(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 5)

Of the Keys of the Kingdom

Lord's Day 31

Psalter No. 131 st. 1, 2
Read Isaiah 22
Psalter No. 349 st. 2, 3, 4
Psalter No. 338 st. 1, 2
Psalter No. 213 st. 5, 6


    What a significant, probing question the Lord Jesus placed before
Peter when in Matth. 16:15 He asked, "But whom say ye that I am?" A
pertinent question. Each one of us must know personally what our
relationship is to Christ, and whether we have learned to know Him as
very God and very man and also perfectly righteous. Of ourselves we
have not that knowledge. That was evident in the opinion of many
concerning the Messiah that had come. They esteemed Him very highly, in
opposition to the Sanhedrin, filled with enmity, who sought to destroy
Him. Some thought He was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Others
thought He was Elias. Still others that He was Jeremiah, or one of the
    What a contrast was the testimony of Simon Peter, when the Lord
asked His disciples, "But whom say ye that I am?" He answered, "Thou
art the Christ, the son of the living God." This answer was the
testimony of true saving faith, which acknowledges the Lord Jesus as
the promised Messiah, embracing and worshipping Him, not only as the
Son of man, but also as the Son of God. Such is the Mediator we need
Who is very God and a real righteous man. Flesh and blood does not
teach us to know Him, but as the Lord Himself said to Peter, "My
Father, Which is in heaven, has revealed it unto thee." He reveals it
to all those who learn to know Him by faith. However busy Martha was
with her work, so much so that she was offended with Mary who had
chosen the good part, sitting at Jesus' feet; yet she cried out, "Yea,
Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, Which should
come into the world." If God's people, brought to an end of all their
attempts to satisfy the justice of God by their works, may see by faith
Him Who has given by the Father, they all acknowledge, "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God." Here lies the dividing line
between. the 'almost' Christian and the true knowledge by faith of the
eternal and complete Savior. As soon as Christ testified to the Jews
that He was the Son of God, they reviled Him as a blasphemer, they
wanted to stone Him and cast Him headlong down a precipice. The high
priest rent his garment, and declared Him to be guilty of death. But by
faith God's people acknowledge Him, as He truly is: The Son of God.
Only in this way do we ascribe divine honour and adoration to Him, not
according to His human nature as the Romish church glorifies that
nature, and "the holy heart of Jesus", in particular; but as God, shall
His people eternally glorify Him. Indeed, as God's own and natural Son,
He gave the sacrifice of His soul and body an infinite value. The
confession of Peter, therefore, is the foundation upon which the church
is built; not upon Peter, not upon the pope who wrongly calls himself
the successor of Peter, but upon this "petra". Calvin correctly
remarked that this petra is a feminine word, and hence distinct from
Peter. The confession, or acknowledgment by faith of the Messiah as the
Son of God, is the firm foundation of God's Church and the gates of
hell shall not prevail against it. According to that confession, the
Lord said to Peter, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in
heaven." The power of the keys to bind and to loose, is given to the
church of God. God judges according to it. Here the unconcerned and
hardened can ridicule it, but if it is faithfully administered, the
power of the keys shall be in force in heaven, so that they who are
excluded shall not obtain salvation, and to those who are included, the
eternal salvation of Christ shall be imputed. These keys of the kingdom
of heaven are now spoken of in the thirty-first Lord's Day, which we
wish to consider, and in which the instructor accordingly asks and
    Lord's Day 31
Q. 83: What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?

A. The preaching of the Holy Gospel, and Christian discipline, or
    excommunication out of the Christian church; by these two, the
    kingdom of heaven is opened to believers, and shut against

Q. 84: How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of
    the Holy Gospel?

A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ, it is declared and
    publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they
    receive the promise of the Gospel by a true faith, all their sins
    are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ's merits;
    and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all
    unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand
    exposed to the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as
    they are unconverted: according to which testimony of the Gospel,
    God will judge them, both in this, and in the life to come.

