************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 16-17 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 16, 2014

Canons, Head III,IV Article 16-17
Acts 16:11-15
"God's Use of Means"

We have looked at God's eternal decree of election whereby He chooses some to be saved. We have looked at the preaching of the gospel calling all men to repent and believe. And we have looked at the heart of man that accepts and believes the gospel. I asked, a couple of weeks ago, which of these three is the controlling factor, which is primary: God's decree, the preaching and evangelism of the church, or the heart of man (Head III, Article 10 sermon)?

At that time I read to you the conversion of C. S. Lewis from his book "Surprised by Joy."
You must picture me alone in that room ... night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the (third) term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
At that time I said it is God Who calls, lures, moves, and draws people to Himself. God's decree is sovereign and controlling.

But now a follow up question: is C. S. Lewis correct in saying he is "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England"? Are we really saved against our will?

I The Charge
A In Article 16 the Canons speak to those who charge that we Calvinists turn men into "blocks and stones" – or, we can say – puppets and robots. That's the charge leveled against us because we believe in sovereign grace. That's the charge leveled against us because we declare, based upon the Bible, that salvation is completely up to God. That's the charge leveled against us because we say man can do nothing to bring about his salvation.

Are we nothing but blocks and stones in the hands of God? Are we but puppets on a string or robots directed by God? Is C. S. Lewis correct in maintaining that he had no say, no will, no intellect, no freedom in his conversion?

Those who make this charge believe that the teaching of sovereign grace has turned man into an unthinking, unfeeling, unwilling creature. Man, they say, has become like a robot, or a rock, or a log, or a puppet. He is incapable of any act on his own. Just like a robot never acts on its own, but must be guided by a computer programer, so man must be controlled and guided. Just like a log or rock can never act on its own but must be pushed by another, so man is incapable of acting on his own. Man, like a puppet, needs the right strings to be pulled. Man is so powerless, that on his own he cannot even move.

When it comes to salvation, say these people, reformed doctrine makes man but a block and stone, a robot and puppet. When a person has been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, they charge, it is no different than a log being moved from one place to another. When man is converted and brings forth fruit of faith and repentance and good works, they charge, then he does that just as a tree brings forth fruit: without any thought, any conscious desire, any deliberate effort. That's the charge!

B Blocks and stones. Robots and puppets. Those who make this charge hate the teaching of sovereign grace. They don't want to believe that man is so corrupt that on his own he is totally incapable of coming to God. They don't want to believe that man is so lost in sin that on his own he can never find his way out. They don't want to believe that man, on his own, always chooses for evil and never for good. So they accuse the Reformed of denying all activity on the part of saved man.

Blocks and stones. Robots and puppets. Those who make this charge hate the teaching of sovereign grace. They want to believe that man is capable of doing some saving good. They want to believe that man can seek, desire, long for, and even pray for his salvation. They want to believe that man, in some way, contributes to his own salvation. So they accuse the Reformed of denying all activity on the part of saved man.

Blocks and stones. Robots and puppets. That's the charge against reformed doctrine. Sovereign grace turns man into an unthinking, unwilling creature with no intellect and no freedom.

II The Answer
A Is the charge true? Does sovereign grace turn men into blocks and stones, robots and puppets? Does sovereign grace mean there is no activity on the part of saved man?

Absolutely not!

Man is saved by sovereign grace but that does not make him a block and a stone. Man is saved by sovereign grace but that does not make him a robot and a puppet. Man is saved by sovereign grace but that does not mean he is no longer a thinking, feeling, willing human creature.

Look at what the Canons say about this in the article in front of us this evening:
... (the) divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and ... bends it back.
God's sovereign grace does not operate against man's will; rather, it changes man's will.

B What does God's sovereign grace do? God changes the sinner out of his unwillingness to be one of His children. God changes the sinner into a willing child of His. Note carefully: God changes him. And God alone does this! Man contributes nothing, absolutely nothing, to this change. But God changes the human will so the person wants what God wants and desires what God wants and begins to actively pursue this.

What does God's sovereign grace do? He causes His elect to believe. People are moved, drawn, lured by God so that they want to be saved. When the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart, we become drawn to Jesus. He becomes altogether lovely and desirable.

So, God does NOT drag people kicking and screaming into the kingdom against their wills. It is true that God's work of grace in the life of His children will sometimes cause great hardship. Turning away from the pleasure of sin is not easy for those whom God calls. There are some who will indeed put up a fight. But, in the final analysis, God makes our wills willing and wanting and aching for Christ.

We see this in our Scripture reading. What does Lydia do? Is it purely accidental that she was at the riverbank the same time as Paul? Is it purely accidental that she listened to what Paul said? And, after she was baptized, is it purely accidental that she invited Paul and Silas into her home?

God has changed Lydia's heart. So she is drawn to God. She wants to know Christ. She want to grow in the faith. She is not a block and stone, robot and puppet.

III God Sustains Physical and Spiritual Life
A This teaching is continued in article 17. This article wants us to draw a comparison between the physical and the spiritual. Just as God produces and sustains physical life by the use of means, so God produces and sustains spiritual life by the use of means. But that is the point – "growth requires the use of means."

