************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head V, Article 7-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 11, 2014
Canons, Head V Article 7-8
1 Peter 1:22 - 2:3
"The River of the Purpose of God"
Almost twenty years ago I clipped a review of the 1994 movie, "A River Runs Through It." The movie told the story of the Maclean family, who lived in Montana early in the twentieth century. The father was a Presbyterian minister – stern but loving. They had two sons: firstborn Norman, who tells the story, and a younger son, Paul.
The main character in the story is really not a character at all. It is the river that runs through their part of Montana – hence the name of the movie. That river becomes the focal point of their family life and the stimulus for everything significant in their lives. It was walking along the banks of that river that the father forged a relationship with his young boys – turning over rocks, teaching them about the world, about life, and about the God Who made it all. It was the river that the boys ran to after studies were over, and sibling rivalry and brotherly affection flourished as they fished for trout together on that beautiful stream.
When it came time for the adolescent boys to prove their bravery, they took a death-defying ride down the rapids in a stolen boat. It was on the river that young Paul made a name for himself as the finest fly-fisherman in the territory. When Norman came back from college searching for himself and his roots, it was to the river that he went to fish, alongside his brother.
The Maclean family knew failure and success and laughter and fighting and change and disappointment, but always the river was there. Montana would have been just a wilderness; their home, four walls and a roof; their individual lives, just sound and fury – if not for the river running through it all. Isn't this disappointing – that the movie would have us believe that the river was the defining force and the spiritual center of a minister's family?
This evening, as we continue our study of the Canons of Dort and – based upon God's Word – what it says about the preservation of the saints, I would like to suggest that there is a river that runs through the lives of God's people. That river is called the Purpose of God.
Because of this purpose of God, no saint can fall from grace.
We all realize, I think, how far we saints can fall. All of us are capable of committing the most horrible kinds of sins. We can walk very stubbornly in our sin. We can so easily refuse to confess and repent. In fact, if we were to be judged at the time of our falls others within the church would have to conclude that we are not children of God at all.
Nevertheless, God preserves His elect. As I said the last time we looked at the Canons, take any Christian and any sin. Peter, with his denial of Christ. David, with his adultery and murder. Joseph, with his arrogant attitude before his brothers. Jacob, with his scheming ways. Lot, with his tolerance of Sodom's evils. Fill in your name and the sins in your life. No matter how great the sin, no matter how fallen the sinner, no saint can fall from grace.
Why? Because of the river called the Purpose of God – His mercy, His unchangeable plan of election – no saint can ever fall from grace.
Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that comforting as we struggle with our own sins? Isn't that reassuring as we worry about the salvation of our loved ones?
Article 7 of the fifth head of doctrine of the Canons tells us two things that God does to keep His saints, His elect, from falling from grace.
I God Preserves the Imperishable Seed
A What does the river of the Purpose of God do in the lives of His elect? "In the first place," says the Canons, "God preserves in those saints when they fall his imperishable seed from which they have been born again, lest it perish or be dislodged."
No matter how far gone one of God's saints appear to be, God preserves a seed in them. Peter talks of this seed:
(1 Peter 1:23) For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
The seed that Peter and the Canons talk of here is the beginning of the new, spiritual life. This seed is planted by the Spirit of God through Christ and His Word in the heart of every child of God. And, it is only when this seed develops and flourishes, it is only when it takes root and grows, that a believer is born again and can begin to live the new life. It is the seed of new birth or second birth or regeneration.
B Did you notice what we are told about the seed? Based upon Peter, the Canons tells us the seed is "imperishable." Contrast the imperishable seed to our throw-away society. Just about everything today has built-in obsolescence. Cars, computers, software, shoes, canned vegetables, and even money is meant to last only so long; then they get thrown away or destroyed. But not the seed.
This reminds me that archeologists found grains of wheat in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs. These little grains of wheat are thousands of years old. Most observers expected those grains to be dead, lifeless, incapable of producing new life anymore. But guess what happened when they were planted in the dirt? They sent down roots. They sent up stalks. And in due time the heads of grain appeared. Imagine that: after all that time the seed was still alive; after all that time the seed was still capable of producing new life; after all that time the seed was anything but dead.
Something similar, we are told, is the case with the seed of new life that the Spirit of God and Christ plants in our heart. This seed of new life can never die or perish in the lives of God's children. No matter what changes the child of God passes through, the seed remains alive. No matter what ups and downs the believer may go through, the seed remains alive. No matter what sin the saint does, the seed remains alive. And, if the seed remains alive, the new life – no matter how small it may be – also remains alive.
The seed of new life is imperishable. It is incorruptible. It is immortal. It cannot be possibly affected by the power of sin and death.
I want to hold a contrast before you. On the one hand is the seed of our first birth. On the other hand is the seed of our second birth. The seed of our first birth – the one from our mother – is corrupt and corruptible. Because of sin, it has in it the very principle of death. But the seed of our second birth, of the new birth, the birth of the Spirit, the birth from heaven, is incorruptible. It is not subject to death. It is immortal.
