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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:It's to those whom God gives ears that will hear
Text:CD 3/4 art 9-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 82:1

Hymn 6:1,2

Psalm 145:1,2

Psalm 145:5

Hymn 10:1,2

Read:  Matthew 13:1-23

Text:  Canons of Dort chap 3&4, art. 9-10

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

Brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Why did the Lord Jesus tell so many parables?  Why did he give his teaching so often in the form of a story?

  When people stories in a speech or even a sermon, they mostly do it to attract attention to what they have to say, to entertain, and to explain.  But when Jesus spoke in parables, he had other motives for doing so.  In Matthew 13:10 his disciples asked him,

"Why do you speak to them in parables?"

And he answered them,

"To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."

So what Jesus is teaching here is that the two main reasons for him speaking in parables was to conceal and to reveals.  First, his parables were to conceal or hide the truth from those who refused to come and submit to him; and second his parables were to reveal the truth to those who by God's grace did come to him and did receive him as the Christ.

  But the question still stands:  Why did the Lord Jesus do this?  Why did Jesus choose to speak in such a way that revealed the truth to some but hid it from others?  And then linking this question to what we are learning about through the Canons of Dort today, what does that mean when it comes to the question as to why some people believe the gospel and are saved while others don't?  Is it God's fault, then, that some people do not believe?  Has he deliberately blinded them from knowing the truth?  And then what about those who do believe, who do come to Christ?  Can they claim any credit for that?  Is it something that they have done?

  This afternoon we'll be hearing from God's Word concerning the parable of the Sower in Matthew chapter 13, and we'll look at that in connection with the Canons of Dort chapter 3&4, articles 9 and 10.  And what we'll be focusing on is what the parables of Jesus in general and the parable about the Sower in particular teach us about God's sovereignty with respect to our conversion and human responsibility.  I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

It's to those whom God gives ears that will hear.

1. Why some who hear will not believe

2. Why others who hear will surely believe

1. Why some who hear will not believe

Chapter 3&4 of the Canons of Dort teaches us about the corruption of man, his conversion to God, and the manner in which it occurs.  Earlier in this chapter we learned about our total depravity, the effects of sin and of our inability to keep God's law or even seek him through our own power and ability.  We then learned that what we could never do, God has done by giving us Jesus and by causing the Gospel, the good news of salvation, to be preached.  We learned that it is God who determines who gets to hear the gospel, and we also learned that God is always genuine when he calls people to believe the gospel.  And now in articles 9 and 10 we are learning about what different people do with the gospel message, and why.  To say that more clearly, we are learning why some people hear the call of the gospel but do not come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, whereas others do.  How come?  What's the reason?  Whose fault is it when people do not believe, and who gets the credit when they do? 

  Article 10 of chapter 3&4 of the Canons of Dort begins its teaching on this matter by insisting that the reason why some people do not believe the gospel and come to Christ is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, nor of God.  It is not the fault of the gospel since article 8 already explained, "those who are called by the gospel are earnestly called."  I've already preached about that, in the context of the parable of the Wedding Feast, in Matthew 22, where those invited to the wedding were genuinely called to come.  Secondly it is not the fault of the Christ offered by the gospel since there is nothing lacking in the sacrifice of Christ.  Chapter 2, article 3 of the Canons taught us that

"This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate [to make amends for, to pay for] the sins of the whole world."

So it is not Christ's fault that some do not believe.  And third, it is not is not the fault of God, "who calls through the gospel and who even confers various gifts on them."  As Matthew 5:45 says, he "causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."  So there is no way that we can blame God or the gospel for the fact that many do not believe.

  But then why don't they?  It is because, article 9 of the Canons says,

"the fault lies in themselves."

And to prove that, the Canons remind us of the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.  The parable begins in verse 3.

"A sower went out to sow."

In other words, a farmer went out to scatter seed on the ground.  Now we know from Christ's explanation of this parable that the one sowing seed is a picture of one who preaches the gospel.  In the first place that's Jesus himself, but we can think more broadly of all true preaching of the gospel in obedience to Christ's command.  Notice that the sower sows the same seed on all the ground.  In the same way the preacher preaches the same message to all those who hear, that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life.  So there is no difference in the sower nor in the seed that is sown.  The difference, however, lies in the soil upon which the seed is placed.

