Taking Heed to the Flock: A Study of the Principles and Practice of Family Visitation

Peter Y. de Jong, Ph. D.

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 3, no. 3 (July 1994)

Chapter X: The Supreme Ideal of Family Visitation

“As the people of Israel, after being delivered from the oppression of Egypt, were in advance day by day on the way to their goal, the land of Canaan, so we also must make a steady advance on the way to perfection. The longer we are on the way of eternal life, the nearer we are to be to our ideal! Is this indeed a demand? No. Thank God! it is a promise” (J. J. Knap, Spiritual Growth).

God’s people are strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Called out of darkness to the marvelous light of the kingdom of heaven, they have the supreme obligation and privilege of showing forth the excellencies of their heavenly Father. In thought, word and deed their lives are to be transformed after the pattern and image of the Lord Jesus, through whose precious blood they have their redemption from sin and through the power of whose Holy Spirit they are kept for the salvation ready to be revealed in the last times.

All of their life must therefore come under the sweet and pervasive influence of His Word, which is the rule for their faith and practice. How earnestly they learn to pray,

Fill Thou my life, O Lord, my God,
In every part with praise;
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part.

Praise in the common words I speak,
Life’s common looks and tones,
In intercourse at hearth and board
With my beloved ones,
Enduring wrong, reproach or loss,
With sweet and steadfast will,
Loving and blessing those who hate,
Returning good for ill.

So shall each fear, each fret, each care,
Be turned into a song,
And every winding of the way
The echo shall prolong;
So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free,
But all my life in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.

This is not only a most complete ideal but also a most difficult program to be realized. For within us we still find in this life the power of sin. Daily is necessity laid upon us to mortify the flesh and walk in newness of life. From without continual temptations force themselves upon us, against which we, except for the grace of God, are absolutely powerless. This constant struggle must teach us each day anew our own unworthiness and helplessness. Faced with such undeniable spiritual realities, we are to seek refuge always in our blessed Savior through Whom we have the power to a new life.

This sanctification continues as long as we are in this life. Indeed, the way is not one of unbroken progress. Often and even bitterly the children of God complain that the good that they would, they do not, and the evil that they would not, they do. There are seasons of spiritual barrenness, lean years in our lives, when we see so little of the power of sovereign grace and taste so seldom the preciousness of the divine presence. There are days of murmuring and rebellion against the mysterious ways of the overruling providence. There are moments of despair, when we feel ourselves dreadfully lost in the mazes of sin. And yet in and through all this our faithful Covenant God continues to work out the salvation of His own. Never does He forsake the works of His own hands. Step by step He leads Us along the way with all its trials and temptations, until after life's little day is past we are meet for full fellowship with Him in glory.

Thus the Christian life below is a preparation for eternity. God has been pleased to work the first principles of grace in His own at the time of their regeneration. And as this life which He begets begins to unfold itself and becomes conscious of these tremendous spiritual realities, it needs direction and encouragement. Such is the pastoral duty of the overseers of the flock of Christ. Being themselves rooted and grounded in His Word and enjoying the assurance that they belong to the Savior, they are used to build up the church on earth.

They must instruct the congregation. In season and out of season their calling requires them to hold before every member the word of life which alone can make sinners wise unto salvation.

They must rebuke those who err. Young and old alike stray from the paths of righteousness and seek their fulfillment at times in the fields of sin. Lovingly, but firmly, the undershepherds seek such erring sheep and lead them back to the shelter of the fold, where alone there is safety and security.

They must comfort. Life may seem to deal bitterly with God's children for a season. The chastisements which come to each in His own time are grievous to be borne. Yet God wills that none shall be tempted above that which can be endured and therefore He commissions His servants to speak words of consolation and cheer. Being so strengthened and encouraged His people are able to continue their journey joyfully.

Does such spiritual work bear fruit? Indeed, it must. This cannot be otherwise, since God's Word never returns to Him void but accomplishes that whereunto it was sent. The saints are built up in faith and are drawn into ever closer communion with Him who is the fountainhead and final goal of their lives. Sinners who harden themselves against godly counsel and reproof are exposed and, unless they return to the Lord, must be excommunicated from the church, so that the body of Christ may be kept pure. Going from strength to strength in loving and obedient service to God through Christ, the congregation already here receives a foretaste of heaven.

And when eternity breaks, the results of this spiritual work of the officers of the church will be made manifest in the redeemed multitude which praises its God and Savior in perfection. The word of God by the mouth of His servant Daniel must be fulfilled: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2, 3).

Dr. P. Y. De Jong served several congregations in the Christian Reformed Church, and for a time taught at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids. In recent years he helped to organize the Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Orange City, Iowa, where he taught in its early years. Because of his conviction that the Christian Reformed Church has forsaken its heritage he and Mrs. De Jong recently separated from the denomination to become members of the Independent Christian Reformed Church of Lynwood, Illinois. Dr. and Mrs. De Jong live in Northwest Iowa during the summer where they sometimes attend services at the Hull Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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