Lord's Day 1 (1940) Prof. Benne Holwerda
Note about the translator: Mr. Gilbert Zekveld was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He farmed for many years in the Bowmanville area of Ontario where he was actively involved with Christian Reformed and later Orthodox Christian Reformed church life.
This sermon was delivered Sunday, September 1, 1940
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Tonight, we make a new beginning with preaching the catechism. That is to say, once more we commence with preaching God's Word as it is confessed in the Catechism. For, I am sure you understand that the catechism is not the witness of men. If it were that, we could better go home right now. When we are in need of one thing it is certainly the comfort of the Word of the Lord. And when we can do without one thing today, it is the witness of men.
There was a time that men's wisdom was called for; and that call is still heard. But those who can distinguish know that exactly our day has demonstrated that men's witness is completely hopeless. One says this, another something else. After a while a third will come with again another opinion. If the catechism was nothing but a human witness, it would have been taken up in that great whole of ideas and meanings, which all have their own day; which take the attention for a while and draw followers and adherents; but after a while they disappear because they had their time. They are rejected and scorned by a new generation, buried without any ceremony. Nothing remains but a vague memory.
When the catchecism was in this category, it would be foolishnessto listen to it in these eventful days. For then this catechism would beaccused of raising expectations, but not fulfill them; but only increasediscontent and bitter disillusion.
However, the cathechism is confession. And confession means thatthis too is framed by men, certainly; but then of something that was saidby another before this. Confessing is not saying what we ourselves think,feel and will. To the contrary, we silence our own considerations, tothink and speak what God says. He that speaks, let him speak the words ofthe Lord.
When Lord's Day 1 confesses the only comfort, it is not what we think is the only comfort, but what God gave to comfort us. This is not an observation about comfort, besides other considerations concerning comfort. This is the only truth about comfort against all falsification of the same.
When I confess Lord's Day 1, I do not say: this is for me the only hope that grants me comfort, another may have something else that comforts him, and a third may have a different view again. But I say, "I have comfort and they do not." Not, that they have their brand, and I have mine. I say that I have comfort and they have not. If I see it the right way, we must in our day lay the emphasis again at the exclusivism of faith, which makes us say that this is the only thing, and all what is said to be comfort, and advertised as such, is something else. This is truth, and therefore all the other is a lie. All the other means a denial of comfort and therefore privation of comfort.
I say that it is necessary that we emphasize this today, that only this is true comfort, that outside of this comfort there is none. There is much commended today as comfort in the special needs of our day. Comfort for the suffering, deliverance from the misery, as it came upon us and our national life since the tenth of May (1940). Of couse, I do not say that we need no comfort; that the oppresssion of our day has nothing to do with Lord's Day 1. When speaking of comfort we may not forget these last few months. We will not do that tonight. But what is so very important in the need of our day, these depressing days, is that we maintain for us and our people, that the comfort of Lord's Day 1 is the only comfort.
This comfort excludes all other comforts. Confessing this only comfort includes that we reject all comfort which does not agree with Lord's Day 1. When it is said that in order to possess this comfort it is necessary to know three things: misery, deliverance and gratitude; this also means that this is the only thing we must know concerning misery, the only thing concerning deliverance, and also the only thing concerning gratitude. Only comfort means that this is the only truth pertaining to misery, all the rest is a lie; this is the only deliverance, there is no other; this is the only way of gratitude; this we have for the future of our life, and no other!
I want to say that we must adhere to our confession in these days when everyone wants to be comforted and many offer comfort. To be comforted, truly comforted, means that we always stand alone; we must learn sharply to distinguish and acknowledge colour, and plainly see the limits in what we may, and what we may not do. The gospel is exclusive and recommends itself, it rejects everything which man calls gospel, that is why we must be exclusive and only believe God's Word and reject all that goes against it. To look for comfort is to look for isolation while finding the enmity of the world. There is only one comfort and that is exclusive Christianity which remains aware of what God revealed as the only truth concerning:
1. misery. 2. deliverance. 3. gratitude.
1. When people today speak about misery, in these discussions - I mentioned it a while ago - the events of the last days take a great place. Indeed, the stress is great. There is no one among us who can remove himself from it. Everyday life has become sombre and grey; the nights are filled with unrest and fear. What remains is a fear of what will be in the near future. To think of the coming winter is one great anxiety. The outlook for the material is without comfort; the spiritual cares are many.
