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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:Repentance comes by the grace of God
Text:CD 5 art 7-8 (View)
Occasion:Lord's Supper

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Psalm 33:1

Apostles'  Creed: Hymn 2


Read:  psalm 30

Text:  Canons of Dort, chapter 5, art. 7-8; R.E. 8.

Psalm 30:1,5



Hymn 63:7,8


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

*Note: Preached on a Lord's Supper Sunday.  May require small edits for a regular Sunday

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

The assurance God gives us at the celebration of the Lord's Supper is so necessarily and so wonderful!  As surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely was his body offered for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross.  And, as surely as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord as sure signs of Christ's body and blood, so surely does he himself nourish and refresh my soul to eternal life with his crucified body and shed blood.  We need to hear this.  We need to feel this.  We need to taste this.  We need to be sure of this!

  We need this assurance regularly, which is why we celebrate the Lord's Supper regularly.  But we especially need it when our conscience accuses us that we have sinned, and when we feel that we have fallen outside of God's favour.

  The first number of articles of chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort teach us what we know and experience:  I may be a Christian, I may be born again, but I still sin.  Article 2 speaks about "daily sins of weakness" that spring up and that these are a reason to humble ourselves before God.  But article 4 goes on to speak not just of daily sins of weakness, but also more serious and atrocious sins that God's people sometimes fall into.  And the effect of such serious sins is serious.  Chapter 5, article 5 of the Canons say,

"By such gross sins, however, they greatly offend God, incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound their consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God's favour . . ."

And that's serious!  That's terrible.  How horrible it is to lose the sense of God's favour!  But that is how it is, article 5 says,

"until they return to the right way through sincere repentance and God's fatherly faith again shines upon them."

But what is that sincere repentance?  What does it look like, and how does it happen?  That's what we will be finding an answer to this [morning] as we turn to articles 7 and 8 of chapter 5 of the Canons, in connection with Psalm 30 and the rest of the Word of God.  I preach God's Word under this theme:

Repentance comes by the grace of God

1. What does repentance look like?

2. How does it happen?

3. How can I be sure?


1.  What does repentance look like?

We read together from Psalm 30.  From verse 2 we learn that this is a psalm of thanks for healing after being very sick.  But the psalm speaks about more than that.  The heading says that Psalm 30 is "A psalm of David.  A song for the dedication of the temple."  This has led many people to think that perhaps David wrote this psalm after he had sinned when he counted the number of men he could call up to fight in war.  That story can be found in the Bible, in 2 Samuel 24 and in 1 Chronicles 21.  At that time David sent his commander Joab to go throughout Israel to conduct a census.  David was told, and so he knew, that this would displease the Lord.  But David did it anyway, and so he sinned.  God's prophet then confronted David over this, and he was given a choice of three punishments:  three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies, or three days of pestilence or great sickness in the land.  David answered in 2 Samuel 24:14,

"I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man."

And so the LORD sent three days of great sickness.  70,000 people died from that sickness before it reached Jerusalem.  And then David cried out to the Lord, and he built an altar at the threshing floor of a man named Araunah and made an offering to the LORD on account of his sin.  And the LORD listened to David's plea for forgiveness, and the plague was stopped.  Years later, it was there, at that threshing floor of Araunah, that the Temple of the LORD was built.  And so if this psalm was written in the context of those events, perhaps that is it's connection to the dedication of the Temple.  But whether or not that is the case, Psalm 30 does make it clear that there was a connection between David's sin, specifically his prideful self-confidence, and the sickness he asked God to heal.  Psalm 30:6-7,

"As for me, I said in my prosperity [or self-confidence], 'I shall never be moved.'  By your favor, O LORD, you made my mountain stand strong; [probably mount Zion, or Jerusalem, where the Temple would be built]; you hid your face; I was dismayed."

And it is also on account of his sin, therefore, that David said in verse 8,

"To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy."

And so Psalm 30 became used at the dedication of the Temple, as well as the later Jewish feast of Hanukkah, and it was used for God's people to confess that they had sinned against the LORD, they had suffered his anger, but when they cried out for mercy, the LORD set them free and restored them and the temple service in Jerusalem.  And is in this context that Psalm 30 teaches us about repentance, and what it looks like.  And in many ways, what Psalm 30 teaches us about repentance is much the same as what chapter 5, article 7 says about repentance. 

When we repent, we cry out to the Lord.  Psalm 30:2 says,

"O LORD my God, I cried to you for help."

And verse 8,

"To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy."

And verse 10,

"Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!  O LORD, be my helper!"

This cry for help from the LORD is a desperate, and a heart-felt cry.  As we confessed in article 5 of the Canons, serious sin wounds our consciences, and sometimes for a while we lose the sense of God's favour.  But now, through sincere repentance, God's fatherly face shines upon us once again.  and so Psalm 30 says in verse 3,

"O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit."

And verse 4-5,

"Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. 5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

And therefore we adore God's mercies all over again.  Psalm 30:1,

"I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me."

Verse 4,

"Sing praises o the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name."

And verse 11-12,

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

And then from there, as article 7 of the Canons concludes, those who have truly repented

"more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling."

David asked in Psalm 30:9,

"What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?  Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?"

But God had healed him, and so he praised God, he told of his faithfulness and he walked in the forgiveness and the new life that was granted to him.

