Sermon: LORD'S DAY 4
Scripture: Psalm 10
Psalters: 317, 40, 60, 217
Minister: Rev. G. Van Baren
This instruction is based on many scriptural passages, including that of
I Corinthians 15:22:
"For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." And
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous unto life eternal." And
the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord." And that which we read in
"He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten,
He hideth His face. He will not see it."
This Lord's Day, beloved, shows the dreadfulness, the awfulness of sinful man who will seek to escape the wrath of God--at least in his own consciousness. He will try to blame another. Or he might seek to discover what he regards to be flaws in the character of God which accounts for his sins. He would convince himself again that God will not observe him and that God will necessarily overlook any transgressions of which he may be guilty.
The child of God recognizes that this is a terrible, terrible thing to do. But it is understandable. It is understandable because it arises out of the heart of fallen man. This began in paradise when Adam and Eve disobeyed the command of God. They fell not before God in repentance and confession, but rather blamed others-and ultimately God Himself. Adam blamed his wife whom God had given him. Eve blamed the serpent. Obviously God had made that serpent. And so it has been throughout the ages. Instead of confessing sin, man would excuse himself. Instead of acknowledging transgression, he blames others. Nor are we above that either. Too often we also seek to excuse ourselves. We're doing what everyone does. We're doing what we can't help but do, because we still have a sinful nature. And after all, can God regard this so seriously when man by nature is incapable of doing any good, prone to all evil?
We must treat the three objections presented in the Heidelberg Catechism. They are really objections that have arisen about the Word of God itself. These objections Scripture answers. We must consider these objections for our own sakes--especially for our own sakes. We must recognize how serious are the objections and how utterly false they are. We must also expose the error of natural man who would try to excuse himself.
We cannot regard these questions which are asked here as merely innocent questions. Our fathers in penning them quoted objectors. And they gave answer to the objectors, an answer that was scriptural and irrefutable. We must understand that the objector is wrong. It is his sinfulness that would point the finger at God. In his rebellion he refuses to confess his own iniquity. That objector must be silenced.
But what benefit is it for us to treat the three objections that are raised in this Lord's Day? What possible benefit would it serve? We might, looking at these questions say, "Well, I think they're interesting to discuss. Hardly appropriate for a sermon, though. Can't we discuss something more positive? Something more scriptural, that points us to the cross?" Well, that's what this instruction does do. It does lead us to the cross. When one examines these objections he must be led to confess that we must have the cross if we are to be delivered from sin and death.
Each of these objections reveal concretely and clearly how utterly impossible it is for natural man to deliver himself. He may seek to find excuses. He may seek to discover something in God that would explain the corruption in man. But the fact is that when it comes right down to it, it shows what the Catechism said in the earlier Lord's Day, "There is none righteous, no not one. We are prone to sin against God and the neighbor. We are utterly incapable of doing anything good - inclined to all wickedness." Is there salvation? Not out of man. Not because of his work. Not because he somehow satisfied God's justice. He cannot. No; the only thing that the child of God can conclude in considering these base, evil objections is that God and God alone can and does deliver His people through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We must consider this Lord's Day with that in mind. I will bring to your attention at the very conclusion the only summary that we can possibly have to all of this - that it brings us to the cross. But we're going to talk about objections. We're going to talk about attempts to escape the wrath of God. The Heidelberg Catechism pointed out the terribleness of man's sin. Now we have to see that there's no way out - no way out, except through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So I want you to notice these three, what I would call, Attempts to escape the just judgment of God.
I. The attempt to escape by pointing to God's justice.
II. Secondly, an attempt to escape by pointing to His love.
III. And finally, an attempt to escape by pointing to His mercy.
Those are three virtues of God in which the child of God has found comfort and assurance from the time of his conversion on. God's justice! God's love! God's mercy! The trouble is, however, that the sinner, if he gives any thought to things spiritual at all, attempts to use the very virtues of God in order to excuse himself.
