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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:Because God preserves his elect, we will persevere
Text:CD 5 art. 9-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Election
 
Preached:2022-02-07
Added:2023-11-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Greeting

Psalm 16:1

Apostle's Creed

Psalm 16:5

Prayer

Read:  Psalm 77; Romans 8:1-17; 31-39

[Psalm 77:1,3,4,5]

Text:  Canons of Dort, chapter 5, art. 9-11

Psalm 105:3

Prayer

Collection

Hymn 35:4

Blessing

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


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the many things that the Covid pandemic is teaching us is that as individuals and as a nation, we don't do well with uncertainty.  Since world war 2, the Australian way of life has, for the main part, been quite predictable.  There's been relative stability in terms of government, the economy, and our freedom of association and movement. We plan our days, our weeks and our year with the assumption that tomorrow would be the same as today.  Right now, however, that's no longer the case.  We don't know what we can or cannot do tomorrow, next week or next month.  We don't know if School will be open, if you can sit down for a meal at the cafe, if church services will proceed as normal, or if our travel plans will eventuate the way we had hoped.  We don't even know if the WA border will be opened next month, next year, or, as The West Australian suggested tongue-in-cheek, in 2052.  Many of us don't do well with this.  Although there is genuine concern for the effects that the Coronavirus might have on the aged and infirm, there's a growing unrest around the uncertain future that we face.  We crave certainty.  We need it.  We long for assurance that things will be ok not just today, but also tomorrow and into the future.

  We also need that type of assurance when it comes to relationships.  We need to know that our spouse, our friends or our family will be there with us, not just for today but also for the times ahead.  And we especially need that type of assurance when it comes to our relationship with God himself.  We need to be confident, we need to be sure, that the LORD will always be our God and that we will always be his children.  We need to be confident, we need to be assured, that he who began a good work in us - that is, making us living members of his church and granting us the forgiveness of sins and life eternal - we need to confident that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.  "And if the elect of God did not have in this world the solid comfort of obtaining the victory and this unfailing pledge of eternal glory," chapter 5, article 10 of the Canons of Dort says, "they would be of all men the most miserable."

  But thanks be to God, we can be assured of our salvation.  We can be convinced that neither death nor life, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The future is sure, and there is no uncertainty in him.

  Turning to God's Word as we've read it in Romans 8, and focusing on what the church confesses regarding the assurance of salvation, I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

Because God preserves his elect, we will persevere

1. The assurance of preservation

2. The pathway of perseverance

 

1. The assurance of preservation

Chapter 5, article 9 of the Canons begins by saying,

"Believers themselves can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith."

But we don't always feel so certain.  Sometimes that's because of sin, our own sin.  Chapter 5, article 4 of the Canons of Dort taught that when Christians do not watch and pray, they can be drawn away into serious sins, and article 5 pointed out that on account of such sin, we "incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith, severely wound [the] conscience, and sometimes for a while lose the sight of God's favour."  And if we do fall into such sin, when we are then confronted with that sin and begin to understand the seriousness of it, we may well indeed wonder for a time if God really will forgive us, and if we really will be saved. 

  At other times it is not so much because of sin but because of distress.  In Psalm 77, for example, the Psalm writer whose name was Asaph cried to the Lord in his trouble.  And in his distress he asked where God was, and whether God was there to hear him.  In Psalm 77:1-3 he said,

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.

And then he asked in verse 7-9,

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

Asaph was suffering and he wondered where God was, what God was doing, and if God had in fact abandoned him, leaving him to fend for himself.  And that's a feeling that Christians experience more often.  We wonder where God is in the midst of our distress, we wonder if God has left us, and they may even wonder at times if God will ultimately save them.  And that's acknowledged in the first part of article 11 of chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort.  Article 11 says,

"Scripture meanwhile testifies that believers in this life have to struggle with various doubts of the flesh and, placed under severe temptation, do not always feel this full assurance of faith and certainty of perseverance."

But then what do we do?  How can we be sure?  How can we be assured that God will most certainly preserve us in the redemption he has obtained for us?  That's an important question, a question to which we need the right answer. 

  At the time that the Canons of Dort were written, the Arminians, who rejected the Biblical and Reformed teaching concerning God's preserving love, claimed that you cannot be sure.  In the Rejection of Errors number 5 we can learn that the Armians taught that

"Without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life."

In other words, the only way you can be sure that you will be saved, the Arminians said, was if the Holy Spirit was to tell you this by way of a special and personal revelation.  And since the Holy Spirit does not normally do this, the Arminians said, the average Christian can't be really sure if he will be saved at the end of his life. 

  But that's not true.  That's not what the Bible teaches.  And that's not the way for us to be assured of God's preserving care over us.  Instead, what we need to do to grow in the assurance of faith is to reflect on who God is, what he has done and what he has promised.  That's what Asaph did in Psalm 77.  After asking if God's love had ceased and if his promises had failed, Asaph went on to say in verse 10-12,

"Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds."

And from there Psalm 77 recounts what God had done for the people of Israel in bringing them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  And the point Psalm 77 makes is this:  just as God had been faithful to his promises and he delivered his people in the past, so he will do in the present.  And that's what chapter 5, article 10 of the Canons also makes clear:

"This assurance is not produced by a certain private revelation besides or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God, which he has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort . . ."

The way to be assured of your salvation is to trust the promises of God as he has given those promises and as they have been written down for us in his Word, the Bible.  That's where we need to start:  not with ourselves, nor the shakiness of our own thoughts and feelings, but with God and his firm promises.

