************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 6&7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 3, 2013
Canons, Head III,IV Articles 6,7
Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 9:4-7
"Why Are We Blessed With the Gospel?"
I want to end this Reformation Sunday by looking at grace. Amazing grace. Irresistible grace. Saving grace.
I Salvation by Grace
A We talk about grace a lot, but do we really understand it? Do we realize grace means we are nothing, less than nothing, when it comes to salvation? Do we realize grace means there is nothing we can do, nothing we can bring, nothing that we are, that makes us worthy for salvation?
One Christmas season a pastor pointed to a Christmas poinsettia. "Whoever wants it can have it," he said. "All you have to do is take it." The congregation simply stared. The pastor waited. And waited.Isn't that exactly like man? We think that everything, including salvation and faith, are up for sale. We think that everything, including salvation and faith can be bought.
It was a gorgeous flower, unusually large, wrapped in red cellophane with a gold satin ribbon. It was sitting in front of the pulpit for all to see. Before the service several people had mentioned how beautiful the plant was. Now it was free for the taking.
A woman stood up at the back. Quickly, as if she were afraid she'd change her mind, she strode up to the front and picked up the plant. "I'll take it," she said.
At that the pastor preached with enthusiasm on the free gift of eternal life.
When the service had ended and most of the people had gone home, the woman who claimed the poinsettia grabbed the pastor.
"Here!" She held out her hand. "This flower is too pretty to take home for free. I couldn't do that with a clear conscience." The pastor looked down at the crumpled paper she stuffed into his hand.
It was a ten dollar bill!
We have also learned, the hard way, to be extremely skeptical of free offers. Every couple of weeks I get an offer for a free dinner for two at one of our fine local restaurants. When I read the fine print I see we have to listen to a sales pitch about annuities and retirement. I remember the time we were sitting on a beach and someone offered us a free tour. To get the coupon I had to listen to a presentation about time-shares.
Salvation and faith are free, congregation; we can't earn them; we can't pay for them. That's been the message of the Canons all along: salvation is by grace.
B Two times ago we looked at Article 4 and talked about the light of nature, the ancient ruins, that remain in man after the fall. We said that by means of these 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 suppresses it, he holds it down, he denies it. Our conclusion: the ancient ruins are not enough to save man.
C Last time we looked at Article 5 and talked about the law. We said that man looks at the law and fools himself into either underestimating his sin or overestimating his goodness. We said that man looks at the law and either thinks he doesn't need saving or that he is able to save himself. The law, we said, leaves man in his sin and misery. Our conclusion: the law is not enough to save man.
D How, then, can we be saved? What brings salvation? Who can set us right with God? Article 6, which I quoted the last two sermons, tells us:
What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.This is precisely the point made by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
(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 ...Salvation is by grace.
II Progress in God's Plan
A Article 6 reminds us that whether it is the Old Testament or New Testament, God's way of saving is exactly the same. Whether it is the Old Testament or New Testament, God only saves through the gospel. Yet, according to Article 7, this does not mean there has been no progress in the plan of God.
In the Old Testament God revealed the gospel to a very "small number," says the Canons. He limited the revelation of the gospel to the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and then Israel. Out of all the nations of the earth Israel was singled out, and for many centuries she alone had the gospel. The only contact with the gospel that anyone of another nation could have was always through Israel. Accordingly, very few Gentiles were saved: Zipporah (she is the wife of Moses), Rahab, and Ruth for sure; perhaps the widow of Zarephath and Naaman.
B In the New Testament the gospel was no longer limited to one line. The gospel was preached to the Gentiles. The gospel was now brought to all nations without distinction. There was no longer "any distinction between peoples," says the Canons.
This does not mean a "universal gospel." Not everyone hears the gospel. This was certainly the case in the Old Testament. And, this is the case too in the New Testament. God reveals the gospel to many, but it is not revealed to all, even today – as Bible translators are quick to tell us.
C There is no longer a distinction between peoples but this does not mean every nation has the gospel preached to it at the same time and with the same intensity. Jesus told the apostles to preach beginning at Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). A search through the book of Acts and church history shows us how the gospel was preached to the "ends of the earth": first, it was preached at Antioch, then Asia Minor, then Macedonia and Greece; a couple of centuries passed before it came to Europe; another dozen centuries passed before it made its way to America. The conclusion: not every individual is reached by the gospel; in fact, the opposite is true. Even here in America – as hard as it is to believe – there are some who have never heard the gospel. I told you before about the jewelry store clerk in Denver who asked about a necklace with a little man on it. The sales clerk didn't even know the name of Jesus! When we conduct VBS downtown at the Oval, we learn that most of the children know very few Bible stories.
