(Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism, Vol.1. part 22) The Church of God Lord's Day 21 Psalter No. 166 St. 1, 2, 3 Read Rom. 9:6-33 Psalter No. 420 St. 3, 5 Psalter No. 280 St. 3, 4 Psalter No. 425 St. 4, 5, 6 Beloved, In the Song of Solomon Christ and His dearly purchased church vie together in praising each other. For certainly, in spite of what other commentaries say of this book, we must apply this book to Christ and the church. He is the Bridegroom, she is His bride, who has all her salvation and beauty in Christ, and receives it from Him. Hence whenever she is praised, it is only because of the glory with which He has arrayed her. The daughters of Jerusalem, who were no strangers to grace, but stood afar in the matter of appropriating by faith, often looked upon the bride in amazement, as those concerned about their state look upon the established ones when they may enjoy communion with Christ and may glory in Him by faith. This caused the daughters of Jerusalem to cry out in Chapter 6: "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" With increasing glory the daughters saw the beauty of the bride as that of the dawn, which after the dark of night casts its first beams of light upon the earth, as that of the moon which in full glory lightens the dark night, yea, as that of the sun which blinds us with its light. But how can so much praise be given to the bride of Christ? Has she not fallen as all men in Adam? Does she not carry within her the remnants of sin, that cause her to cry out continually, "I have a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind?" Yea, considered in themselves God's people are and remain poor sinners. But the bride of Christ receives her beauty in her Bridegroom. In Him she is perfect; He arrays her with the garments of salvation and covers her with the robe of righteousness; in Him she is pleasant to the Father and having communion with Him by faith she may display her beauty. Moreover, she is unconquerable; she is "terrible as an army with banners", as a well-organized army before whom no enemy, however mighty he may be, can stand. For the Lion out of the tribe of Judah has conquered, and in Him she is more than conqueror. May it be given us to see her in that glory and strength, both in her inward and in her visible appearance, as we now hear in the twenty-first Lord's Day of our Heidelberg Catechism what the church of God is and which benefits are granted her. This Lord's Day reads as follows: Lord's Day 21 Q. 54: What believest thou concerning the "holy catholic church" of Christ? A. That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof. Q. 55: What do you understand by "the communion of saints"? A. First, that all and every one, who believes, being members of Christ, are in common, partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts; secondly, that everyone must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members. Q. 56: What believest thou concerning "the forgiveness of sins"? A. That God, for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long; but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God. This Lord's Day deals with the Church of God and describes it I. in its essence II. in its spiritual unit III. in its special privilege. I The church of God exists; it has been from the beginning and it will be on earth until the end of the world. Immediately after the fall the Lord instituted His Church by saving Adam and Eve, and He shall maintain it on earth until it enters into eternal glory. This does not concern only its inward being, but also its visible manifestation. The church is invisible as concerns the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect. It is visible, since Zion's eternal King has given it the laws and ordinances by which it is known in this life as the church of God. The Papists know only a visible world church, but the Reformers always held that according to the Word of God the church must be considered as visible and invisible. Not all those that are in the visible church are true members of the church of Christ; and on the other hand some of God's children roam about outside of the visible church. As a result of the sad condition of the church they have withdrawn themselves to meet in conventicles outside of the church. They are segregated from the church; instead of doing their utmost to reform the church or instituting it anew, they reject it. Without the official ministry of the Word, without baptism for their children, without having the Lord's Supper, they agreed with the error of Darby that God has rejected His church. The sad results thereof should be bemoaned rather than computed. The Lord Jesus Himself commanded His church to show the Lord's death by the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine till He come, and that is possible only in the visible church. Therefore there shall always be, however dark the times may become, not only converted people on earth, but also a visible church, even as it has happened in days of bitter persecutions, they must meet in holes or caves. In the new Jerusalem, that is in heaven, there is no temple, there shall be no preaching; there the elders need not have the oversight anymore; there deacons shall not be needed. But as long as the world exists the church shall have a visible form in which the ordinances of God are observed, and as our Confession states, "Every one is bound to join himself to the true Church." Of that true church the Catechism says that it is holy, catholic and Christian. It is holy, because it is washed in the blood and by the Spirit of Christ. