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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:God's grace goes all the way
Text:CD 2 art 6-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2020-11-15
Added:2021-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 91:1

Hymn 2:1,2,3

Hymn 82:1

Psalm 31:13,14

Psalm 30:5

Read: 2 Timothy 1

Text:  COD chap 2, art 6,7.  R.E. 2.5, 2.6.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

Does God's grace go all the way or only halfway?  That's not such a hard question to answer, is it?  Since God does nothing in half measure, we must conclude that his grace goes all the way! 

  But does it really?  Does God's grace really go all the way?  When it comes to our salvation, where does God's grace begin and where does it end?  Everyone will agree that God sending his Son into this world was an act of his grace.  And so it is by God's grace that we can be saved.  But is it also an act of his grace that we really are saved?  Did God's grace in sending his Son Jesus into the world simply make it possible for us to be saved, or does God's grace in fact also cause us to be saved?  What does the Bible really mean when it says in Ephesians 2:10,

For by grace you have been saved, through faith"? 

And what does 2 Timothy 1:9 mean when it says that God

"saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace"?

This was a question that our fathers had to wrestle with at the Synod of Dort in the 1600s.  In their discussions with the followers of Arminius, it soon became clear that there was a difference in understanding with respect to what we mean about the grace of God and our salvation.  The Arminians agreed that it was by God's grace that he sent his Son into the world.  Where they did not agree, however, is that it is also by God's grace that we also believe in Christ.  When it comes to believing, they said, that is not a matter of God's grace but rather it is a matter of your own free will.  God just makes it possible for you to be saved in Christ, and then it is up to you to make this a reality.

  So, when it comes to redemption being acquired through Christ's death, that's by grace, the Arminian would agree.  But when it comes to that redemption being applied to us personally, that is no longer a matter of grace but depends on yourself.

  But does it really matter?  Does it really matter what we believe about God's grace and our salvation?  Yes it does!  Listen to what John Calvin wrote about this, in connection with 2 Timothy chapter 2:9.

"People will readily say that we were bought with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we were not worthy that God should show us such great mercy.  Yet if they are asked, 'Who has any part and portion in such a redemption as God has made in the person of his Son?' they will answer, 'Those who are willing, those who seek God and submit themselves to him; those who have some good feelings, and whose conduct is not too gross; those who are of good character and practise some form of devotion.'  When people make such a mixture, thinking they are called to God and to his grace because of something that is in themselves - that they bring something, however small, to share with God in the work of their salvation - the grace of God is obscured, indeed, torn to pieces."[1]

And so I preach to you this most important doctrine concerning the grace of God and our salvation.  I do so under the following theme:

God's grace goes all the way

1. Not halfway

but

2. All the way

 

1. Not halfway

This afternoon we are continuing with our study on the doctrines of grace as it is explained in the Canons of Dort.  We're dealing with the second head of doctrine, which is Christ's death and man's redemption through it.  Another way of saying this is: Redemption Accomplished (that is, Christ's death) and Redemption Applied (that is, man's redemption through his death).  The first four articles dealt with Redemption Accomplished.  Article one of chapter 2 explains the need for redemption, the need for our sin to be paid for and for God's justice to be satisfied.  Article 2 then explained  that whereas we could never find a way in and of ourselves to escape the punishment that our sin deserved, God made the way by giving us his only begotten Son.  "For us or in our place he was made sin" article 2 says, "and a curst on the cross so that he might make satisfaction on our behalf."  Then article 3 goes on to describe Christ's sacrifice as "the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins."  There was nothing lacking in Christ's sacrifice; it is of "infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate, to pay for, the sins of the whole world."  Indeed, article 4 explains, Jesus Christ is the perfect Saviour who made the perfect sacrifice for sin.

But now comes the question:  how is anyone going to benefit from what Christ has done?  It is one thing to know that our redemption is accomplished in the one sacrifice of Christ, but how is this redemption applied to us individually?  Are all people then saved in Christ, just as they perished in Adam?  The answer to that question is No: only those are saved who believe in Jesus Christ.  To be saved, you need to have faith.  And in order to have faith, you need to hear the gospel.  And therefore, article 5 teaches us, we need to tell people about what Christ has done:

"The promise of the gospel is that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life.  This promise ought to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe."

But now we come to a dilemma.  Not everybody who hears the gospel believes.  And therefore not everybody will be saved.  Why is that?  Why is it that some do not believe, and why is it that others do?  Whose fault is that?