Little by little, people begin to think about the background of these horrors. During the first days only what could be seen on the surface drew the attention, things everybody could see. But now the first impressions of these horrible events are past, we look at it more in depth. People ask themselves questions about the factors behind this. What underground powers worked unseen for years already? What hidden energies led to the disruption of society, which is now for all to see?
We will not engage in a discussion about the developments of international relationships like some do. When we remain closer to home, and restrict our discussion to our own country, the general impression is that our problem did not start May 10, when the war began. For years already, things were not good in this country. They point to dispersions in nearly all areas, whereby a strong, healthy national life was hindered. Now they are discussing a national concentration in politics, forming of youth, and many more areas.
The misery is looked for in the great divisions, which could be seen in the existence of more than fifty political parties; and there was more than that. It speaks for itself that they are looking for deliverance from our misery in concentrating all areas.
It is the big question of many, among our people too: what must we do? All do agree that serious mistakes were made in the past. But the question remains, what must we do now? Must we come to a radical change in all areas? If in these days we would be really comforted, beloved, by these questions, we must remember what we just confessed in Lord's Day 1 as our only comfort. Today, there is in writing and speaking a general opinion of misery; many already write again about deliverance. But according to the confession, misery and deliverance are problems that have to do with an only comfort. "How many things are necessary for you to know?" "Three: I must know among others, how great my sin and misery are, and how I am delivered from these. In order to be truly comforted, I must know exactly what the misery is of these days; and also, where I can find the way to deliverance. When I don't know which party to join, and am disappointed in that party, it is not that I did not find the right party, but the only comfort escapes me! When I do not know exactly what is the misery of our day and the deliverance of our day, it is not serious I did not find the people I was looking for. What is serious, is that I did not find my God in all this. That is what is important today. From the Lord I will find my way to the people, but from the people I do not find my way to God.
If I would be comforted, really comforted, deeply comforted in the great grief of my life, then I must know the way to God, and to His mercies.
And so, what is the true knowledge of real misery, which indeed is instrument of the only comfort? In the church we never should attempt to find the answer by reasoning it out. But we go - that is why we teach the confession - we go and listen to what the Word of God teaches, and we say it after Him.
The catechism speaks thus: how great my sins and misery are. There are some points here I would like to emphasize: 1. sins and misery 2. My sins and misery 3. how great.
Our confession speaks of misery, but mentions first of all my sins. When it confesses deliverance, it mentions: and delivered me from all the power of the devil. The question of misery is astutely set before us. It does not ask: what is disastrous for us, but what is disloyal towards God?
Today, it is said that our need is general; and anyone is aware of the cause of our need. We agree about our misery; all we have to do is discuss deliverance. But beloved, that is not true! When we will be comforted, we must seriously discuss our misery. We won't agree on that so soon. When we only remain by what can be seen on the outside of our misery, yes, we will agree there was much dispersion, division which destroyed much. But we are not yet finished; it only begins. How must we qualify misery? As fatal for us, or as violating God's commandments? When we speak of misery, and willfully neglect human sin that is behind it; when we discuss the faults of men and are silent about the power of the devil, that works in and behind human faults, we are not comforted anymore, even though we point out faultlessly hundreds of human failures, and look actively and in unison for deliverance. Allthough I can exactly say what was wrong the last years, but if I refuse to confess my sin, I persist in the basic error of my life. And I help others to persist in the same fault.
We ourselves look for comfort. We like to offer comfort to others. The only comfort in these unsettling times. Because of that we must be serious about the word 'sin'. It will not suffice to point out the mistakes of the past, when we confess Lord's Day 1; but before all else our desire must be to test our lives, from these past years, on the law of the Lord. It will not do to confirm, for instance, that we lacked solid authority, but we must urge that God shall be revered as fountain of all authority; and that the norms of the fifth commandment will be acknowledged. I don't think we should ask each other to agree that we made mistakes. We must ask each other what we think of sin, if we can agree on the law of the Lord. Otherwise we will not taste any comfort.
