Sermon on Lord's Day 34, Heidelberg Catechism
by Rev. A. Simons The Netherlands.
Read Hebrews 12:14-29 and Lord's day 34.
Lord’s Day 34
Question 92:What is the law of God?
Answer: God spake all these words, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5,saying. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Ma; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do ant work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
Question 93: How are these commandments divided?
Answer: Into two tables; the first of which teaches us of how we must behave towards God; the second, what duties we owe to our neighbor.
Question 94:What doth God enjoin in the first commandment?
Answer: That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in Him alone; with humility and patience submit to Him; expect all good things from Him only; love,fear, and glorify Him with my whole heart; so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to His will.
Question 95: What is idolatry?
Answer: Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God who has manifested Himself in His word, to contrive, or have any another object, in which men place their trust.
Congregation, some weeks ago we began considering Part 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism, the part regarding gratitude.
Before us now is the question and answer that tells us something about the law. If there is one thing in Holy Scripture that is a mystery to human understanding, it is the holy law of God.
You may have noticed that the holy law is mentioned not only in the part of gratitude, but also earlier in the catechism, the part of misery.
At this time I would like to inquire whether the law mentioned here is the very same law we read about in the part of misery. Why is this so important? Because I see in myself and others that the right understanding of the law is often lacking. There are those who think they understand, but it is evident from the fruit that they do not understand the law rightly.
Even in the epistles of the apostle Paul we often read of disagreements regarding the law. What place does the law really take, also in the life of grace? We often see that God's children, even after grace received make a wrong use of the law. A well-known example of this is Galatians 3, where the apostle says: Who has bewitched you? We see from this that it is possible to possess grace and yet to be bewitched. Wherein does this bewitching consist? In a wrong understanding of the law.
When discussing these things in catechism class I sometimes sense a certain anxiety among the students. They wonder why the law is mentioned in the part of misery as well as in the part of gratitude. They say: "When one is a child of God, then by grace it ought to be possible to keep the law and out of gratitude to live according thereto." This is how many see it, but it is the teaching of Rome. Rome teaches that we need grace, and that by that grace we are able to walk according to the law. It is a lie, and that is the reason why I wish to meditate on this subject today. Such a doctrine brings God's true church in the dark and it places the Pharisee on the throne.
Let us then consider in what connection the law is spoken of here in the part of gratitude. But perhaps I should first speak a little about what the law means in the part of misery.
Do you know what the law means, and for what reason it is given? Congregation, the law is read to us every Sunday morning. Why is the law read to us repeatedly? Perhaps many of you are thinking: Then God is showing us how it ought to be, namely that as we enter into a new week we may prayerfully and with God's help attempt to live according to that law. Well, if that is your opinion of the law, you misunderstand it altogether.
The law functions primarily like a mirror, wherein we can behold our face. Every Sunday again God shows us thereby how imperfect we really are. The law was given in the part of misery to teach us how great our sins and miseries are. This is something we do not learn on our own accord; we need to be taught. That's why the law is read every Sunday.
We are proud creatures, and often fail to see our shortcomings, weaknesses and sins. That's why it is necessary that time and again the Lord holds that mirror before us, so that we may learn more and more how great our sins and miseries are. And congregation, there is more. God shows us this only by the light of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised that the Holy Spirit will be present, therefore he causes his law to be proclaimed, so that we may hear and see. Why is it then that God shows us our filthy sins and miseries, our stumbling and shortcomings in word and deed? The law is primarily spiritual. Our misery does not only include words and deeds, but also thoughts and feelings. Therefore the Lord tells us every Sunday: "Take a look into this mirror: how was your life this past week?" In other words, God shows us how he sees us. We often look at each other in a human way, but God shows us who we really are. And what must the Lord then say of you, whomever you are and however you live? Must he not say: O my people, I must curse you? That is painful, especially when you think you have done fairly well, then to hear that you fall short. When you think you did your best before God and that you know quite a bit, even though you readily admit that your knowledge is imperfect, then to hear that you are a cursed one, can be depressing and cause a person to despair.
