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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:God The Holy Spirit sovereignly uses the ear to work faith in his people .
Text:LD 25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Lord's Day 25

65. Q. Since then faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits, where does this faith come from?
A. From the Holy Spirit,[1] who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel,[2] and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments.[3]
[1] John 3:5; I Cor. 2:10-14; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29. [2] Rom. 10:17; I Pet. 1:23-25. [3] Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 10:16.

66. Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use He might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.[1] And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.[2]
[1] Gen. 17:11; Deut. 30:6; Rom. 4:11 [2] Matt. 26:27, 28; Acts 2:38; Heb. 10:10.

67. Q. Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?
A. Yes, indeed. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross.[1]
[1] Rom. 6:3; I Cor. 11:26; Gal. 3:27.

68. Q. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant?
A. Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.[1]
[1] Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 11:23-26.

Scripture Reading:
Ezekiel 37:1-10
II Corinthians 5:9-21
II Timothy 1:8-14

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 93:2,4
Hymn 29:1
Hymn 36:2
Psalm 85:3,4
Psalm 25:2,4 & Hymn 37:2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Western society, like so many other cultures, has for generations been a culture of listening. In the last number of years, that has changed. With the arrival of television and videos, our's has become a culture of looking. Communication today takes place more through the eye than through the ear. What one sees on television makes a bigger impression on a person than what one hears. The result is that people's ability to listen for any length of time becomes more difficult; communicators are finding that, in order to keep people's attention, they need to resort to humour or suspense.

This shift in our culture presents its challenges to preachers of the gospel. It's said that preaching has had its day, is becoming a thing of the past -why?- because people don't know how to listen anymore. What we need instead is something that uses not the ear but the eye as the means of picking up a message. Instead of preaching, we should maybe introduce the video screen to church, or maybe drama....

LD 25 speaks of a Scriptural truth that allows for no video screen in church to replace the pulpit. For, says this LD, Scripture teaches that the Lord in the Holy Spirit works faith "by the preaching of the gospel". Says this LD: the Lord is sovereignly pleased to use the ear as the sense through which He grants the gift of faith. So the preaching remains critically important for the salvation of sinners. I summarize the sermon with this theme:

1. The means God uses to work faith,
2. The message God's people are to hear

1. The means God uses to work faith.

LD 25 begins a new section of the Catechism. That's indicated by the words printed in our Book of Praise above LD 25; we read there the words "Word and Sacraments". That's the material dealt with in the next 7 LD's, from 25-31.

As to why the Catechism deals now with the matter of "Word and Sacraments", we're to note the material that has come before. You will recall that LD 7 had stated that only those with faith in Jesus Christ could be saved (Q & A 20). In the following LD's (8-22), the Catechism had discussed the contents of this faith, had done so following the outline of the Apostles' Creed. Then in LD 23 (we heard it two weeks ago), the question was asked: OK, now that you believe all that God has said in the Bible, what's the benefit for you? To which was answered: "that I am righteous before God and an heir to eternal life." That, then, is the benefit of faith, the benefit of believing all that God has promised in the gospel: I am righteous before God, I am an heir to eternal life, my sins are forgiven, I have salvation. All of that is mine when I believe, when I have faith. It's all summed up in the first Question of our LD today: "faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits."

That reality, of course, prompts the next question. If it's faith that I need in order to be saved (and that's what the Scriptures teach), where am I to get that faith? That's now the question of our LD: "where does this faith come from?"

The answer as given in our LD is this: faith comes "from the Holy Spirit." That's what the Catechism has learned from the Scripture. I think of a passage as I Cor 2: "God has revealed [His gospel] to us through His Spirit" (vs 10). And Rom 5: "...the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (vs 5). I Cor 12 says the same thing: " one can say the Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (vs 3). And we understand that one cannot say that "Jesus is Lord" unless he has faith.