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." However black the church may be in itself, it is perfect in Christ, its Head, and by faith it partakes of His holiness. Drawn out of all nations it is catholic. The church of Rome unjustly calls itself the catholic church. It is a false church and does not merit the name catholic. Catholic or universal is the true church of God which partakes of Christ's anointing. Therefore it is also called the Christian Church, or the Church of Christ. It is the spiritual body of Christ. Although in its visible manifestation all those who belong to it by virtue of birth, baptism or confession. should be distinct from the world in their walk and conversation, yet only those who were taken out of their state of death and were made spiritually alive are the real members and compose the true church of God. They are the elect gathered by the Spirit and Word of God, agreeing in true faith. The elect! Is there then an election? Yes, as well as a reprobation. In predestination God has in eternity of His sovereign good pleasure determined who shall and who shall not be saved. He has appointed some to wrath and some to obtain salvation (I Thess. 5:9). "Jacob have I loved", said the Lord, "and Esau have I hated." Reprobation does not mean that God neglects those not elected and lets them lie in their destruction, but that before the foundation of the world He has determined to glorify His righteousness in them and His mercy in the elect. Just as foreseen faith or good works did not influence God's sovereign election, so the sins of the reprobate did not determine their reprobation. Against the Armenians who revived the error of Pelagius that had already been condemned in the fifth century, our fathers in Dort defended God's sovereignty. The creation and the fall, also determined by God, serve predestination which is the decree of God concerning the eternal state of rational creatures: angels and men. The elect angels are not chosen out of the fallen angels, why then should men be chosen out of fallen men as the Infralapsarians hold. The Lord Jesus thanked the Father for both the election and reprobation, and ascribes both of God's pleasure, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight." The election then is no act of God's mercy, nor the reprobation an act of His justice, but predestination is of pure sovereignty. "Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." This decree of God is eternal and immutable. No reprobate shall inherit salvation, even if he sought with tears a place of repentance, as Esau did; no elect shall be lost, even if, as Paul, he was the chief of sinners. "Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, 'The Lord knoweth them that are His.'" Hence it is unchangeably decreed in God's eternal counsel who shall be saved and who shall not be saved. "My counsel shall stand," says the Lord, "and I will do all my pleasure." Hence the election is not general, not all people are elected to be saved, as Paul teaches clearly in Romans 9. "Many are called," says the Lord in Matthew 20, "but few are chosen." We ourselves therefore do not determine our eternal state, but God has decided it from eternity. That is the great abomination of Arminianism, that it takes the right to determine our eternal destiny out of God's hand to place it in man's hands. Man does not take a step on earth outside of God's plan; would God then not determine his eternal lot? But would it not be better to say nothing in the pulpit about predestination, but preach only that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners? Do we not give men an excuse that misuse predestination, and while hastening on the road of sin say "Of what use is our church attendance, prayer and Bible reading if I am not elected, and if I am, God will bring me there at the right time." No, my beloved, no! The foundation of the preaching of the gospel is undermined if predestination does not govern all the preaching, since not for all people, but only for the elect did Christ die, arise, and ascend to heaven, and He applies salvation only to them who were given Him by the Father. As far as the abuse of this comforting doctrine is concerned, it is both unreasonable and wicked. Nobody talks or acts that way in natural matters. It is in vain to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, if the Lord withholds His blessing. Yet nobody who takes his business to heart says, "If God wills it, the matters will come about, but if He does not, all my efforts will be in vain." If in temporal matters we use with all our powers the means God has ordained, much more should we use the means God has ordained to our salvation. Moreover, no one standing before God's judgment seat will plead, "I was not elected." Or do you think Esau, Saul, and Judas could make a fig leaf of their reprobation before God? Were they not lost because of their own sin, although they by their wickedness executed God's counsel? God shall judge us by our actions; yea, they shall give account of every idle word that men shall speak. Those that despise the means given for salvation shall one day hear, "Ye would not." The doctrine of predestination does not make men careless and profane, but it acknowledges each person's full responsibility for all his deeds, words, and thoughts. It is also a comfort for God's children. The foundation of their salvation lies above the reach of every enemy. In their heart Satan and sin and many enemies may attack them so that the posts shake; but the ground of their salvation is immovable, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom. He has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world unto the adoption of children to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will. Would you then tamper with predestination? be silent about it? God's people are saved because God wills it, and their only boast is, "In Thy favour our horn shall be exalted." May it more and more become their glory, "Thy sovereign grace is e'er our fortress and our tower." According to this firm, unchangeable predestination, the Son of God gathers His church by His Spirit and Word. He sends His servants out unto the end of the world, praying the sinner as though God did beseech him by them, "Be ye reconciled to God." That preaching of the Word works divine miracles. No, not of itself. The external call is a privilege given by God, but our enmity against salvation by grace is so great that the external call alone cannot make us come to Christ. It is the Spirit that quickens and makes the word effective to salvation in the hearts of the elect. