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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Preaching: God's way of bringing people to faith in Christ
Text:CD 1 Articles 3-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 27:1,2

Psalm 145:1,2,5

Hymn 24

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture reading: Isaiah 55

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 1.3-4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The Canons of Dort begins by explaining how humanity has a serious problem because of sin.  In the first two articles, we learn that we are all deserving of the wages of sin:  death – and that’s all we deserve, all we’ve earned.  Yet God in his love sent his Son to be the Saviour of sinners.  Jesus came into this world to address our serious problem.  Christ came to live a perfect life in our place and take our punishment on the cross.  However, in order to receive what Christ has done, you need to believe.  There has to be faith in Jesus Christ – which means resting and trusting in him alone. 

Now the next thing we need to learn about is how faith comes into existence.  When God chooses to do anything in this world, he typically uses certain methods or means.  He has chosen or appointed ways of accomplishing what he wants to have done.  When it comes to people being brought to faith, here too God has selected or ordained a certain method as the norm.  So this afternoon with the help of the Canons of Dort, we’re learning about God’s way of bringing people to faith in Christ

We’ll see:

  1. The way laid out
  2. The outcome of the way

There once was this young unbeliever named Luke Short.  He was 15 years old and somehow he found himself in a church listening to a famous preacher named John Flavel.   Flavel was preaching on 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.  Our Lord, come!”  Flavel clearly and faithfully preached the gospel from this text.  Luke Short heard the sermon, it went into his ears, but sadly it didn’t reach his heart.  He remained an unbeliever.  Sometime after this, Luke left England and migrated to America. 

Luke Short ended up living a long life.  He was 100 years old when he started thinking about all the things he’d heard and seen through all his years.  Suddenly, in a moment, he remembered that sermon from John Flavel which he heard 85 years before.  He remembered it in detail and as he thought about it, it dawned on him that he was nearing death and judgment.  As a result, he prayed to God for mercy and salvation in Christ.  Amazingly, at 100 years old, Luke Short became a Christian.  He went on to live for 16 more years and during those years, he shared the gospel with whomever he could. 

Sometimes we might look at preaching and wonder how God can do anything through it.  Yet if you look at Isaiah 55, God assures us that the Word which goes forth from him will never return empty.  That’s in Isaiah 55:11.  His Word will always accomplish the purposes he has for it.  In some instances, that purpose is salvation as soon as the Word is heard.  In other instances, like with Luke Short, that purpose is for the seed to be sown only to sprout much further down in time.  But God always has a purpose with his Word and his purposes will never be frustrated.  His Word and the preaching of his Word is the way in which he brings people to faith in Christ. 

Because he wants to bring people to faith in Christ, God sends what are called “heralds” of the gospel.  What is a herald?  In the ancient world, a herald was a messenger for a king or other government official.   The herald was entrusted with a message from someone else.  And the herald had to deliver the message exactly as it had been given to him.  When he did that, those who heard could be sure that what they were hearing was actually the message from the one who sent the herald.  The herald was just the voice.  Christian preachers are heralds of the gospel.  They’ve been sent by God, they’re under his authority.  Christian preachers are not allowed to preach their own ideas or opinions – they can only bring the message of the one who sent them.  Christian preaching is proclaiming the Word of God with authority, it’s heralding. 

We should note that God sends these heralds in his mercy.  No one is entitled to have these heralds sent to them.  No one has a right to the preaching of the gospel.  It shows God’s grace when he provides gospel preaching through heralds.  Grace is dismerited favour, when you receive the opposite of what you deserve.  We deserve to be left in our sinful filth, but in his mercy God sends his messengers with the gospel to save. 

They are sent with what the Canons call “a joyful message.”  That joyful message is the gospel.  The word “gospel” means good news or glad tidings.  What is so good and joyful about the gospel?  It’s the hope that it holds out to us who have sinned against God in every way.  Even though we are rebels and traitors, the King comes to us with reconciliation.  The King says, “I want you, not only to be my subjects, but to be my children.  I want you to be part of my family.  For that reason, I sent my Son into this world to address your rebellion against me.  If you place your trust in him, I will forgive you.  I will release you from the punishment you deserve and I’ll call you my child.”  That message is joyful because it holds forth freedom.  It’s joyful because it holds forth forgiveness.  The gospel is joyful because it holds forth healing.  It’s joyful because it holds forth reconciliation with God.  There is no better good news than the gospel!

