************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Article 16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 26, 2013
Canons, Head I, Article 16
"Let Us Draw Near to God"
What a difference, what a vast difference, there is between what God says and what the world says. Many times they are the opposite of each other.
THE WORLD SAYS: Everyone is basically good.
GOD SAYS: "All have sinned" (Romans 3:23).
THE WORLD SAYS: There is no hell, so there's no need to be concerned.
GOD SAYS: "Fear him who...has power to throw you into hell" (Luke 12:5).
THE WORLD SAYS: Heaven is not a real place.
GOD SAYS: "I am going...to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).
THE WORLD SAYS: There is no such thing as life after death.
GOD SAYS: "Man is destined to die...and after that...judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
THE WORLD SAYS: We cannot be sure of salvation or our destiny when we die.
GOD SAYS: "You may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).
We are reminded that someday we all will stand before God – you, me, and every other person who has ever lived.
Tell me, before the throne how will you face God? Will you face Him with fear and trembling or will you face Him with confidence and hope? In the final analysis it will be either the one or the other. So tell me, how will you face God?
Tonight we continue our study of God's eternal decree of reprobation. We want to know, who are those who should be terrified of this doctrine? And, who are those who have nothing to fear?
I The Awfulness of Reprobation
A Let there be no mistake about it: reprobation is a terrible thing. To be destined eternally unto damnation, and to know, or to imagine, or to even consider such a possibility, is terrifying for any soul. This terror of reprobation is increased when we remember exactly what reprobation is: the sovereign, unchangeable, inflexible decree of God to leave men in their sin and to judge them for that sin.
If you play around with the truth of reprobation, you can take away all of its bite. If you pretend to yourself that salvation is up to you, then there is nothing terrifying about reprobation. For then, all you need do is make a decision to believe and you are no longer reprobate. But the moment you say reprobation is eternal, unchangeable, and according to God's good pleasure – then reprobation is indeed terrible to think about.
B Don't forget what the consequence of reprobation is. To put it bluntly, the consequence is judgment, eternal damnation. About this our Scripture reading says:
(Heb 10:31) It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.For the reprobate there is and can only be
(Heb 10:27) a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.I don't know about you, but when I hear this or read this it gives me the goose bumps.
Try to imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to experience this awful judgment of God. Jesus speaks to us of Gehenna, a place of fire and worms. Revelation speaks to us of the lake of burning sulphur, the second death, and torment that goes on day and night for ever and ever. Not a nice picture, not at all, of what happens to those who fall into the hands of the living God. So I say again, reprobation is a terrible thing; it is as terrible as election and grace are wonderful.
C The Canons of Dort, if you remember, were written against the Arminians. The Arminians hated and opposed the Biblical doctrine of reprobation. They hate any teaching which affirms the sovereignty of God over salvation. They hate any teaching in which man has no say and no control over his eternal destiny. They said the teaching of reprobation frightens and terrifies the people of God and robs them of any comfort and hope and assurance.
In response, Article 16 tells us that no true child of God, regardless of how weak and wavering his or her faith may be, has any need to be terrified of reprobation. Article 16 reminds us that while not one of the reprobate can ever be saved, at the same time not one of God's dear elect will ever go lost. I think here of what Jesus said:
(Jn 6:37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
Again I ask, who are those who should be terrified with the doctrine of reprobation? Or, to put it another way, who are those that will face God's judgment throne with fear and trembling?
Article 16 mentions three groups of people and their response to reprobation. We shall find out that they all, in their own way, respond wrongly to this doctrine.
II Maturing Souls
A The first group of people article 16 mentions are those I call "maturing souls." These are young Christians or baby Christians who do not yet experience a living faith in Christ. They have "[no] confidence of heart, [no] peace of conscience, [no] zeal for childlike obedience, and [no] glorying in God through Christ." At the same time, you do find them in worship Sunday after Sunday; they diligently attend Catechism or Bible Study; they are involved in the societies of the church. We call them young people, or children, or adult singles. Generally, they have not yet professed their faith.
B Consider the situation of a typical young person within the church. She has been trained in God's ways from infancy on, so has never experienced a sudden conversion. She has received the Spirit and new life but it has not yet fully blossomed into faith's full knowledge and conviction and assurance. She loves God but has a hard time explaining how or why.
Now, in Catechism class and in worship this young person hears about election and reprobation. And she begins to wonder, "If I am elect, how come I haven't been converted, how come I don't have faith's knowledge and conviction and assurance, how come I don't always have love for God?" Thinking along these lines, it is really easy for the maturing soul to come to the conclusion that she must be reprobate.
C What must such a person be told? What can parents say to a child who worries about her possible reprobation?
According to the Canons, we can say to such a person that they "ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the reprobate." Why not? The fact is, anyone who is reprobate will never be troubled or anxious in soul by questions of the hereafter; nor will they bother themselves with questions about conversion or love for God and man.