Why this difference? Why is the seed of the second birth imperishable while the seed of the first birth always ends up in death? The difference has to do with God.
The seed of new life, of second birth, is the seed of God in Christ. It is the seed of the very life of God Himself. When God gives His children, His saints, His elect, the seed of new life, what He is giving them is the life of the risen and glorified Christ. And this new life, as Easter demonstrates, is not subject to death and the grave. In fact, as Easter demonstrates, this seed is victorious over death and the grave.
C Did you notice what else we are told about the seed? We are not only told that the seed is imperishable but we are also told that God keeps that seed in the lives of His children. God preserves it in His saints so it can never be dislodged or lost in the lives of His children.
We tend to lose many things in this life. At the beginning of this sermon I mentioned a review of the movie "A River Runs Through It." I filed a paper copy in my filing cabinet and an electronic copy in my computer. As I was studying for this sermon I vaguely remembered I had something in my files that would fit right in with what I was trying to say. No matter where I searched, though, I could not find it. I searched through four files of sermon illustrations. Nope. I searched through the hard-drives on my computer. Nope. I ended up going on the Internet to find it again.In contrast to this, the seed of new life can never be lost by God's children. Nor can it ever be taken from them. Nor can it ever totally disappear.
Once the child of God has the seed of new birth, he or she always has that seed. It remains in him or her forever.
The seed of new life: it can never die, it can never be taken away or lost. There is no sin the children of God can fall into that is so terrible that it can kill the seed or cause it to be taken away. Even though God's people can have the most grievous sort of fall, nothing can happen to the seed. The reason is simple: the river of the Purpose of God preserves the seed within His children; the river of the Purpose of God preserves His people!
II God Renews His Fallen People
A But now we have to ask a question: what causes God's people to come out of their falls? How is it that a child of God can live in sin for awhile, stubbornly refuse to repent and to confess, and then suddenly see sin, come to repentance, is sorry, seeks forgiveness, and walks once more in the ways of the Lord?
The seed has been in the child of God the whole time during his or her fall. It hasn't died. It hasn't been lost. But like a chipmunk or a bear during the winter season, it seems to be slumbering, dormant, in hibernation. Then suddenly the seed is no longer slumbering, no longer dormant, no longer in hibernation. Why? How come?
B The answer lies in God. The answer lies in the river of the Purpose of God. What does this river do in the lives of His elect? "Secondly," says the Canons, "by his Word and Spirit [God] certainly and effectively renews [the fallen saints] ..."
Do you realize what we are told about God here? We are told that God never forsakes the work of His own hands. God never forsakes those in whom He has planted the seed of new life – a truth we find proclaimed again and again in the book of Genesis as we watch the failings and foibles of God's chosen line.
C Notice what the river of the Purpose of God does in the lives of His chosen ones: it renews the elect to repentance. The result is a heartfelt and godly sorrow for sin; the desire for forgiveness; the experience of reconciliation; the adoration of His mercies; and an eager desire to live the new life.
D Notice how the river of the Purpose of God brings this about in the lives of His chosen ones: by His Word and Spirit. What happens when God's people fall? Where is the last place they usually want to go? When God's people fall, the last thing they want to do is go to church. But that is the first thing they should do. For there they hear the Word and through that Word the Spirit leads to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, adoration of His mercies, and an eager desire to live the new life.
III The Basis of our Certainity
A How certain can we of all this? How certain can we be that saints cannot forever fall? How certain can we be that saints cannot forfeit either faith or grace? How certain can we be that saints cannot remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost?
Looking at this from a purely human point-of-view, we cannot be certain. Because on our own, left to ourselves, this could easily happen. Because on our own, left to ourselves, this undoubtedly would happen. We are sinners. We are lost sinners. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We have no life and no hope in us.
I want you to think, for a moment, of what would happen without this river of the Purpose of God. Left on our own we not only would fall, but we would fall completely and we would fall forever. Left on our own, the imperishable seed would die. Left on our own, we would never repent and feel sorrow and experience forgiveness and reconciliation. Left on our own we would all perish everlastingly. Left on our own, we would sink back into the spiritual death from which God in Christ once rescued us. That's what article 8 teaches us. On our own we would "forfeit faith and grace totally." On our own we would remain in our "downfalls to the end and are lost."
I am not just talking about horrible sins here, big sins, public sins. I am talking about all sin. In a very real sense, every sin that we commit leads to spiritual destruction and death and darkness. Left on our own, every sin that we commit would result in the loss of our soul. We cannot stand on our own for even a moment.
B But with God on our side this cannot possibly happen. The river of the purpose of God flows through our lives from eternity to eternity. So, His plan cannot be changed. His promise cannot fail. The calling according to His purpose cannot be repealed. The merits of Christ earned for at the cross and grave cannot be revoked. The sealing of the Holy Spirit cannot be invalidated or wiped out.
We need to give thanks and praise for the river of the Purpose of God which keeps us forever safe and forever secure in a God Who is so much greater and bigger than our sins.
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