I. The first in essence is the claim that God is a just God. He's fair. He's a fair God, isn't He? Would anyone accuse Him of being unfair? And then consider the facts. Consider once these facts.
In the first place there is the fact which the catechism has taught us clearly and unmistakably of the righteousness of God and what He requires of man. He has given us His law. Christ summarized that in Matthew 22, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." In these two commandments one sees reflected everything that is revealed in God's Word. It requires much. It requires perfect obedience to God. It requires the honoring of God in thought, mind, soul, and strength. It requires obedience without defect, so that there is evidence of no transgression to any part of the ten commandments that God has given. That's quite a requirement. But there's more.
Question and answer eight treats of the corruption of man. In the last Lord's Day we studied together how that Adam and Eve, though created perfect and capable of obeying God, fell. And in their fall they dragged down their posterity with them - their children, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even to the present day. And that sin of Adam was so terrible that the results or consequences are seen in this: that we are so corrupt as to be utterly, wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness. The catechism agreed we are that corrupt, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
Those are the two things. The demand for absolute, perfect obedience, and the testimony from Scripture itself that it's impossible to obey. Impossible! It's not just that man is unwilling to obey. He is unable to obey. All that he does is so corrupted that God must condemn and say it is worthy of everlasting destruction. That's the terribleness of man's situation.
Now, would a just God punish those who are incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil? We're not talking about a man. We're talking about God. He's just. He's fair. He's honest. Can He punish in everlasting hell, those who have disobeyed His law, when we all concede, and He Himself testifies, that man is incapable of doing that which is good? All kinds of illustrations come to mind in that regard. Would we consider it fair of a parent to require of a small child, his own small child, to carry out a task that only an adult could possibly do? Could one require a blind man to describe a painting or a sunset? Could one require of a deaf person to expound the beauties of a symphony or other songs? Is that fair? Is that honest? Can one require a man whose legs have been cut off to enter into a foot race with others? What is fair? What is honest? And what is unjust? And so the objector says, "You see? I can't do what God requires of me. I was born this way - born in total depravity, corruption, sin. So God Who is fair and honest can't punish me for what I can't possibly do." That seems to be a potent argument. But it's false. The catechism points that out. The scripture upon which this answer is based emphasizes that very truth.
The objector first of all is questioning the sovereignty of God. Is a sovereign God capable of doing such "injustice?" - a sovereign God? The objector seeks to undermine the truth of God's sovereignty. Can God say He will do these terrible things when that would be unfair, unjust? Pretty soon one begins to doubt. Is God truly God? Is He ruler? Can He require these things of man? Can He do that fairly? One begins to doubt. And, of course, behind it all is man's attempt to convince himself that, though he sins, he won't be punished. A just God will never cast him into hell, and surely should not punish him already here on this earth. Anything wrong with that objection? - anything that you discern?
Our fathers point out what seems unfair and unjust to many - that God made man capable of performing that law. He made man capable of obeying the law. He did that when He made Adam. After Adam's fall, of course, no person is capable of obeying the law - not of himself. But he made Adam to be our representative head. Remember Romans 5: "In Adam all sinned." He represented us. How did God make Adam? Fallen? Incapable of doing any good? Prone to all evil? Of course not. Adam was created good and upright. We considered that in an earlier Lord's Day. We recognized that God made man good, perfectly able to serve God; perfectly able to resist the temptations of the devil. But Adam sinned with Eve his wife. He indeed sought to blame Eve--and then God. But the fact is Adam sinned. The consequence according to Romans 5 is that we all sinned. All sinned. Is that unfair? That we're born corrupt because Adam sinned? It is Scriptural. Understand that well. So whatever one concludes, it must correspond to what Scripture has to say about fallen man. We're corrupt in Adam. Romans 5, I Corinthians 15 and other passages testify to it.