III God's Sovereignty in Gospel Proclamation
A I ask in my sermon title, "Why Are We Blessed With the Gospel?" And we can ask, why is it that others are not? What is the reason? Is the church to blame?
"Yes," say some. "The church is to blame." God's will is that the church proclaim the gospel to all. God's will is a promiscuous, indiscriminate proclamation of the gospel. Not everyone hears the gospel and not everyone knows the name of Jesus because the church is not obedient. Quoting Jesus, these people say, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" (Mt 9:37). The problem, they say, is that not enough people will devote their life to mission work. The problem, they say, is that most Christians don't bother to witness. The heathen, they say, are simply crying for the gospel: if only we had an army of missionaries to bring it to them! It is the church's fault, then, that millions upon millions of people are never evangelized and lost forever.
What a horrible accusation this is. How horrible to be blamed for the eternal destruction of the millions upon millions of unbelievers!
Is the church to blame that so many don't know Jesus? "No," says the Canons. The church may not be obedient to Christ's command to bring the gospel to all nations and many believers may never witness to their faith. But this does not mean we can blame the church for the spiritual ignorance of the millions upon millions of unbelievers! Don't forget, general revelation leaves all men without excuse. And, says the Canons, we must also leave room for "the free good pleasure and undeserved love of God." Meaning what? Meaning that God's sovereignty needs to be acknowledged not only in grace and election but in the when and where of evangelism too. It is God Who determines who gets the gospel and when. It is God Who sends missionaries and evangelists and pastors to certain places and at certain times. The nations are evangelized in God's time and according to His free good pleasure.
B "Why Are We Blessed With the Gospel?" Why is it that others are not? What is the reason? Why this difference among people? Can we say the reason lies in the persons or nations themselves? Can we say certain persons are more deserving of the gospel and of grace than others?
Paul used to think that way. He took special pride in his worthiness to be one of God's children. Listen to what he says:
(Phil 3:4-6) If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (5) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (cf 2 Cor 11:22-29)To any Jew this sounds really good. But after his conversion, what does Paul calls all this? Paul calls this "rubbish" and "loss." He admits he does not have a righteousness of his own. He admits that on his own he is not worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don't forget, Paul is a sinner. And, sinners deserve nothing but hell.
Sometimes we who have grown up in the church can think and talk the same way as Paul before his conversion:
I, Adrian Dieleman, am worthy of the gospel. I don't kick my grand-dog, beat my grand-kids, or abuse my wife. I'm in church twice each Sunday. I give over $10,000 a year in donations to various causes. I sent my sons to Christian school and paid and paid and paid for Christian college tuition. I don't shop or eat out on Sunday. I read the Bible and pray every day. I recycle. I get paper instead of plastic when I go to the grocery store. I've never gotten drunk or done drugs.I sound good, don't I? But for me, as with Paul, all this is but "rubbish" and "loss." There is nothing that makes me worthy of the gospel. There is nothing that makes you worthy of the gospel either. Don't forget, I am a sinner. And, sinners deserve nothing but hell.
There was a time when Israel thought she deserved the gospel. There was a time when Israel thought she deserved to be counted as one of God's children. But in our Scripture readings God kills the notion that there was or is anything about Israel that makes her special or worthy of the gospel:
(Deut 7:7) The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.Don't forget, the Israelites too were sinners. And, sinners deserve nothing but hell.
(Deut 9:4-6) After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness ..." (5) It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession ... (6) Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
"Why Are We Blessed With the Gospel?" Why is it that others are not? What is the reason? Why this difference among people? The reason does NOT lie in the persons or nations themselves. Certain persons are NOT more deserving of the gospel and of grace than others.
Someone called this week. "How are you doing," I asked. "Better than I deserve," she answered. I got a kick out of it. Little did she know I was working on this sermon and that she just got included in it. Don't forget, we are sinners and sinners deserve nothing.
"Why Are We Blessed With the Gospel?" The answer, the only answer, has to do with the "free good pleasure and undeserved love of God." We have the gospel because God, out of grace and mercy, has given us the gospel. We have the gospel because God, for some reason we can't fathom, has chosen to give us the gospel. That's it. That's the only reason.
This, says the Canons, should make us humble, thankful, and grateful. It should make us humble, thankful, and grateful because we don't receive what we deserve. Instead, we receive the opposite of what we deserve. We deserve hell. Instead, we get the gospel of grace and reconciliation.
When we pray we thank God for all sorts of blessings: food, clothing, shelter, health, spouse, children, grandchildren, home life, income, jobs, the Bible. How often do we think, though, of thanking and praising God for giving us the gospel? You see, it is only by grace that the gospel comes our way. It is only by grace that we hear the gospel. And, it is only by grace that we believe that gospel. Each and every day let us thank and praise God for the grace that sends the gospel our way.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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