God sends that joyful news to whomever he wants and whenever he wants.  Again, you have to realize no one has a right to it.  No one is entitled to push God around and demand he do things our way and in our time.  The fact that he brings the gospel to anyone at all is an amazing thing.  It’s an amazing thing that he’s brought the gospel to us.  We have been blessed with the joyful sound of the good news, haven’t we?  For that, we ought to be thankful and praise God for his grace. 

But we ought also to recognize the human responsibility involved.  When God sends gospel heralds with the glad tidings, people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified.  People are called to repentance.  What is repentance?  It’s simply turning away from sin, and turning to God.  This turning away involves a change of heart about sin.  Before repentance, you don’t see sin as a problem.  You can live with it, you might even enjoy it.  But with repentance, you begin to hate sin and want to fight against it.  You love God and want to follow his ways instead.  That’s repentance and every Christian has to be living a life of repentance, doing this constantly.  We’re called to repent of our sins and turn in faith to Christ crucified.  We look to the cross.  Jesus suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins and when we have faith in him, we’re saying, “Yes, when he was on Calvary, he was paying my penalty, taking my hell, making my atonement.  I won’t ever have to pay for my sins, because I believe that Jesus did it for me.”  Faithful gospel preaching calls people to repentance and faith.  The proper response to that kind of preaching is for those who hear to repent and believe as they’re called to.  Every time you hear the call to repent and believe, you’re to respond by repenting and believing.

But look, all of this is based on the fact that there have been, are, and will be gospel heralds.  These are the men God works through to preach the gospel and bring people to faith.  At the end of article 3, you find that quote from Romans 10:14-15.  It stresses the necessity of preaching.  Someone has to preach!  Jesus emphasized the same thing in Matthew 9:37-38 when he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  The laborers are few, therefore we need to pray earnestly for more of them.  Do you do that?  Do you pray that God would raise up more preachers of the gospel?  There’s definitely a need!  If we really believe that preaching is that important, we ought to be praying about it more than we do. 

But we also ought to be talking about it and doing something about it.  Think about this:  have we been doing our share to send out laborers into the harvest?  Do we have young men in this congregation with a passion for the gospel?  Do we have young men who have the potential to study, to preach, to pastor?  Do we have anyone who might be able to serve as a herald of the joyful message of the gospel?   There is a huge need for gospel preachers in Australia, in Canada, and all over the world.   Like in Isaiah 6:8, God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Who will say like Isaiah did, “Here am I!  Send me.”?  Young men, you need to think about this.  All of us need to be on the lookout for young men with the potential and then nudge them, point them in the right direction.  The need is great and we all need to give attention to it.

As mentioned earlier, when the gospel is preached there’s always an outcome.  Article 4 reminds us that it is a twofold outcome.  Some believe and some don’t.  Before we go any further with this, you have to note something here.  The Canons of Dort are not speaking here just about missionaries on mission fields preaching to heathens.  It definitely applies to that.  But it’s also referring to the preaching that happens every Sunday in instituted churches filled with people who’ve been going to church their whole life.  In other words, the twofold outcome is also something that’s going to be found here in our congregation.  You can count on that. 

There are those who hear the gospel, but don’t believe it.  Perhaps in their hearts they just say, “No, I don’t think I need Jesus Christ.”  Maybe outwardly they still go through the motions of going to church and doing religious things, but inwardly the gospel isn’t believed.  And perhaps there are others who hear the gospel, but deceive themselves into thinking they’re Christians for reasons that are contrary to the gospel.  They’ve heard the gospel, but yet for some reason they still hold on to the idea that they’re going to heaven because they’re good people who do good things.  They’re intoxicated with their own deeds and self-righteousness, so when the gospel is proclaimed, it doesn’t register, doesn’t connect.  Their hearts and minds are oblivious to the key truths the Bible proclaims about human sinfulness and our need for Christ.

