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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:Live to the praise of God's glorious grace
Text:CD 5 art. 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2022-02-06
Added:2023-11-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Greeting

Hymn 7:1,2

Apostles' Creed: Hymn 1

Prayer

Read: Ephesians 1

Psalm 66:1,2

Text:  Canons of Dort, chap. 5, art. 15 & Conclusion

Psalm 98:1,3

Prayer

Collection

Hymn 9

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.

Having come to the end of this sermon series on the Canons of Dort, I'd like to ask you: what effect does all of this have on your Christians life?  How excited are you about the gospel?  How fervent and how consistent are your prayers?  How committed are you to the spreading of the gospel both here in Perth and Australia and the rest of the world?  How eager are you in your desire for holy living, and are you observing an ongoing growth in godliness?  How heartfelt are you in your worship?  And how eager are you to praise God even more?

Sometimes it would seem that being Reformed doesn't leave you particularly excited about the gospel.  Sometimes it is thought that being Reformed can leave you and your worship feeling a little bit flat.  Indeed, sometimes Reformed churches are seen as rather dull, perhaps even a little bit stuffy.  Sometimes their teaching is seen as heavy, overly intellectual and theological, not very practical, and not well connected to real life.  Sometimes Reformed believers are characterised as "the frozen chosen", as being self-absorbed, disinterested in the people around them and unmotivated to help the downtrodden in society or to share the gospel with others.  And sometimes it might even seem that there's truth in these criticisms, although sometimes there's not.

But how come?  What's the problem and how should it be addressed?

Is the problem the Reformed faith?  Is the problem your conviction and your living out of the doctrines of grace as taught in the Canons of Dort?  Or is the problem something else?

We read together from Ephesians chapter 1, a chapter I chose to end our series on the Canons of Dort since it describes the doctrines of grace so well.  Ephesians chapter 1 teaches that our redemption and salvation is the work of the Triune God from beginning to end.  He chose us, he changed us, he saved us, he holds on to us, and he will preserve us to the end.  But as we read Ephesians 1 you would have noticed that the last thing these doctrines did was leave Paul feeling flat or indifferent to God's work of salvation.  To the contrary, the Bible teaches us that if you knew these truths, and if you really lived by them, your life would be changed, and in all of life and in all of worship you would be living to the praise of God's glorious grace.

Turning to Ephesians chapter 1 and what the church confesses in Chapter 5, article 15 of the Canons of Dort as well as its conclusion, I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

 Live to the praise of God's glorious grace

1. Grace denied

2. Grace applied

 

1. Grace denied

Ephesians chapter 1 teaches that which is reflected in the Canons, that our redemption and salvation is the work of the Triune God from beginning to end.  From eternity, before we had done anything deserving of our election, Ephesians 1:4 says that he chose us "before the foundation of the world."  And verse 5 says that it was "In love" that "he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ."  And he did that "according to the purpose of his will".  In electing us God did what he decided to do.  And, verse 7, those whom God elected he redeemed or saved through Christ's blood.  He forgave our trespasses, and he did so according to the riches of his grace.  And, verse 11 goes on to say,

"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will."

And, verse 13,

"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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

So not only were you predestined to be saved, and not only have you been saved, but you most certainly will still be saved on the last day.  Your election and your salvation is sure because God is sure.  And that's what gives the Christian such confidence, such assurance, throughout his entire life.  And to know that, and to believe that, chapter 5, article 15 of the Canons says, is "a treasure of inestimable value".  It is of such great value because it  changes my understanding of my relationship with God.  It means that I don't have to be afraid that I'm just not quite good enough for him.  It means that I don't have to be in dread that something so bad might happen tomorrow that I will fall from God's grace and be lost forever.  It means that I don't have to keep striving and always trying to gain God's approval since he has already approved of me in and through his Son Jesus Christ.  And it means that I can be confident and assured that he will take to himself when Christ comes on the last day.

And if you believed that, and if your life was governed by that that, your life in Christ would be anything but flat, it would be anything but dull.  Instead your life would be transformed and you would be living to the praise of God's glorious grace.

