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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:Starting At The Top
Text:CD 1 I:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Starting At The Top


Sermon by Rev S Bajema

on Canons of Dort I:1-7


Scripture reading:

Ephesians 1:1-14


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


It may seem to those of you familiar with the good Dutch flower, tulip, that I’ve begun with the wrong letter! 

To you others, let me explain that the Five Points of Calvinism are commonly explained by the acronym T.U.L.I.P., each representing one of the five foundational elements of the argument against the Arminians.


The followers of Arminius, who died in 1609, were also known as the Remonstrants, a name given them because in 1610 they presented a remonstrance, which is a petition or a protest, to the governing authorities in The Netherlands.  This remonstrance set forth five points, all dealing with Arminius’s attempt to soften the orthodox Calvinist idea of predestination and save something of man’s free will.  It caused considerable controversy in the Dutch nation and in the church.  Had these five points been accepted then the teaching in the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism would have needed a revision.  In 1618 the governing authorities called on the Synod of Dort to settle the issue and from that Synod came the Five Points of Calvinism.


But why do I start with the U which represents UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION?  Or, as it’s titled in the Canons of Dort - Divine Election & Reprobation, and not with the T which stands for Total Depravity?  Why?  It’s because this is the way the Canons – meaning ‘Standards’ - themselves begin in reply to the Remonstrants. 

This is rightly so.  The T will certainly be covered as it tells us about our TOTAL DEPRAVITY - our complete unworthiness - but first we start with God.


In the middle of a world where many different races, sexes, ages, religions and inclinations cry out for their rights, we confess that only God has a right.  So let’s see just who we should start with first, every time!


Article 1

So we come to Article 1.  And what words to use in the opening sentence of a Confession?  “As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin.”


The central theme is clear from the beginning - GOD DOES IT!


Congregation, we really get put in our place before the LORD.  As it says in Romans 3:23, “We have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”   We would have been left to our own miserable death sentence, if God had not come and saved us!


This is definitely starting at the top, because we on the bottom were only wallowing around in our own misery.  You get put in your place!  Like the young child who knows how naughty he’s been, and who’s got caught, we’re suddenly very quiet.  We’re humbled, all right.


Now, we’re going to listen.  We’re going to do the right thing.  That child has to obey for his parents!  Just as we’ve got no thought of ourselves now.  We’re going to please our heavenly Father.


To show you, though, some of the misunderstanding there is about this, I quote from what one minister wrote.  It’s something I’m sure many of us have experienced in one way or another.


He writes,

“One day I called in the home of a young couple, who had recently shifted into the area of our church.  They turned out to be members of a church in another denomination.  Since no similar church was at hand, they were quite interested to learn the nature of the Reformed Church. 

The young man asked, ‘Do you believe that you must be ‘born again’ in order to be saved?’ 

I answered, ‘That’s precisely what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”’

Then he asked, ‘Do you believe that you must make an open acknowledgement of this faith before men, in order to be saved?’

I answered in the words of Christ, ‘He who does not confess me before men, I will not confess before my father in heaven.’

Again he asked, ‘Do you believe in evangelism?’

Again I answered in the words of Jesus, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

While the young man was quizzing me concerning my beliefs, I was beginning to form an opinion.  I thought, ‘Here is a young couple who are in search of real, Biblical Christianity.’

But the young man had an ulterior motive in propounding his questions.  This became apparent as he set forth his last question.

‘Then,’ said he, ‘you don’t believe in election?’”


Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  He has yet to see that it’s the LORD’s election which is the real motivation for all those other things he thought were so diametrically opposed.


That minister was able to answer him.  Using the same outline and scriptures that we’re about he cover, he could show him just how he had missed the plot!


Article 2

You see, congregation, as well as starting with God, it comes from God to us.  That’s what Article 2’s about.  Almost with the same breath that we’re told of God’s right - of how it could only start with Him alone - there’s the most gracious news about His Word and work for us!  He sent His Son.  1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”


It’s made clear from the start.  Only by believing in Jesus Christ can we be right with God.  The Living Word comes from God.


Article 3

Then Article 3.  Here we note how the Living Word - our Lord Jesus Christ - comes to us by proclamation of the written Word.  That’s why we have preachers.  We hear from them the good news.  Romans 10:14f is clear about this.  The apostle says there, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’”       


Let’s note again the key theme in the first sentence of Article 3.  “God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings to whom He will and at what time He pleases.”


Article 4

This gospel is a double-edged sword.  Article 4 tells us how there are those who by faith accept and embrace Jesus as Saviour, and so receive the gift of eternal life.

But it also says that “The wrath of God abides upon those who believe not this gospel.”


Here we meet the two-fold response which we’ll see later.  A two-fold response we believe to be Biblical.  But the two-fold response which sets us apart from most of Christendom.  For who else dares to speak of God’s wrath in this way?


Article 5

Article 5 draws this point out further.  It begins, “The cause or guilt of this unbelief, as well as of all other sins, is no wise in God, but in man himself.”


Unless we take it foursquare on our shoulders, we miss the pure saving grace it is!  Perhaps we say jokingly, “Oh, the devil made me do it!”  And some Christians very seriously blame the demons for everything - whether it’s the demon of alcohol, or addiction, or the demon for bad taste in clothes!