Now, the fact that faith comes from the Holy Spirit may seem to us to be very straight forward. Yet I remind you, beloved, that the church once had to struggle very intensely with people in her own midst who denied that faith came from the Holy Spirit. Some 400 years ago in the Netherlands, there was a teacher in the church named Jacob Arminius. He gained a following known to us as Arminians. What these Arminians taught? They taught that faith comes from oneself. These Arminians were of the opinion that each person is able to decide for himself whether or not to believe, and then can make a point of actually believing.

Over against this teaching of the Arminians, the church spoke a firm No. The church did so because the Scriptures teach the doctrine of total depravity, teach that every person is dead in sin (Eph 2:1), and since the dead can do nothing is no person able to place faith in one's own heart. So over against these Arminians the church drafted the Canons of Dort. Here we read the following (chap III/IV, Art 11; it's on page 555):

God "powerfully enlightens [men's] minds by the Holy Spirit, so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God. By the efficacious [ie, effective] working of the same regenerating Spirit He also penetrates into the innermost recesses of man. He opens the closed and softens the hard heart, circumcises that which was uncircumcised, and instils new qualities into the will...."

And later, Art 14:

"Faith is therefore a gift of God -how so?- because it is actually conferred on man, instilled and infused into him."

By so saying, then, the Church insisted that the Arminians were wrong; faith is not something I can decide to place in my heart, but it's rather something which the Lord God sovereignly, through His Spirit, works in my heart. I want to come back to this point later on.

If it may be established then that faith is worked in the hearts of sinners by the Holy Spirit, the next question is: how does the Holy Spirit work this faith? The answer of the Scriptures on this point is straight forward. I think of a text as Rom 10: "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (vs 17). Because the Holy Spirit works faith through hearing, Jesus could say that His sheep "hear My voice" (Jn 10:27). So it was that when Paul was sent out to do mission work in Asia Minor, he came with his voice; he preached because it's through the word, the preaching, that the Holy Spirit works faith. That's illustrated beautifully in what the Lord tells us about Lydia. Acts 16:

"Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us.... The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" (vs 14).

Note the way it's said: she heeded the things spoken by Paul. She listened, and came to faith. And this turns out to be the pattern throughout the book of Acts. Believers arose in Paul's wake -how so?- Paul preached, and those chosen to life listened. It's because of the truth of that principle -faith comes through hearing- that Paul says to the Corinthians that "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Cor 1:21).

And we should not consider it a surprise, brothers and sisters, that the Lord in the Spirit is pleased to work through the preaching, through the Word. When God set out to create the world in the beginning, He did not collect matter and from it fashion heaven and earth, with all that's on it. No, God rather spoke. "Let there be," God decreed, and lo, there was. And now that God is recreating the heart dead in sin, working faith where there is only deadness, God does the same as He did in the beginning: He speaks. He causes His Word to go forth, and lo, people dead in sin come alive, they believe. The prophecy of Ezekiel concerning the dry bones is here to the point (37:1ff). Concerning that valley full of dry bones, God said to Ezekiel: "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'" And the result? The bones came alive, what was dead lived; here is recreation. And we're to know: people are like dry bones, dead in sin, they cannot come alive unless God sovereignly works upon them by His Word of power.

Yet there is this difference between God's speaking at creation in the beginning and His speaking today when He wishes to work faith in dead hearts. For in the beginning it was God Himself who spoke; God said: "let there be". Today, though, it is not God's actual voice we hear (as Israel heard it at Mt Sinai; cf Ex 19f). God is rather pleased to speak through people. Indeed, God has appointed His ministers to speak His Word; ministers are God's mouthpiece (cf Dt 5:28ff). So it was that Paul could say to the Thessalonians:

"...when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God..." (I Thes 2:13; cf Gal 4:14).

And in the passage we read from II Cor 5 Paul says:

God "has given us [that's the apostles] the ministry of reconciliation" (vs 18).

And because the apostles have received that ministry of reconciliation Paul can add:

"Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (vs 20).

There it is: Paul's word was not the voice of man; through Paul the Lord caused people to hear His Word.

Yet it is not only through the apostles themselves that the Lord God lays His Word on His people. Timothy was not an apostle, and yet was -say the Scripture- a "minister of Jesus Christ" (I Tim 4:6). As minister he was not to preach what he felt like preaching; he rather had to proclaim what he had himself received in the Scriptures of the OT and in the teaching of Paul (I Tim 4:6,11,16). As Paul writes to Timothy:

"Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me..." (II Tim 1:13).

