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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Living in the comfort of God's Word
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2013-03-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Indispensible Knowledge                                

Ps. 84: 1, 2

Ps. 84: 6

Ps. 147: 1, 6

Ps. 25: 2, 6

Ps. 43: 3, 4

 

Scripture reading:       1 Peter 1: 22 – 2: 3

Text:                               LD 1 b

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

The promise of the gospel is that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life.   Since we do believe the promise, the promise itself is our assurance of eternal life.   Each one who believes the promise has the content of Lord’s Day 1 as his personal confession, and confesses it as his only comfort in life and in death.  

 

This afternoon we will deal with the second question:

           

            “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?”

 

We are still dealing with the same promise and the same comfort, but the focus of the question has now shifted to the means by which we live in this comfort.   The means by which God’s promise continues to comfort us, is through the preaching of God’s Word.   The Word of God is the seed of regeneration – 1 Peter 1: 23.   Through the preaching of God’s Word we received faith – Rom. 10: 17.   But the Word of God is not only the instrument by which God works faith in us once, it is also the instrument by which He continues to work faith in us and to sustain and increase our faith.   The Word of God is not only the seed of regeneration, it is also the milk (1 Peter 2: 2) and the solid food (Hebr.5: 12 – 14) whereby our faith is nourished in order to grow and increase.  

 

So then, the Word of God is the means by which we received faith and by which we continue to grow in faith.   Therefore, we can only live comforted in Christ if our faith is constantly sustained and strengthened by the Word of God.  The whole counsel of God’s revealed Word is the indispensible knowledge by which our faith acts.

 

Without the knowledge of God’s Word there is no faith, and no comfort, and no true experience of joy.  

You see then that we are comforted through instruction.   We can only be comforted by that which has been revealed to us in God’s Word and in which we are instructed.

 

What knowledge, then, is needed?   In answering this question the Catechism summarises the whole revealed counsel of God, all of holy Scripture, under three headings:

·         how great my sins and misery are

·         how I am delivered from my sins and misery

·         and how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

Through this knowledge God worked faith in me, and through this knowledge He continues to work faith in me in order that I may live comforted in the knowledge of Christ.

 

And so, this afternoon, the theme for the sermon will be…

Living in the Comfort of God’s Word

 

We will note…

1.      The way in which we receive the comfort

2.      The summary of indispensible knowledge

3.      The blessedness of living in this comfort

In the first place we note… 

The way in which we receive the comfort

 

It happened in church history that some understood this second answer to mean that sin, deliverance and thankfulness are three stages in the life of a believer – first a period in which you grow in the knowledge of how great your sins and misery are, then a next stage in which you come to the knowledge of your deliverance, and lastly the final stage of thankfulness.    By changing the three headings into three stages or periods, the most dangerous heresies of methodism and mysticism crept into the churches.  

 

To make this worse, the question was no longer understood to be: What do I need to know in order to live in this comfort, but: What do I need to know in order to come to this comfort?   What do I need to know to reach this comfort?    Suddenly the comfort which the believer confessed to be his own in the first part of the Lord’s Day was now changed to a comfort which he still has to find.   And in order to find this comfort he has to go through these three steps or stages!   The three headings of our knowledge were changed into a method and process of seeking the comfort!

 

But when do you know that your knowledge of sin is now great enough to move on to the next stage?   Oh, they said, you first need to have a profound experience of true conversion – preferably with a specific date and time of repentance.   Such true repentance has to be preceded by a profound sense of God’s wrath.   You almost have to experience hell itself and descend, so to speak, into the pit under the curse of God; only after such an experience can you then come to the second step: a true knowledge of deliverance!  

And after coming to the knowledge of your personal deliverance, then the final stage of eternal peace and joy will follow – an experience of true thankfulness.  

But, what then if you still miss that overwhelming joy and uninterrupted heavenly peace? Well, then you have to start all over again!  

Then your experience of the greatness of your sin and misery was not deep and profound enough.   Then your conversion was not true.   And so you have to continue to do self-examination in search for the greatness of your sins, and you have to rob yourself from all comfort in order to descend into the pit, so that you may have a true repentance and receive true deliverance!

 

Brothers and sisters, it is not hard to see how such methodism also leads to mysticism, searching into yourself and seeking for profound experiences of heaven and hell.   And then, the few elite Christians who manage to reach that final stage of uninterrupted heavenly peace and joy, well, they have no need for further instruction anymore.   They have truly arrived!  They have no consciousness of their sin anymore, and no need for instruction.   They have been converted, they have been delivered, they have come to the final stage, and now they can simply live in the experience of joy!

 

What a distortion of the gospel!  

 

Dear congregation, the knowledge of sin, deliverance and thankfulness is not three stages or periods in our life, neither is it a method by which we are to seek for the comfort.  

 

True conversion is indeed first of all a heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sins.   If you repent then you surely grieve over your own sin, and you hate and flee from it more and more.   We confess that in LD 33.

