************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head II, Article 6-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 4, 2013
Canons, Head II, Articles 6,7
Ephesians 1:3-10; 2:8-10
"Unbelief - Man's Choice; Faith - God's Gift"
I A Promiscuous Proclamation
A When we looked at Article 5, we learned that the Gospel promise together with the command to repent and believe, "ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people." I mentioned at that time the wording of the old translation of Article 5 of the Canons. It said the Gospel is to be declared "promiscuously." As I mentioned, that is an odd word to use. We usually don't think of Gospel proclamation as being promiscuous. And yet, that's what we are to have – a promiscuous proclamation; a proclamation to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
B I spent some time this past week reviewing the missions and ministry being done in the URC. It became obvious to me that as members of the United Reformed Churches we are involved in the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel. Let me tell you what I discovered (and, by the way, I put a link to this on the missionary page of our church's website):
-We have 15 church plants in the URC; in Classis Pacific Northwest we have Missoula, MT and Sandy, OR.
-We have 9 foreign missions ranging from Rev Bill Green in Costa Rica, to Rev Andrea Ferrai in Italy, to Rev Nollie Malabuyo in the Philippines.
On vacation a couple of weeks ago I was talking with Ruth's brother and his wife about our offering for this evening: Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary. This is a seminary in the Danville Correctional Facility for inmates.
The purpose of the seminary is to fulfill our Lord Jesus Christ's calling to make disciples of all nations. A broader purpose is to prepare inmates to evangelize their fellow prisoners. According to Ruth's brother, inmates in other institutions are asking to be transferred to the Danville Facility so they can enroll in the seminary.
The administrators and staff at Danville have noticed a decrease in inmate complaints, grievances, confrontations, attempted suicides, escapes, violence, disciplinary problems, and moral problems. Now other prisons are also asking for a similar ministry within their walls.
Isn't this exciting?
Through $55,000 in Faith Promise monies we in Trinity URC support 11 missionaries and 2 students. This includes two church plants: Rev Brad Lenzner in Rifle, CO and Rev Sernas in the Spanish congregation at Ontario URC. On top of this we support two churches: Covenant URC in Fresno and Big Springs CRC. We cannot forget VBS in the Shelter of Hope by the Oval and at Big Springs. We have a website that gets over 40,000 hits per month. I know many members give generously to The Bible League in its work of Bible distribution and Bible study. I know members support Wycliffe in its work of Bible translation. We have members involved in prison ministry and the Gideons. In all of this we are involved in the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel to the lost.
C But now I want to ask you and challenge you to be personally involved. Are you a witness to the Lord? Do you tell others about Jesus Christ?
One day a lady criticized D.L. Moody for his methods of evangelism. I'm not asking you to go door-knocking, to go to total strangers and asking them about their relationship to the Lord; I'm not talking about handing out literature on a busy street corner or at a fair – though all of this too is necessary. I'm talking about people you know: family; friends; co-workers; people you bowl, golf, fish, or hunt with; people you do business with. Tell them and show them the Lord Jesus.
Moody's reply was, "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?"
The lady replied, "I don't do it."
Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
-- Focus Quote
D The Gospel promise of salvation and the command to repent and believe must be and is declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people. Many who hear don't believe the Gospel and perish. And, some who do hear believe and are saved.
Why this difference in response? What is the explanation? Why do many respond in impenitence and unbelief? Why do others respond in repentance and belief?
Yesterday, on my bike ride, we had a close escape. A car was coming towards us being chased by the police when it suddenly swerved off the road right in front of us. The driver lost control when he hit the loose dirt alongside a canal; the car flipped over and ended upside down in the canal. We saw dust and dirt and red lights everywhere. The police grabbed the tattooed driver as he came out of the car, pinned him to the ground, and handcuffed him. How come this man is in a gang instead of a church?
Someone was talking to me this morning about the jury duty she served this past week. A young man was found guilty of attempted murder. He repeatedly stabbed his victim in vital organs. It was pre-meditated with intent to kill. How can a young man end up this way instead of repenting of sin and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ?
II Unbelief - Man's Choice
A Article 6 deals with the unbelieving, the impenitent, those who don't respond in faith and repentance to the preaching of the Gospel.
Before going any further we need to properly define unbelief. What is unbelief? It is a refusal of the heart and mind to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Essentially it is enmity against God.