Perhaps, one can picture a little bit the work of God by comparing what Adam did and what we are with an acorn planted in the ground. There are different kinds of acorns. There are different kinds of oak trees: pin oak, red oak and others. When one plants a certain acorn he's going to get that certain kind of tree - not a maple, obviously, or a locust tree, but an oak tree from the acorn. And he will get precisely the kind of oak tree that that acorn represents. It comes out of the acorn and is what the acorn represented. It's a little bit of a description of Adam's relationship to mankind. The human race represents not just a number of individuals-- though we're certainly individuals and individually responsible before God. But mankind is an organism. The whole creation points to that reality. A tree is an organism. It's not a leaf. It's not a branch. It's not a trunk. It's all of these together. And you can't take one and separate it from the whole. Mankind represents an organism with Adam as the head. Adam is, if you will, the acorn from which the whole of mankind grows and develops into what it is.
And that's the point of the catechism. It isn't, "Are we born capable of obeying God?" Or, "Shouldn't we be born capable of obeying if God is going to punish us for disobedience?" No. The question is, "How did God create the acorn? How did He create Adam?" He was created as our representative head. So if Adam transgressed, we may not say, "Well, I didn't do it. I wasn't there." But we were joined to him. We're part of the organism. When Adam transgressed, we were born guilty of Adam's sin (original guilt), and born corrupt (original pollution), incapable of doing anything good, prone to all evil. We hate God and the neighbor. Remember, then, that's not God's fault. It's man's fault. It is our first father's fault. And we can't escape the guilt and pollution that come from him. That is the testimony of Scripture. Read carefully Romans chapter 5. Of course this also gives us room for hope. For even as in Adam all died, so in Christ are all, all those united to Him, made alive. I can't make myself alive either. But Christ my head, is alive and works His life in the organism of His church, His body.
But Adam squandered his good gifts, disobeyed God, and fell. We fell in him. Then we dare not stand before God and say, "I'm not guilty. I can't help myself. It's God's fault. He made Adam. He should blame Adam, perhaps, but never myself." It is a terrible and sinful objection. But the Catechism gives Scripture's only answer: "God made man good and upright."
II. The second objection raised involves God's love. The love of God of course is increasingly in our day being distorted to mean something other than what Scripture teaches. Love is too often presented as something merely emotional. Among mankind love is usually presented as something sensual and sexual. "Make love, not war," it was said during the last war. The idea of course was obvious. Man isn't concerned with spiritual things when he speaks of love. When he writes his novels and presents his drama, he's not concerned with God's work, but physical infatuation. And the same idea is transferred to God - that God somehow for many reasons is attracted to all kinds of people, every one of them, head for head. It is said that God, the emotional, sensual God, surely loves everybody and therefore will never, never punish them - surely not eternally in hell. Much of the preaching centers around that erroneous concept of God's love. It is the idea that God loves everyone. You've heard it. You've heard of the slogan - it's made even a bumper sticker slogan - "Smile, God loves you." Everyone who reads that can assume that God loves him. He may be a murderer; he may be a thief and robber who continues in impenitence. He may be one who refuses to honor the bonds of marriage; who would live in homosexuality, or an "alternative life-style." Yet God loves him - because God loves everybody. Sounds nice, doesn't it, to have a God who loves everyone, no matter how corrupt and evil they are; no matter how impenitent they may be? And with that goes the Arminian claim, "Christ died for you." He shed His blood for you - every one of you, head for head, without exception. He died for you. There's only one thing necessary yet - just one thing. That's your action. You must open up your heart to that Christ, or otherwise He will have died in vain for you. God loves you. Christ died for you. Sounds touching doesn't it - so appealing to have such a nice God Who, despite our sins and iniquities, still loves all and tries to bring all to heaven.
That's the question here as presented in the Catechism.. "Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?" That's a question of God's love. Of course, He'll suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished. If He loves everyone, what else can He do? He may deplore their sins. He may desire that these lead a better life. But a God of love can't punish disobedience and rebellion.
