************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Articles 1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on Feb 17, 2013
Canons of Dort Head I Articles 1-2
"Man's Sin and God's Love"
I The Human Condition
A The Canons begin with three statements about the condition of fallen man.
The first statement: "All ... have sinned in Adam."
All. Not some. Not most. But all have sinned. No exceptions. No saints. All sinners. I read the Law as a teacher of sin a few moments ago. Not one of us perfectly keeps the demands of God's law. Not one of us is even able to perfectly keep the demands of God's law.
Topic: SinThe mayor knew the truth about the human condition. Everyone of us is a sinner.
Subtopic: Universality of
In preparation for a meeting in a large city, famed evangelist Billy Sunday wrote a letter to the mayor in which he asked for the name of individuals he knew who had a spiritual problem and needed help and prayer.
How surprised the evangelist was when he received from the mayor a city directory.
To support its view that all people are sinners, living in a state of disobedience before God, the Canons point to Paul's teaching in Romans 3:23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Further proof is found earlier in our Scripture reading:
(Rom 3:10-12) "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
This not only is the teaching of the Bible but this is also our experience in daily life. What do we see when we look in the mirror? What do we see when we look at our children? We see that us humans are selfish and scheming and dishonest and begrudging and impatient and arrogant and disrespectful. We are sinners. I came across three news stories this week:
The headline of the first story reads: "Free Divorce For Valentine's Day." You got to be kidding, I thought to myself. Only sinners can turn a secular holiday celebrating love into a day that celebrates its opposite. Even sadder? Five hundred people have applied!I say again, we are sinners.
The second story concerns Christopher Dorner, the former LA police officer. Not only did he kill three people but he also posted a manifesto on Facebook outlining his plans to kill the families of those he says have wronged him.
The third story concerns a push in Canada to reclassify paedophilia as a sexual orientation. One commentator said, "We outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong. Perhaps we're wrong about paedophilia."
B The second statement: "All people ... have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death." This, too, comes from the Bible: "the wages of sin is death," writes Paul in Romans 6.
Paul speaks of wages. Wages are something you earn. They are something you have coming. Justice demands that the laborer be given his wages. That is why the Bible warns employers to pay the wages of a hired man. In most states the law demands that employees always be paid. When a company goes bankrupt, the right of an employee to be paid comes before the government's right to collect taxes, a creditor's right to seize assets, or a shareholder's right to get his investment back.
The Canons talk to us this evening about "the wages of sin." I am sure you get the point. In the same way as an employee has a right to his or her wages, so the sinner has a right to his or her wages.
"The wages of sin is death." Just like an employee deserves her paycheck, so the sinner deserves death. That's what the Canons are telling us. That's why Robert Whitlock, Luella Reitsma, and Margaret Lynd died in the last week or so. That's why all of us can expect to die. It is the wages of sin.
"The wages of sin is death." This is nothing new. This was announced in the Garden of Eden already. Do you remember what God said to Adam when he placed him in the Garden? He said,
(Gen 2:16-17) "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; (17) but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."God announced – way back at the beginning of time already – that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, when Adam sinned he brought spiritual and physical death upon himself and all mankind (cf Gen 3:8,19).
C The third statement: "God would have done no one an injustice if it had been His will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin." Or, let me put it another way: God doesn't have to save anyone.
No one by nature deserves anything but death. In light of sin and guilt, it is normal and ordinary that everyone be lost. God would do no injustice to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse. Therefore, God is not a hot-tempered tyrant Who overreacts by unjustly sending people to hell. When God punishes sin, God is being just and fair and gives sinful man exactly what he deserves.
D Oh how our culture disagrees with these three statements. First, most people today do not want to admit they are sinners. Rather, the prevalent view today is that everyone is basically good. I haven't heard it yet, but I am expecting the mother of Christopher Dorner to say on national TV that her boy was a good boy.
Second, our world does not accept the basic concept of sin. The world does not accept that there is a law of right and wrong that we have transgressed. The world does not accept the concept of God's holiness. And, if nothing is wrong, then there can be no punishment of wrong either.
Third, our world wants to believe that no one ends up in hell and everyone ends up in heaven. Our world considers it strange and extraordinary if anyone should perish everlastingly. And, it considers it normal and ordinary that everyone be saved.
Those who hold to these three worldly beliefs view the Canons as strange, cruel, and heartless. Many will go so far as to even become angry.
The theology set forth in the Canons does not begin with the rosy viewpoint that most Americans have about human nature. Rather, it begins with the Biblical view of sin and punishment.
The result of the Biblical viewpoint is very important to our study of the Canons: no man, woman, or child is able to save themselves. Rather, we need saving; we need rescue; we need God's grace. And, apart from this rescue we can only spend eternity in the fires of hell.