Jesus lets us know that unbelief is one of the most horrible sins in God's sight. To His disciples Jesus said:
(Mt 10:14-15) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. (15) I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.Another time Jesus denounced the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent and believe:
(Mt 11:21-22) "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (22) But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.Before the Lord, Israel's sin of unbelief is worse than the social and sexual evils of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon.
As all of you know, we in America are engaged in culture wars: homosexual and lesbian practice, gay marriage, sex and violence on TV, abortion, euthanasia, legalization of marijuana, pornography, and so on. It is necessary for us to be part of the struggle but sometimes we get so caught up in this that we forget there is something worse – and that is the sin of unbelief. Jesus reminds us that we should be more bothered by the sin of unbelief than by the sin of abortion, homosexual practice, or gay marriage.
B Article 6 was written in response to a serious, even a horrible, accusation. The argument starts with the teaching that the work of Christ is not applied to all; rather, His work is applied only to the elect. Therefore, says this argument, those who don't respond in faith to the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel cannot be blamed for their unbelief and impenitence – because they never had a chance to be saved. This argument says the gang member who flipped his car and the young man found guilty of attempted murder never had a chance to repent and believe because they are not elect in Christ.
This charge ends up blaming God and Christ for man's unbelief. Thank God, this charge is not true.
The Bible does not teach there has ever been a person who wants to be saved, who desires the righteousness of Christ, who would believe if only he or she could, but is prevented from this because they are not elect in Christ. There never has been a person who cries out, "Oh, how I wish to be a child of God, how I long for salvation," only to receive the answer from God, "I'm sorry, but Christ did not die for you." Before the judgment throne of God no one can ever say, "I wanted to believe in Christ when I heard the Gospel, but You prevented me, God."
Furthermore, the Bible also teaches that God is never the author of sin. He is holy in His being, His character, and all His ways. He is holy from eternity to eternity. He never changes in His holiness and in His hatred for sin. Says James,
(James 1:13) When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone ...The sin of unbelief, says the Bible, does not arise from the heart of God.
C Now, in saying this we are not saying that sin and unbelief is outside of the providence and sovereignty of God. For in a universe ruled by God nothing happens outside of His will. That this is the case is clearly seen in Scripture. We see that good and evil are within the providence of God:
(Is 45:7) I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. Kings and rulers and their ways are within God's plan:
(Prov 21:1) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. The crucifixion and death of Jesus – the most wicked of deeds – also happened according to God's plan:
(Acts 2:23) This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (cf Acts 4:27-28)Even unbelief is within the providence of God:
(Jn 12:39-40) For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: (40) "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them."Nothing happens in this world apart from God's decrees and judgments. All things are within God's providence and sovereignty.
And, yet, we must not say and cannot say that God is the author of sin and of unbelief.
D Where, then, does unbelief come from? The teaching of the Bible is that it arises from the heart of sinful, fallen man. Man is so lost in sin, so deep in sin, that on his own he always chooses unbelief and impenitence when confronted with the Gospel. Therefore, every unbeliever has to acknowledge his own wickedness and accept the blame for his own unbelief. Says the Canons,
... that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is ... because they themselves are at fault.When the Gospel is proclaimed, unbelief is always sinful man's choice. Where the Gospel is proclaimed, unbelief is always sinful man's decision. To whomever the Gospel is proclaimed, unbelief is always sinful man's responsibility. Let's go back to the gang member or the man found guilty. Who is to blame? No one but they themselves!
III Faith - God's Gift
A Article 7 deals with the believing, the penitent, those who respond in faith to the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel.
Article 7, like Article 6, was written in response to a false teaching. This false teaching said that if man is to blame for an unbelieving response to the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel, then it follows he is also to be credited for a believing response to the promiscuous proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, the same relationship that exists between the unbeliever and his unbelief also exists between the believer and his faith.
This is purely a logical construction. It is not one that comes from the Bible.
B If unbelief comes from the heart of man, where does belief come from? The Canons say faith comes from God. It can't come from man, it can never come from man, it has to come from outside of man. For, don't forget, on his own sinful man always chooses a response of unbelief and impenitence to the preaching of the Gospel. Faith comes from God:
(Eph 2:8) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ...Faith and salvation are gifts, free gifts, of God. They are undeserved, unearned, by miserable sinners who deserve the wrath of God rather than the love of God. Says the Canons
But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace – which he owes to no one – given to them in Christ from eternity.
The conclusion is this: unbelief is sinful man's choice but faith is God's gift. Our response: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15).
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