But are you?  Are you living to the praise of his grace?  Do these truths of the gospel, truths that we've gone through as we made our way through the Canons of Dort, do they leave you praising God?  Is that you live your life?  If you are, what does that look like?  But if you aren't, what's the problem?

For the Arminians, those who opposed these biblical and Reformed doctrines of grace, the problem was these doctrines themselves.  "It is being Reformed that is the problem!" they said.  And, regrettably, there are still people who would say the same today.  And there are others who might not openly say it since they aren't too particular about doctrine, but who effectively shelve these doctrines and turn back to a salvation that where the credit falls back on man.  The Fathers of Dort knew this and they recognised the problem.  And what they also recognised is that those opposing these teachings would often twist and distort them so that what they said the Reformed churches believed was not that which is really true.

  In Chapter 5, article 15 of the Canons they wrote that while the doctrine of the perseverance of true believers and saints, and their assurance of this preservation is of great comfort to the godly, it is also something which

"the flesh does not understand, Satan hates, the world ridicules, the ignorant and hypocrites abuse, and the heretics attack."

They don't like it!  In fact, they hate it and they hate it so much that they will twist it, distort it and oppose it.  And why is that?  Ultimately it is because they do not want to acknowledge that God is truly sovereign and that he is sovereign over our salvation from beginning to end.  They don't want to acknowledge that because then we are no longer masters of our own destiny.  They rebel at the truth that we are entirely dependent upon the grace and the mercy of God.  They cannot accept the fact that we can't credit for our salvation, that can no longer demand God's blessing on account of our work, of our decision or of our faith.

But that's not all.  In their opposition to what the Reformed fathers taught, and what the Bible itself says, about these doctrines of grace, the Arminians took these teachings and they twisted them in an attempt to make our Reformed fathers seem evil and the drag people away from the truth and their assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ.  And this denial of God's grace in salvation was so serious and so severe that some of the lies and the twisted claims of these Arminians were listed in the conclusion to make it clear to all that this is not what the Reformed churches teach and confess.  Quoting from the Conclusion to the Canons of Dort,

Hence it clearly appears that some have acted very improperly and against all truth, fairness, and love in wishing to persuade the public of the following:

• The doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination and related subjects, by its very character and tendency, turns the hearts of men away from all godliness and religion.

• It is an opiate for the flesh administered by the devil, and a stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all, wounds multitudes, and mortally pierces many with the darts both of despair and false security.

• It makes God the author of sin, an unjust tyrant and hypocrite; and is nothing more than a renewed Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, and Mohammedanism.

• It leads to sinful carelessness, since it makes people believe that nothing can prevent the salvation of the elect, no matter how they live, and that, therefore, they may safely commit the most atrocious crimes. On the other hand, it would not in the least contribute to the salvation of the reprobate, even if they had performed all the works of the saints.

•  The same doctrine teaches that God has predestined and created the greatest part of the world for eternal damnation by a mere arbitrary act of his will, without taking into account any sin.

•  In the same manner in which election is the source and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and ungodliness.

•  Many innocent children of believers are torn from their -mothers’ breasts and tyrannically thrown into hell, so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any help to them.

And there are many more teachings of this kind which the Reformed churches not only do not confess but even detest wholeheartedly.

In this way and through these lies the Arminians twisted the teaching of the Reformed fathers, the teaching they had based so carefully on the Word of God, from passages such as Ephesians chapter 1.  And in this way they caused deep unrest in the church of God.  They confused the ignorant, and left people uncertain of what was true and what was not.  And that's why the Fathers at the Synod of Dort warned the Reformed church members to watch out and to be alert.  Do not listen to these lies, nor be taught by the enemies of Christ's church what the Reformed churches really believe.  Instead, they said,

"Judge the faith of the Reformed churches from the public confessions of these churches themselves."

In other words, go back to the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.  And make a thorough study of these Canons of Dort.  Study them and learn from them, rather than from the writing of the enemies of the Reformed faith.