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." By that Spirit "the arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies whereby the people fall under Him." Yea, even the rebellious shall dwell with Him. In the wickedness of our heart we can resist the external call of the Word, but in the internal call God the Holy Spirit works irresistibly to salvation when He opens the heart as in Lydia. Thus the church is gathered by His Spirit and Word. It pleases God the Holy Spirit to make use of the Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. By the foolishness of preaching, which is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, it has pleased God to save those that believe. Oh, that the Church of God would shout the Word to the ends of the earth and bring the gospel to the blind heathen. Support the missions so that one generation of the heathens after another be not lost. For how shall they believe if they have not heard? From the beginning of the earth to the end Christ gathers His church in that way. He will never use another way. That binds us to the means. God's people are also built up in that way in the most holy faith and in Communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and also in exercising the communion with the saints, upon which the second question of Lord's Day 21 lets its light fall. We view there the church of God II in its spiritual unity. To the question, What do you understand by "the communion of saints?" the instructor answers "First, that all and everyone who believes, being members of Christ, are in common, partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts; secondly, that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members." The well spring of the communion of saints among each other lies in the communion with the Lord Christ and with all His riches and gifts. That is the fountain of life and vitality for the true members of the church. That is the portion of the members of Christ's body, of them who by the grace of Christ are called out of death to life. By nature we do not belong to the body of Christ; out of our covenant head Adam we all brought with us an eternal enmity against God and against His Anointed. We do not want to be saved by Christ; we are enemies of free grace. But that is the quickening act of which all God's people became partakers, that the Lord cut them out of the old stock and grafted them in Christ, conquered them in His eternal love and killed their enmity. Since that time they are partakers of all the riches and gifts of the Mediator. However much hell tries to deny this fact and accused Job of serving God for temporary advantages, however much he attacks the church, and the world calls it a hypocrite, although all within and without try to tear the bond laid by God between Christ and the church, He that sits in heaven laughs. They are vain attempts of those that hate Him. Who shall pluck the elect out of the Mediator's hands? Salvation lies immovably firm in a Triune God. It shall remain the bulwark against which every attack of the enemy shall utterly fail, that in the Lord's right hand there are pleasures for evermore. No, the firmness of salvation does not lie in our hand. If God's people had to hold on to Christ, they would be lost; they would faint at the moment; even those who are led farthest in grace would be lost. But now, since the foundation lies in God, oh, take courage, all ye who are called by Christ Himself; He sustains His church with His hand. This should cause the church to seek the stability of its salvation outside of self. The church often loses her comfort because she measures God's love by her feeling of grace, and thinks her salvation is firm in her feeling, more than by faith in God. How necessary and how profitable it is especially in these dark days that we stir each other up, and that the truth of God drives us out of ourselves that we may find our rest and life in Christ alone. Truly the blessed comfort that our communion with Christ is unbreakable and that we are partakers of His riches and gifts would flow abundantly to us. The riches of Christ are so great. He is given us of the Father for wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. Although God's children wander like sheep, He shall cause them to walk upon a way in which fools shall not err. The people that walk in darkness shall see a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them shall the light shine. In those riches of Christ the black ones are comely and the poor, guilty sinner is rich. Truly God's people usually live on too low a plane. The world seeks to attain a higher plane, grasps for more. It is a sad state which shall be bemoaned more and more, that kingdoms and peoples, rich and poor, live on a higher plane than they should, even under the judgments of God. But God's children live too low. They have