A Sermon by Rev. Martin L. Dawson, Pastor
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope, and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Romans 5:1-11.
Let us pray.......We pray, God, that Thou will now grant us by Thy Holy Spirit, understanding in the Scriptures that we may be edified, that we may be exhorted, and that we may be comforted. Bless thy Word, we pray, be thou magnified in it for Jesus' sake. Amen.
We come now to Heidelberg Catechism Question 28. What does it profit us to know that God created and by His providence upholds all things? In this section of the Heidelberg Catechism we have considered the doctrine of Creation, and the doctrine of providence as such. The theology of providence and the philosophy that is controlled by a proper understanding of providence. Providence meaning that God upholds all things, maintains their existence by the word of His power. That same word by which He made the world, He keeps all things in being, and furthermore that God governs or controls all His creatures and all their actions, as well as keeping them in being.
We saw that the doctrine of providence shows God's relationship to His creation. After He made the world, how He relates to it. We have seen how there are two poles of thought, both of which have held sway, philosophically, in America. In colonial times in America, the 18th century was swept by Deism. The universities were swept by Deism, the liberal churches believed that God was not the God of the Bible, but was really a god who created all things but then wholly withdrew from the world, leaving it to run by natural law. Then the opposite pole came into
prominence in the 19th century; the belief that God is not only in the world, but that God is the world. This came particularly through men like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. These who are lauded in our public schools as great philosophers but were nothing but heathens, who brought in this terrible infection of pantheism, teaching that the world is God and that every man has God in him. There's some sort of over-soul that's in all humans, which means that they don't need to be regenerated, only educated. This gave rise to the public school
system, a secular system which is based on the premise that men will be made good if they can only be educated.
Then this "transcendentalism," the pantheism of the 19th century was captured by Darwin who was, in a sense, both pantheistic and deistic, while at the same time having no room for a soul of any kind. Man was simply one of many animals. Darwin had no room for any Creator God or any sort of providence. So Darwinism brought us something that was rather worse, since it allowed for no transcendent ethic in it. This is why people today say, "Well, it's true for you but it's not true for me." There no such thing as a standard of truth, of beauty, or of right and wrong. Darwinism is a world in which God has been declared illegal, particularly in the public schools, which are thoroughly Darwinistic.
Well, it is when we review distressing developments such as this that we say to ourselves, "Why isn't God doing anything about it?" But the doctrine of Providence tells us precisely that God is doing something about it. God is doing something about everything. He is not gone from the world. He who sits in heavens beholds the evil conspiracies of men; He beholds all their plans against Him and His Christ, and He laughs at them. He holds the wicked in derision. He says, "I have set my kingdom on my holy hill of Zion. My decree shall stand." There is no decree against God that can prosper.
Providence then is a source of great comfort and as last time the Heidelberg dealt with the theology of providence; tonight it deals more with an application of that, what does providence mean to us? This is one of the excellencies of the Heidelberg. It's a very personal kind of catechism. It starts off with "My only hope of life and death is that I have a faithful Savior, Jesus Christ..." And here it asks the question, "Well what advantage is it that you know about providence? What good does it do you?" Let me read question 27 for you, "What dost thou mean by the providence of God? Answer: the almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by His hand He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures, so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand." This is a beautiful definition of providence.
Now, question 28, which we'll consider tonight, is "What advantage is it to us to know that God has created and by His providence doth still uphold all things?" And the answer is this: "that we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and that in all things which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from His love since all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move."
In the first place it tells us that the doctrine of providence is a source of comfort to us because it makes us patient in adversity. Patience. You know the constant refrain of the prophets in looking at the problems of the world in their day, the problems in the church, was "O Lord, how long?" You read this again and again in Jeremiah and Isaiah. "How long?" Or David, "Why standest thou afar off?" Yes, it sometimes appears that God has relinquished control of the world, but then He always comes to assure us that this is not the case. All things are in His hands, even the adversity, which gives us patience when we understand while under it.
Well, adversity makes us want to take action. Sometimes there's an advantage to taking action, and sometimes the only action which should be taken is to be patient and to trust the Lord. Some of the greatest issues of life are the latter. You know how it is when we are younger in the faith. People want to reform the church overnight. Young people are often given over to revolutionary thought. Things must be changed now! How can we stand things the way they are? Patience in adversity from knowing that God is in control. You think of a David who was anointed king. The prophet told him, "You are the king. I have anointed you thus." Some kingship! He spends years fleeing from Saul, because Saul is king, and with absolutely no desire to stop being king. And since Saul knew that David had been anointed, he spent years tracking David down and trying to murder him. But David was a wonderful example here of patience in adversity.
Remember that on at least two occasions he had the opportunity to kill Saul, and his soldiers couldn't understand why he wouldn't. They said, "He's trying to kill you!" David replied, "No, he is the Lord's anointed. He will fall someday in battle, or something else will happen to him, but my hand will not be on the Lord's anointed." David had an understanding that it wasn't just some sort of bad luck, that Saul who was king was also mistreating him. It was God's hand! And therefore, he would be patient in this adversity, he would humbly submit to it, and he would see God giving him the victory, which He did.