The Arminian answer to this question was that not everyone believes and is saved because of one of two reasons:  Either it is the sinner's own fault, since he does not want to believe, or else it is God's fault because Christ did not die for all people.  The Arminians were quick to add that they believed that it was the sinner's own fault that he did not believe.  We actually agree with the Arminians on this, but they charged the Reformed Christians with teaching that something is lacking in what Christ has done.  "Isn't it terrible", they would say, "that Reformed people think that someone might really want to believe but, because God decided otherwise, they are not able!"  "If Christ only died for some," as the Reformed believe, "then others have no chance to be saved, even though they really want it." 

  But that's not true.  That's not what we believe.  It is neither God's fault, nor a fault in the sacrifice of Christ that results in anyone dying in unbelief; rather it is a fault of their own.  And so the Canons of Dort teaches us in chapter 2, article 6,

"That, however, many who have been called by the gospel neither repent nor believe in Christ but perish in unbelief does not happen because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, but through their own fault."

That's the teaching of the Bible.  The gospel, the good news of salvation, is a perfect gospel and what Christ accomplished is of infinite value.  In 2 Timothy 1, the apostle Paul begins in verse 1 by calling himself

"an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus."

This was the promise, life in Christ Jesus, life in the Saviour Christ Jesus who, verse 10 says,

"abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel".

There is nothing wrong with the gospel, nothing lacking in Christ's death.  Nor, as John 6:37 says, will God cast out any who would come to him.  We've already learned that, earlier in our study on the Canons of Dort.  "Come to me," Jesus says in Matthew 11, "an I will give you rest."  That's the gospel promise, and that's the promise that we must preach to all people everywhere.  That's what the apostle Paul did, and that's why he could preach the gospel with boldness.  2 timothy 1:11 says that it was for this promise of the gospel that he was appointed "a preacher and apostle and teacher" - and it was because of both the promise and the power of the gospel that Paul had the courage to keep on preaching, even as he suffered.

  But then the apostle went on to describe those who had turned away from the gospel, including Phylegus and Hermogenes in verse 15.  Later in Second Timothy, Paul would not only mention a few others individually, but he also wrote about the godlessness that was to come in the last days, and how some would creep into households to drag people away from the faith.  There are some, 2 Timothy 3:8 says, "who oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith."  But that was not God's fault that they turned away from the faith; it was their own fault.

As far as what I have mentioned so far, in practice we agree with what the Arminians teach: if anyone does not believe in Christ crucified, that is his own fault and not God's. 

  But while we agree on the answer, we don't agree on the reason for the answer.  You see, whereas the Reformed teach that it is man's own fault if he does not believe because God created us in such a way that we were able to do it, the Arminian has a different explanation.  What they will say is that the reason why it is the fault of man because he does not believe is because whether or not you believe is simply a matter of your own free will, your own free choice, and has nothing to do with God's grace.  The Arminian therefore teaches that God's grace only goes halfway with respect to our salvation and that this is the reason why one person believes and the other does not.

But what then does the Arminian believe with respect to the grace of God?  First of all, we need to recognise there are many different views among those whom we might consider Arminian today - Wesleyans, Pentecostals, charismatics, some Baptists, those of Calvary Chapel and some others of the evangelical church.  But the classical Arminian position that the Canons of Dort describes is essentially this:  In the beginning, God created a perfect man and woman, Adam and Eve.  They were expected to be obedient to God and follow his commandments, and it was in this way that they would be able to live before him.  But then Adam and Eve fell into sin and, from Adam, this sin then spread to all their descendants.  After the Fall into sin, God continued to insist on obedience and he gave Israel laws to obey, but no one could keep them.  But in his grace, God sent his Son, Jesus into the world who then died for sin.  In fact, Arminians will say, Jesus died for the sin of each and every person in the world in exactly the same way.  As a result, nobody is "conceived and born in sin", let along dead in sin, as the Reformed churches teach, but instead everyone is  free from the guilt of original sin.  This Arminian teaching is explained in the Rejection of Errors, chapter 2, number 5.  Let's read that together, understanding that this is not what we believe but is what the Arminians were teaching:

Error: All men have been accepted into the state of reconciliation and into the grace of the covenant, so that no one is liable to condemnation on account of original sin, and no one shall be condemned because of it, but all are free from the guilt of original sin.