been endowed with eternal riches and gifts; all the millions, and billions, and trillions are nothing compared to what is given to God's children. All is yours and ye are Christ's and Christ is God's. Let man worry about his earthly possessions, whether hard times will cast him into poverty and misery; whether robbery, war, fire, earthquake or whatever it may be will bereave him of his goods; God's people need not fear; their portion is safe in the Father's house whence Christ went to prepare their place. Their goods shall not decrease, their riches cannot be emptied, because they are in Christ and they have communion with Him. Out of that communion with Christ as the Head of His church, flows forth the communion of God's children toward each other, since they are one body. That communion is spiritual, and its love surpasses the love of women. Moses loved His people and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Does not that communion with God's people flow out of the communion with Christ? It was the same with Ruth when she, in contradistinction to Orpah, and in spite of the outlook of poverty and a dark future, made he choice, not to be repented of, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." Ahab the harlot may also serve as a proof. She forsook her people and her idols, and "by faith she perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace." And all in whom God's grace is glorified know something of that fellowship with those that fear the Lord. The choice of Moses, Ahab, Ruth and David becomes the choice of them all. "See how they love one another." They see God's image restored in them, they are the saints of the most High. They learn to love each other in Christ, and are one body with Him. This also calls them to employ their gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and salvation of other members. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. The Lord Himself said, "The poor always ye have with you," and there are times when because of oppressions this word of the apostle is especially applicable, "Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Moreover, the children of God must teach each other spiritually and employ their gifts for the advantage and salvation of others, and let their light shine in the world to provoke them to jealousy. The Lord especially grants official gifts to those whom He calls to serve His church as elder, or deacon, or minister. With what a diversity God gives those gifts. Let no man despise what God granted. We are so prone to bury the talent God gave; it is so small, others have much greater talents and graces. But hear not only what Christ says reprovingly in the parable of the talents, but also what Paul teaches in I Cor. 12: "If the foot shall say, 'Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body', is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, 'Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body', is it therefore not of the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of thee.' Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary." Thus every one is called to employ his gifts for the benefit of others. He should work with his gifts in the place and in the circumstances in which God puts him. That calling can be terribly difficult, so difficult that we would cast off from our shoulders that which God laid upon them, so that a deacon here or an elder there, or a minister yonder would leave because of discouragement; or, if you will, a gracious person would rather withdraw himself from life than make his voice to be heard where he should. What then sustains the upright? What gives their soul so much liberty in faith? The strengthening of the Holy Spirit; He, the Comforter takes from the fulness of Christ and distributes to them that are His as He wills. Those gifts every one is called to employ readily and cheerfully for the advantage and salvation of the other members. "The necessity is laid upon me;" writes Paul, "Yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation is committed unto me." God grant us something of that ready willingness so that these gifts may be as spikenard, sending forth a good smell. We would partake more of Christ's propitiatory death if we would heed this holy calling more conscientiously. How the special privilege given to the church of God would be embraced by faith. That special privilege we would now consider as it is discussed in Question 56. III What believest thou concerning the forgiveness of sins? That God, for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long; but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God. In these words the Catechism describes the benefit the church enjoys namely, the forgiveness of sins. Soon, in Lord's Day 23, we shall be taught that the profit of faith is the justification of the sinner before God, and thus the forgiveness of sins by faith will be discussed more extensively, especially the way in which this takes place. Here the instructor only wants to show us the forgiveness of sins as a blessing which is enjoyed only by God's elect church. In the explanation given we see first of all that God forgives sins. No one outside of Him can free us from sins committed against Him. All papal indulgences and priestly absolutions have no value in heaven, but is a caricature, mocking the true forgiving of sins. Even the Pharisees understood that God alone can forgive sins. When Christ said to the sick of the palsy, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee," they made the remark, "Who can forgive sins but God only?" Christ did not contradict them, but showed them that not as *a*, but as *the* Son of man He was very God, and therefore, as