But it was not just others, it was not just the Arminians and those who speak out against the teachings of the Reformed churches that the Synod of Dort wanted to focus on in their conclusion.  They also wanted to impress upon the teachers and preachers in the Reformed churches to teach these things well.  The Conclusion to the Canons of Dort went on to say,

"Finally, this Synod exhorts all fellow ministers in the gospel to conduct themselves in a God-fearing and reverent manner when they deal with this doctrine in schools and churches.  In teaching it, both in speaking and writing, they ought to seek the glory of God's name, the holiness of life, and the consolation of afflicted souls.  Their thinking and speaking about this doctrine should be in agreement with Scripture according to the analogy of faith.  [In other words, just stick with what the Bible teaches us about these things, and be careful that you never take Bible verses out of context but instead interpret Scripture with Scripture.  Reading on ...]. And they must refrain from all those expressions which exceed the prescribed limits of the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures and which may provide shameless sophists [a person who uses clever but false arguments] with a good opportunity to scoff at the doctrine of the Reformed churches, or even slander it."

When they wrote these words, it was as if the Fathers at the Synod of Dort were looking into the future, even to our day, and saw that just because they had written these canons that gave "the clear, simple, and straightforward explanation" of what the Bible teaches about our salvation, that would not always stop people from mis-interpreting, mis-representing or even twisting the truths that had been written.  And sadly, that has happened.  Sadly, not all Reformed churches and not all Reformed Christians have clearly and accurately reflected the teachings found in the Canons of Dort.  Instead they have followed different paths and drawn conclusions that should never have been made.  And the result of all of this is that at times some of these very things that the Arminians claimed would happen can be seen in Reformed Churches.  At times it can be seen that a false sense of assurance has crept in.  At times it can be seen that the desire for godly living has died, that prayers have dried up, that there is an indifference to hearing the Word of God, and that the urgency of sharing the gospel to those who either do not believe or have never heard has died. 

But then what's the problem?  Does the problem lie with what our Reformed fathers taught?  Does the problem lie with what we confess in our confessions, even in the Canons of Dort?  Does the problem lie with what the Bible itself teaches in chapters such as Ephesians 1?  Not at all!  But the problem then lies with us, and with our drifting away from the Bible teaches and what we confess to be true.  And the answer is to the problem is not that we give up on these teachings, nor on our Reformed confessions.  But the answer is that we turn back to these things again and again and learn what it means to live our lives to the praise of God's glorious grace.

That brings us to our second point,

2. Grace applied

The Canons clearly teach us how we should not understand the Reformed doctrines of grace, as outlined in the Canons of Dort, but they also teach us how we should understand them and what our response should be?

The Arminians said that if you really believed that we don't have a free will, that we cannot choose for God nor stay in his salvation by our own choosing, outside of the grace and the power of God, then what's the point of it all?  Then there is no point in trying, no point in reading the Bible, in going to church, in caring about worship, in being concerned about godly living or sacrificing anything to evangelise your neighbour or send missionaries to the ends of the earth.  There's no point, they said, because God will do what he wants anyway, and there is nothing that you can or do actually do that will change that.

But that's not what the Bible says, and that's not what the Reformed confessions are teaching!  And therefore, that is not what we believe.  Turning back to Ephesians chapter 1, you will see that for the apostle Paul, having the assurance of God's electing love, and being sure that he always live in the riches of God's grace, sure that he would obtain the inheritance of eternal life with God, this led him to the very opposite of being blasé about his walk with God, nor did he think it would leave the church of Ephesus cold, dull and lifeless.  To the contrary, Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose us before the foundation of the world

"that we should be holy and blameless before him."

And that this might all be

"to the praise of his glorious grace" (verse 6, 12 and 14).

But is that indeed true?  Is that true for you?  Is that true for us?  What effect do the doctrines of grace have on your Christian walk of life?  How excited are you about the gospel?  How fervent and how consistent are your prayers?  How committed are you to the spreading of the gospel both here in Perth and Australia and the rest of the world?  How eager are you in your desire for holy living, and are you observing an ongoing growth in godliness?  How heartfelt are you in your worship?  And how eager are you to praise God even more?  Sometimes it seems as though something is wrong.  Sometimes it seems as though what we are not so sure that God is in control and that he is both willing and able to answer prayer.  Sometimes is seems as though we are not particularly excited about the gospel and on sharing it with others.  Sometimes it is thought that being Reformed can leave you and your worship feeling a little bit flat.  We'll never say it, of course.  But every time we fail to get on our knees in prayer to pray for victory over sin or for the salvation of others, and every time we fail to share the gospel when we have the opportunity to do so, and every time we shut our hearts to the preaching of the gospel or we leave our Bibles closed, we're either doing that because we don't really think it makes a difference anyway, or we're doing that because we don't really care. 