And there is indeed a logical order in the knowledge of sin, deliverance and thankfulness.   It is the same logical order which we find for example in the epistle to the Romans where the apostle Paul systematically sets out the gospel.   If you look at the letter to the Romans, you find that in chapter 1 up to chapter 3: 20 the apostle deals with the greatness of our sins and misery.   Then, from chapter 3: 21 up to the end of chapter 11, he deals with the way in which we are delivered from our sins and misery.   And in the third part, chapters 12 – 16, he instructs us how we are to be thankful to God for such deliverance.   The apostle Paul worked with the same three points and in the same logic order as we have it here in Lord’s Day 1.  

 

But the exposition of the whole gospel in this logical order does not at all imply that we receive and experience it in three periods or stages of life!

 

What then do we confess?    We already possess the comfort, for the sure promise of God is our own!   Thus we confessed in the first answer.   And now the second question of the Catechism does not send us out to go and search for the comfort, but it inquires after the means by which we live in this comfort.  The means by which God worked faith in us and by which He continues to sustain and strengthen our faith is the whole counsel of His revealed Word.    And we receive this knowledge not only once, or in stages, but we continue to live in this comfort through continued instruction in the whole gospel, so that we are more and more confirmed in the comfort and also grow in it.

 

Now, the content of the revealed comfort cannot increase, since there is no more to receive than that what God has already given us in Christ.  The comfort given in Christ is complete.   Yet, the believer has to grow in that knowledge and his faith has to be more and more rooted and confirmed in that knowledge.

  

The grace itself cannot become more, since it is complete in Christ, yet we can and must indeed become more and more confirmed in it.  There is no more and no less in the comfort that is given, but there is indeed a more and a less in our consideration of this comfort and in experiencing its joy and in growing in it.  

 

The comfort, which is complete salvation in Christ, can in itself not become more, and it cannot become less; but our own assurance of the comfort and our experience of this comfort can indeed be more and it can indeed be less.   Through our own fault we can fall into serious sins and even lose for a while the sense of God’s favour and experience no comfort, until we again return to God through sincere repentance (Canons of Dort, chapter 5, art. 5).  

In order to continue living in the comfort and growing in the comfort of our salvation we are in constant need of the instruction of God’s Word.  

Now, the comfort then, does not come only by means of the promises of the gospel, but also by means of the exhortations and threats of the gospel.

The comfort may come to us through a warning.   The comfort may even come to us through a rebuke, or through church discipline, for by such means (by the instruction of His Word) God continues to work His grace in us, to confirm and to complete in us the salvation which we have in Christ (Canons of Dort, chapter 3/4, art.17, and chapter 5, art.14).

 

The comfort continues to flow to us, not automatically, nor through a strange or mystic experience, but through the instruction of God’s revealed Word.   We are comforted by the knowledge of the truth.   Our comfort increases to the same measure that our faith increases, and our faith increases through no other means than through an increase in the knowledge of Christ as revealed in the Word of God.

 

Dear congregation, God does not work this comfort in us without means.   He comforts us through instruction.   We do not receive the comfort of the gospel only once, through a critical experience, but we continue to receive the comfort through continued instruction – not in three separate stages, but by growing in the knowledge of the whole counsel of God.

 

The believer who stands in this comfort will suffer many tribulations and trials and hardships.   In the midst of a spiritual war, and of tumults and storms, we are in constant need of the comfort that comes to us through the knowledge of God’s Word.   We have not yet arrived.   We are still living through faith and not through sight.   And thus, in order to live now in this life in the only comfort, the knowledge of God’s Word and our constant consideration of it are indispensible.  

 

So then, what is the full counsel of God’s Word?   

We note that in the second place…

The summary of the indispensable knowledge

 

To live blessed and to die blessed we need to know three things.   Now, we often make it short and say: three things – sin, deliverance and thankfulness.   However, this short way of putting it is not really accurate.   The three points deal with the greatness of our misery, the manner of our deliverance, and the prescribed way in which we must act our thankful obedience.  

 

Of course these three points form the very content of everything that will follow in the rest of the Catechism, and thus we will still come to the detail of these points and deal with it in its proper place.  For now we just have to look at the summary itself.  

 

Can we summarise the whole counsel of God in this way?  

 

Dear congregation, the whole Bible is the book of God’s covenant: the old covenant and the new covenant, which is in essence one covenant.   And the covenant contains two parts: promise and obligation.   The promise of the covenant is the gospel.   And the obligations of the covenant are spelled out in the law of God.   And thus all of Scripture is summarised as law and gospel.

 

Why then does the Catechism have three parts?   Actually it has two parts: the law and the gospel.   But, the law forms both the first and the third part of the Catechism.   In the first part the Catechism deals with the law as the means by which we know the greatness of our sins and misery.   In the third part it deals with the law as the prescribed way in which we must act our thankful obedience.   And thus we find the law in both the first and third part of the Catechism.   The three parts are therefore only two things: the law and the gospel.   It is the two parts of the covenant: promise and obligation.  

It is then easy to see that this summary is indeed Scriptural.  In fact, as we saw already, these three points (and in that order) is the same three points or parts of the epistle to the Romans in which we find a systematic exposition of the whole gospel.

