************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 1, 2013
Canons, Head III,IV Article 9
"A Farmer Went Out to Sow ..."
I Sowing the Seed
A At first glance it appears that the farmer of our parable is a rather poor farmer. He sows some seed on the path, some on rocky places, some among thorns, and some on good soil. It seems that the sower was not very good at his job – too much seed fell where it could not grow.
There are two things we can say about this. First, back then the seed was sown by hand. The sower carries around his neck a pouch filled with 50 or so pounds of seed. He takes a handful of the grain and flings it around him. He is so expert at this that the grain goes exactly where he wants it to go. And, he knows every part of his fields: the rocky, wet, dry, and weedy places. So it is no accident that the seed falls on the path, in the rocky places, and among the thorns.
Second, the sower doesn't do as bad a job as it first appears. Yes, much of the seed is eaten or scorched or choked. However, he still harvests a crop of a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown.
B Of course Jesus is not really talking about farming. Rather, He is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Kingdom the seed is the Word of God. The sower is Jesus Himself. The act of sowing is the preaching of the gospel – either by Jesus Himself or by the church of Jesus.
Jesus is as liberal with the seed as the sower. He liberally proclaims the Word in Israel and to the ends of the earth. As with the sower, the seed of the Word goes exactly where Jesus wants it to go. As with the sower, much of the seed does not bear fruit. In spite of this, like the sower, He too reaps a big harvest – a harvest of souls.
What we want to ask this evening is why. Why is it that the seed of the Word bears fruit in some and not in others?
Before we answer this question we need to take a look at the Canons.
II Sovereign Grace and Limited Atonement
A The starting point of most American Christians is that everyone is equally entitled to a chance at heaven. After all, that is what democracy and equality mean. Also, most American Christians believe it is not fair for God to elect only some and by-pass all others.
But this is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible does not teach that everyone has an equal chance to go to heaven. Rather, the Bible teaches that the entire human race deserves eternal punishment. Don't forget, the entire human race is under God's curse due to the sin we are born with as well as the sin we actually commit.
God does not owe anyone a "chance" at heaven. Not one single person ever born deserves eternal life.
Most American Christians also believe that new birth happens after we choose to repent and believe. They think this because they want to believe salvation is ultimately our choice.
Certainly, we must affirm that human choice is real and that our decision to submit to Christ is an important part of our salvation. But Scripture is clear that no person can make this decision apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Don't forget, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. And dead people are not able to do anything. In other words, we cannot do anything unless God first works in us and makes us alive (Eph 2:4-5).
B As Reformed Christians we all know we are saved by grace. Let me remind you of what this means.
God, out of grace, has eternally decreed to give some the gift of faith. Therefore God graciously softens their hearts and inclines them to believe when they hear the preaching of the Word. However, it is only some and not all who are elected to believe. All others are passed by. God has decided to pass them by with the gift of faith when they hear the preaching of the Word. These people God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart (I#6,15). We know this as sovereign grace.
C All of us know about Christ: His suffering, His death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension, His rule at the right hand of God. Because of Christ there is forgiveness and salvation.
Now, Christ's work is more than able to save all from their sins. God even wants to apply the work of Christ to all. However, Christ's work is not applied to all. Rather, Christ's work is applied only to the elect. All others are again left in their sin and misery. We know this as limited atonement.
D According to Article 9 the teaching of sovereign grace and limited atonement does not mean we can blame the gospel, or Christ, or God that many are not brought to conversion when they hear the preaching of the Word. Says Article 9:
The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them ...The guilt of unbelief cannot be in the gospel: for, as stated in Article 8, the gospel offer is serious and true. The guilt of unbelief cannot be in Christ: for Christ is freely offered to all as the only way of salvation. And, the guilt of unbelief cannot be in God: for God calls all to repent and believe and even wants all to repent and believe; and, God bestows on all men all kinds of gifts – such as reason, understanding, discernment, and a knowledge of what is right and wrong.
So again we need to ask why? Why is it that the seed of the Word bears fruit in some and not in others?
III Man's Responsibility
A The fault, the blame, for an unbelieving response to the preaching of the gospel lies in man's corrupt heart and mind and will. Sinful man despises and rejects the call of the gospel. He refuses to repent and believe – regardless of how clearly the gospel is presented, regardless of how beautiful is the Christ offered in the gospel, regardless of how serious the call of the gospel may be.
In Matthew 13 we see how sinful man responds to the gospel of salvation in Christ. Something we often forget when we look at Matthew 13 is that Jesus is talking about people who hear the Word. Not only that, but He is talking about people in the church.