E Behind the discussion between us and our culture is an old, old debate. On the one hand was Augustine, one of the leading theologians of the early church. On the other hand was Pelagius, branded by the early church as a heretic.
The Canons stand in the tradition of Augustine and emphasize the graciousness of God to sinners. We declare to the world that God saves sinners from beginning to end. We declare that sinners repent and believe only because of the gracious work of God.
Those in the tradition of Pelagius focus upon man's natural ability – especially man's ability to carry out God's commands and save himself.
Most American Christians are semi-Pelagian. Simply put, semi-Pelagians do not speak of salvation as God's rescue of people who are dead in sin. Rather, they speak of salvation as a kind of transaction in which God contributes grace and men and women contribute faith. The semi-Pelagian preacher says, "God has done His part, now it is up to you to do your part ..." In other words, God is not totally in control, from beginning to end, of the salvation process. The semi-Pelagian believes we are downing, God throws us a life raft, but it is up to us to climb in.
The viewpoint of the Canons is that we are fallen and enslaved in sin. We aren't merely drowning. Instead, we have drowned and are lying dead at the bottom of the sea. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. Which means the Pelagians are wrong in thinking we are able to save ourselves. And, the semi-Pelagians are flat out wrong in claiming we can contribute to our salvation.
II The Love of God
A Do you know where this leave us? God needs to provide rescue. God needs to bring to life those who are dead. God needs to seek out the lost. God needs to seek sinners; sinners do not seek out God. As Jesus puts it, "the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). Here we come to Article 2.
Do you know what God doesn't do? God could have justly let all people perish everlastingly. But He doesn't do that. God chooses to let some guilty, hell-deserving sinners be saved. God chooses to let some people experience His mercy rather than His justice.
Many people do not realize how extraordinary this really is. The modern viewpoint says it is extraordinary that anyone perish. But, based upon the Bible, the Canons says it is strange and out of the ordinary that anyone be saved. The real mystery is not that anyone is lost; the real mystery is that anyone at all is saved.
The Canons combine two Bible texts, 1 John 4:9 and John 3:16, in Article 2:
But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.Here, in three more statements we are told the origin, the grounds, and the means of salvation.
B Why doesn't God just let everyone perish? Why does He save some sinners who are just as guilty as those sinners He doesn't save? Article 2 teaches us that the origin of salvation is the love of God. This is the first proposition.
God doesn't show this love because those who are saved are so lovable – like a cuddly baby or a wiggly puppy-dog. Don't forget, there is nothing loving or cute or cuddly about us for we are all sinners, guilty in God's sight, and fully deserving of hell-fire. Rather, God shows this love because He is so loving. It pleases God to shower upon a lost-in-sin mankind the eternally perfect love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for each other.
C The second proposition has to do with the grounds of salvation. The unshakable ground of salvation is the sending into the world of God's only begotten Son.
We need to see here the connection between God's love and the sending of the Son. There have been those who have said that God is filled with hatred and wrath against men, but that it is Christ Who changed that hatred to love.
The Canons know better than to say this. Based upon Scripture it asserts that God's love is first! Because God loves His people from all eternity with a never-ending and unchangeable love, He sent His only begotten Son into the world. If it were not for God's perfect love, Christ would never have come. Christ, therefore, is how God shows His love to a lost-in-sin mankind. This love of God expressed in the sending of His One and Only Son is far deeper and broader and greater than we can possibly imagine.
Topic: LoveIn the same way we cannot plumb the depths of God's love, because our human measuring line is too short.
Subtopic: Of God
Title: Deeper Than That
Nansen, the Norwegian explorer, tried to measure an extremely deep part of the Arctic Ocean. The first day, he used his longest measuring line but couldn't reach bottom. He wrote in his log book, "The ocean is deeper than that!"
The next day, he added more line but still could not measure the depth, and so again in his record book he wrote, "Deeper than that!"
After several days of adding more and more pieces of rope and cord to his line, he had to leave that part of the ocean without learning its actual depth. All he knew was that it was beyond his ability to measure.
D The third proposition has to do with the means through which some are saved and receive everlasting life. That means is belief or faith. Only those who, by grace, believe in God's one and only Son are saved and receive eternal life.
All people are sinners deserving hell-fire. The surprising thing is not that any end up in hell but that some end up in heaven.
The big question that the Canons attempt to answer concerns those in heaven. Quoting John 3:16 the Canons tell us that those who end up in heaven are the "whoever." God "sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
The "whoever." Who are they? Why do they believe? How do they believe? And, most important of all, am I one of them?
These are the crucial questions we will be answering as we continue our study of the Canons.
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