The Canons of Dort says that “The wrath of God remains upon those who do not believe this gospel.”  This is what Scripture says in John 3:36: “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  In John 3:36, not obeying the Son means the same thing as not believing in the Son.   If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, the wrath of God remains upon you.  It’s not that the wrath of God comes upon you, but it was already there and it simply stays there.  It doesn’t move.  You are facing God’s judgment in the age to come.  You’re facing eternity in hell if you don’t place all your trust in Jesus Christ. 

When the gospel is preached, it needs to come with these warnings.  By nature, people don’t want to hear about judgment and condemnation.  But it is unloving to cover up these things that God has plainly revealed in his Word.  Love means that we warn people when they’re in danger.  Loved ones, you’re in danger if you’re not placing all your trust only in Jesus Christ for what happens after you take your last breath.  As the Scripture says, it is appointed for people to die once and then they face judgment.  Because you don’t know the time when that will happen, listen to the words of Isaiah 55:6-7 [read].

It’s far better to be on the other side of this twofold outcome described in article 4.  It’s better to receive the gospel and embrace Jesus the Saviour with a true and living faith.  All of us, young and old alike, are called to a true and living faith in Jesus as the only Saviour.  It’s obviously vitally important to have this true and living faith.  So, what is a true and living faith and how can you know that you have it?  Faith consists of three inter-connected parts.  All three have to be present for there to be true and living faith. 

First, there has to be knowledge.  You have to have a basic knowledge of the gospel and what it involves.  You can’t have faith if you don’t know what the cross was about, for example.  However, mere knowledge is not enough.  Many unbelievers have a degree of knowledge about the Bible.  So, second, faith also means accepting what the Bible says as true.  You acknowledge that what the Bible teaches is truth.  But don’t stop there, because if you do stop there, you still don’t have faith.  Faith also includes the third element:  a firm personal confidence.  It’s the confidence that Jesus died for me, personally.  It’s the confidence that God is my Father through Jesus Christ.  It’s the confidence that the Holy Spirit is living in me, creating in me a love for God and a desire to follow him.              

So how can you know if you have that true and living faith?  Do you know the gospel?  Do accept that the Bible teaches the truth about God, about who we are, about salvation, and everything else?  Do you have confidence that Christ took your place on the cross?  Do you trust that he paid your penalty so you will not have to experience hell?  If you can say “yes,” to all those questions, then you have a true and living faith.  You have been delivered by Christ from the wrath of God.  You’ve been given the gift of eternal life. 

Loved ones, every time a sermon is preached and it’s done faithfully, it’s life and death.  It really is.  Our time under the preaching of God’s Word is a time where things concerning our eternity are being worked out.  Preachers preach each time with an awareness of the eternal significance of gospel preaching.  But do you also come into church with that awareness?  Are you aware that God’s Word proclaimed is a matter of life to some and death to others?  Being aware of it, you have to pray about it.  Pray that the joyful message would be received as a joyful message by your children, by your friends, by your brothers and sisters.

There are questions we’re going to leave unanswered today.  The most obvious one would be:  why is there this twofold outcome?  Why do some hear and believe, while others hear and disbelieve?  The answer to that is going to come further in the Canons of Dort.  For now, remember that preaching is at the center of the church’s calling in this world.  It’s the most important thing that the church does.  And the most important thing for you is to receive the preaching of the gospel and always embrace Jesus as the Saviour.  May God give us his grace and help to do that.  AMEN. 


Merciful God,

In your kindness, you have sent heralds of the gospel so that people can be brought to faith.  You’ve done that for us too and we thank you for that.  Thank you for the preaching of the joyful message of Jesus Christ.  We pray that as we all hear the joyful sound of the gospel, we would respond with repentance and a true and living faith in Jesus.  Please work that in all our hearts with your Holy Spirit.  Father, if there is anyone who does not believe this gospel in our midst, we pray for your Spirit to regenerate them and bring them to faith.  Lord God, we also lay before you again the great need for gospel preachers.  The labourers are still few, Father.  We pray for many more gospel preachers.  We pray for many more young men to go and study theology and learn how to be preachers.  We pray that you would stir up that desire in the hearts of young men in our church too.  Father, lay it on the hearts of young men so that they love the gospel and want to herald the joyful message so that sinners can be saved.  Father, we earnestly pray that in coming years we will be able to send many more young men to our seminary in Hamilton.       


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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