So, what does the Parable of the Sower tell us? It tells us that the unbeliever within the church is responsible for the sin of unbelief. It tells us the sinner within the church can blame no one but him or herself for non-conversion. The message of Article 9 and Matthew 13 is that the hearer of the Word must take personal responsibility for how he or she responds to the preaching of the Word.
I want to spend some time now looking at the different places where the seed fell and what that shows us about an unbelieving response to the gospel.
B First, there is the seed that was sown along the path. This is the seed gobbled up by the birds. Jesus explains it with these words:
(Mt 13:19) When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed along the path represents the person who has the Word of God. Perhaps he has grown up in a Christian home and for years hears it at family devotions and on Sundays. But he does not "understand" God's Word. In Matthew's gospel someone who does not understand the Word is someone who disobeys the Word: he believes the heresy of false prophets; or, he leads a non-Christian lifestyle; or, he fails to show love; or, he is not really devoted to God and His Christ. Because of this disobedience he comes under the power of Satan. And Satan robs him of the Word.
What is the first thing that happens when church members become disobedient? They often keep on praying but they almost always stop reading the Word. The Bible remains to them a closed book. Satan loves that. He has succeeded in gobbling up the seed before it can flourish and bear fruit.
When Elizabeth Barrett became the wife of Robert Browning, her parents disowned her because they disapproved of the marriage. The daughter, however, wrote almost every week, telling them that she loved them and longed for a reconciliation. After 10 years she received a huge box in the mail that contained all the notes she had sent. Not one had been opened! Although these "love letters" have become an invaluable part of classical English literature, it's really pathetic to think that they were never read by Elizabeth Barrett's parents. Had they looked at just one, the broken relationship with their daughter might have been healed.I can't help but think this is a picture of the seed on the path: for the Book, the Bible, remains unopened! All of us are alienated from God because of sin. But He has provided a way of reconciliation. In the Bible He tells about it, and also expresses His earnest longing for fellowship with us. But it won't happen if we don't read it.
Why is it that the seed of the Word does not bear fruit in some? Because they allow Satan to keep them from opening the Word.
C Second, there is the seed on rocky places. This is the seed that sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Jesus explains it with these words:
(Mt 13:20-21) The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. (21) But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.
The seed in the rocky places represents the person who falls away when he faces trouble or persecution. Trouble is any distress that comes about because of outward circumstances: death, sickness, loss of job, betrayal, hunger, the hatred of enemies. Persecution represents any kind of injury that a person suffers for the sake of Christ: physical, mental, verbal, financial, emotional. These people decide the gospel is not worth it. When it comes to trouble, who wants to have faith in a God Who allows terrible things to happen to good people? And, when it comes to persecution, the cost is just too high – eternal rewards just don't make up for earthly pain.
Why is it that the seed of the Word does not bear fruit in some? Because they decide the gospel is not worth the cost or trouble.
D Third, there is the seed that fell among thorns. This is the seed that was choked out by the thorns. Jesus explains it with these words:
(Mt 13:22) The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
The seed among the thorns represents those people who have been seduced by wealth and everyday living. They are so busy making a buck, they are so wrapped up in getting ahead, they spend so many of their energies on day-to-day life that there is no time, no space, and no energy left for God and the things of God.
Jenny Lind, the great Swedish soprano, disappointed many of her friends because she turned down so many big contracts that would have made her world-famous. One day a friend found her sitting on a sunny seashore reading the New Testament. The friend rebuked the singer for not seizing her chances. Quickly, Jenny Lind put her hand on her Bible and said, "I found that making vast sums of money was spoiling my taste for this."
Why is it that the seed of the Word does not bear fruit in some? Because their love for money and wealth and their pursuit of life leaves no time for God.
We've been asking why this evening: Why is it that the seed of the Word bears fruit in some and not in others? We've been reminded that the unbeliever is responsible for the sin of unbelief. We've been reminded that the sinner can blame no one but him or herself for non-conversion.
But I can't leave it here. I also need to ask a personal question: Does the seed of the Word take root and bear fruit in your heart and life? Is your heart and life a good soil, a receptive soil, for the seed of the gospel? Or, do you allow Satan to gobble up the Word in your life? Are you one of those who fall away from the Word when trouble or persecution happens? Do you choke out the Word with the worries and concerns of life?
Our Scripture reading ends with a happy note: it ends with the good soil upon which the farmer reaps a harvest. This is the person who hears the word and understands it.
My prayer is that all of us are this good soil. My prayer is that – by grace – the Word sown by Jesus flourishes in our hearts and minds and produces a plentiful harvest.
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