Lord's Day 41 (1942) - 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, December 27, 1942
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
This afternoon the Lord our God comes to us with the seventh commandment with its laws for marriage, birth, sexuality and what is connected with these. This demand is set before us on December 27, a few days after Christmas. It was told us that the Word became flesh, we just heard that, and the Lord continues: Thou shalt not commit adultery. I know it seems incidental that this Lord's Day is on the order today. It could have been any other Sunday of the year.
Yet, it is good that we begin this afternoon by saying: thou shalt not commit adultery, for..... it was Christmas. There is a deep and immediate connection between the birth in Bethlehem and the seventh commandment. Paul admonishes us to marry in the Lord; that is in communion with Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem from the virgin Mary. He says, precisely in connection with the seventh commandment: the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body; he makes an immediate connection between God's work in Bethlehem and our body as it must function in marriage. Because that connection exists, there is a connection between Bethehem and every marriage today. That is why young people can stand before the pulpit and confess that the child born from their marriage is sanctified in Christ.
That is why it is casual that we must speak about these things right after Christmas, but it is not accidental when we think and speak of these things, that we must be convinced in our hearts of the reality of Christmas. No one can keep this commandment unless he first believed and confessed with the heart: I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. Of course I do not deny that this commandment was given before Bethlehem. It is a word that came to us via Mount Sinai. But we may not say, "Therefore we must now deal with the God of Sinai and not with the God of Bethlehem." It is indeed the God of Sinai, Who today, December 27, comes to us in Amersfoort. But the road from Sinai to here comes to us via Bethlehem. If I did not know that, I could not preach, for then preaching today would be a preaching of the law, an administration of death and condemnation. But while the God of Sinai came to us via Bethlehem, we will see marriage this afternoon in the glory of Bethlehem, of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. For behnd this commandment lies the reality of Luke 2 and John 1: 1, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Against the background of my Christmas sermon we will deal with the seventh commandment.
The seventh commandment as rule of gratitude after Bethlehem.
For in Bethlehem God lays the foundation of:
1. the possibility of marriage.
2. the glory of marriage.
3. the gratitude of marriage.
1. In the first place, the possibility of marriage in view of Bethlehem. I will admit, it sounds somewhat foolish. For already before Bethlehem young people married and were given in marriage. And the glory and beauty of marriage were known. Even the melancholy Preacher could say that God made everything beautiful in its season and also thought about a time to embrace. We will not forget this afternoon that they rejoiced in the married state before the time that Christ came. For in Israel too, the seventh commandment must be seen in the light of the gospel: for it came from the Lord Who led them out of Egypt. With everything, also regarding marriage, Israel lived in the Lord's covenant, that is how the seventh commandment bears the evangelical inscription of the redemption from Egypt. That is why the Preacher could say, "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest". In the old covenant, marriage was possible and could be enjoyed. All this is true beloved; and yet only Bethlehem made marriage possible in the full sense of the word. For Israel, the covenant was not sufficient; it had the law of the seventh commandment and knew it had to be grateful because the Lord led them out of Egypt; but it did not know the glory of Christ, full of grace and truth. It knew the seventh commandment as the law from Sinai, as demand, given during thundering and earthquakes, with storm and fire, but they did not know about the manger in Bethlehem. That is why Israel's best sons had great problems in their marriage. They accepted indeed all of life and did not think of world flight; but when they entered into marriage to enjoy life with the woman they loved, when they knew the time to embrace had come as a beautiful gift of God and when they would deal seriously with the commandment, the beauty of the embrace broke on the law of the covenant.
They accepted all of life, also marriage and the new birth. Did they not live in the covenant under the promise? But with great sorrow they discovered the bitterness of the law, the administration of death and condemnation. That is why married life in Israel turned into a sad longing for advent: Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down. The Preacher, as the last of the Old Testament, makes up the balance of that dispensation; o yes, he still says they may joyfully live with the wife they love; but at once he adds: all the days of thy vanities. Marriage too, that beautiful gift of the covenant, appears to be vanity, vanity of vanities. And when he encourages his people to rejoice, he knows already, this is not a complete joy, but one broken by vanity. And so also in him is kindled that advent longing for Christ, He Who will withdraw vanity from marriage and fulfill the joy of the embrace. In Ecclesiastes, the marriage of the Old Testament ultimately calls for the Christ.