There are some who even go beyond that and insist that this God of love will not only save those willing to believe on Him in this age, but He'll also give others a second chance after death in a probationary period. After death, those who have rejected Him in time on this earth will be given a second opportunity to accept Christ and enter into glory. The popular, religious writer, C.S. Lewis, whose works are much admired by Christians, teaches precisely that - there will be a second chance for those who rejected Christ on this earth. It is a view founded on the "love" of God for all.
Others have gone even further. It is claimed that there are many roads to heaven. Many paths lead to the Source, God. Whether one is a Hindu or a Muslim it doesn't really matter, as long as he serves God. And others even go beyond that and say God will rehabilitate everyone, even the devil himself. Ultimately all His creatures, including the fallen angels and their head Satan, will be brought to perfection in glory. That, so some conclude, is the consequence of a God Who loves all.
You know that there are those who deny the existence of hell. Among these are the Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. These insist that the word "hell" that's often mentioned in Scripture, means, the grave. That person who goes to "hell" really is one who is buried in the ground. It is true that is the meaning of the word "Hades" often in Scripture. It refers to the grave. But it has another meaning as well. There are three words in the Greek that mean "hell." In most of these instances it refers to eternal punishment. Mark 9:47,48 states: "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hellfire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Those who deny the existence of hell say, "Ah, that passage speaks of the worm doesn't it? The worm doesn't die. But it doesn't speak of eternal punishment of mankind."
That's, of course, distorting the Word of God. What must our answer be? The answer of the catechism is very much to the point: "God is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins, and will punish them in His just judgment temporally (that is in time) and eternally." Isn't God a God of love? Of course He is. But that is not the kind of love as understood by so many in our day, even within the church. What is the love of God?
We start and finish with God. The love of God is a love for Himself. The triune God, three Persons in one Being, loves Himself. And that love in essence is joy in His infinite perfections. That's God's love. It's a love that cannot and will not countenance sin. It's a love that finds its pleasure always in holiness, righteousness. That's God's infinite love within Himself. He is pleased to show that love outside of Himself. He is pleased to show that His love is so great that it would send His only begotten Son, second Person of the Trinity, into our flesh in order that His people might be delivered through Him. So great, so great is the love of God.
That love of God must punish the wicked temporally and eternally. The love of God is such that all that the reprobate, the unbeliever, receives is not in God's love but in His wrath. The unbeliever may have his health and strength. But that ultimately works toward his condemnation. He receives riches, but it's to his condemnation. He becomes sick. It's to his condemnation. The love of God for Himself is of such a nature that He must hate sin and the sinner. Psalm 7:11 emphasizes the truth: "God hates the wicked every day." It's a hatred for them because He's the God of love and the God Who loves Himself. Because He's the God of love Who sends His only begotten Son, whereby He will powerfully deliver all whom He loves, He must punish the wicked unbeliever.
He punishes them in time. He punishes them when He sends health and prosperity. He punishes them when He sends sickness and death. When the wicked receive certain afflictions, they're horrified if one says, "That's the consequence of sin." The fact is that wars, sickness, disease, the disruption of God's creation, all of these represent the consequences of Adam's transgression, the results of sin. They're God's punishment. Don't ever forget it. It's not just accident that a tornado strikes, or that tidal waves wash many to their death and destruction, or earthquakes destroy, or volcanoes erupt. That's not accident. It's testimony of God's wrath against the wicked. And when one speaks of AIDS as a punishment of God against homosexuality and the evil of drug usage (and even the unbeliever acknowledges the disease is chiefly spread through these sinful activities) there's horrified denunciation. "You mustn't say that. You mustn't say that any sickness is a direct consequence of this or that life style." But in fact it is. The wicked cannot escape the judgment of God. He becomes a drunkard and thereby often destroys his liver. He lives his "alternate lifestyle" and he contracts AIDS. But even if he doesn't, and remains in his health and strength, God also gives testimony: "You don't use this to My glory. You're held accountable. And you will be punished for the misuse of all these good gifts."