But here too: Timothy could not be the only one who was to preach that gospel. Paul told Timothy to establish a training for the ministry. II Tim 2:

"And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (vs 2).

So it is that the church through out the centuries has had ministers of the gospel, person equipped to preach the word of life to the people. And what was true for Paul is equally true for these ministers of the gospel even today: ministers are ambassadors of Christ, God Himself speaking to His people through them.

Now I want to come back to the matter of those Arminians I mentioned earlier. The thing is that the thinking of these Arminians has not at all disappeared since the days of the Synod of Dort nearly 400 years ago. You know that Arminianism is alive and well today; it's popularly understood that people are not dead in sin, are able to make a choice for God, are able to make faith live in their own hearts. So it is that it is commonly understood today too that you do not really need to go to church to be a Christian, do not really need the preaching of the gospel in order to believe. The result is that so many who call themselves Christians seldom hear a sermon. And of those who do go to some church or another, numerous do not hear the gospel proclaimed; the preacher has a religious talk, and that satisfies the hearer. That's the thinking of our day.

Let it be clear in our minds, then, beloved, that we are dead, that we cannot work faith in our hearts; that's something only God can do. And the means by which God is pleased to work that faith is through the preaching of the gospel; "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17). If then we wish to be saved, if then we wish to receive faith, it is for us to make use of the preaching. That trend of our day to minimize the need for the preaching is something we need to resist because at stake is nothing less than salvation itself. The Holy Spirit does not work faith in the bush or at the beach; He has been pleased -sovereign God that He is- to use the means of the preaching. So our duty is -if we wish to be saved- our duty is to avail ourselves of that preaching. In a word: be in church. When all is said and done, the increasing practice of skipping church, of being in church just once, is a nod to the error of the Arminians. To confess that God the Holy Spirit works faith through the preaching (and strengthens it by the preaching too) is to acknowledge the need to be in church faithfully, regularly, as often as humanly possible.

And we understand: it helps nothing to sit in church asleep. Faith comes through the hearing. Very well: then we're to listen. That means: be alert. And be able to concentrate, to hear what the Lord's word is. In turn that means that we shall need to resist also the trend of our society to becoming a culture of looking. The dangers of television are legion, but here's one to focus on today: see to it that you do not loose the gift of being able to listen, to concentrate on the spoken word for long periods of time. More, see to it that your children learn to listen. The Spirit is pleased to use the preaching in order to work faith; very well, we shall need to be good hearers, for our salvation's sake.

2. The Message God's people are to hear.

We move on now to our second point for this afternoon. So there is need for listening, need for it because the Holy Spirit is pleased to work faith through the preaching. But what is it that is to be preached? Or to ask the question differently: what are we to listen to? What's the message God would have us hear?

LD 25 gives the answer of Scripture. Says A 65: the Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel. It's not preaching of Bhuddism that the Spirit uses, nor the proclamation of New Agism. The Holy Spirit uses instead the preaching of the gospel. Now the question is: what's meant by "the gospel"?

For our part, brothers and sisters, we surely have our answers ready for that question. "The gospel": we're sure that that's the good news of Jesus Christ crucified. And we're right.

Yet think for a moment, congregation. Is it only the doctrine of Christ crucified that the Spirit uses to work faith? If I may say it this way: does the Spirit use only this central doctrine of salvation through the atoning work of Christ? The answer is No. The Spirit uses the preaching of God's whole Word, including not only the central message of Christ crucified, but also God's revelation concerning creation, concerning providence, concerning the incarnation, concerning the last things, etc. I remind you of what we confessed in LD 7: the Christian must believe all that God has promised, and not simply the material surrounding the cross of Calvary.

The evidence from Scripture is here for the taking. Paul told Timothy to be a good minister of Jesus Christ. How Timothy could be a good minister? Says Paul: by instructing the brethren "in these things" (I Tim 4:6). In what things? All things that Paul had taught to Timothy. Paul repeats the point in his second letter to Timothy:

"Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me..." (II Tim 1:13).