And when we ask the question what in their marriage was that bitterness, what hindered them to appreciate that full enjoyment, we must answer: their privation is Moses. Mount Sinai is their glory, for God gave Jacob His laws; so did He not with other nations. Sinai is their boast because of their election; they received the law, and no one else did. But that mountain is also their great calamity, for they received a law they could not keep; so good becomes death to them. The law of the seventh commandment does not break the law of impurity for them. To the contrary, that sin by the commandment has now become exceedingly sinful. At Sinai they indeed recieved the law for marriage, but not the grace and truth; they were only promised to them.
David understood that when he wrote Psalm 51. He sinned against Bathsheba. Suddenly he sees the tragedy, not only of his adultery, but also of all normal marriages in Israel. He not only says: I approached her in unrighteousness, but: I am born in sin and in sin my mother conceived me. Also the normal marriage was altogether unclean. That is what the law taught him. For all of the sexual life is jammed in between laws of cleansing and every birth anew hinders the entrance into God's temple. Every embrace is in need of a sacrifice. No one is excluded. If there were only a possible way to break that deadly cycle! It cannot be found in the law. And every Isralite said, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" That is to say, we cannot break that fatal cycle. For an unclean marriage means an unclean birth; and an unclean birth now, means an unclean marriage later. The laws for cleansing did not help any. No one has a chance to change direction, to make a new beginning. The law does discover misery; they understand very well that they are imprisoned in sin; but the door of prison is for them not opened. So the joy of every marriage act and the joy about all fruits of marriage is broken by the law.
Now you are able to see why only in Bethlehem God made marriage possible. There was a young couple, Joseph and Mary, engaged, for they believed God Who makes all things beautiful in His time. But when they thought the time for embracing had come, the Lord kept them far from embracing. He had them wait for that fair hour and He laid on them the sorrows of it, that from now on marriage would be truly beautiful and without vanity. It was the eternal Word which from the beginning ordered that those two should be one; the Word which said, that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife; the Word that behind every new birth had laid the marriage act. But this time He hinders the man to cleave to his wife; He Who Himself joined man and wife together from the beginning. He separates them and hinders that those two become one flesh. He does that only to become flesh Himself. He hinders Joseph to take Mary unto himself. He hinders Mary to go to her husband, for He keeps her from Joseph, to form His own flesh from her. He, Who at one time ordained the way to birth via marriage, He now makes a new way; for He is born, but outside of marriage. Now the fatal circle is broken; He enters in our nature, but not via the way of an unclean marriage, but via the way of His own creation and He speaks to Himself: Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: Who is so great a God as our God? He sent the angel to Mary to tell her, "that Holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." For the Holy One can now be born, while the Son of God passes by the marriage and comes in His own way. "Thou art a God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people".
The Word became flesh, born from the virgin Mary, but not by the virgin Mary. There is nothing she can give, she can only receive; and He Who gives is God, the Holy Ghost. That is why the Church confesses that He, the man Jesus, having become flesh, with His innocence and complete holiness covers my sin, in which I was conceived and born, before the face of God. He broke the cycle; marriage is not behind His birth and therefore he place His birth behind every marriage in the future. Now came grace and truth, for my sin is covered before the face of God. When people do now marry, they do it washed and cleansed in Him; they now praise the time of embrace more than the Preacher could ever do this. For when they stand by the cradle, they will be able to confess that this child is clean and sanctified in Christ. Christ's birth made their marriage possible and He lifted their joy out of, above vanity.
And so, beloved, Christmas is now behind every marriage. What was impossible for the law to do, save marriage, God did, by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Now, young people can send their wedding announcements with great joy and happiness, for they know that the end of the law, also of the seventh commandment, is Christ, the righteousness of everyone that believeth. Now they can go to city-hall and the churchbuilding, for they confess Jesus Christ, born from the virgin Mary. Now they can thank God when they stand at the cradle, for they know this young beginning is in the Lord, and not in vain. Now young people who are imprisoned in the desires of the flesh, so they don't dare to approach unto God, or think about a girl, now they can be comforted because of Bethlehem. The Lord comes now to them, not from Sinai, but from Bethlehem, and He says comforting them: sin shall not rule over you, for you are not under the law but under grace. Because it saw Christmas, and grace is the foundation of all engagements, no one in the Church dares say: in my love-life I have nothing to do with Christ. For it is Christ Who makes the embrace possible.
2. It is also Christ Who gives His glory to marriage. The Preacher, who did not see Christ, could not hold on to the glory of marriage. He says indeed, enjoy life with the woman you love, but he must add: all the days of your vanity.
