************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Articles 3-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 3, 2013
Canons, Head I, Articles 3-4
"Gospel Preaching and Response"
Let me start with an illustration I know I have used once before.
Two decades ago the "British Weekly" printed a letter to the editor:This story illustrates the importance of preaching for faith. Faith needs preaching, thrives on preaching, matures on preaching.
"Dear Sir: I notice that ministers seem to set a great deal of importance on their sermons and spend a great deal of time in preparing them. I have been attending services quite regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than 3,000 sermons, but, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitably spent on something else? Sincerely...."
That letter triggered an avalanche of angry responses for weeks. Sermons were castigated and defended by lay and clergy, but eventually a single letter closed the debate:
"My dear Sir: I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals -- mostly of my wife's cooking. Suddenly I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago. Sincerely...."
-- James D. Berkley, "Preaching to Convince"
Preaching and faith is also the theme of the articles in front of us as we continue our study of the Canons of Dordt.
Step by step the Canons are carefully unfolding for us the truth concerning salvation and divine predestination. If you remember, in Article 1 we are told that God is not obligated to save anyone, but could justly have left all people in their sin and condemnation. Nevertheless, in Article 2, we are told that it is God's purpose to save some, so out of love He sent His one and only Son into the world that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Today we look at two follow-up questions. First, we must ask how is it that some come to believe? The short answer is that the preaching of the Gospel is the means whereby some come to believe. Second, what takes place when the Gospel is preached? The short answer is that some do not believe and some do believe the Gospel.
I Gospel Preaching
A "In order that people may be brought to faith," says the Canons, "God ... sends proclaimers of this very joyful message." The Canons are very careful to link the end or goal to the means. The end or goal is salvation for sinners who do not deserve it. The means by which those same sinners are saved is the preaching, teaching, and communication of the Gospel.
"In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message." The Canons make it clear here that the Gospel is entirely of and from God. You see, God's love and the Son of God's love cannot be discovered by human reason, study, or research. Nor can they be found out from God's general revelation in the things He has made. God's love and the Son of God's love can only be known when God makes it known. And He does so by sending preachers to proclaim the Good News.
The Gospel is of and from God and not of and from man at all. Even when the Gospel is preached by man, it is not man's Gospel. Men are but preachers of the joyful message. The message is not their own and the authority to preach or proclaim is not their own. Rather, the Gospel message is all of and from God.
B "God ... sends proclaimers of this very joyful message." A preacher must be sent by God. This is often overlooked today. It seems that almost anyone who has a hankering to preach can be recognized as a preacher. This past week someone reminded me of David Koresh. I haven't thought about David Koresh for ten years. He couldn't write. He could barely read. He had no education. He didn't even know or understand the Bible. But he decided he could be a preacher and built a cult around himself in Waco, Texas.
A preacher must be sent by God. They are not sent, first of all, by the church or by a congregation of believers; they are, first of all, sent by God. To support this the Canons turn to our Scripture reading from Romans. There Paul says,
(Rom 10:15) And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
C "God ... sends proclaimers of this very joyful message," says the Canons, "in order that people may be brought to faith." Preachers are used of God to bring people to faith. Or, as the Canons put it further on in Article 3:
By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified.The Scriptural support for this is also found in our passage for this evening:
(Rom 10:14-15) How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (15) And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"In these verses Paul links worship and prayer to faith to hearing the Gospel to the preaching of the Gospel to preachers being sent. In order to believe you must hear the Good News. And unless the Good News is heard, faith can never be the result.
Today, many people think the church is not necessary – but it is in and through the church that you hear the Good News.
I rode with some new cyclists yesterday. Everyone I was with turned around at the 34 mile mark.I let both men know they are missing something. Both men are missing the preaching of the Gospel.
I introduced myself. My phone started to ring. That made them ask what kind of work I do. Which led to talk about church and faith.
One guy said he was at peace even though he hasn't been in church for ten years. He knows how to be good and has no use for religion because all they do is trash each other.
Another guy said, "My church is Yokohl Valley."
D God's desire is for preachers to call people to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. Now, to do this they must preach the pure and not a false Gospel. To do this they must preach the truth and not what people's itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). Our eternal safety depends on the accuracy and faithfulness of our preachers.
Every day thousands of people stake their lives on bits of information being transmitted with absolute, scrupulous accuracy. For instance, some of you, like my wife, are allergic to penicillin. What would happen if we fail to reveal this on a trip to the doctor or hospital? The result would not be good and could even result in death.God's people are in the same situation. They depend on pastors to communicate the unchanging Word of God with clarity and accuracy. For if they don't, the result has eternal consequences.
For a couple of weeks Dennis and Gloria Verhoeven were awaiting test results on little Dennis. Someone mislabeled something and the tests were never done.
A nurse misread or misunderstood something and Virginia Senior was told her surgery could only be done in Washington D.C.
What is accurate and faithful preaching? It is preaching that calls for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
John C Ryland, 1723-1792, has this to say:Students of the Catechism should be quick to identify this as the three S's or three G's: Sin, Salvation, Service OR Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.
"No sermon is of any value, which has not the three R's in it: ruin by the fall, redemption by Christ, and regenerated by the Spirit."
In 1 Corinthians Paul points out this message is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is power of God (1 Cor 1:18-20). A little bit further on Paul says this same message is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles – and probably both to modern Americans. Yet, it is the only divinely ordained means through which God offers forgiveness of sins to sinners. As Calvin put it, "every time the Gospel is preached it is as if God Himself came in person solemnly to summon us." So, this is the message preachers must deliver clearly!
E The Canons tell us that the sending of preachers is in and of itself an act of great mercy. "God mercifully sends proclaimers ..." says the Canons. Some think that ordination and installation and commissioning are signs of God's favor towards preachers. Not so. Rather, they are signs of God's mercy towards fallen man.
