life, would not the Lord reward such believing and well-meaning people?
Against this background, Rev. Vander Groe portrayed the difference between true grace and false grace with stark colours. In doing so, he addressed a topic that is still a timely one. The minister of Kralingen near Rotterdam, the Netherlands, also raised his voice against the decline of his days. Especially in the cutting sermons preached on prayer days about the sins of society at large and the church in particular, he spared no flesh. Time and again he emphasized that there was not the least reason for complacency. If God should come with His righteous judgments, who would not fear?
Often the choice of his text for these prayer days was a message by itself. Once he gave out Jeremiah 6:8 as his text: “Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest My soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited.” At another occasion he came with a strict warning: “Woe also to them when I depart from them!” (Hosea 9:12b). Or he issued a call: “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways” (Ezek. 33:11b).
The congregation must have been puzzled when another prayer day arrived and the pastor chose Romans 11:26 for his text. “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Was this an appropriate text for a prayer day sermon? Yes, it was, and a wonderful one at that! The shepherd of Kralingen undertook to speak about the Jewish people, “the first and ancient people of the Lord.” He called on his hearers to “perceive God’s awe-inspiring and holy ways with this nation.” When the Jews had filled the measure of their sins, God expelled them from the promised land, made them come back again, but dismissed them once more approximately forty years after they had rejected the Lord Jesus. They had to leave His house “just as a faithless and adulterous wife is sent away.”
Rev. Vander Groe continued by saying that the Lord then turned to the Gentiles to adopt them as His people: “Since that time this faithful God has established His covenant also with the nations and placed His sanctuary among them forever and ever.” The pressing question that remains, however, is how things will go with the Jews. In a compassionate manner the old divine of the Further Reformation calls them wretched and miserable in light of the fact that they “have found themselves under that extremely heavy judgment of the holy God for more than seventeen centuries.” Nevertheless, God still bears them as they continue to be His people and will forever remain so. The minister of Kralingen was convinced that their sad condition of dismissal and rejection would one day cease to exist: “With great and wondrous power” God will exert Himself “to bring His Jewish wife home, that ancient and adulterous nation which is now entirely estranged and separated from Him for so long.”
What is the greatest benefit that the Jewish people cannot do without? Romans 11:26 gives a clear answer to this question. “The great Lord, the Messiah, the faithful Lord and Bridegroom and the almighty Redeemer of His Church will then in mercy return to His old and abandoned people.” It must have been with adoration that Rev. Vander Groe cried out from his pulpit, “What an abyss of Christ’s unchangeableness and faithfulness opens itself up before our eyes in this glorious prophecy!”
As a faithful servant of God, the minister did not fail to apply this message to his hearers in a most personal way: “Oh my friends, it is now high time for all of us to rightly and believingly know our blessed Redeemer, the Saviour of Zion, and to stop spurning and despising Him and His divine help and grace.” It was an application for the people of Kralingen, but also one that we should take to heart!