  But that should shock us!  Because that is not what the Scriptures teach, and that is not what we as Reformed churches truly confess.

Let's go back to Ephesians chapter 1, this time to verse 15.  After the apostle Paul praised God for his wonderful work of election, he did not leave things there but he wrote in

verse 15-17,

"For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him . . ."

And that's the response that God's sovereignty, and God's grace in election and salvation, works in the hearts of his children.  It drives us to thankfulness, and it drives us to prayer.  And it drove the apostle Paul to pray that the Ephesians might learn even more, that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened, verse 12, that they might know the hope to which they had been called, and what are "the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints."  And when that happens, then these doctrines, these biblical and Reformed teachings, will cause us to burst out in praise and heartfelt worship to God.  We will give him our praise for the riches of his grace, riches that he has lavished upon us.  We will marvel at the immeasurable greatness of his power and the working of his great might.  (Verse 18). And then our worship will be real!  It will be reverent, it will be godly, but it will be real and heartfelt.  My eyes will be taken off myself and I will praise God for his glorious grace.

And then we will pray.  And we will pray with all our heart, knowing and believing that God is sovereign and that he is able and willing to hear.  You see, those who might say that there's no point in praying if God has determined the outcome already do not understand.  The Scriptures tell us that God will do what he wills, but the Scriptures also tell us that God hears us and he answers us when we pray.  He wants us, indeed he commands us to pray, with the promise that he will do the things that we ask of him.  One example of that is Matthew 9:37-38, when the Lord Jesus said to his disciples,

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Why did Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, tell his disciples to pray for missionaries to be sent into the harvest?  Because this was the way that God works!  This was the way, the means, that God would see to it that laborers would be sent into the harvest.  And the Reformed Christian will pray because he knows that not only will God listen to his prayer, but God will act on his prayer. 

  And it is the same when it comes to evangelism.  Chapter 1, article 3 of the Canons says,

"So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of this most joyful message to whom he will and when he wills.  By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified.  For how will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  (Rom. 10:14-15)."

And that's why chapter 2, article 5 says that the promise of the gospel

"ought to be 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."

These are the means, these are the ways that God will bring his people to repentance, to faith and to salvation.  And so we will work!  We will see to it that the gospel is proclaimed and that all people will hear.  And we will pray that God would bless that Word so that many who hear will believe and will be saved.  And we will work and we will pray with total and absolute confidence that our God is both able and willing to use our faithfulness for his glory and the growth of his church.

But that bring me back to the questions I asked at the beginning of this sermon:  do we do that?  How excited are you about the gospel?  How fervent and how consistent are your prayers?  How committed are you to the spreading of the gospel both here in Perth and Australia and the rest of the world?  How eager are you in your desire for holy living, and are you observing an ongoing growth in godliness?  How heartfelt are you in your worship?  And how eager are you to praise God even more?

To the extent that we are not doing these things, why not?  What's wrong?  Do we really embrace, and do we understand the doctrines of grace?  Do we really know what it means to be Reformed?  Because if we did, then there is no stopping us!  If we did, we would burst into praise as Paul did in Ephesians chapter 1.  If we did, we would be fervent in our worship, fervent in our prayers, godly in our living, and eager in our evangelism.  There's nothing wrong with the gospel, and there is therefore nothing wrong with the doctrines of grace and the Reformed faith that we confess.  Let us therefore turn back to it, again and again.  Let us hold on to the clear, simple and straightforward teaching concerning our election and salvation.  And Let us be careful that we do not exchange the truth of the gospel for a lie, nor that we listen to the false teaching of those who are opposed to this doctrine. 

"The Bride of Christ", article 15 of the Canons teach us, "has always loved this doctrine most tenderly and defended it steadfastly as a treasure of inestimable value; and God, against whom no counsel can avail and no strength can prevail, shall see to it that she will continue to do so.  To God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory forever."

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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