Lord's Day 44 (1944) - 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, June 4, 1944
Tonight we must deal with the tenth commandment. The last of the laws of the Lord.
But really, here it begins. Only now in earnest. For here Christ asks from us our hearts. He requires our heart by full obedience to all the law, all the commandments. Not just a single one. "That not even the slightest inclination or thought contrary to any of God's commandments shall ever rise in our heart". That is how seriously the Lord will have His commandments preached.
The tenth commandment is the last in the series. But now it becomes first: God requires here not this or that, but He says: My son, give me your heart. Tonight I cannot say with a light heart: well, this is the last for a whole year; now the preaching of the law is again behind us. For when God speaks the last commandment, He makes me begin anew with the first. Now He approaches me with His whole law and I cannot any longer escape. It becomes so very clean cut here. Only now I understand: with man it is impossible. No one can keep them in this life.
Indeed, beloved! God is great. Great as lawgiver. Someone who writes laws here on earth is with the last article in his law-book never finished. He forgot some possibilities, he underestimated smart lawyers and law dodgers. He begins to modify, he fills in; he begins with ten definitions, then twenty, and a little later there are a hundred or more. His lawbook gets fatter all the time, so complicated that he himself does not know exactly what it says. And it still is not complete. But God is great. He starts with the first, He continues until the tenth. But the tenth refers directly back to the first. There is no gap, there are no deficiencies. When He speaks the last word, it is again the first word: no one escapes Him. Especially, when He speaks the last commandment, He loads the first with all the power of His Sovereign majesty. Now there is no article superfluous, each commandment is now burdened with the high tension of the absolute: give me your heart.
He requires perfection, but no one is able to give it. He asks fulfillment of the law and the most holy says: I am only beginning. That is why Psalm 76 says: Thou even Thou art to be feared: and who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry? What else can we do but hide? Flee from this God who demands the heart? But Psalm 76 is a remarkable Psalm: When God arose to judgment ...". We would say: that is the end; we will all perish; even the most holy will be lost. But Psalm 76 says more: When God arose to judgment to save all the meek of the earth". When the Lord issues the absolute law and is going to judge accordingly, that is our complete redemption. He is just, but therefore He declares just those who are of the faith of Jesus.
Do not forget: the God of the tenth commandment is the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Is it not always the Lord Jesus Who teaches and preaches the ten commandments; and He does that for our complete redemption? Also when He confronts us with the tenth commandment, is not His Name still Jesus, that is Saviour?
We are dealing here with the gratitude that the Lord demands of us. But gratitude is not a new thing apart from redemption; no, in gratitude the Lord Jesus completes our redemption. Not that we do Him a service in return; it is not we ourselves who do good works. It is Christ Who works them in us. For what I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. That is how in the tenth commandment we return to that grand Lord's Day 32. Why must we do good works? "Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits."
Why must I show gratitude to God with my whole heart? Therefore that Christ not only delivered me in my heart by His blood but He also renews me by His Spirit after His image in my heart: therefore that He makes my heart like unto His own pure heart, so that I will what He wills. Tonight, we proclaim not yourself, but Jesus Christ the Lord Who brings me to praise Him in Spirit and Truth: With all my heart will I record thy praise, O Lord. O bless the Lord my soul, with all thy power. Let all within me bless His holy Name......
So we proclaim Christ as complete Savioiur, because He requires my heart of me. He asks my heart:
1. that I would sacrifice my heart to God.
2. that I myself would assure my heart before Him.
3. that I would give my heart to my fellowman.
1. What does the tenth commandment require of us? That even the slightest inclination or thought contrary to any of God's commandments shall never rise in our heart; but that at all times we shall hate all sin with our whole heart and delight in all righteousness.
Indeed, the whole of the law becomes very absolute. Now it is not only negative: Not even the slightest inclination or thought contrary to any of God's commandments... Even that is impossible. Not the least inclination... That means; that I may not have the least doubt; that I may not even think of what is lacking in the worship service; that there may not be the least lack of reverence toward the Name of God; that I must always be happy when it is time to go to Church; that there may not be a germ of rebellion and lack of love or unchaste thoughts and jealousy...
Is it not so? This one thing is already more than enough. The door of hope is now locked for us. For my heart is deceitful, yes, deadly, more than anything. Sinful desire is there before I know it.
But then the positive stands beside it: a desire to all righteousness. Look at all the commandments: this means that I will be full of faith and the Holy Spirit; that in my heart burns the right incense; that I hallow God's Name; that my heart witnesses: my thirsty soul longs earnestly, Yea, faints Thy holy courts to see. It is not just that I do not think of revolution but that I uphold authority in this world as being that of the Anointed of the Lord. I never thought about murder. But I must have a desire to all righteousness; I must love the neighbour as myself. Not just live beside him and behave correctly toward him, but for the rest be indifferent, no I must seek his good with all my heart. I may not think of other women but I must love my wife as Christ loved the Church. But who can live like that?
