************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 4&6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 22, 2013
Canons, Head III,IV Article 4&6
Romans 1:18-32; 2:14-15
A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article in "Archeology" magazine about the ancient Iraqi city of Uruk. The article's title: "Ruling the World's First Metropolis."This is a picture of man after the Fall. The Canons tell us this evening that there is "a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall ..." Sinful man,
4000 years before the birth of Christ, Uruk was a city of 40,000 people. It had city walls more than 5.5 miles long. Archeologists believe that it was in Uruk where "highly developed organization forms of city life were developed." And, that "Uruk is the cradle of a sophisticated economic and administrative system." Among other things, writings and libraries have been discovered there.
Yet, a picture of Uruk today shows a scene of sand and rock and desert in the middle of Iraq with a lone woman and child. That's it. Nothing more. Another picture shows some excavated ruins.
"retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior." (III-IV, Article 4)However, like the city of Uruk, all that is left of man's glorious past is ancient ruins.
I What is the Light of Nature
A First of all, sinful man retains a certain knowledge of God. Paul speaks of this in our Scripture reading:
(Rom 1:19-20) ... what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (20) For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Paul speaks here of what we know as "Creation Revelation." The psalmist also has something to say about this Creation Revelation:
(Ps 19:1-2) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (2) Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
What does Creation Revelation tell us? Paul tells us it speaks of God's invisible qualities – namely, His eternal power and divine nature. Creation Revelation speaks of God's infinite and incomprehensible ability to do things, to do the impossible, to do whatever He wants to do; it speaks of a power no man can ever hope to imitate. Creation Revelation also speaks of God's divine nature – namely, that there is a God and that He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, good, and the overflowing source of all good (Belgic Confession Article 1).
Wherever we go in Creation, whatever we see in Creation, we should see God.
What animal is longer than 3 dump trucks, heavier than 110 Honda Civics, and has a heart the size of a Volkswagon Beetle? The answer is a blue whale. How much food does it take to sustain such an animal? Try 4 tons a day--that's 3 million calories! Even a baby blue whale can put away 100 gallons of milk every 24 hours. When a blue whale surfaces, it takes in the largest breath of air of any living thing on the planet.
Did the blue whale come into existence by chance? By some evolutionary quirk? No way! The Master Designer put that giant creature in the sea. And anyone who ponders the mystery of its size will hear it speak with great eloquence of the wonderful power of God.
A young student noticed that most new products have some "bugs" that must be ironed out before they can operate efficiently. However, as he stood gazing at a chart showing the organs, nerves, arteries, and glands in the human body, he suddenly exclaimed, "Just think, it worked the very first time God put it together!"
Paul tells us that Creation Revelation is a plain book from God to man; that is to say, it is easy to see and easy to read because God has made it that way. Creation Revelation, then, doesn't tell us what CAN be known about God but what IS known about God. Creation Revelation shows us and tells us what God has revealed about Himself for all to see.
This means that "men are without excuse." No one can say before the throne of God: "I never had a chance to know about You, God. No one told me." For God will respond: "I told you. In Creation Revelation I told you my invisible qualities."
Fallen man, then, knows about God. In his deepest consciousness, or sub-consciousness, man is aware of the testimony of God's eternal power and divine nature. Deep in his heart of hearts every person knows there is a God, that this God is his Creator, and that he owes this God worship and praise.
Yet, what does fallen man do? He suppresses this truth by his wickedness (Rom 1:18). He refuses to believe what his eyes and his mind tells him – that there is a God, that God is almighty, and that he owes God his worship and adoration. The result? In the heart of fallen man there is nothing but ancient ruins when it comes to the knowledge of God.
B Second, sinful man retains a certain knowledge concerning natural things.
Man was created a royal creature, the king of the earthly creation. He was created to rule over the works of God's hands; God put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all that swim the paths of the sea (Ps 8:6-8). Man was created to subdue the earth.
Even in his sinful, fallen state man still has the mandate to do this. And he retains the knowledge to do this; he retains the knowledge to live his present earthly life. By the light of this knowledge he is able to understand and to use the earth and its fulness. By the light of this knowledge he develops the sciences, discovers the mysteries of the universe, and invents the technology of the modern world.
Fallen man, then, retains a certain knowledge concerning natural things. But, again, he suppresses the truth and serves what is created rather than the Creator. What is left is but ancient ruins.