  First, the Lord described the seed that fell on the path that the birds came and ate.  This, he explained in verse 19, refers to anyone who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it.  In such situations the evil one, Satan, comes and snatches away what was sown.  What this means is not that the person hearing the gospel lacked the intelligence to understand it but rather that his ears were deaf to it.  This is the situation that Jesus described in Matthew 13:15, where he quoted from Isaiah chapter 6, that

"this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed."

In other words, it is when the word of God is blocked out of one's life.  The Bible might be read at home and it might be read at church, but you've stopped listening to it, your mind has switched off and you fail to take it in.  There's a warning here, a warning of what happens when we stop listening, when the Bible becomes a closed book. Your faith will not grow, nor will you bear fruit in your life when you do not open the Bible, when you either drop off coming to church or when you stop listening to the Word if you are in church.  And if your faith does not grow, it will die.

  The second thing the Lord described was how some of the seed fell on rocky ground.  That is the ground where there is a small layer of sand on the top but hard rock beneath.  That was the seed that immediately grew but just as quickly died away again.  This, Jesus explained, was like when the Word is preached and immediately received with joy.  But then when trouble or persecution comes up, he quickly falls away again.  This is a superficial, surface-level, embracing of the gospel where, for as long as everything is good, you are pleased to go along with it.  But when trouble, sickness, the loss of a job, or else opposition arises, it all becomes too much and such a person falls away. 

  Third, there was the seed that fell among thorns.  These are those who are distracted by the things of this world.  The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and here too there are not fruits of faith. 

  So what the Lord Jesus is saying here is that in each of these situations the Word went out, the gospel was preached, but it was not truly embraced, it was not truly believed.  But whose fault was that?  Was that the fault of the sower, the one preaching the gospel?  No it was not.  Was it, then, the fault of the seed?  Once again the answer is not.  The fault lay with the soil.  And here the Lord Jesus is referring to our human responsibility when it comes to receiving the gospel.  God's sovereignty, also over our salvation, does not cancel out our own responsibility.  It is our fault if we do not believe the gospel.

But that does, however, raise another question.  Because what about the fact that Christ spoke these words in a parable?  What about the fact that Jesus said in Matthew 13:13-14,

13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “ ‘ “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive”?

How, then, could it be their fault if they did not understand nor believe?  What Jesus is saying here is that God's Word, including his parables, will never be without effect.  And his parables would bring clarity and enlightenment to his disciples and those who received Christ, while at the same time it would leave those who rejected him in darkness.  The Jewish leaders, along with many others in Israel, had rejected Christ, they had hardened their hearts against him.  In that way they were acting just like the people of Jerusalem in the days of Isaiah, when God commanded Isaiah to preach but with the expectation that those who had hardened their hearts against God and his Word would remain in their ignorance and unbelief.  But that wasn't God's fault:  he was simply declaring that those who rejected him would not be healed of their sin.  This is what Romans chapter 1:24,26 and 28 teaches us also, where it speaks about God giving them over to their sin, their foolish hearts being darkened.  In other words, God is saying, "If you refuse to believe then you will not believe."

  And that's a warning to us.  It is in this way that God is not simply emphasising his sovereignty in our election but also to human responsibility.  In this way God is calling us and he is asking us, "What will you do with my Word and with the promise of the gospel?"  You see, the promises made to you in your baptism and the preaching of the gospel demand a response.  Be careful that you do not reject God's Word, that you do not leave your Bibles unopened or neglect to come to church.  Rather, consider carefully how you are living and what you are doing with the Word that is preached.  Has the Seed of God's Word taken root, and does it bear fruit in your life?  Or are you like that hard path, where, when the seed fell it was eaten by the birds, like the rocky ground where the seed sprang up but quickly wilted once more, or else like the ground that is covered in thorns and thistles?  Do you hunger for the Word of God, for the gospel, and do you pray to God for his Holy Spirit to open your heart and your mind to the truths of the gospel?  The Lord is calling you through the preaching of the gospel and he calls for your response.