   And that, then, is what repentance looks like.  It's a godly sorrow, a heart-felt crying out to God for deliverance.  And then being assured of forgiveness it means turning to God in the joy of forgiveness and a new life in him.  Or, as the Canons of Dort, chapter 5, article 7 puts it, those who repent

". . . grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; they seek and obtain through faith with a contrite heart forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; they again experience the favour of a reconciled God and adore his mercies and faithfulness."

That brings us to our second point,

2. How does it happen?

To experience the favour of a reconciled God and to adore his mercies and faithfulness is the most wonderful experience ever.  But how does it happen?  How does it happen that we get to repent?  How is it that, having fallen into sin, we don't end up losing our salvation altogether, but we become convicted of our sin and turn back to God?  In the first place, the Bible teaches us that if you are regenerated or born again, we will not end up losing that salvation, but that God will restore us.  1 John 3:9 says,

"No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God."

That "seed" is the seed of regeneration, of being born again.  And on the basis of Bible texts such as 1 John 3:9 and 1 Peter 1:23 the Canons of Dort teach us in article 7 and affirms in the Rejection of Errors number 8 that 

". . . in their fall, [God holds on to or] preserves in them his imperishable seed of regeneration, so that it does not perish and is not cast out."

And because God will not permit his elect to be lost, he is the one who works repentance in our hearts. 

  The second sentence of article 7 says,

"Further, through his Word and Spirit he certainly and effectually renews them to repentance."

Repentance, therefore, comes by the grace of God.  It is not you, it is not me, who chooses to repent outside of the will or the working of God, but, as was the case when we came to faith in the first place, God works in us so that we might repent and turn back to him.  And article 8 tells us that this is the work of the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  With respect to God the Father, we are reminded that "his counsel cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail", and "the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked."  Romans 8:30 says,

"And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

It is the same people whom God has chosen who will believe in him, and those who believe in him will continue in him.  And even if they fall into sin, God will call them back, they will repent and they will be forgiven.

  In addition to our repentance being the work of the Father, it is also the work of the Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said in John 6:37,

"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."

And Romans 8:34 says,

"Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."

It is Christ himself, therefore, who pleads on our behalf, that God the Father might forgive us are restore us to himself.  And so we are given the assurance that Christ will restore us, even though we have sinned and even if we experience the grief of a wounded conscience and the sense of falling out of God's favour.  Article 8 of the Canons also says that "the mercy, intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be nullified."  In other words, it is because of the truth and the work of Jesus Christ that he will lead us to repentance and forgiveness.

  And in addition to our repentance resulting from the work of the Father and the Son in our lives, it is also the work of the Holy Spirit.  As the last sentence of article 8 puts it,

"the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be frustrated nor destroyed."

We who are God's people have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 1:13 says,

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit."

If you've been sealed in him, your salvation is "locked in".  And it's locked in not because of you, of who you are or what you might do but it is sealed, it is locked in, on account of who our Triune God is and what he has done for us and for our salvation.  And that's what we mean when we say that repentance comes by the grace of God.  After we have truly grieved and repented from our sin, looking back at how we turned to God and were restored back into his favour, all we can say is that it was by the grace of God.

That brings us to our third point,

3. How can I be sure?

There are times when we may feel very sure of God's love and of his forgiveness to us, but at other times we might wonder.  Is it really true?  My sin is so great, so terrible!  Has God really forgiven all my sins?  Has he truly taken away my reproach?  It seems so unreal!  It seems so hard to believe!  And sometimes we may even wonder: what if it is not even true?  What if my repentance wasn't really real, if I didn't do something quite right?  In fact, if I don't feel forgiven how can I even begin to think that I am forgiven?  What if I am not one of God's elect after all? 

  These are real questions that many Christians will struggle with in their lives.  Perhaps you struggle with these questions too, even now.  There is much to say about this, about how we might receive the assurance of forgiveness and salvation, about the fact that we might not always feel this assurance, and how when we do feel this, it leads us to complacency but to greater godliness.  We will be learning about these things in the next articles of the Canons of Dort.  But for now let us focus on the fact that we can be sure of God's forgiveness and of his preserving us, because this is His work and not ours.  If it was up to us, about how we felt, how much we cried or how much we suffered, if this was the basis of our assurance, we could never really be assured of our forgiveness and salvation in Christ.  Because how would we ever know if we repented enough?  But we have learned that repentance comes by the grace of God.  And since our repentance is of God, we can be sure that he will forgive us and that he will preserve us in the redemption he has obtained for us. 

  But how can you be sure?  What can give you that assurance, even when you doubt whether or not your repentance was real and God's forgiveness is real?

  For now I encourage you to do two things.  First consider your baptism, the fact that you were baptised into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Hold on to that baptism, to what it means, knowing that God will do what he has promised.  And then turn to the other sacrament, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  It was, our form for the Lord's Supper reminds us, "in order that we might firmly believe that we belong to this covenant of grace, [that] the Lord Jesus . . . instituted the Holy Supper.  He gave the bread and the cup to his disciples in remembrance of him.  He taught us to understand that as often as we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we are reminded and assured of his hearty love and faithfulness towards us.  [Indeed, the Lord's Supper] is a sure pledge that he has given his body and shed his blood for us. ... He nourishes and refreshes our hungry and thirsty souls with his crucified body and shed blood to everlasting life as certainly as this bread is broken before our eyes and this cup is given to us and we eat and drink in remembrance of him."

  Turn to the Lord, therefore.  Hold on to the covenant promises given to you in your baptism and receive the assurance of God's forgiveness at his table.  And as we do this we can then turn back to Psalm 30, and say from verse 4-5,

"Sing praises to the LORD, o you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.  For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."


* 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 2022, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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