Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH XVI
(Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:1-10)
He Hasn’t Moved!
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...
There is a saying which goes something like this: “If you’re in such a desperate situation that God seems far away, guess who’s moved?”
The answer, of course, is self-evident.
God hasn’t changed.
Because you have got yourself in such a situation that your communion with Him was blocked.
Which is exactly what happened through the fall into sin.
This is exactly how Article XVI begins.
“We believe that, all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents…”.
In fact, didn’t we see in Article XV that if it were not for the grace of God this world would be in the most terrible condition?
In the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 verse 45, it’s God who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
It’s because of the special gift of God’s grace and mercy in our salvation that makes us believers especially appreciative.
So thankful that we cannot sit comfortably in this world.
We show that we are not our own.
In the words of Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, we confess and prove that we belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
So you must begin with acknowledging that your depravity is entirely through our own fault.
If you refuse to acknowledge man’s fallen state through his own sin you’ll always end up rejecting God’s saving grace in election.
You have no choice then.
Because that means it’s up to you to seek salvation.
Exactly the thing you will never naturally want to do!
Congregation, this is how we come to the first aspect in connection with Article XVI this afternoon.
Here we see that GOD’S CHARACTER HAS NOT CHANGED.
This is certainly quite clear in what we read in Ephesians 1 verse 4.
There we realise that it is God the Father who chose us in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world.
This is definitely putting the case for God’s character staying the same!
And Ephesians 2 confirms the same when it proves we are the ones who have changed.
For verse 1 begins, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
We meet the uniqueness of the Christian faith once again.
For salvation is the work of God alone.
No one else and nothing else can do!
A key word here is ‘perdition.’
It appears some three times throughout this Article.
So it’s important that we know what it means because it’s on that definition that everything depends.
Well, the Oxford Dictionary says that perdition is “a state of eternal damnation into which a sinful person who has not repented passes after death.”
Now, isn’t that enough to put you in quite a state?
This is the natural destination of mankind.
You see, since man has sinned and so is doomed to die, he cannot turn back to God.
In fact, he doesn’t even want to!
In Genesis 3 we read of how Adam and Eve didn’t want to know about God – they hid from Him.
But notice that God did go looking for them.
Even though He knew very well what they had done yet in Genesis 3 verse 9 we hear Him calling out, “Where are you?”
Congregation, GOD’S CHARACTER HAS NOT CHANGED.
As Hebrews 13 verse 8 confirms, He “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Interestingly, only two of God’s divine attributes are mentioned here.
We confessed that He is “merciful and just.”
They are the two attributes which particularly come out in God’s saving works.
But there is another attribute of God which very much underpins all that’s going on here.
You think about it.
Why is it that there are two responses to the gospel?
How come some listen and repent and turn to God but others harden their hearts and go the opposite way?
Which quality in God would explain that mystery?
Only God’s sovereignty answers that.
Because that tells us He is completely in control while man is 100% responsible for whatever he does as well!
This is the only explanation that makes sense.
It’s what Scripture tells us.
And it’s what those opposing this doctrine themselves prove to us.
For if God is not sovereign in His grace then He’s abdicated being God.
Then you can never be sure that you are right with Him.
You throw everything on what you can do.
But what do you know?
What can you do?
You’re nothing like God!
Isaiah 55 is clear about that.
In the verses 8 and 9 there the prophet declares, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.
“‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Let’s be very clear!
It won’t be by any unaided and unenlightened mind that you come to see what we read in Ephesians 1 verse 11 about God’s plan which works everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will.
Only faith can open your eyes to that!
In this way we come to the second aspect in connection with Article XVI.
For GOD’S LOVE STILL SHINES THROUGH.
This is where we come to a second key word.
It is the word ‘election.’
A word that appears here in the phrase which describes the first of God’s divine attributes that Article XVI considers – God’s mercy.
How are they connected?
Well, God could have left us to go to hell.
We did the crime and deserve the time.
There would have been nothing unfair about it.
In fact, there would have been no one around to complain about it.
Because what complaints there are come up exactly because God chose to demonstrate His mercy.
He shows His loving side as “He delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom He in His eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness has elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respects to their works.”
This is quite clear throughout Scripture.
In the Old Testament it is shown by how God acts with and through the physical nation of Israel.
Right from the call of Abraham, the choice of Isaac, and Jacob, and the children of Israel, through to the New Testament.
In Deuteronomy 7, the verses 6 till 8, it is said to them, “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
“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.
“But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Under the new covenant the same story of divine initiative and sovereign grace is told again.
Though now the nation is a spiritual one and is spread through all peoples across the face of the earth.
Jesus tells His disciples in John 15 verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”
This is confirmed by the Lord’s teachings elsewhere.
In His discourse in Matthew 24 he mentions the “elect” four times.
The same is found in the apostle Peter and Paul.
After a sermon preached in Pisidian Antioch by Paul in Acts 13 verse 48 it is said, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
GOD’S LOVE STILL SHINES THROUGH because there are those who though dead in their sins have been brought to life in Jesus Christ.