Thus for the Preacher this joy is only vanity. The Preacher saw only one place where vanity did not accompany him and that was in the temple. For in the temple God's glory was revealed. But the temple is such a small spot in the country, and everything outside of it is subject to vanity. Only the temple is not, but all the rest is vanity: the family room, the bedroom, the playpen. The Preacher reasons: could I only put them in the temple, overshadowd by God's glory. But that is impossible. For the woman of the baby is excluded from the temple for several weeks. That is what made the poet of Psalm 84 jealous of sparrows and swallows, for they make their nest where they may lay their young: even thine altars, O LORD of Hosts, my King and my God. That is his great desire, to build his house and also place the cradle near God's altar. Near God's glory, no, under it. But it was Christmas, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory. He placed God's glory within our flesh and it is now changed from glory to glory as from the face of the Lord. By the Spirit not only some places are sanctified, but all our flesh, our whole existence is glorified. Do you not know that our body and our soul are temples of the Holy Ghost? Now the longing of the Preacher is satisfied when he says: only the temple does not know of vanity. But Paul says that body and soul are now temples. Now marriage is no more vanity, for the glory of God's temple is seen above it. Now the longing of Psalm 84 is stilled, to build a nest above the altar. For the cradle itself has become the altar.
When with body and soul, they prepare for the wedding, they enter the temple. When they need the cradle, it is then that a new temple is built. If their marriage is not blessed with children, they don't lose their destiny; for even the familyroom is an altar, and on the kitchen door it is written, "Holiness to the Lord." And when there is no wedding, the school room, the studio are altars. For in His temple everyone says: Glory!
If it is the time for embrace, the incense burns for Him. But come the days that they are far from embracing, in their old age they shall bring forth fruit. They shall be fat and flourishing, to show that the Lord is upright. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory. The day of birth is good and no one may say that now it is no time to have children. Blessed is the man who builds his house and places the cradle near to Thy altar, O Lord my God. When comes the hour of death, He shall quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit Who dwells in us. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always aboudnig in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15: 58).
3. That is why God laid in Bethlehem the foundation of our gratitude for married life. For unto us is born a Saviour, also the Saviour of married life.
Gratitude. I am not calling up a catalogue of sins, neither a consideration of how a man can come to these. For I saw God come from Sinai to Bethlehem; I have seen my Lawgiver and Judge as the Father, full of grace and truth and wisdom. And the real sin against the seventh commandment is not a forced marriage, not a trip to the theatre, all that is wrong of course, but the real sin against the seventh commandment is unbelief. It is our great sin that we sing, "Glory to God", at Christmas, but pass by Bethlehem when the wedding announcements are printed. The thinking of our church people too must radically change. For most of us, the seventh commandment means, life in the nightclub, a forced marriage; things that give one a bad name before people. But they see not that those who sin are they who lay hands on human modesty, but those who negate the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Why are there excesses, that corrupt life, messing around at life's fountains? It is not because we don't know how to keep within bounds, did not know the limits; it is not because we had no more sense of decency, but it is because we have no faith, because we don't see God's temple anymore.
It is possible that someone often stumbles in that area; but when we know ourselves hidden in Christ Jesus, we have fulfilled the law, and not the man who keeps himself under control and very decently marries an unbeliever. Of the first it is whispered: "they" had to get married; of the other they said that it was such a cute couple and a fine wedding feast; but God's judgment is different.
That young people marry without having their Lord and Saviour is bad; also that the solemnization of marriage is requested by members before they have done confession of faith! That others marry with someone from another Church and do not care about the Church, see, that undermines life. That is much worse than that they had to get married. For is the Church not the temple of the Holy Ghost? How in the world can someone keep the seventh commandment and not care about the temple?
How can we stray that far? Is it the show? Bad books? The wrong friends? Ah, yes, it is all true. But we must begin closer to home: poor catechizing, lack of appreciation for the Church, unbelief! For the end of the law, Christ! is also in the seventhcommandment. That is why everyone who believes is righteous! He whobelieves that the Word became flesh, will get over his passions. Withstumbling, in difficult struggles, after much prayer; but he will succeed,for the Word will bring him there, the Word full of grace and truth! Forin his heart burns psalm 84, as de Merode sang of it:
O Lord, by Thy atoning sacrifice,
And the flame on altars burning,
It is my soul adoring cries,
While for thy salvation yearning.
Sunday, December 27, 1942.