2. Why others who hear will surely believe

The parable of the Sower does not end with all the seed being eaten by birds, dying or being choked by weeds.  Matthew 13:8 says,

"Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."

And Jesus went on to explain in verse 23,

"As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit . . ."

There's nothing wrong with the gospel, there is nothing wrong with the Christ offered by the gospel, and there is nothing wrong with the God who calls through the gospel.  And those whom God effectually calls will indeed come to him and they will live a fruitful life in him.

But that brings us to another question:  If the fault of unbelief lies in man, what does that say about us who believe?  Is that, then, because of us?  But here we see that the Scriptures, as well as our own experience, tells us something else.  Whereas unbelief is, and always is, the fault of man, faith is the gift of God.  And that's what Chapter 3&4, article 10 teaches us.  Let's read that once more.

Others who are called by the ministry of the gospel do come and are converted. This is not to be ascribed to man. He does not distinguish himself by his free will above others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith or conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). It is to be ascribed to God.  He has chosen his own in Christ from eternity and calls them effectually within time. He gives them faith and repentance; he delivers them from the power of darkness and transfers them to the kingdom of his Son.  All this he does that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light, and may boast not of themselves but of the Lord, according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

When it comes to a saving faith, we cannot trust ourselves, nor could we ever boast that God has chosen us because we are more worthy than others.  It is not us, nor what we have done that has caused us to believe and be saved.  To the contrary: if it was left up to us, if even the smallest part of our salvation was left up to us, we would surely perish.  Romans 9:15-16, a Bible text referred to in the Canons says,

For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

It is for this reason that we reject what the Canons, article 10, calls "the proud heresy of Pelagius."  Pelagius, who lived at around 400 AD, taught that by nature man is spiritually healthy and able in and of himself to choose whether or not to believe in Christ and obey God.  But that is a proud heresy. For who among us, after we believe, can look back at our conversion and say "How good am I"?  Who can look back and say that I chose for God whereas others did not because I am better, I am wiser, I am more discerning than those who did not repent and believe?  This is a proud heresy  because it teaches that Christians should think that they are better than others.  And it is a proud heresy because it calls for the glory of our conversion to go to ourselves and not to the God who did this through his Holy Spirit.  It is God who has chosen us in Christ from eternity, before we did anything good or bad.  It is God who then calls us effectually in time.  It is God who takes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  And it is God who grants us faith and repentance through his Word and the powerful working of his Holy Spirit.  And it is God who delivers us from the power of darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of his Son.  Who among us, therefore, can boast?  We cannot.  But rather, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

And so where does that leave us?  The Scriptures teach us that it is to those whom God gives ears that will hear.  It is to those whom God effectually calls who will respond to the gospel message.  God is sovereign.  He will bring his chosen ones out of darkness and into his marvellous light.  And those whom God effectually calls will come, because his grace is invincible.  But that does not leave us cold.  That does not leave us frozen, with a sense of fatalism where all sense of human responsibility is lost.  Rather the fact that God's grace is invincible and that those whom God chooses will come to him gives us comfort.  It gives us courage.  The warnings of Scripture, even the warning that is implicit in the parable of the sower can leave us in fear.  And of course the warning implicit in this parable should give us fear if we are hardening our hearts and going our own way.  "Be warned!"  God says.  "Turn to me and repent, lest you perish on the way."  But at other times that fear might be the result not of a hard heart, but of weakness.  Sometimes we may wonder:  "Am I like that good soil that produces grain, whether a hundred-fold, sixty, or thirty?"  Is that me?  Or am I like that path, where the birds came to eat the seed, or like that rocky soil or the soil covered in weeds that choked out the seeds that were growing?  At times we feel firm in our faith but at other times our faith might falter, and so we fear.   But the doctrine, the teaching of God's sovereignty in our election is an encouragement for us not to fear, nor to tremble.  Because God will have his way with us.  He is sovereign, he is in control of our salvation.  And he assures us in John 6:37 that

"whoever comes to me I will never cast out."

So come to him!  Come you who labour and heavy laden, and he will answer you.  He will give rest for your souls. Amen. 

* 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 2021, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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