Whether we treat it lightly or heavily,  doesn’t it all show the cop-out syndrome we’ve been in ever since the original sin?  Wasn’t it there that Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent?  The whole history of mankind, including very much our modern age, is a massive cop-out from reality.  Because if men and women honestly confronted their own actions, and how those actions come about, they would have to come to the Saviour God.  However, our self-deception is so great that it is only God’s Spirit within us that can make us see this.  When He wakes us up to ourselves, the reality hits home!  Then we know what life’s really about.


That’s the great thing about faith - you know where you’re going.  Then history makes sense, because we have the glasses to see it right.


Article 6

In this looking through the right glasses - as we see things the true way - we realise it is all planned out by God.  GOD DOES IT!  The 6th Article applies the central theme, “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree.”


It is this article which many have stumbled over.  The denomination in Holland which many in our churches have come from, the G.K.N., has made this article optional.  They have done that to several other similarly-worded statements in the Canons.


It’s part of a change in their theology which has led to many of them no longer believing in hell at all.  Wipe off any idea of God’s righteous judgment, and that’s what you’re left with!  A very watered-down “God-is-love” message.


Such a watered-down message that the only thing that matters anymore is that you believe in something - and that something can be anything at all!  No wonder that same denomination has stopped its missions to Jews and Muslims.  They certainly believe in something!


But then the GKN has only flipped over to the position of those Remonstrants.  And if my understanding is correct, the church that the Remonstrants began in Holland and which has continued through the centuries, though small, has entered into a very close co-operation with these “Reformed” churches.


We here believe that this doctrine will be distorted.  It will have all kind of theologians question it, and try to dismiss it.  Because they don’t want to know that GOD DOES IT!


This is what this article is about.  “According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.”


However much some may carry on about how cruel this doctrine is, those who are the so-called ones thus harshly treated are quite happy as they are.  You ask an atheist if he minds what he’s doing!  You can try to convince them otherwise, but if God doesn’t work in them, you won’t convince them.  They’re quite happy, thank you very much!


Let me make it even clearer, though.  Let me picture the exactly opposite view to these Canons.  You’ll find this view in many Gospel tracts.  They are those little brochures given out by Christians in the street, or left on shop counters.  They often have a title something like this on the outside, ‘How you may be born again?’  Inside you will find the instructions by which, apparently, you can be born again.  They will say, in effect, if you will read the Bible, if you will pray, if you will repent, if you will believe, you will be born again.


Congregation, this is, purely and simply, the doctrine of works!   It means that I must do something before God will save me.  This could be called conditional salvation.  The condition if is placed before it.  If I will read the Bible, if I will pray, if I will repent, if I will believe, then I will be saved.


So what’s God doing all this time?  He’s waiting.  Worse still, He’s waiting helplessly.  He’s waiting to see whether I’ll read the Bible; whether I’ll pray; whether I’ll repent of my sin; whether I’ll believe.  And if I do these things, then - and not before - He will save me.


Quite the opposite - isn’t it?  But just the contrast to make the truth clear. Because anything between these two positions wouldn’t be doing justice to the Lord.


The G.K.N. may have thought they were giving the believer - and the unbeliever - more freedom by making this article optional.   But what is true freedom?  Being really free is not being freed from something, it’s being freed for Someone!  We have been joined to our Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s His Life we seek to live in everyday, and in every way!


Article 7

This naturally flows into the teaching, in Article 7, on ‘Election’.  To sum up that article, using words from it, “God...[has]...chosen from the whole human race...a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ.”   This is what Ephesians chapter 1 showed us quite clearly.     As does Romans chapter 8.


Allow me to illustrate it this way: There was a day-long conference for overseas students at a University.  A well-known Church of Christ pastor had addressed the students in the morning.  He challenged them with the thought that if each of them were to convert three people within a year, and those three people were themselves to convert three others within three years, within fifteen years the whole of that city of over a million people could be converted.  Now - that was exciting!  Imagine - we can do it!


That afternoon a Presbyterian minister addressed the same group.  Having heard what was exhorted to them in the morning, he said quite bluntly, “You know, God is saving the Church - not the world!”


What a difference.  God does it!  He will work out His salvation to those chosen to eternal life.  We must certainly be open to serving Him this way.  And we don’t know who will be saved.  But they are only His chosen all the same!


Congregation - it’s not up to us!  What a relief!  But what overwhelming thankfulness that the only One who could do it did do it - to you and me! Instead of the guilt that gets left because of what we could never do, there’s relief!  Man, woman, boy, girl... God did it!  Let that flow through our lives this week!   Amen.




     Let’s pray...

          Dear Heavenly Father,

              What an immense release that it was You working out our salvation in Jesus Christ!

     There was no way we could have done it.

          Only You Who are at the very top could deliver us - those who were stuck at the very bottom.

     And may the thrill of this knowledge spur us on to further seek Your will.

          Yours is the power and the glory.

              Make us show that by Your Spirit in our lives.

                   In Jesus’ precious Name we pray, Amen.








* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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