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Canons of Dordt (17)
It must be proclaimed that there is not only an election, but also a reprobation, because God's Word speaks of this. We do not know who these reprobates are. The calling of the gospel should be brought to all, so that sinners are urged to hasten for their lives' sake and to take refuge to Him who invites sinners to turn unto Him. It is true that only by the work of the Holy Spirit we will learn to flee to Him, but the call comes to all who hear the gospel. What a great responsibility it is to have lived under the light of God's precious Word, and how terrible it will be to have despised and neglected so great salvation proclaimed to us.
The doctrine of reprobation may not be misused. This is what we read in Article 16.
Those who do not yet experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Christ, efficaciously wrought in them, and do nevertheless persist in the use of the means which God hath appointed for working these graces in us, ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means, and with ardent desires, devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace. Much less cause have they to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation, who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please Him only, and to be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire; since a merciful God has promised that He will not quench the smoking flax nor break the bruised reed. But this doctrine is justly terrible to those, who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted to God.
The servants of the Lord may not hide or conceal any revealed truth, even if such truths may be misused. For God's children the teaching of reprobation may be used to show them the greatness of God's grace. This should humble them. They also were worthy to be rejected, and the wonder of God's grace should cause them to say, "Why me?"
However, our fathers knew that there are steps in grace. They expressed that already in Article 12, where it says that "the elect in various degrees and different measures attain the assurance of their eternal and unchangeable election." There are indeed babes and little children, but also young men and fathers in grace.
In Article 16 we see how pastorally our fathers have dealt with the true believers, also with those who are often in much strife and doubt concerning their salvation. They state that the teaching of reprobation should not frighten those who are concerned and fearful. There can be so many assaults of the enemy that they have deceived themselves, and that everyone will see that they were nothing but hypocrites.
Three different kinds of hearers
There are different hearers of the preaching of God's Word. In this article three different kinds of them are mentioned.
Faithful users of the means of grace
Some miss the assurance of their election but use the means of grace. We should notice that this article does not point to God's hidden decree in order to offer comfort to assaulted and afflicted souls, but it points to the means of grace, the preaching and the sacraments. The means of grace are given not only to work faith, but also to strengthen it. There are hearers of God's Word who lead an outwardly irreproachable life, submit entirely to the truth of God's Word, and do not want to hear anything different. They are not indifferent but show interest in what God's servants may bring to them. Their place in church never will be empty if they are able to come, and they are often an example for others in fulfilling their ecclesiastical duties. Yet they dare not to speak about spiritual experiences, and they honestly acknowledge this. They know and confess that to live under the pure truth of God is not sufficient for salvation, and that agreeing with the truth is not the same as experiencing the truth. Our confession says that those "ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means." No, our confession does not put them at ease and give them a false rest by telling them that they must believe that they are among God's chosen ones, but it also does not say that there is no grace for them. No, the confession counsels them to persevere diligently in the use of means. Our fathers did not give them any ground to rest upon, but they urged them to fervently desire and prayerfully "wait for a season of richer grace." The Lord fulfills His promises, and the teaching of reprobation should encourage them to seek grace in the right manner, to flee from the wrath to come, and to beseech the Lord for His grace. So the time may come that they also might be able to speak of "a lively faith in Christ," of "peace of conscience," and of "glorying in God through Christ." How wise our fathers were. They did not rashly judge those who were sincerely interested in the truth; they did not build them up; they did not give them false rest; they told them what they also could receive.
Those who sincerely desire to serve God
There are also those who have far less reason to be fearful or to be afraid. These are those who are sincerely concerned about their lost state and their sins. These are those who "seriously desire to be turned to God, to please Him only."
Three marks are mentioned of those hearers.
The first is: they sincerely seek to return to God. It is their desire to break with sin and the world. They weep because of their sins. They hate them with a deadly hatred. It is their earnest desire to be delivered from the body of death, from their sinful nature, in the way of true conversion.