But now God in his love shows us that we have nothing wherewith to pay. He shows us this, and let me emphasize it, in order for us to despair of ourselves more and more. In Gal. 2:19 the apostle Paul expresses it thus: For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. What is Paul saying here? Should it not be the other way around namely: When I live according to the law, then I live unto God? Is it not true that when I live according to the law of God, then I live to God's honor? This is our natural way of thinking. But God sees it differently. The Lord says: I through the law am dead do the law, that I might live unto God.
So then, who is it that lives to God's honor? Those who die. Who die to what? To their works, their hopes and their expectation to be of any significance before God. They who die to these things do live unto God. And that is why the law is preached so sharply, to the graceless people as well as to God's children.
It is as the catechism says: the old man lifts himself up again and again, thinking he must do something for God. For that reason we must die to the law, time and again. Can a dead person do anything? He cannot do anything at all. And now the apostle says that the law is used to slay me. To slay my pride and self-love. To destroy any hope of being something in God's sight.
All this I need to see, so that I may live unto God. This is then the law in the part of misery. It may be difficult to follow, but it is biblical.
My question is: Are you already dead to the law? Are you a spiritual corpse? Are you one who by the Holy Spirit has learned to confess that there is no fruit to be found in you? We need to learn these things. It will break our pride. When we have never been broken we are still struggling. It is contrary to our desires, for we want to amount to something. We are proud creatures. We imagine that we are significant in God's sight. Such thoughts must be slain. We are lost sinners, completely worthless in
God's sight. We are nothing but sin, and therefore spiritually dead. Have we already learned this? Have we by the light of the Holy Spirit discovered that the root of our existence is corrupt in God's sight?
But, you may say, this is so discouraging and depressing. Do you know what is really depressing? That you will not become a dead person. You want to live. You refuse to let go of everything, and to confess that you are unfruitful. We will not
surrender, congregation, we want to remain standing before God. But blessed is the man or woman who loses the battle and who must confess, it is true, all is lost.
Yes, this is a despairing experience, but at the same time it is a liberating experience. It is then that we may hear the Gospel message. Room is made for Another. Christ begins to shine in the midst of our despair.
The law is given in the part of misery, so that it should lead us as a schoolmaster to Christ, and so that with my sins and misery I may learn to find shelter in him. He has fulfilled every jot and title of the law. This precious Christ did a perfect work. All those who by a true and childlike faith are incorporated into him are delivered. What are they delivered from? From the curse of the law. By faith they are delivered from the wrath of God upon sin.
They are delivered not only from the curse,but also from the demand of the law. God's child needs to do nothing anymore. He receives it freely. God has no more demands from those who by faith are incorporated onto Christ.
Yet some who have tasted of the liberty that is in Christ are still at times discouraged. But I assure you, God demands nothing more of you. You are delivered from the wrath,the curse and the demand of the law. He did it all for you. All that God demanded,he demanded from his beloved Son. Stand then! Stand in the liberty of Christ!
Well, you may say, that is good. Then God's child needs to do nothing. It is true, the law is no longer a stumbling black. It's demand is powerless,for I am dead to the law. I am free. Paul says : I am free by faith alone.
Yet here in the part of gratitude,we come upon the law again. Why is that so? Many say: when one possesses grace,he will do his utmost to live in accordance with the law. But this is not so,for as soon as a person sees that he succeeds,even if only in part,he becomes proud. Yes, this way of thinking is completely wrong.
God's child does not need to keep the law,that has already been accomplished. So yes, the law returns ,not to be perfectly kept,but it is now a law of love.
Permit me to use an illustration: There is a stairway with railings. The steps of that stairway can be compared to Christ,and the railing is the law. Now I see God's child walking and resting upon the steps of that stairway. It is the church leaning upon Christ. The railing merely serves as a guide. It is not there to lean upon, but only to guide. In like manner does the law function in the part of gratitude. The new will has a sincere desire to use God's law as a guide,and to live according to that law out of love.
The law is the expression of God's image. It declares the will of God to us. When God in Christ has become precious to us,we receive new desires. We receive something new. The bible calls it a new heart,a heart of flesh. It is a heart made alive by the Holy Spirit. In another place the bible says that God has written the law on tables of stone, but by a new birth he writes that law onto a heart of flesh. That's why David sings in Psalm 119: O how love I thy law. It is my meditation all the day.