God is almighty and He is able to do anything. If He wanted to He could produce and sustain our spiritual life without the use of means. Then, somehow and in someway, our souls would get fed directly and immediately, without the use of the gospel. But that is not how God has chosen to work. Rather, God has chosen to regenerate His people through the use of the gospel: through their hearing of the Word, their celebration of the sacraments, and their submission to discipline. Says the Canons,
... the supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul ...
This requires our participation, our will, our mind. We are not blocks and stones, robots and puppets.

B Our God is so almighty. Through the Holy Spirit He is able to use anything, any event, and any person to bring His grace into people's lives. For instance, a warm welcome to a visitor at church may be, and often has been, God's gateway into a person's heart. A kind word to a hurting person may be enough to draw her in. An outstretched hand to someone poor or grieving has often been used of the Lord too. A friendly word to a neighbor as you walk to church may be the only thing that is needed. Those of you who have been so used of and by the Lord know that nothing is nicer than to be a means, a channel of God's grace to another person.

God's Spirit also uses events as a means of grace. He may use a wedding feast, but more often He uses a funeral; He may use a gift of money, but more often He uses the lack of money; He may use the gift of health, but more often He uses the lack of health, as a means to make Himself known as the God of hope and comfort.

In creating faith and bringing grace we know that the Spirit usually does not strike like lightning – in just any old place. Usually, but not always, He does not bypass created relationships. Most of us, for instance, grew up in Christian homes. There we learned from the Bible before we could read, and we were taught to pray while we were still learning how to talk. God's Spirit was using our father and mother as a means, a channel of His grace.

Consider the Apostle Paul for a moment. As you all know, Paul had his Damascus-road conversion experience. But Paul's encounter with the Light and the Voice does not at all constitute the whole story of his faith or of the Spirit's work in him: it started much earlier on the knee of his father and the lap of his mother. Or consider Timothy. The Apostle Paul could speak of the "sincere faith" living in him – a faith which first lived in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice and now lives in young Timothy (2 Tim 1:5).

When they are asked why they believe in God, Christ, and the Bible, some shy but honest people will say, "Because I was brought up that way."

I have seen and experienced the truth of this answer in my own life. I am positive many of you have as well. When we are raised by Christian parents and grand-parents, they become the means, the channels of God's grace in our hearts and lives. You see, we learn the Christian religion – like so many other things – by imitation.

What I am trying to say is that faith and religion are covenantal. They go from generation to generation, from believing father and mother to son to granddaughter. And, faith and religion are communal. One never practices faith and religion alone, but only as a part of a believing community.

All of these things and people I have mentioned are means and channels of God's grace. Yet, we still need the church and the official means of grace! I need to emphasize this. Different people give different answers about why they come to church. Some say they come because of the music; worship time, they say, is praise time. Others say they come for the sacraments. Still others say they come for prayer and meditation. The Bible tells us we come to hear the preaching of the Word. We come to church because there we find the means of grace. We come to church because that is especially what God uses to produce and nourish our faith. We come to church for the gospel.

To gain faith and to strengthen faith we must come to church in order to expose ourselves to the Gospel: to the Word and sacraments and discipline. It is within the church that God's children are born and nourished. We may not doubt that God can do this work to His children anywhere and at anytime. But, as I already said, He has chosen to do it through the use of means. And those means He has especially given to the church.

I have mentioned this before and undoubtedly I will mention it again, but many within North America – including family of some here – claim faith in Jesus yet want nothing to do with His church. They fail to realize that God's children are born and nourished only within the church – within the church where the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of discipline to produce and nourish faith.

C Are we blocks and stones, robots and puppets? No, not at all. This requires us to make use of the means God lays before us. It starts off with preaching and worship. God's people must put themselves under the preaching of the Word. They must come for worship services. And, they must come to a place where the Gospel is preached. If people stay away from church, where they can hear the Gospel preached, they are turning their backs on what the Spirit uses to produce and nourish faith.

Are we blocks and stones, robots and puppets? No, not at all. This requires us to go out and witness and evangelize and engage in missions. One of the ways we can do this is by inviting our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to church. All of the emphasis today is on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. People are embarrassed or ashamed to invite people to church. But there is nothing wrong with this for this is the way God's chosen ones are led to faith. Don't forget, everyone of the elect come to faith only through the hearing of the Gospel. Every person here – whether they be a boy or girl, a teenager, a young adult, a parent, a senior citizen – has a neighbor, a fellow worker, an acquaintance, who is not a believer. Invite them to church with you. Invite them to church where the Spirit, under the preaching of the Word, can work and strengthen faith. For that is the God-ordained means of bringing His chosen ones to salvation.

Let me end by saying everyone lives according to their nature. When we are dead in trespasses and sins we love the ways of the world and everything that leads to eternal destruction. But when God plants new life in us, we begin to love Jesus and His church and His commandments. Our mind has been changed, our heart has been changed, our will has been changed.

Are we blocks and stones, robots and puppets? No, not at all. Rather, we are people who live according to our nature.
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