The second mark is: they want to please God only. No, they do not desire a godly life in order to get to heaven and to escape the punishment, but they know that God is so worthy to be served for His own sake.
The third mark is: they wish that they would never have to sin anymore and could give Him all the glory. They want to be holy and perfect so they could praise and glorify Him as He is so worthy.
However, although they see these three marks in them, they find out that they cannot reach this goal. It is true, the marks of grace can never be the ground to build upon. There is but one ground: the perfect work of the Mediator. However, it can be encouraging if we may hear the characteristics of the life of a true believer and we may know something of them in our own life. Then it may be true that such a person is often very discouraged when he sees how far away he is from what he desires to be. Perhaps there were other times in his life. There were days that he could weep so sincerely about sin, that there was such a desire to be in God's house, that the Word of God often spoke to him so clearly. Then often there was proclaimed from the housetop what took place in the inner room. It seemed that the power of sin was gone. There was such a tenderness and such a love to God and His service. Perhaps there were times that he saw something of the preciousness, suitableness, and even the willingness of Christ to save such a wretch as he was. However, now the power of corruption is so lively, he is so prayerless and unthankful, in his heart he finds so much enmity. Instead of living more holily, he is afraid of what he finds in his own heart. And at such times the devil may say, "You are a reprobate, otherwise it would not be so terrible in your heart, and there would be more love and faith. There would be a growing in the grace of God, and a clear progress in your life. You can see you are a reprobate."
How pastoral then are our fathers when they say that those who truly desire to be delivered from the body of death and wish to glorify God have no reason to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation. This is not because of their sincere desires, but because God is faithful and merciful. He has promised in Isaiah 42:3, "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench." Even if they could detect a little spark of faith or life and it nearly seems to be gone, the Lord will show mercy to those souls, and He will revive His own work. He will finish perfectly what He for them has undertaken. The apostle says in Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
Those who serve the world
However, there is also a third class of hearers, and these, indeed, have reason to be afraid. These are those hearers "who, regardless of God and the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world." Their heart is still in the service of the devil, and they live for the pleasures of the flesh. Yes, it is possible that outwardly they live like other people in church. There may be a nice, pious, religious appearance, but there is no breaking with sin and no turning unto God. They still live for the things of this time, for money, career, pleasure, and honor. All those who do not sincerely return to God are still slaves of sin. This doctrine of reprobation is terrible for them as long as they continue in such a life. They have no true concern about their eternal welfare and salvation. They come to church out of custom. It is all form. Though there is an outward difference from those who live in the world, their hearts are the same. However, we cannot say that these are reprobates. The Lord is able yet to snatch them as brands from the burning and bring them to His feet. They are still living in the time of grace, though in a very dangerous condition. They should be warned that if they continue and persevere in their indifference and carelessness, and refuse to return from their evil ways, they will perish forever, and it will be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
What is our place?
Three different kinds of hearers have been mentioned. To which do we belong? God is indeed a God who is merciful and faithful to undeserving sinners, but He is also just in His righteous punishments for those who refuse to bow before Him. Fall yet on your knees and cry unto Him to break your hard hearts and incline them to the fear of His Name. Young and old, He is so worthy to be served, and that not for heaven's sake, or in order to escape the punishment of hell, but because He is a good-doing, faithful God. He has no desire in your death, but that you may turn unto Him and live. Seek Him then while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near, also in the proclamation of His precious gospel.
Children of God, you will say, "It is so true, I would never have sought Him, though I was called to do so, but God was the first. He stopped me, turned me, and began to draw me to Himself. My hope is in Him alone, that the work that He has for me begun, will by His grace be fully done." Then there will be no boasting in the creature, but it will be a glorying in free grace alone. And He will receive all the honor for what He so graciously has given.
— to be continued —
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Bekijk de hele uitgave van maandag 1 maart 2004
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's
Bekijk de hele uitgave van maandag 1 maart 2004
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's