 

We can therefore be confident that the structure of the Catechism is indeed balanced and Scriptural.   We do not have to fear that if we continue the Catechism preaching year after year that our faith will grow screw or become unbalanced, for it is indeed a Scriptural summary of the whole counsel of God.

 

But there still remains one question with regard to this summary:  Is all of Scripture indispensible for our comfort?   What about the first part of the Catechism?   Is the knowledge of the greatness of my sins and misery part of my comfort?   And what about the warnings and threats of God’s Word?   Can we say that every part of Scripture is indispensible for my comfort?

 

Yes, also the warnings and the threats are part of God’s grace whereby He preserves us in Christ.  

 

We should therefore not tear apart what God has joined together.   The law and the gospel is part of one and the same covenant and of the same gospel.   Both serve to preserve us in Christ, and thus both are indispensible for our comfort.   When we understand Scripture in this way then all of Scripture is indispensible to preserve and nourish us, in order that we may live blessed and die blessed in the only comfort.

 

The three parts of the Catechism is then not three periods of our life.   We are never finish with the first part of the Catechism.   We live in the knowledge of all three parts together and simultaneously, and we do so for as long as we live.  

Any growth in the knowledge of the greatness of our sins and misery, is at the same time growth in the other two parts.   For if I grow in the understanding of my total depravity and the severe curse that I deserve, then I have also made progress in the understanding of the greatness of God’s mercy in delivering me from such a state; and by a better understanding of such undeserved deliverance I also grow in thankful obedience to God.

Growth in one part of the knowledge also means growth in the other parts.  They can never be separated.

 

Brothers and sisters, if we would, for example, in any way tone down the greatness of our sin and misery, and are in a hurry to finish these Lord’s Days, in order to get it behind us so that we may proceed with the deliverance, then we end up with a superficial and cheap gospel.  

Change our fall in the first Adam, and you lose the redemption in the second Adam.   Fiddle with the one part, and you lose the other parts as well, for the gospel is one.

 

Now, in our English translation, question 2 reads:

            “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?”

We can however translate the original text:

“How many things are necessary for you to know, that you, in the joy of this comfort, may live and die blessed?”

Whoever lives in this comfort, lives a blessed life; and whoever dies in this comfort, dies a blessed death.   We note that in the third place…

The blessedness of living in this comfort

 

What is the blessedness of this comfort?

Those who are trapped in methodism and mysticism have changed the three parts of the Catechism into three steps – three steps to reach the comfort!   First you have to come to a profound experience of your depravity and hopelessness, then comes the deliverance, and after that an eternal period of peace and joy in a mystic communion with God. 

 

The result of that error is then also that the one who achieves these three steps, leave them behind as he “finishes” them.   He reaches then a spirituality that transcends all instruction of God’s Word.   He needs no more exhortations or threats.   He needs no more detailed instruction in the law of God.   His communion with God is then not a communion in and through the knowledge and instruction of God’s Word, but a communion that transcends knowledge.   He reaches then, or so he hopes, a spiritual height where only the experience of joy and peace remains – a better and a higher level of spirituality than living by the revealed Word of God!

 

We find the same error also in our own day.   People say: “Don’t bother so much about knowledge and instruction.  Don’t bother about Catechism classes and memorising Lord’s Days!   Leave the Catechism preaching and give us the power of the Spirit!”  They want to feel and experience, leaving the indispensible knowledge behind.

 

But how far is that removed from our confession!  

 

Brothers and sisters, the blessedness and the joy of our only comfort is not a strange or mystic experience, but a life unto God in communion with Him – in and through the knowledge of His Word.

 

The thankfulness and the happiness of which our confession speaks is not a vague feeling; it is a life according to God’s clear and revealed Word.   We are saved unto that blessed life in Christ which is according to God’s revealed law.   We experience the joy and the blessedness of our salvation in a new life of obedience to God.   The blessedness of the new life in Christ is not a moment here, or an experience there, but a total new life sanctified unto God.   The blessedness is not a mystic experience, but a life of concrete and practical communion with God in which every aspect of our life is brought into subjection to Him according to His revealed Word.

 

The blessedness, in which we live and die, brings no separation with the nuts and bolts of everyday life.  It is not a blessedness in which our thankfulness is a vague feeling.   The blessedness of our new life in Christ is that we are delivered from sin unto God.   It is a blessedness that makes us holy and useful servants in service of God.

 

The blessedness is not a vague undefined feeling of thankfulness, but a thoughtful and purposeful life unto God in which the knowledge of the whole counsel of God is the indispensible means of our comfort.  

 

Not a mystic comfort in a spiritual utopia that is far removed from the reality of life, but a revealed comfort in the midst of sorrow and strife.

Brothers and sisters, we do not have to start a journey in search for some vague and undefined comfort; we have the firm and revealed comfort of God’s Word.

 

Through the indispensible knowledge of the revealed counsel of God we are blessed, and through this knowledge we remain comforted in all situations of life, yes, even in this life of sorrow.

 

Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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