What the Arminians meant by this is that Jesus died for everybody in exactly the same way.  By God's grace, they taught, this original sin is gone.  Every person is, by nature, no longer a child of wrath but instead a child of the promise.  In that sense, they claimed, everybody has been accepted into the grace of the covenant.  And therefore that is what is meant by being saved by the grace of God.  This grace is what God did in sending his Son.

  But then if Jesus died for everybody in exactly the same way, why don't all people believe?  What the Arminians thought about that can be found in the Rejection of Errors, chapter 2 number 6.

Error: As far as God is concerned, he wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits acquired by the death of Christ; however, some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life and others do not. This distinction depends on their own free will, which applies itself to the grace that is offered indifferently, and not on the special gift of mercy which so powerfully works in them that they rather than others apply this grace to themselves.

God wants to do it, the Arminians claimed.  He wants it that every single man, woman and child will believe in Jesus and therefore be saved.  But God can't make you believe, they say; rather, he's just standing on the sidelines hoping that you will believe.  And whether or not you end up believing has nothing to do with the grace of God, but simply depends on your own free will.

Now when you first hear this, it might sound reasonable:  God created us good, Adam and Eve sinned, God sent Jesus.  That, then, is God's work, and now it is time for us to do ours!  The problem, however, is that the Bible tells us something else.  The problem is that Bible tells us - and our own experience confirms it - that if any part of our salvation was up to us, we could never do it!  It is not enough for God to send us Jesus but then expect us to make our own decision, outside of his gracious work, to believe.  It is not enough for God's grace to go halfway.  We don't just need God's grace in the sending of his Son Jesus into the world.  We also need his grace to enable us to believe in this Jesus.  The apostle Paul was including all Christians, even himself, when he wrote in Ephesians 2:3 that we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  And verse 1 of that same chapter:

"But you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked."

If by nature we are dead in sin and children of wrath, then we cannot be made alive, nor received in grace by our work, nor by our own free will.  Rather, we need the God who poured out his grace in sending his Son to then continue to show us his grace in bringing us to faith.  We cannot do with a grace that gets us halfway; we need God's grace to go all the way.  But thanks be to God, that's the grace that he has shown us. 

 

2.  All the way

We have learned that all those who have been called by the gospel but neither repent nor believe in Christ have no one to blame but themselves.  God created us good, and able to serve him.  The fact that man, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience, robbed himself and all his descendants of all these gifts is not God's fault but ours

But now what about those who do believe?  If no one can believe outside of the grace of God, outside of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, if no one can believe by his own independent free will, then how do you get to believe?  This is what the Canons of Dort says in chapter 2, article 7.

But to those who truly believe and by the death of Christ are freed from their sins and saved from perdition, this benefit comes only through God’s grace, given to them from eternity in Christ. God owes this grace to no one.

And the two Bible verses that are referenced here are 2 Corinthians 5:18,

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

And Ephesians 2:8-9,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

And that's what it means for grace to bring us all the way!  We don't just need God's grace to get us started; we need God's grace to get us finished.

That's what 2 Timothy chapter 1 teaches us also.  2 Timothy 1:8-9 says,

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. . .

"Not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace."  Quoting once more from John Calvin,

We perceive by this how devoid of sense people are when they flatter themselves into believing that they are the cause of their salvation, as though there was something in them which was conducive to the goodness of God, or as if they were first to act and went part of the way to meet him.  Upon what does our salvation depend?  Is it not upon the election and choice that has been made from eternity?  God chose us before we existed.  What could we do then?  Were we made fit?  Were we well disposed to come to God?  No, we see that our salvation does not begin after we have knowledge, discretion or any good desires, but is grounded in God's eternal decree, which was before any part of the world was made.

  What could we do then?  Had we any means to put ourselves forward?  Could we give God any occasion to call us and separate us from the rest of the world?  Are we not completely out of our minds, then, when we think we have some worthiness of our own, and when we try to exalt our own deserts, casting a veil over the grace of God and supposing that we can be prepared by our own efforts to have access to him?"

Praise God, therefore, that his grace does go all the way!  Praise him for the fact that our salvation is all of grace from beginning to end.  "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!"  If his grace only brought us halfway there, we be lost.  But it was grace that brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.  Amen.

 

 

[1] John Calvin in "Grace and its fruits: selections from John Calvin on the Pastoral Letters" Evanglical Press, 2000, p115.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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