What is that "pattern of sound words" that Timothy must cling to, must preach? It's all that Timothy heard from Paul. Timothy may make no variation on that gospel, may leave nothing out, may add nothing to it. The whole gospel, as God has given it: that's what Timothy -and every preacher after him- is bound to proclaim. "The people in the pew should not be exposed to the private ideas of the preacher but [should be exposed] to the doctrine of the Word of God." Why that's so? Because God the Holy Spirit is sovereignly pleased to use the hearing of God's whole revelation to work faith in the hearts of those chosen to life.

That is why it will not do, brothers and sisters, simply to go to a church, not even to go to any orthodox church that still preaches Christ crucified. The church we're to go to must preach the whole counsel of God, must preach it as God has revealed it. The church we're to go to isn't to preach 80% of the Word or 90%, isn't to twist a small part of it either; it's to lay God's whole revelation before God's own, is to lay it all before God's own because the Lord is pleased to use it all to work faith. And saying this is nothing new; it's precisely this that the Church has learned from Scripture long ago and confessed in the Belgic Confession. Art 28: all must join the church, none may separate from it -why?- because "there is no salvation outside of it". For the true church "practises the pure preaching of the gospel", proclaims God's whole Word, "rejecting all things contrary to it" (Art 29), and it is through the preaching of that Word that the Spirit is pleased to work faith. So: according to the decree of God, salvation is not available outside of that true church. Since that's the reality God has ordained, we're to be consistent in our actions: we're to belong to that true church, and we're to bring our children there, lest salvation be endangered for ourselves and our offspring into numerous generations.

Now you will say: surely there are those outside the true church who are being saved! Does the Lord not work faith also elsewhere? And indeed, I will not deny it. But we must, brothers and sisters, keep two things apart here. The Holy Spirit is true God, and hence almighty; He is most able to work faith in the heart of a dead sinner in whatever way He wishes, even without that person so much as once hearing the gospel. But the fact that God the Spirit is able to work faith without the preaching of the gospel, or (shall we say) with the gospel presented in a twisted fashion, does not mean that people are free to absent themselves from the pure preaching of the whole gospel. How God acts is His business. We for our part are bound to obey the norms God has established. The norm is: God the Spirit is pleased to work faith through the hearing of His Word, through the preaching. What kind of preaching? The norm is: the proclamation of the whole Word of God. That's what we confess in LD 25. So we're to be consistent: be in church, submit to the preaching. Which church? Be in that church where God's whole Word is faithfully proclaimed, that church where the voice of the Good Shepherd is heard. It is not for us to bother our heads about what the Lord is able to do elsewhere, or what the Lord actually is doing elsewhere; it is for us instead simply to do what the Lord asks us to do. And we're to do God's will on this point not just when life is normal, when we're at work and the children are at school; we're to do God's will on the matter during holiday periods as well. God works faith, and God strengthens faith, in a certain manner and hence at a certain place. It's the realization of that reality that drives us to church, to God's church, Sunday by Sunday - without fail.

And say not, beloved, that this whole matter of going to church, or even where one goes to church, is actually not such an important point. God in mercy has given up His only Son to work salvation for sinners. Sinners can benefit from that saving work of Jesus Christ only by embracing it in true faith; without faith one is lost. But faith comes from somewhere. Faith is not plucked out of the sky, faith is not something you put in your own heart; faith is instead the gracious work of holy God in the hearts of dead sinners. And God is pleased to use a particular means to work that needed faith. If we then should belittle that means, should assume that God will mercifully work that faith somehow else (because, after all, He is able to), we threaten our own salvation. This is no unimportant point; at stake is salvation itself.

Since that's the case, there remains one conclusion for us. Despite what we see around us in our world, it's for us faithfully and diligently to attend the church of God, to be present in the workshop of the Holy Spirit. In His gracious care for us, there is where He would work and strengthen faith in the hearts of dead sinners chosen to life. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. C. Bouwman

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