We need to tell such persons that a maturing soul is already a saved soul. She is troubled by her sin, even though she may say, "I am not troubled enough by my sin." She loves God, even though she may say, "That love is not strong enough." Such a soul is not reprobate.
According to the Canons, we can also counsel a maturing soul worried about reprobation to "continue diligently in the use of the means." Those means include worship, Bible Study, devotions, sacraments, and the instruction of parents and teachers.
If there is any young person here who is worried about reprobation, let me tell you, it is spiritual suicide to stay away from worship and Catechism and youth group; it is spiritual suicide to stop reading the Bible and having a time of prayer with God. Why do I say this? Because, let me ask you, "Where can you obtain assurance of salvation? Where can you attain peace of conscience? Where can you learn childlike obedience? Where can you learn about the riches of God's sovereign grace?" Where? From worship and Bible study and devotions and Sunday School and youth group and chapel. All of this you can get only by making diligent use of the means God has provided.
The Canons also speak of waiting "in reverence and humility" for "a time of more abundant grace." What does this mean? When you desire a living faith in Christ, a confidence of heart, a peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ, there is only one thing to do: take it to the Lord in prayer! Don't forget, God "gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 116). In other words, when you are filled with fear about reprobation, ask God in prayer for His grace and Spirit. And – eventually – the fear will be taken away and the assurance will be given that you are one of the elect instead of one of the reprobate.
To these young trembling Christians, Hebrews has this to say:
(Heb 10:21-22) since we have a great priest over the house of God, (22) let us draw near to God ...
III Imperfect Believers
A The second group of people article 16 mentions are those I call "imperfect believers." These believers sincerely desire to serve and love God. They want to put to death their old man of sin. But, when they look at their life they are not satisfied with their level of godliness and faith. In other words, these people have all the essential marks of a true Christian. Yet, these believers too become alarmed at the mention of reprobation. It fills them with fear and dread and they worry they are reprobate rather than elect.
B What is their trouble? Why do they fear reprobation?
Their trouble is not that they lack the marks of a true Christian believer. Their trouble is not their imperfections. In both areas they are normal, like every other true Christian believer. Their trouble is that they make the wrong judgment about their imperfections. Looking at them they leap to the conclusion that they are reprobate.
These believers forget two things. First, they forget that in looking at their sin they are looking away from Christ and His perfect sacrifice. Second, they forget that in this life and on this earth there neither are nor can there be any perfect Christians.
C What is the cure for these frightened Christians? Very simply, they needed to be pointed – again and again, if necessary – to the promises of God. And God's promise is that He will never "snuff out a smoldering wick" and will never "break a bruised reed." This is the promise that God, Who began a good work in them, will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). God is faithful. God is true. He says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut 31:6,8; Josh 1:5)." He says, "I will be with you to the very end of the age" (Mt 28:20). This God, by His grace and His Spirit, will preserve these troubled, imperfect believers in the faith so that they will not slip away.
To these trembling Christians, Hebrews has this to say:
(Heb 10:21-22) since we have a great priest over the house of God, (22) let us draw near to God ...
A The third group of people article 16 mentions can only be called "apostate." They have come into contact with God and His Christ. But they have rejected the Creator and Savior and Lord. And, they have given themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh. They not only are godless, but they are godless under the preaching of the Gospel.
These are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, who have experienced some or all of the following: they have attended worship, been taught in Catechism, participated in Bible Study, and had the benefit of Christian schooling. But have decided to reject all of this.
B These people are spoken of throughout the New Testament. This is what John says:
(1Jn 2:19) They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.Do you hear the description? They fell away because "they did not really belong to us." For a time they professed faith, but eventually their profession was proven to be false.
The Apostle Paul describes these people this way: "You ... have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal 5:4).
Our Bible reading from Hebrews describes them this way:
(Heb 10:26-27) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, (27) but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Cf Heb 6:4-6)
In His Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3ff) our Lord mentions seed that fell along the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns. Some of those who profess faith are of the poor soil that our Lord describes. Faith may flourish for a time, but cannot ultimately take root because of sin and the cares of the world.
C These apostates, when they hear about reprobation, should be in fear and trembling. They aren't, of course, because that's what it means to be apostate and reprobate.
Terrible, awful, horrible, is the doctrine of reprobation for such people – if they do not repent and turn to God and His Christ. For such people, as Hebrews puts it, "God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). And, they need to be told, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31).
Three groups of people. Three responses to reprobation. The maturing souls of some of our young don't understand the benefits of a Christian upbringing and wrongly fear reprobation. The imperfections of other members lead them to wrongly fear reprobation. And the apostasy of the ungodly so darkens their understanding that they neither fear reprobation nor the judgment that follows.
We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
(Heb 10:35-36) So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (36) You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
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