  When the LORD called Abraham to go to promised Land of Canaan, he promised to bless him and to make of him a great nation.  And then in Genesis 17, the LORD confirmed his covenant with Abraham, declaring that the LORD would be Abraham's God  and the God of Abraham's descendants, and that they would be his people.  In this way the LORD promised to be a Father to Abraham and to Abraham's children.  And God has shown himself to be true to the promises of his covenant.  And because God was true to the promises of his covenant in generations before us, we can be sure that he will continue to be true to his promises to us also.  That was what Asaph was getting at, in Psalm 77.  That's why he recounted the deeds of the LORD in times past, when God brought his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Because God does not change: his word is firm.

  And today the promises of God's covenant still stand.  To us too God says, "I am your God and you are my children."  And to us too, God has sealed the promises of his covenant - not with the seal of circumcision as was the case in the Old Testament, but with the sign and seal of holy baptism.  And therefore when we might wonder if God is really there for us, if he will indeed save us, and if he will preserve us to the end, we too may look to the past to be convinced of what is true in the present and what will be true for the future.  But we don't just look at how God redeemed his people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land.  Rather, we may look back to how all God's promises came to be fulfilled in his Son Jesus Christ.  And as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:32-34,

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 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."

This must be our starting point if we are to receive the assurance of that God will preserve us in the salvation he has obtained for us.  It is because of who he is, because of what he has done and because of what he has promised that you can be sure of your salvation.  And it is as we meditate on these things, recalling the all the deeds and the wonderful promises of the Lord that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us in that assurance.  To quote once more from the first part of chapter 5, article 10 of the Canons,

"This assurance is not produced by a certain private revelation or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God, which he has abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort; [and] by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God."

It is not as though the Holy Spirit works outside of God's Word or the promises which he has given to us in our baptism, but the Holy Spirit takes this Word, and he takes the promises of God's covenant and he assures us that this is true.  As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:15-17a,

"For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . ."

That's what God has promised, and that is what God has done.  And so believe that, brothers and sisters!  Believe the promises of God and trust that they are true for you also.  And in this way you can be certain of the preserving grace of our God and father.  And it is when we trust in God's work of preservation that we in turn will press on and persevere in our faith.  That brings us to our second point,

 

2. The pathway of perseverance.

The heading above chapter 5 of the Canons of Dort is "The Perseverance of the Saints."  From time to time this is criticised, and it is suggested that it should really be "The Preservation of the Saints."  That's because it is really God who preserves us, more than we who persevere.  We can appreciate the sentiment behind this because the Canons of Dort teaches us that our salvation is God's work and not ours from beginning to end. At the same time, however, we have learned that as God works in us, he also changes us so that not only do we repent and believe but we begin to live according to God's will and his commandments.  It is in this way that we can be said to persevere in our faith.  And that's why the first sentence of article 9 not only speaks about God's preservation, but it also speaks about our perseverance:

"Believers themselves can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith."

And article 10 goes on to say that it is as we persevere that we will gain a fuller assurance of God's ongoing salvation and the promise of eternal life.  Article 10 speaks of the need for "the serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works."  In other words, in order to be assured of God's saving work in our lives, and in order to be assured that God will continue to save us to the end, we need to see the evidence of God's saving work in us in the way of a clear conscience and of holy living.

  That does not mean that you are saved, nor that you continue to be saved, on account of good works.  Neither a clear conscience nor holy living will see you saved in the first place, nor is this the way to remain saved.  To the contrary, daily sins of weakness cling to even the most holiest of God's people, and therefore - as Paul had already emphasised in Romans 3:20 - not a single one of us will be justified by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  And, Romans 8:1 says, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It is in him and in him alone that you are set free from the law of sin and death.  But having been saved in Christ, we are most certainly changed in him.  And that's why Romans 8 continues in verse 4 by saying that we who are in Christ Jesus will walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. And Romans 8:5-6 says,

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."

And verse Romans 8:8-9,

"Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."

If you are saved in Christ, you will also be changed in Christ.  And one of the benefits of experiencing that change happening within you is that you will grow in the assurance that you belong to God and that you will belong to him forever. 

  But then how will we do that?  How will we undertake that "serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works" that article 10 of the Canons speaks about?  First and foremost by making use of the means of grace.  That is, by coming to church, by hearing the preaching of the gospel and by having the gospel promise sealed to us by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.  And, as chapter 5, article 2 said, we will then humble ourselves before God, flee to the crucified Christ, and "put the flesh to death more and more through the spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of godliness, and to long and strive for the goal of perfection until at last, delivered from this body of death, [we] reign with the Lamb of God in heaven."

And so how is it with you?  How is your godly walk of faith going?  How much to you grieve your sin, how much do you long to be delivered from this body of death?  How joyful are you in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of everlasting life in Christ Jesus?  How thankful are you on account of the fact that you are, and forever shall remain, a living member of Christ's church?  How sure are you that the promises of God's covenant are true for you?  How assured are you that God will preserve you in the salvation he has obtained for you?  What evidence is there of your growth in faith and your perseverance in your life of faith?  The last line of Article 10 of the Canons says, "If the elect of God did not have in this world the solid comfort of obtaining the victory and this unfailing pledge of eternal glory they would be of all men the most miserable."  But thanks be to God, believers can be certain of this preservation of the elect to salvation and the perseverance of true believers in the faith.  We can be certain because God's Word is certain.  Indeed, as we will now sing,

"He is the LORD, our God unfailing,

his judgements everywhere prevailing. 

He will remember and uphold

his covenant made in days of old.

The steadfast words of his command

a thousand generations stand."  (Psalm 105:3, Book of Praise)

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 2022, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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