The things of the Lord may not become habitual, no outward formalism in serving the Lord: everything must be Spirit and Truth... And my fellowman: I may not be against him, I may not be indifferent toward him, I must fervently love him from a pure heart. Formal politeness nor good manners will suffice, neither good behaviour, nor nice words. The Lord says; my son, give the neighbour your heart. With every word, each gesture, each greeting my heart must seek his heart.
But if that is the way the commandment comes to us, how can the Name of the Judge and Lawgiver be Jesus, that is, Saviour? I know, He shed His blood for me. He now has a right to my heart, I know it. But I cannot give it to Him. He demands from me what I cannot do.
I would despair of the tenth commandment if it meant I had to begin here. If it meant that after Calvary it is up to me and that love must now come from me. But if it meant that there is no more hope from Calvary. Then the cross is without effect. For I never will move by myself. I will not be redeemed unless Christ alone does it. Unless He does it all.
But He is a complete Saviour. He does not remain at Calvary, He moves from Good Friday to Easter and Pentecost. Did we not hear last week that He renews us by His Spirit? He writes the law in our heart. Also this tenth commandment. He demands the heart. But He moves me by His Spirit to give it to Him. My innermost heart became a temple of the Spirit.
And now occurs the wonder: He demands my heart and I am going to give it Him. I don't do that because I am so pious or so grateful. I do it because He is Jesus, Saviour. I do it not because He redeemed me but because that is why Heredeemed me.
I give my heart to the Lord, doing that is nothing special. I do not need to boast about it. But the great wonder is that I give my heart to the Lord, and yet not I, for Christ lives in me. And He works it in me.
But now it does happen, now I can do it, now I will do it; "With all my heart wil I record Thy praise. O Lord." The first commandment is too much for me: that I rightly acknowledge the only true God, trust in Him alone, submit to him with all humility, and patience, expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honour Him with my whole heart. And yet, Lord Thou knowest that I love Thee. Thou, Thyself moved my heart. It is such a great wonder; I kneel before Thee in the house that Thou hast built. My heart would not, My knees would not. And yet, here I am lying prostrate before Thee. For Thou art Jesus, the Saviour.
Thou hast taken me and made me kneel. When I open the Bible, yes, when I go outside with my children, O, I have to say it: O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! Not because I am so pious, but Thou hast given me the anointing of the Holy One. When Sunday is there, I do not understand: but my heart rejoices. I consecrate the Day of Rest with Psalms to His glory. That is not from me. No, but the Lord through His power makes my heart rejoice. I shall, ravished with delight, exult in the works of Thy hands. And so with all the commandments: I give my heart to Him.
I do it, for I can do it and will do it. He makes me do it.
No, I don't forget question 114; can it really be done? The tenth commandment demands perfection. In its light, answer 114 is truly sober. For there the truth is realized: those who are converted to God cannot wholly keep the commandments. The most holy in this life have only a beginning of this obedience.
That is again the terrible reality of Romans 7; the good that I would, I do not. There is a beginning but never perfection. There is an intention that never becomes reality. Over against "I can" there is always "I cannot"; over against the will to do it, the will not to do it. You know that from your own life. Those two are not even in balance. The principle of obedience is very small even with the most holy among us. It is still a minimum. Over against that there is a whole reality of a massive disobedience. There are workings of the Spirit but the flesh desires the opposite. Christ sheds powers from above in us, but over against those powers are the powers from beneath and they are the stronger.
That is what you must see with the tenth commandment: God desires that the Spirit shall conquer the flesh. But in this life remains the reality that until the last second, the flesh will continue to conquer.
Now it is no more an academic question but it is a vital question: why has the Lord commanded to preach the ten commandments in such a severe manner? He demands the absolute, and we can show no more than a small beginning. Shall we not go and flee from before Him? When it is true that the new man daily suffers defeat in its warfare against the old man, when the first fruit of the Spirit is again and again overgrown by the desire of the flesh, is it not hopeless? Yet, why has the Lord the law preached in such a severe manner?
Now you must listen well. Christ is a perfect Saviour. He completes our redemptionm by having the law preached in such severe a manner. For, it says here, He does not say it to drive us away from Him. The tenth commandment drives us back to Christ again and again. He says this, that knowing our sinful nature, we would be more desirous to seek our righteousness in Christ. And so the severe preaching of the law is good news for all of us. God will keep us close to Christ. Is He not truly Jesus, the Saviour? Of myself I do not keep close to Him. Everything will yet go wrong if He does not keep and protect me by His obtained redemption. And when the powers of the Spirit in my heart meet with the powers of the flesh, when I suffer defeat again and again, Christ comes to me with that severe law. But just because that law is so very severe, I have only one place left, and that is Jesus Christ. When I, who by the tenth commandment am called to conquer, but am defeated hour after hour, Who have I else but Him Who is my victory? He demands of those that are fallen that they shall not fall. He demands perfection from beginners. Praise the Lord! Now I can never stand alone, never stand on my own two feet. After the tenth commandment there is only one way out:
Lord, where shall I go?
Only Thee I know.
Thou shalt not cast us off!