the Messiah sent by the Father, by Whom God one day would judge the world, has power on earth to forgive sins. Only God's acquittal shall free us from guilt and punishment. "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Thus in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. Forgiving sins does not mean that God overlooks sins. When we people, forgive each other, we do it to our equals, who are just as corrupt and guilty as we are. God is above us and over against us as Judge. His justice demands satisfaction for the wrong committed; acquittance of punishment can only occur when perfect, satisfaction is rendered to the violated justice. God could not remain God if He dropped even one penny from the demand of full payment. God cannot be satisfied with anything less than full payment. That full payment is given by God Himself; never, no, never could man weigh up anything to God's justice. God gave His Only begotten, the Son was anointed in eternity. Out of sovereign love He took upon Himself to weigh the ransom into His Father's hand. He gave satisfaction in the fulness of time. Because God's justice cannot make adjustments, Christ had to drink the cup of God's wrath to the last drop, without any mitigation. Therefore His soul was sorrowful unto death and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground; therefore He hung on the cross as an accursed one, and He was forsaken of God, while the sun was darkened at noon as in such a manner as no natural sun eclipse can take place; therefore He had to die the ignominious, painful and cursed death of the cross. In one word, He had to suffer everything to which His people were subject eternally so that He could say, "It is finished." Then God's justice was satisfied. In the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Father showed that He was satisfied with the sacrifice brought. Christ is raised for our justification. The quittance has been given; pardon has been proclaimed from heaven. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? This only is the ground of the forgiveness of sins. Since God by God Himself has been satisfied, the sins of a sinner that is lost in Adam can be forgiven by a gracious pardon without any merits of his own. But then Christ's righteousness must become ours. It is not ours by nature and does not become ours by bringing up and instruction in the truth; it is not to be laid hold on by human strength. The application of His righteousness is the work of Christ as well as the meriting. If the sinner can say in truth that God for the sake of Christ's satisfaction will no more remember his sins, then that must be the testimony of faith, founded in the work of the Holy Spirit by which the lost sinner is ingrafted in Christ. God comes to the sinner acquainting him with his sins; He opens his eyes to see the way he is traveling and persuades him that that way leads to eternal perdition. Oh, what distress is here experienced. God's justice demands payment, and the harder the uncovered sinner works, the greater his guilt becomes. Every day the debt is greater, every hour the judgment more just. There is no escape. If those weary souls could but look to Jesus! But it is as if they had never heard of Jesus; they go to their broken pitchers, that hold no water, until as totally undone, they bow under the justice of God, and agree perfectly that they deserve eternal death, and give up all hope in themselves and in all creatures. They must come to that place ere Jesus shall come into their soul; but the Lord does not leave His people there in distress. The Sun of righteousness arises, the Surety of the covenant reveals Himself. In Him, oh, in Him is righteousness to pay all debts, in Him there is a possibility to be saved. What a joyful hope now fills the heart of the dejected sinner. There is a way to be reconciled to God. That way was closed for the soul before; that reconciliation was considered impossible, but now it is revealed in Christ. How precious He becomes to everyone that believes, and with what kindly invitation does He urge all that are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. Oh, how can that reconciliation with the Father seem so far away. It seems to be spoken to the concerned soul as it was to Lot when he was led out of Sodom, "Haste thee, escape thither." For there can be no rest until the sinner has entered the Zoar of safety. If you want me to say it with other words, God's people can be afraid because their soul fears they are not truly partakers of Christ. A common conviction can go so far; the wife of Lot died on the road to safety. As long as God does not seal the true communion with Christ to the sinner and cast his sins into the depths of the sea, until then the fear always comes back that all shall still be found wanting. Although the Lord sustains the soul with the promise that He will not forsake the work of His own hands, the lively yearning remains for the testimony of God's perfect satisfaction in Christ's sacrifice, not only for others but also for me. Then, then we embrace that God by faith, Who for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, has forgiven all our sins, and will not remember our corrupt nature against which God's children have to struggle all their life. If the Lord looked upon His people in themselves they would be lost. But He looks upon them in Christ and forgives their sins, also those which cleave unto them continually. Oh, then their soul finds rest; then they sing the hymn of praise which we shall sing from Psalm 103, Psalter No. 280 St. 3 and 4: "Yea, the Lord is full of mercy," etc. Application And so the church of God is still on earth, even in our dark days, and it