When one would talk about God's love toward the wicked, don't forget the flood. Don't forget Sodom and Gomorrah. One preacher said, "Do you think that on the back of the ark Noah ought to have printed the words, 'Smile, God loves you,' while men, women, children, babes in arms were being drowned, washed away in the floods in which God saved Noah?" "God loves you?" "Smile?" Would that seem correct? Or there is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where not only wicked, wicked adults were destroyed, but their children, even their babes. Do you think this is really the love of God to them? Of course not. They are punished temporally. And that too is a sign of the everlasting wrath of God upon them in hell. Proverbs says there is no evil in the city, except God has done it, referring to the evil of famine and the evil of disease. God has done it. It is He Who testifies through it all that He is a wrathful God because He loves Himself. I read to you the passage from Mark 9: 47, 48 of the everlasting fire where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. What an awful yet realistic picture of eternal desolation. No one can really deny what Christ clearly taught in the passage I read to you when we began, too, from Matthew 25:46: "These shall go away into everlasting (the word is the same as eternal) or eternal punishment, but the righteous unto life eternal." The word everlasting and the word eternal are the very same words in the Greek. This means that if life is everlasting or eternal or unending, the same must be said about the punishment - eternal, everlasting punishment and eternal or everlasting life. If life is unending in glory, punishment is unending for the wicked reprobate in hell.
Is it fair? So many years, but normally less than 100 years, of sin deserve an eternity - everlasting punishment - in hell? Is it fair? Yes it is. The sin is not against a man. The sin is against the infinite, eternal God. The sin is a violation of His perfect law. And the creature, made by Him and made originally perfect and holy, who rebels deserves in every sense of the word infinite wrath, because he sinned against the infinite God. Emphasize the love of God. It's great, so great that He gives His only begotten Son. It's also so great that He will not allow sin to go unpunished. But for His people, those given to His Son, He demands that His Son pays for every one of our transgressions, in order that they may enter into glory. His love doesn't ignore sin. It requires the punishment, the death of the cross. How beautiful is the love of God. But this can never, never be used by the unbeliever to convince himself that God will overlook his sin.
III But there is one more objection - the matter of God's mercy. He's a merciful God. What is mercy? Mercy is that perfection of God in which He desires to lift up from their horrible and sinful state a people and make them blessed to enjoy fellowship and communion with Him forever. That's mercy. Mercy is the gift to the beggar that has nothing - to give him something so that he is better off than he was before. In the case of God His mercy is that He wills life for dead, depraved, corrupt, unjust, unwilling sinners. He wills to elevate them to a place of perfection and glory, making them holy and righteous before Him.
That beautiful concept of mercy is oftentimes abused by the sinner so as to excuse himself. The sinner says: "But God is merciful. God is merciful. He wants us to be lifted out of our miserable state. If there's a heaven, He's going to bring us there because He's a merciful God. So if I'm a sinner, if I've transgressed, He'll certainly in His mercy lift us out of it all and bring us to heaven too."
And too often God is presented as a God who changes. In the Old Testament He may have been a God of justice. In the Old Testament He may have been very cruel at times, telling Moses, Joshua, and the kings of Israel to destroy the enemy, every man, woman and child-to slay them utterly with the sword. Today we would call such into criminal court and accuse them of genocide, or some other crime against humanity. But God, the just God, said in the Old Testament age, "You kill every one of them."
When Israel transgressed, God sent upon them horrible judgments - took away thousands of them in death. But that was the Old Testament. That was the God of a different dispensation. Now He has changed. Now He is seen as a merciful God, a God Who was just once, but Who now covers that justice with His mercy. And He says, "It doesn't really concern Me anymore to be so absolutely just in punishing sinners. Now I would rather show mercy in bringing them to heaven and everlasting life."
That's a very common presentation. And if you do any listening to the radio or television, to Gospel preachers, you will quickly recognize this kind of emphasis. Don't talk about the God of the Old Testament; He doesn't exist anymore. Don't talk about the God Who dashes their little ones upon the stones to death. Don't talk about that kind of God. He doesn't exist anymore. We must now speak of the God of mercy, the God of love. He is a merciful God. He is the God Who lifts people up, the God Who overlooks. He is the God Who condones some sins; the God Who desires to glorify in spite of sins.