That’s why the phrase in Article XVI “in Christ Jesus our Lord” is so crucial.
He is the One who Israel of old believed in through the promise.
And He’s the One whom we in the new Israel have met in His doing and dying.
For it could only be God Himself who could save us.
It’s only believing in His eternal love and power in Christ that any man can be saved.
There was a Roman Catholic priest, H.J. Hegger, who was converted into the biblical faith.
As he progressed into the light, he experienced, “I had not yet entered into the secret treasuries of reformation Christendom.
“By listening to sermons I began gradually to sense something of the greatness of Jesus’ mercy.
“At first I could hardly accept that Jesus was as merciful as Protestantism taught.
“But again and again they presented new texts, each clearer than the preceding.
“These texts occasioned within me an explosion of joy.
“That bombardment gradually broke down my resistance.”
You see, in the face of Christ he saw the glory of God’s eternal and sovereign grace.
It’s the same explosion of joy which has thrilled evangelical believers in all ages.
As P. Y. de Jong says, “Sure and steadfast and sweet are the mercies of the Redeemer, because they rest in the unchangeable purposes of the living and loving God.”
Indeed, assurance of your election is a fruit of faith.
It was what Peter spoke of in his second letter.
As he exhorts us in verse 10 of chapter 1, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.”
And this is what Paul experienced.
In Romans 8 verse 38 and 39 he expresses those immortal words, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
But now we turn to consider the other one of God’s divine attributes in Article XVI.
This is about God’s righteousness.
Or as it is called in the Article itself, ‘just.’
In the words of a third aspect, we now see, GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS CONSISTENTLY TRUE.
You see, God is loving and He is also just.
He could not be God without being both.
So He is absolutely fair to everyone.
Even those going to hell!
Article XVI tells about this by saying that the Lord “leaves others in the fall.”
It sounds harsh on the ears, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t seem we should talk this way.
And, indeed, some Reformed denominations have stopped talking this.
They have even changed this article, and others like it in the Canons of Dordt, for exactly this reason.
But this is actually where the Scriptural teaching of perdition applies.
This is what Jesus meant with what He said in Matthew 11.
There in verses 25 and 26, He said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and have revealed them to little children.
“Yes, Father, for that was your good pleasure.”
So there is both a revealing and a concealing activity of the Father.
The apostle Paul follows this line by mentioning in Romans 9:13 the distinction made between Esau and Jacob before they were born.
Soon after that verse we read of God’s dealings with Pharaoh.
In Romans 9, verses 17 and 18, Paul writes, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’
“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
To those who argue this is somehow unfair, Paul has an answer too.
He says in Romans 9:21, “Doesn’t the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
Congregation, just as much as the Bible holds to God’s sovereignty so it also upholds man’s responsibility.
And many choose not to go God’s way.
You can argue with them till you’re blue in the face!
They will tell you they’re very happy going that way.
And nothing you say will change it!
Peter spoke of these ones.
In his 1st letter chapter 2, verse 8, he said, “They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.”
This has been quite a battle-field during church history.
In the 17th century the Arminians said that God’s counsel was changeable.
They taught that God hadn’t chosen certain people but a vague group of people – those who would persevere in their faith.
No wonder they attacked most fiercely this last phrase in Article XVI.
The Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619 was called to deal with this and related issues.
It’s outcome was an even more detailed scriptural exposition of the teaching of reprobation.
It’s no surprise that every time Reformed churches have fallen into liberalism these doctrines in the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt have been amongst the first to go.
They cannot afford to have a God who has that kind of control!
Because liberalism, like Catholicism, teaches that man has enough goodness in himself.
Whether that’s for what he needs to change the world today, or to enjoy eternity for every other day!
Mind you, this doctrine cannot then be used as some kind of a stick to hit others over the head with.
The hyper-Calvinists are quite wrong to make their own judgments over everyone else on this basis.
Because who are they to judge?
Perhaps you saw that television documentary about the extreme Baptist church in America.
They condemned to hell everyone who didn’t hold to their very narrow doctrine!
The Canons of Dordt actually approach this area very sensitively.
It says that those in whom “is not yet strongly felt” a living faith in Christ “ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation nor rank themselves among the lost.”
Rather, they should persevere in using the means of grace “and with ardent desires devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace.” (Canons I:16)
Dear friend, to those who seek Him God is merciful.
Don’t be put off by those who picture Him as some kind of terrible kill-joy.
If He were you wouldn’t be here!
But you are.
See - He does care!
O Most Merciful God, we are amazed at Your goodness to us.
For we haven’t deserved any of this.
In fact, we deserved only to be condemned for all eternity.
You were true, though – You didn’t change.
So You are a just God.
And for us You are the merciful God.
For You chose us – of all people – to be Your people.
From time immemorial You planned it so that we would be here, right now.
How great a love!
Thank You, dear Lord.
Through Jesus Christ we humbly pray, Amen.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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