will remain here until the judgment day. Do not listen to them who say, "There is no church anymore." How guilty even God's children make themselves by withdrawing from the church and by not employing their gifts for the advantage of others. They could in the various offices which Christ has ordained serve the church well. But they withdraw themselves and prefer to gather with their family and a few friends in their house instead of gathering in God's house. I say this to their shame. Seek with your children to come faithfully under the preaching of the Word, and to join yourself to the church to which you already belong by birth and baptism. You cannot remain baptismal members. Confirm by your confession that you do not wish to leave the church, but perpetuate in confession and conversation the blessing God gave you of being reckoned to belong to His visible church. Let the consistories arouse, admonish and urge baptismal members to do so. A baptismal member is a minor for whom the parents are responsible. When however you assume responsibility for yourself, you are obliged to join yourself to the church, or else you withdraw from the church and choose the world for your portion, treading upon a way that surely will lead to destruction. Oh, young men and young women, do not despise the statutes of the Lord. Must everyone then who makes confession, be regarded as regenerated? Far from it. God made you a member of the visible church by birth and baptism, and in making confession you declare that you want to remain that. Could the Lord have made a mistake when He made you a member when you were still unconverted? That is not possible, and therefore we need not consider every confessing member to be regenerated. The church is, as is said of the Kingdom of heaven, as a group of five wise and five foolish virgins, as a field in which wheat and tares grow, as a threshing floor upon which wheat and tares lie, as a net in which good and bad fish are. They who want a church of converted people only fall into the objectionable doctrine of DeLabadie. But everyone must search himself whether he is a living member of the church. For one day the Lord shall come with the fan in His hand and thoroughly purge His floor. Oh, unconverted members of the visible church, how terrible your lot shall be then. The chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire, and your lot shall be with the wicked forever in the fire that shall not be quenched. Were they not all Israelites of whom it is written, "But with many of them God was not well pleased"? I pray you, do not rest upon your membership in the visible church, but let the necessity of regeneration weigh upon your heart. Life and death is placed before you from Sabbath to Sabbath in the pure preaching of the Word of God. Would you just lay that serious preaching beside you and think no more about it? Are your thoughts during the preaching and your conversation at the close of the service only about worldly things? How then shall the ministry of God's testimony ever work upon your conscience? You are withdrawing yourself from its influence. Do not lay the blame upon God then if you live on unconverted, although it is only free grace if the Word is sanctified to you for salvation. Testify here before God whether the Lord did not faithfully warn you about your approaching destruction and invite you to salvation in Christ. If you cannot justify yourself before the bar of the gospel, how will you acquit yourself before God's judgment seat? Do not let your poor soul be misled with the advice that has become so common, "Just believe and be converted." May the Lord use His Word, baptism and confessing members of His visible church to discover to you the state of your misery. May one day the arrow that Christ shoots from the bow in His hand strike you so that you leave the church crying, "It is lost." Oh, may we never lose sight of the necessity of the knowledge of our misery, the necessity of becoming a living member of the church by regenerating grace, so that all the benefits God has bestowed on us will not testify against us in the day of days. Do not use sovereign election and reprobation as a fig leaf. God's eternal council shall surely be fulfilled, but we fulfill it, and one day we shall be judged according to our sins. Oh, how our conscience shall then gnaw as a worm in the fire that shall not be quenched, and reproach us saying, "Your own fault, your own fault." May God sanctify to your heart the benefit He gave you of belonging to His visible church and living under His Word to your salvation. He gathers His elect by His Spirit and Word. Oh, what a change when God the Holy Spirit makes His Word fruitful and regenerates one by that Word as by an incorruptible seed. Let God's dear people testify how they left the church as never before, how they knew themselves as lost before God. Their judgment was pronounced, and still the preaching of Christ for the salvation of sinners drew them to God's house. The church is born out of eternity, receives the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake and is prepared for eternal glory in spite of Satan, the world and sin. May it be given to the church while losing its own life, to glory in Him of Whom the apostle testifies, "Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had fore prepared unto glory. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments, and his ways past finding out!" God's people may say with Bunyan, "All the bells of heaven will toll, when I enter." "Thou art the glory of their strength, and in Thy favour our horn shall be exalted." Amen. (continued in part 23...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc1-22.txt .