Now it is no longer a cursing law,or a demanding law,but a law of love. It is a silent law, a law full of promise. O to learn to live by faith out of the promises of the law!
Dear congregation,if you do not know the Lord Jesus, the law demands that you live in accordance to it.. But if by grace you have been incorporated into Christ,the law no longer makes any demands. Rather, it promises. It promises that Christ has fulfilled all
those demands. And that now by faith I may live out of those promises. Our precious Lord Jesus had no other gods before him,therefore by faith I may believe that I have not had them,either. He has not committed adultery,therefore by faith I have not committed adultery,either. And thus for the church of God the law has become a promise out of which they may live and wherein they may take delight.
'Thy precepts have I hid within my heart'. Do you know of such a sincere desire and love, poured forth into your heart,to walk according to that law?
Once more,it is above our understanding that nothing at all needs to be added by us. We can scarcely believe it, yet it is true. We have not liberated ourselves,the Lord Jesus has done it all. This is my joy,that by faith I may live in that liberty. Now it is my heart's wish to be holy,though to my sorrow I often find it otherwise. It is my desire to live according to the law perfectly,yet I find myself unable. But now it is no longer necessary,either. If the Lord Jesus has become precious to your soul,you have received a new will and new desires. Then there is but one thing that gives you true delight,namely the keeping of the law. This does not mean the Ten Commandments only,but the law and the Prophets,the entire Word of God. The sting and the curse have been removed, and it has become your delight. I have been made willing by grace,and nothing needs to be added.
By means of a new birth my will has been renewed. There is a new obedience, though even the holiest of men have but a small beginning. But it is there nonetheless,and because of it I want to live according to God's law. Not to merit anything thereby,but because I see God's image in that law. I have learned to love that image,and therefore desire to be made comformable to it.
Now it is no longer a matter of a series of cold and barren do's and dont's,of form and duty, it has become a matter of the heart.
Have you already received a heart of flesh? A heart of flesh in the sense of a broken heart? Has your heart of stone been removed? Then God has written his law therein,his law of love. And because of this new life I wish to live and walk according to that law.
Thus I have explained the law in the part of gratitude.
When we will soon consider each commandment separately,someone may say: God's child will be rebuked in the 'Thou shalt not's' of every commandment. But this is a misunderstanding,for the law by it's promise clears God's child of the 'Thou shalt not's.' A child does not steal from his father, but if he does, the father admonishes him in a loving way : "you are stepping on my heart," he will say. This is vastly different from saying: you may not and you must not. Have you ever been admonished by the Lord,when in a tender manner he said: Why is it that you do not keep my law? Then you feel ashamed,because you do not always keep that law ,but out of weakness fall into sin.
Have you ever seen the law in this light? There is no fear in it. Congregation, many people are afraid of the Lord. They try hard to keep the law perfectly,because they are afraid of punishment. "God is holy and just," they say,"therefore we ought not to live according to our own liking." But this is not how the Lord works. He does not stand over us with a whip. No, he says: 'I am the Lord thy God,which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt,out of the house of bondage.' That is how the law begins. It was originally
meant for Israel,but also for all those who with a true faith are incorporated into Christ.
'I am the Lord,' he says,' I have brought you out of the house of bondage.' I have freed you from prison. I have delivered you from the slave-driver. I am the Lord thy God. This part precedes the law itself. The promise comes before the law. The Lord did not leave it up to Israel to do it on their own accord. No,he said:'I am the Lord thy God'.
And do you know what was their great mistake? That they forgot this. They pushed God's words aside and went to work themselves. They tried to keep the law themselves and forgot what the Lord had said.
If you have received grace you will never forget that you have been brought out of the house of bondage. As soon as you lose sight of that, as soon as this becomes too great a matter for you to believe, you will fall back into that house of bondage. Then you will go back to work. But : I am the Lord thy God. In a spititual sense I have brought you out of the house of bondage.
The Galatians did fall back into the works of the flesh. There were certain men who told them that there was no proof of them being God's people,unless they were circumcised,as prescribed by the law. This caused the Galatians to hesitate. They began to doubt and became discouraged. They lost their sense of peace,and once again felt bound.