The evil (I say that advisedly), the evil of that kind of thought is that it divides God's attributes. It makes Him a changeable God. And in fact, it seeks to use some of His attributes to negate others. But it cannot be done. What Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 6:4 is very pertinent - "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord." That doesn't disprove the Trinity. But it does condemn any attempt to divide God's attributes in order that one part of Him can contradict or counteract another part. To say that God was a God of justice but now is a God of love - that once He showed His justice, but now He shows His love, that these two contradict - that's false. That is a denial of Deuteronomy 6:4. He's one Lord. This means also that He is one in His love, His mercy, His grace, His justice. One. His love is His justice, which is His mercy and His righteousness. We separate and distinguish because Scripture does. And Scripture does so that we may in a human way understand a bit about the greatness of our God. But these attributes of God are one in Him. We cannot use His mercy to contradict or deny His justice. His mercy and His justice are one. That is seen when God deals with the reprobate wicked. That is seen there. One will say: "Well, God destroys them, doesn't He? He casts them forever into hell. That's justice. Where is mercy in that justice?"
Mercy is a mercy within God Himself first of all. The merciful God is One Who would elevate and exalt Himself above all else. He must do this or He denies His own Being and righteousness. He must punish the wicked because He is merciful in Himself and for Himself.
But that mercy is also a mercy toward His people. Those cast into hell by the merciful, just God, are the ones who have oppressed His church. They've crucified His Son. They've denied His name. They've trampled under foot His Word. And they were not redeemed through the blood of the Lamb. The mercy of God for Himself is revealed even as the wrath of God rests upon them. And His justice in punishing the wicked is at the same time mercy toward His church.
And for His people who did the same thing - we are equally sinners with the reprobate - for His people, the mercy of God is shown in the way of justice. There's no mercy for us apart from justice. If there were mercy apart from justice, we wouldn't need a cross. We wouldn't need a Savior. We wouldn't need payment for sin. But in the cross we see God's mercy is based upon His justice. His Son bore our sins. His Son willingly took the punishment and wrath which we deserved. That's justice. And only because He did successfully bear what God required of us, does God at the same time reveal His mercy through Jesus Christ our Lord. That's the beauty of God's work. There are not two attributes of God in opposition one to the other. But these two things harmonize and work together toward the glory of God's name and the deliverance of His church. That's what we see here.
When I began I said, "We emphasize - we must emphasize - the cross." In speaking of these objections we cannot, we may not, ignore the cross. It is true that the catechism begins in the next Lord's Day to treat the subject of atonement more extensively and thoroughly. But we can't ignore the cross here.
The answers to these questions do two things. In the first place it reveals the utter depravity, wickedness and corruption of man - of you and me. That's what it shows. To think that one who has violated God's law, disobeyed, who deserves the wrath of God, should dare to stand up against the living God and say, "But it's not my fault. I'm only doing what others have done. And I have only a small beginning of new obedience. So therefore, it's no wonder I'm sinning. And I ought somehow, someway to be excused." I say, all of these objections emphasize how terribly sinful we are too, by nature - unable and unwilling of ourselves to do any good. And then we are tempted to place the blame on God.
But in the second place these objections emphasize so clearly that there's only one place - one place - where we can see hope. There is one ray of light. It is when the Light of the World comes into this world of darkness. And though the darkness rejected Him, that one ray of light emphasizes God's work. It is the cross; the shed blood of the Lamb; the death of the Son of God in our flesh - there's our hope. If there is to be deliverance it can't be found in man himself. It has to be found in God's work. For that reason, too, we must ever insist on emphasizing the nothingness of man. He must not be elevated and exalted to the heavens. He must be seen as nothing in himself. His exaltation is only because Christ works in his heart and delivers him and brings him to glory. Do you see that cross? Then you can't be discouraged, but can rejoice in the glory and wonder of God's work. Amen.