All this is true of ourselves, for we must not think that only others fail to keep the law, and that we are serious about keeping the law. I don't know for sure whether we are serious about the fact of sin. O yes, we pray regularly for forgiveness of sins; and we don't like to hear it too often that all of us are poor sinners. But we have forgotten how terribly serious sin is; exactly us. Let me mention something: we had our own Christian organizations. But do I say too much, when I claim that our organizations gave most of their attention to technical questions, questions about wages and things of that kind? But how much did we reflect on principles and the will of the Lord in these matters? If it could be regulated that all parties were satisfied, we were happy. As long as the bussiness made a profit, and the labourers were satisfied. That is why we had our unions! Of course, I do not say that these things are not subject to God's law. And I will not forget the difficult economical situations of the past years, with their endless problems. They had to be looked after, and so much more. Yet, the adjustment of our lives was mostly without law. Studying principles, still finds little interest among our men and young people. The masses are satisfied, when the boat is not rocked. We all like organizations, but we are oten silent about God's will in these matters.
Gradually, our lives, no not in name, for it was Christian this, and Christian that, became godless in reality.
But the other: my sins and misery. It gives evidence of a serious lack, when living with this confession, there is so little personal humility found among us. We do not speak about sin, but about misery. When speaking of misery we emphasize our personal part in the misery of our day; but so little about our part in the sins of these last years.
Again, that is why we find no comfort. We do not humble ourselves. It is so easy to say what others did wrong. And we don't have to be blind for that. But woe is us, when there is not the self-abasement: From the depths have I cried to Thee, o Lord.
In our circles, at times, events around us are connected with sin. But with a broad gesture it is said, "This is now punishment for another uncharitable article in the paper." It is not so that one says, "I was not faithful in studying God's word", and another, "I undermined the Church as institute"; and a third, "I was unfaithful in my marriage."
I think of David and Psalm 25, when he is sore afflicted, "Look upon my afflictions and my pain; and forgive all my sins." From his misery he turns to the sin behind it. Then it becomes strictly personal and concrete, "Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great."
Then we will still see the faults of others, but we are mild in judging them; for our own sense of guilt is to keen and true to accuse the brother before God and man. And coupled herewith is the third: how great..... That is even more true when we confess our sins as concretely as did David. He did not speak dogmaticlly about Adam's fall into sin, or something to that effect. He was much depressed about the sins of his youth. I don't think we have reason to think of David that he spent his young years in a life of sin. We know of nothing that points that way. But he is oppressed and he confesses before God that his youth, so pure in the eyes of men, was an abomination before the Lord. When he was still at home with his father, and when he, a long time before he became king, looked after his father's sheep, there was sin in his life.
It is not necessary to confess every sin we committed since we were born. But when I read Pslam 25, I ask the question, how many of us in these days, confess the sins of their youth to the Lord.
David begins with his recent life; but when he discovers the sins of the current past, he goes back to earlier days: so many years, so many sins! He does not anymore talk about the sin of other Israelites; they sinned like he did; they are afflicted like he is; he confesses his own personal sins. But when he prays for forgiveness, his heart opens wide, and he involves his people with their needs: Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles. I am afraid that no one thinks, this sermon tonight, is very "comforting". Yet, the catechism teaches that this is decidedly comforting. In order to be comforted we must know: how great my sin and misery are.
Now we also know where the difference is between us and those, who, when critisizing the past, look at it differently. Knowing our misery, we do not stand beside them, but over against each other. It is not our desire to differ with them. But for the sake of the true, the only comfort, we can do no other. Exactly because we look for comfort, we begin with the prayer:
Wilt Thou then, I pray, be mindful
Of Thy mercies manifold,Book of Praise, Psalm 25 st. 3 and 10.
2. From what I have said thus far, the following will be self-evident. We stand alone concerning the knowledge of misery within ourselves. Because the idea of misery determines the idea of knowledge, we stand alone and dare to stand alone with the confession of deliverance. Again, not because we proudly and self-sufficiently withdraw to our dogmas, because we desire to be isolated. However, when we are concerned about preserving the only comfort: I can do no other! In this isolation we find our strength, for in isolation lies our comfort.
When I abandon what we confess about our sin, I must also forsake what in the second place is said about the way of deliverance, but then my comfort is gone! There is but one way, there is no other.
For this deliverance in Jesus Christ is not only a deliverance of eternal damnation, while in time we would remain living in misery. It is not just a deliverance that affects our spiritual and religious life, and not our every day life.