Let God be praised. He demands what I cannot do. Now I must go to Christ. That is my deliverance. We are a long way past Lord's Day 4. Yes, but that is because since Lord's Day 4 we heard everything about Jesus Christ. Lord's Day 4 also touches on the question of not being able. "Does not God, then, wrong man by requiring of him in His law that which he cannot perform?"
Then the answer was negative. But at that time the question was contemplated whether the Lord was not unrighteous. But now all the riches of Christ have been proclaimed to me. I am again faced with the same question: God demands what I cannot do. But here in Lord's Day 44 the Catechism rises triumphantly above the problem posited in Lord's Day 4. Is God unrighteous to make this demand? In no way! It is His redemption. He demands what I cannot do. But He does that to keep me close to Christ. This commandment drives me on without any letting up. It drives me to pray for the Spirit and when I have received the Spirit, I am more and more renewed. And I continue on the road awaiting perfection. God be praised: again He drives me on. He leaves me not alone. But He allures me with the prospect that at one time I shall serve Him in perfection. I know I will reach that goal.
Through the law the Lord makes my tardy feet move once again. Praised be the God of the tenth commandment: He proclaims my sinful nature to keep me close to Christ. He proclaims my impotence that I should pray for the power of the Spirit. He tells me I am only at the beginning in order that I shall continue unto the end. He does not discourage me, but He gives more strength to those who lack power. I am still far from home, but God says it only so I will run faster. That is how I keep on going. Every day anew He demands my heart, the preaching of the law is severe. Yes, but this preaching is the seed of regeneration and food for the soul. What He began in me by the promise, He continues to work by admonishing and threats. He says I am only at the beginning. But by saying this, He brings me another step on the road. It is a long way, but the tenth commandment is my food. I know that after this life, I shall attain unto the expected perfection, for my God will take me there, the God of the tenth commandment. That is how daily He prepares for Himself more of the sacrifice of my heart.
2. And that is how we also assure our hearts before him. For you know this: Christ renews us by His Spirit so that each of us may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof. Our hearts are restless within us. By sin it has lost its foundation. But Christ Jesus came into the world and shed His blood for us. He is the peace of my heart. Through His cross He fills me with peace that keeps my heart.
But over against the restgiving power of Christ's blood there is always in this life that fearful power of sin. But Christ will give me perfect peace. That is why He says in the tenth commandment: my son, give me your heart. When we do that we assure our hearts before Him. John says it so beautiful: we assure our hearts before him, exactly in doing good works (1 John 3: 19). And so we have boldness to God whenever we pray.
But the commandment is absolute and our works are relative. The law is perfect, but the obedience of the most holy among us is but a small beginning. Our heart is not yet united to the fear of God's Name. But there are issues from the heart to God that make it peaceful and certain. But there are also issues from the heart that are unto evil. Then our hearts condemn us. And to that, between resting, and restless heart, comes the Lord with His law. And that law is so absolute. It makes me restless. This preaching of the law would make us for always restless if it did not come from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is to say, God makes our heart restless by the law so that again and again we should seek for rest with Christ.
Beloved, praise be to the God Who makes us restless with the tenth commandment. See how He drives us in the arms of Christ. He brings us in the rest. For yes, our heart condemns us. But - it is again John who tells us - God is more than our heart. For He condemns in order to make us free and renew us by the Holy Spirit. He makes us restless only that we should enter into His rest.
See how great a gift it is that He gave us in the tenth commandment. My heart condemns me now, louder than ever before. But the end of this unrest is the awaited perfection after this life, the rest that remains for the people of God.
3. Indeed, Christ is here our perfect Saviour. He teaches me to give my heart to my fellowman. The law is preached in all its severity: not the slightest inclination or thought against my neighbour may arise in my heart. I must give all my heart, completely. Now I see the great misery in our life. We speak polite words to the neighbour, but our heart is far from him. We make pious wishes, but what is the use, when our heart is closed?
Oh, if we only could bow again to the tenth commandment. Could we do that for a single hour in Church: we would find each other back in an instant. We are so formally correct, but often so heartless and cynical. We don't understand each other anymore because we withdraw our hearts from each other. Indeed, a small beginning of obedience.
But the commandment is absolute: my little children let us not love with the word, just with the tongue. Give your hearts to each other.
Now is there the naked abyss of our life: the most holy among us know only the beginning. The intentions are good, but the results are so meager.
Is there still hope that it may change? We don't know. And our stiff heart does not help us in this predicament. The Lord has His law preached in a severe manner. Why is that? In order that these saints who are as yet so unholy, would again come to Christ. With all our lack of love we must go back to Christ. With us not being able to understand each other, with us not willing to appreciate each other. But the law drives all of us into the arms of Christ. But then, it happens again: again we are renewed and we travel on the road to that perfection that awaits us. And now I see how absolute the law is: I understand, the end of the law is Christ to justification of everyone that believeth. Christ a complete Saviour, precisely because He has the law preached in such a severe manner. "Let all within me bless His holy Name!"
Sunday, June 4, 1944.