Then Paul came,and said:'What are you doing? Have I preached Christ in vain? How were you initially delivered from these bonds,this slavery? Were you delivered by a series of do's and don'ts,or by a voice that said: 'I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt,out of the house of bondage?' Was that not the time when your bonds did break? 'You are bewitched,' Paul said. These words touched their hearts,and they remembered.
But yet there are many who object ,saying that then one can live as he pleases. If I am set free by faith and by hearing the promise of the gospel alone,then I can live as I please. People who say this are very dangerous. They resemble the preachers of Galatia. Without realising it, they place burdens on men. But are there then no burdens? No indeed, they are delivered from every burden..Yet they have received a desire to keep God's law out of love.
Two people may do the same thing, namely keep the law. But one keeps it strictly and rigidly out of fear, and the other does it out of the liberty that is in Christ. To the one it is a burden, and to the other it is a delight,because he has received a new heart. These strict and rigid keepers of the law are sometimes admonished by preachers to give it up,but they are admonished in vain.. They secretly accuse that preacher of side-stepping the law. 'He makes it much too easy,' they say. 'His life indeed is blameless, but in his sermons he seems to open the door to questionable things.' I believe you misunderstand. The question is not in the first place WHAT you do, but HOW you do it. Do I observe the law out of form and fear,and because it ought to be done? Or do I do it because the love of God is shed abroad in my heart? If the latter is true,you cannot but love God above all. You want to walk in his ways. Then I can even love my enemies,not because I ought to, but as a result of that new heart. Then it is no longer a heavy burden,or an effort.
When soon the Lord will ask them:'Do you remember that cup of cold water you gave to one of my little ones?' they will say: 'When gave we it,Lord?'
But there are others who remember very well the good deeds they have done. At any time they can tell you when they did this,and at what time they did that. Yet God's
child says:'Perhaps I did it,but when? ' Why is it that they do not remember? Because they did it out of love. They did it out of love to the word of God,out of love to Christ,and out of love to the holy law.
Congregation, when in the coming weeks we hope to meditate on the law of God, then do nor attempt to remove that law from the ark. For in a way of speaking,when you raise the cover of that ark,the tables of stone that are inside will begin to curse and condemn. This is the law we discussed in the first part of the cathechism, of the misery of man. But at this time we will leave the covering in place. For the law in the part of thankfulness is sprinkled with the precious blood of reconciliation. It is covered by the mercy seat. It is silent,and like Aaron's staff,it flourishes. Yes,this Ark is Christ himself.
'Thy law is written in my heart,'tis joy to do thy will.' Precious Lord Jesus! How I love thy Person,and how I love thy law! Teach me to follow thee,teach me by faith to do thy will. Teach me to walk according to thy law. Hold up my goings in thy way, that my footsteps slip not. Be thou my Guide who will teach me how to live. Not how I must live,but how I may live,namely by grace alone. My will is become one with thine. It is a service of love,whereof I will never repent. Thy law is pleasant and lovely. O let thy Spirit then be my constant aid,that all my ways may ever be d irected to keep thy statutes. And that freely.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. 'I shall not be ashamed then or afraid'. When we may thus walk closely with Christ we will not be bothered with pride. If only we were more spititual,but alas! we are so fleshly. That is why as yet many things go wrong between you and God, and you and your neighbor. The fault lies not with God, his work is perfect. But I am fleshly.
Martin Luther once said:' If only I could believe perfectly,then this world would be a Paradise.' But this world is not a Paradise. That is reserved for later. Here below we must go through many painful stumblings. Time and again we are reminded how fleshly we really are. And yet: O how love I thy law.
But if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin,let us not therefore despair of God's mercy, nor continue in sin. But looking on that mercy seat,let there be an ardent desire to forsake the world,crucify our old nature and walk in a new and holy life.
Lord Jesus, I will, because thou wilt. Make me then conformable to thy image, and cause me to give heed to thy word. And that not narrowly or in slavish fear, but by thy grace alone.
Grant that by grace and by thy Spirit I may keep thy law, out of love and to thy honor.