That is what is taught at pesent. They will not touch spiritual freedom; everyone is free to find the way to salvation; each of us may determine by what way he wants to go to heaven, and in what way to find peace for his soul. But everyday life is excluded. It has no affiliation with Jesus Christ. That is why the church in its preaching must keep itself from that area.
They will even give proof of this. "Faith in Christ", they say, "is good to attain peace for the soul." "But is of no value for everyday living. You will not eat better than others; the number of bombs that fall remains the same. Father's faith does not guarantee the future of the children." I am afraid that many are misled by that way of speaking; they do not see the danger. It is so much more dangerous, since we too, speak of a kingdom of grace beside a natural kingdom. Many of us are falsely persuaded that we need the Lord Jesus only in the kingdom of grace, we need Him to go to heaven, but our everyday life is outside of the realm of Christ's redemption. And, is it not true? Are Christians not sick like other people? Do we not have to worry about coupons like others in these war days? Does faith in Christ save us from the danger of bombs?
But beloved, we must go back to Lord's Day 1. The only comfort means: for me to know that my misery is caused by my sins. I must know the greatness of my sins; otherwise I do not know my misery. Again, the only comfort means, how to be delivered from my sins and misery, because that with body and soul I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. In Psalm 25, David does not only pray for a conscience that is at peace; He does not ask to go to heaven. But he desires that the Lord shall defend him from the enemies who multiply against him. In another place he prays for healing when he is sick. He expects and desires redemption from the Lord, i.e., redemption in the coming Christ, in time, also for the body. He desires that not without more, but against the background of the forgiveness of sins. Sin is first, then misery. That is why the forgiveness of sins comes first; only then deliverance from all his afflictions. David does not know of a kingdom of grace beside his natural life; but he desires that grace shall conquer in his natural life.
Living like this, we will not have more bread than others; this coming winter firewood and coal for the stove will be scarce as it is for others. Yet, redemption is not only for the soul; or just for eternity.
Redmption in Jesus Christ is also for the body, in time. Jesus Christ provides us also with bread and fuel. Do believers receive more because they believe? Often they get less. And yet: they were delivered, and are daily delivered from all their afflictions. "Thou hast holden me by my right hand; Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel", now in time, for Christ's sake; thou shalt give me to eat, as long as I have need of sustenance, according to Thy counsel; and afterward receive me to glory.
O no, that does not mean that we must wait for all this with Stoical patience; so that, untouched and controlled, without fear and trembling we wait for what is coming. That has nothing to do with Christianity; even though some think that a Christian should not be nervous. David wrote psalms, and complained that his bed was wet with tears. That was no sign of unbelief; that was because he was saved in hope; he still had to wait for the complete deliverance of the body.
At that time he wept in faith, because he was not yet delivered; not his flesh, neither his nerves. So there are some today whose nerves are wrecked by danger from the sky; they dread the coming night. They are afraid when they think of the approaching winter. They pray and sigh that Christ may soon deliver us from these things. Are they poor Christians because they cannot control their nerves? But for their comfort the Lord told them that He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. God does not speak to Stoic philosophers, who train themselves in self-control, who appear to be redeemed already. He comforts those who weep because they are not yet redeemed, but who in their fear hope in the grace of Jesus Christ, which is promised them.
Have God's people a piece of bread more than others? No, not that. But what they do have, each piece of bread, whether small or not, each piece of bread, by the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
But therefore every piece of bread must be used in the service of Jesus Christ. I am now going to the last part: how I must be thankful to God for such deliverance. We can say this in few words. The problem in our life is sin. And redemption, is in the first place redemption from sin. Therefore, the future of life is only safe, when from now on we acknowledge the law of God. When I allow Christ to make me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
Now for the last time: this is the only thing for us and for our children. Otherwise our young people have no future anymore. If they do not speak according to this word, they shall not see the light of day.
Do we, by confessing this, cause a split? Are we a danger for our people? But when we know how much Calvinism has meant for the life of this nation, we should not ask that question. Should they say so, we could not be different. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the only One Who redeems our life; the only One to Whom we belong. What of the future? Live unto Him, made willing and ready by His Holy Spirit. That is the only way. For that is the only comfort.
Sunday, September 1, 1940