"God mercifully sends proclaimers ..." The Gospel is not preached because of any right of fallen man to hear it. Rather, the Gospel is preached because God is merciful. Article 1 maintained that God might justly have left the entire human race in sin and condemnation. In the same way God might justly have withheld from the entire human race the preaching of the Gospel; which means, of course, that all remain in sin and evil; which means there is no faith, no salvation, and no life everlasting. But God doesn't withhold preaching – even though He has a right to – because He is merciful.
F History teaches us that the vast majority of mankind never come into contact with the Gospel. In the Old Testament, for instance, only a few outside of Israel ever heard the promise of the Gospel proclaimed – Melchizedek, for instance. And, in the New Testament we think of Cornelius. Why is this so?
Until recently the proclamation of the Gospel was also limited to a few. It was not until the invention of the radio and TV and Internet and Talking Bibles and cheap methods of mass publication that the Gospel actually began to be proclaimed to the farthest corners of the earth. Yet even today there are millions upon millions who have never so much as heard of Christ. Why?
According to the Wycliffe Bible Translators there are over 6,800 living languages in the world today; almost 2,000 of them encompassing 350 million people are still without Scripture. Again we ask "Why?" Why is it taking so long to translate Scripture? Why are so many language groups without the Bible? Why are so many without the Gospel? Why?
We would be making a mistake if we say God is short-handed, if we say God does not have enough men and women to proclaim His Gospel – though, as Jesus tells us, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. We would be in error if we say it is the fault of people who are disobedient to the call to preach the Word – even though we often are disobedient in this area. Remember Jonah? He tried to block and frustrate God's plan to have the Good News proclaimed to Nineveh by fleeing to the other side of the earth. This didn't work then and it doesn't work now. The sovereign God is more than able to have His message proclaimed. So why don't all hear the Gospel?
The Canons answers this question when it says God sends proclaimers "to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes." Every child of Adam who comes into contact with the Gospel does so exactly according to God's sovereign plan, even as far as the exact moment is concerned. The time and place of Gospel proclamation is according to God's plan.
God sends proclaimers to the people He wishes and at the time He wishes. Some wonder what this does to the church's mission. We have to realize we are not able to know the full counsel of God. We don't know either the people to whom or the times at which the Gospel is to be proclaimed. In other words, it is not for us to determine who can or cannot be told about Christ. We can't look at one neighbor and say, "Yes, he should be told," and look at another neighbor and say, "No, she shouldn't be told." All that we can do is follow the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).
G "In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message ..." Don't forget, we are talking about God's eternal decrees. We see here that election to eternal life does not take place in a vacuum. God does not zap people with election. God makes election real and effective in the lives of His children through the proclamation of the Gospel.
There are some in the Reformed community who say you can never issue a call to repent and believe without also mentioning election and reprobation. That is nonsense of course. Look at the first sermon of Jesus or John the Baptist or Peter on Pentecost. Did they say, "Repent and believe, if you are one of the elect"? Of course not. Because they know that God uses evangelism and outreach, Christian parents and teachers, youth group and Church School, home school and Christian School, faith and prayer, but especially the Word and Sacraments, in order to accomplish His election decree.
A Now, what happens when the Gospel is proclaimed? What is the reaction to the good tidings?
We are told of a two-fold reaction to the joyful tidings. First, as we learned this morning, some do not believe the good news about Jesus. Therefore, says the Canons, the wrath of God "remains" on them. Notice, God's wrath does not come upon them because they do not believe; rather, it remains on them because of their sin; all that their unbelief does is make their condemnation all the greater. These unbelievers are already under wrath; since that wrath is not removed from them they can only perish everlastingly. Jesus says,
(Jn 3:36) ... whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.
We cannot offer false hope, however sincere and caring we may be, to those who do not believe. We cannot tell unbelievers, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Because this statement is true only for those who believe. Those apart from Christ have no such hope. They can only expect God's wrath. That is why such people need to hear the three R's, S's, or G's I mentioned before.
Those who do not know Christ cannot be given false assurances. Upon their death they cannot be preached into heaven. They are without hope and without God in this world. They are separate from Christ and foreigners to the covenant of promise (Eph 2:11-22). They need to be told the wrath of God abides on them unless they repent and believe.
B Second, some do believe the joyful message of the proclaimers. They "embrace Jesus the Savior with a true and living faith." These are also under God's wrath because of sin, but that wrath does not remain upon them. Rather, because of Christ they are "delivered ... from God's anger and from destruction, and receive the gift of eternal life."
Christ has taken away the guilt of their sin. Which means He has removed the basis for God's anger towards them. Which further means they are at peace with God.
It is not the law and its condemnation that has the last word in the life of the Christian. Rather, it is the Gospel and its promise of peace that has the last word in the life of the Christian. In Christ, the believer knows sin has been forgiven – no matter how great the guilt.
C I want you to notice that contrary to what so many say today, the Canons openly state that not all men are saved. There is a distinction: some are saved and some are not. The wrath of God remains upon those who do not believe; as for those who do believe, they are delivered from God's anger and destruction and receive the gift of eternal life.
Now, I need to ask if you are one of those on whom the wrath of God remains or are you one of those delivered from God's anger and destruction? Are you one of those who hear the joyful tidings and respond with faith or are you one of those who reject the joyful message God has sent your way?
Which one are you?
I cannot look into your heart but I can say what the Gospel says:
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."If you believe, you shall not perish. If you do not believe, the wrath of God remains upon you.
Come to Jesus, congregation. Come to Jesus as a sinner. Come to Jesus and be delivered from God's anger and destruction. Come to Jesus and receive the gift of eternal life.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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