Another example from David's life you'll remember is when David was fleeing from Absalom. As he crossed a brook, Shimei appeared and began throwing stones at David and cursing him, calling him a bloody man. Well, the army officer standing next to David said, "Why don't you let me go over and remove his head?" To which David answered, "The Lord has bidden him curse David." David understood patience in adversity because he understood that God is the God of providence.
So, understanding that things don't happen by chance, by bad fortune, but by the hand of God, is the key to being patient in hard times. To look beyond the problem to the God who gave it is to understand that the God who has done this, is the same God who will help me to bear what He is bringing me through. Look at Romans, Chapter 5: "We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed." All of this is true because God is the One who gives tribulation by His providence in the first place.
We glory in tribulation because it works patience! Patience, like all virtues, is best learned in the furnace of affliction. I suppose it's because we're so dull in our fallen estate that I think you know very well, the lessons we learn best are the lessons from the hard things we go through. These are the lessons that stick. This is how we learn patience. And we cannot learn patience unless we realize that God is doing this for us.
If we just attribute our tribulations to some sort of bad fortune, then we'll never learn what is being talked about here; experience and patience. "We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." You see, when you go through it, understanding that God gave you the problem that gives you a background of experience, so that when another problem comes up, you can say, "I have been through this before. I understand this. I've faced a problem like this in the past and God helped me." Thus, experience gives hope which is confidence in the future.
Why was David confident he could kill Goliath? He had said that he could kill Goliath. David was not a little boy, as shown in the Bible story books sometimes. He was no second grader. Now, we don't know how old he was, but he was probably full grown. He was young, but still no match for Goliath. In fact, the entire Israelite army was afraid of Goliath, and the bravest, most experienced soldiers would not take up his challenge. David would. Why? Well, he had what Paul is talking about here; experienced patience gives hope. What did David say? I was tending my father's flock when I killed a lion and a bear. I love that description of how he grabbed the animal by the beard and killed him. He said, God delivered me from the lion and the bear, and He will deliver me from Goliath. You see, this experience gave him hope. God brought me through this before and now when I face a bigger problem, the same God will bring me through that.
So when we face future logs that fall across our path, then we remember, "Oh, yes. This log fell across my path because God made it do so. Now, do I sit down and cry, or do I try to figure out how to get around it?" Well, I remember that this happened before and God helped me get around it. When I did, things were wonderful.
"...that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." So it does profit us to know that God is in control of all His creatures and all their actions, because it makes us patient in adversity.
Next, it says it makes us thankful in prosperity. In Deuteronomy 8:10, the Lord says this, "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee." You see, not only adversities come from God's hand, but all blessings as well. Understanding providence makes us a thankful people, a grateful people. The secularist has nothing to be thankful to. You see this problem among them, witnessed in the public schools which have a Thanksgiving Day celebration. The teacher teaches that the Pilgrims gave thanks to the indians, because they can't talk about God. If there is no God and no providence, then there can be no Thanksgiving, can there? But you find this in the modern thought, that the prosperity of the United States is some sort of historic, economic, Marxist dialectic, of which we should be ashamed. It's not the blessing of God. The vast natural resources of this country are simply a brute fact of geography. It's not that God gave us all this for our blessing. That's just the way things are. But the Christian who understands providence is the only one who can be truly thankful in prosperity. Not only does God control the bad things that happen, He also should be praised for all
of the good things we enjoy; for all the health we enjoy.
You know, they'll say you have a good heart just because you have good genes. Well, who made the genes? Where did they come from? There isn't any good thing you have that God has not given you. Jobs, families, friends, food, true churches, fellowship of the saints, the Word of God, faith, repentance, trust in God, forgiveness of sins, life everlasting: all from the hand of God. Thankfulness in prosperity is possible only when we see God as a loving giver of every good gift by His providence.
Finally, Heidelberg says that it profits us to know that by His Providence, God upholds all things. It gives us this confidence, that no creature shall separate us from His love. Since all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move, we consider anew the words of St. Paul from the 8th of Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." So, the apostle scans the universe, the heights, the depths, angels, demons, death itself; nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God. All things are under His absolute sway by divine providence. What a source of comfort that is!
Can these things separate us from God? Well, they could if God weren't in control of them. If God was the sort of god that even some evangelicals conceive him to be; that He is in some sort of contest with the devil and with the free will of man, a contest in which He is frequently losing!! I dare say that under those circumstances, yes, God could lose that too, and then devils, or death could separate us from God's love, but not if these things are under His control, not if He is, as Luther said "God indeed!"
A God of providence. Notice the way the Heidelberg describes this absolute power of God, "Since all creatures are so in His hand..." I love this statement. Here's something that's worth memorizing. The whole Catechism is worth
memorizing, but this phrase especially. You talk about providence as a source of comfort? Memorize this! "... that without His will they cannot so much as move."
What does it profit us to know that God created and by His providence upholds all things? That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and, for what is future, to have confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.
Let us pray......Heavenly Father, we think of the words, "Ye fearful saints fresh courage take..." O God, grant that at all times we may have that faith which the Holy Ghost gives through the Word that thou art a God of Providence, and this is the source of all our safety, all our confidence, and all our blessing. Amen.