C Third, sinful man retains a certain knowledge concerning the difference between what is moral and immoral. This knowledge the natural man has even apart from the law of God, the voice of God, or the Word of God. This is what Paul says to us in our second Scripture reading:
(Rom 2:14-15) (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law ... (15) ... they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness ...
Natural man knows the law. He knows the difference between good and evil. He is able to make up laws and establish courts. He is able to judge and to accuse or excuse. He is able to determine what is or is not ethical.
Natural man retains this knowledge because God has written it in his heart and engraved it on his conscience. Deep down, then, every man and woman and child knows what he or she can or cannot do.
But what does man do with this knowledge? Again, man suppresses the truth and believes the lie when it comes to every one of God's commandments. Think about adultery and divorce and homosexual behavior and abortion. Think about lies and theft and greed. Think about Sunday and worship. Man suppresses the truth. Man is left with but ancient ruins when it comes to right and wrong.
D Fourth, sinful man demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. We see this at the Olympics and at the Tour de France and in professional sports. The whole world frowns on cheats who use performance enhancing drugs. We love those who deserve the medals and championships they get. Man, in other words, wants law and order.
Why does sinful, fallen man have such an attitude toward law and order? Fallen man does not want law and order because he loves God, or because he loves law and order. Not at all. Man is so fallen that if he can get away with a sin, he will do it without hesitation. He is under the dominion of sin. He loves sin and takes pleasure in it.
Why, then, does fallen man want law and order? Fallen man wants law and order because he fears the results when there is no law and order; fallen man fears lawlessness. He fears the riots that took place after the overthrow of Egypt's governments. He fears the escalating murder rate. He fears that no woman can walk alone at night anymore. He fears home invasions and car-jackings. He fears the gunmen that killed in Kenya and Washington D.C. this past week. He fears the suicide bombers that struck in Iraq and Pakistan today.
Fallen man, then, demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But these are but ancient ruins compared to what he was created with.
E Don't forget what I said throughout this sermon. All of this knowledge that man has is but ancient ruins. These ancient ruins are all that is left of the light of nature man was created with. All that man has left is a residue.
I don't know about you, but this leaves me dumbfounded. Look at all that man has accomplished with the little light of nature he has left after the fall: cars, airplanes, rockets, submarines, computers, satellites, lasers, modern medicine, nuclear energy, telephones, refrigerators, digital music, DVRs, radios and TV, and the list goes on and on. Man has established democracies and systems of justice. Man has established educational systems. Man has produced works of art, literature, music, organs, and keyboards. Man has established museums and playgrounds and places like Disney Land. Fallen man has done all this – and more – with ancient ruins.
Now, with this in mind, try to imagine with me how tremendous must have been the light man possessed in the Garden of Eden. We sometimes speak of "intellectual giants," of those who are "geniuses," but these too have only a residue of the light of nature. Again, imagine with me how tremendous must have been man's intellect in Paradise! Not only that, but this gives some idea of the intellect and understanding we will have in the new heaven and new earth.
II What the Light of Nature Does
A These ancient ruins of what was given to us by God, do you realize what they mean for fallen man? These ancient ruins mean that fallen man is not an unthinking, unfeeling beast; rather, they mean he is a thinking, rational, being. These ancient ruins help to distinguish man from the animals. This is the positive side.
But there is also a negative side. The ancient ruins means that man is a responsible being capable of a moral response. Man, in other words, can be held accountable for his sin and can be punished for his sin. Because man has the ancient ruins of a certain light of nature he cannot escape responsibility for his actions.
B Man, then, has those ancient ruins. But, they are only ancient ruins. They are not enough. Natural Theology is not enough to save or to bring to salvation. Says the Canons,
But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him ...The Canons add this because the Roman Catholic Church, and others, think that Natural Theology is all that we need.
The ancient ruins can't save or lead to a saving knowledge because – as I have been saying again and again – sinful man "distorts this light" and "suppresses it in unrighteousness." Again, this is the message of Paul in our Bible reading:
(Rom 1:18) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
By means of the ancient ruins, man knows the truth. He knows the truth about God, about natural things, about good and evil, about virtue and good outward behavior. Man knows all this truth, but what does he do with it? He uses it to sin says Paul,
(Rom 1:21-23) For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Not only that but,
(Rom 1:29-32) They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; (31) they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (32) Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
In spite of the ancient ruins man is lost. Before the Judge of heaven and earth man has no excuse. Before Almighty God men are "born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin."
There is only one possible conclusion: man cannot save himself; only Christ can save man.
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