Q. 85: How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by Christian

A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ, those, who under the
    name of Christians, maintain doctrines, or practices inconsistent
    therewith, and will not, after having been often brotherly
    admonished, renounce their errors and wicked course of life, are
    complained of to the church, or to those, who are thereunto
    appointed by the church; and if they despise their admonition, are
    by them forbidden the use of the sacraments; whereby they are
    excluded from the Christian church, and by God Himself from the
    kingdom of Christ; and when they promise and show real amendment,
    are again received as members of Christ and His church.
    This Lord's Day therefore, speaks of the keys of the kingdom of
heaven. The instructor tells us:
      I. what they are;
     II. how the preaching of the Gospel shuts and opens; and
    III. when Christian discipline is exercised.
    In five Lord's Days, ending with the thirtieth, the Catechism
discussed the means of grace: the Word and the sacraments, in which the
Lord so clearly unfolds the grace merited for the salvation of His
elect by Christ and applied to them by the Holy Spirit. In applying
this salvation the Lord uses the preaching of the Word by which He
works faith. The Word also serves to strengthen the faith He has
wrought. For this strengthening of faith the Lord also uses the
sacraments which were especially ordained for that purpose. In both
Word and sacraments the Lord reveals Himself as much as is necessary
for the salvation of His people, but these means become a blessing only
by the irresistible ministration of the Holy Spirit. Especially in
opposition to the external Roman Catholic doctrine of the sacraments,
it became clear to us as we followed the instructor's explanation as he
placed the emphasis upon faith, which is a gift of God. Therefore it is
required to exclude from the Lord's Supper by the keys of the kingdom,
those who show themselves to be unbelieving and profane. These keys are
discussed in Lord's Day 31; namely, the preaching of the holy Gospel,
and Christian discipline. By them the kingdom of heaven is opened and
shut. By them we are placed within the kingdom, or it is declared and
testified to us that we are standing outside; and if not changed by
grace, we will remain outside forever. What the bearers of the keys
exclude on earth shall be excluded in heaven, inasmuch as Zion's King
Himself, acts in their official ministry. He opens or shuts by means of
His servants. Therefore the bearers of the keys must beware lest they
act contrary to the will of their King. We find a word of admonition in
Isaiah 22: Shebna, the treasurer, bore the key of the house of David.
Those whom he admitted, entered; whom he refused admission, stayed out.
This Shebna did not seek the welfare of the people. He did not listen
to the complaints of the poor, and gave no heed to the cry of the
needy. He sought his own honour. To make himself a name he had caused a
royal sepulcher to be hewed out for himself on high and had graven a
habitation for himself in a rock. Shebna was a disgrace to his Lord's
house. What a dreadful judgment came upon him for this reason! "I
will", said God, "drive thee from thy station, and pull thee down from
thy state. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my
servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah: and I will clothe him with thy
robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy
government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants
of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of
David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall
shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open."
    Thus the self-lover and self-seeker was cast out; but he who loved
God's people and served the king's pleasure was clothed with authority!
This refers indeed to Christ Himself, the Prince of life, Who testifies
to His church in Rev. 1:18, "I have the keys of hell and of death." In
so far as these words speak of administering an office, the Word of the
Lord indicates by these symbolical people, the high calling of those
office bearers whom God has clothed with authority, to be careful that
they do not shut or open, except according to the King's will. If they
act according to their own views or arbitrarily they cease to be
office-bearers. Only then do their acts have authority when they are
performed at the Lord's command in His Name, according to His perfectly
holy will, and when Christ Himself shuts or opens by them. For out of
heaven He Himself exercises His power in the church, and never
transfers His authority to any son of man. Therefore, it is far from
the truth that Peter was appointed as Christ's vicegerent on earth and
that the pope is to be acknowledged as Peter's successor. The words in
Matth. 16 have been interpreted entirely wrong by Rome. Peter made the
good confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
According to that confession the church is founded upon Jesus Christ
Himself; He is the Rock, and the words spoken by Peter are the
acknowledgment of it. Upon that petra, not upon Peter, but upon the
confession made by the disciple, the Lord shall build His church and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Concerning Peter
himself, the Lord granted him official authority, as He does all those
who have the oversight in the church of Jesus Christ: "I will give unto
thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Thus, by the Word and the
exercise of Christian discipline, in the name of the King, they shall
shut out of the kingdom or open the door thereof to those whom the King
Himself designates.
    Now the keys of the kingdom are "the preaching of the holy Gospel,
and Christian discipline, or excommunication out of the Christian
church; by these two, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and
shut against unbelievers." Therefore, if the keys are used rightly, you
can know what your condition is on your way to eternity. If God's Word
shuts you out, or if in the Name of the Lord you are placed outside of
the church, as the heathen and the publican, then you need not hope for
salvation unless you experience true sorrow and an upright return. On
the other hand, when unbelief opposes you and Satan assaults you, do
not fear: if God by His Word includes you, you will be saved in Christ.
How conscientiously should everyone give heed to what the Lord has to
say in this matter, and it behooves every minister who bears the keys
to observe, with denial of self, the will of his Lord, lest he exclude
what God includes, or admit what the Lord shall reject. It is not a
strange occurrence in these sad days that God's people sit in solitude,
pushed as it were into a corner, lashed as it were with lashes by a
preaching that opens the door to hypocrites and gives the highest place
to the almost Christian. What a sad sight does God's church present in
several places where many remain at home, neglect the services and
withhold the sacrament of baptism from their children. Others who
esteem God's ordinances too highly to act thus, feel the arrows which
are leveled at living souls. As those who are sorrowful for the solemn
assembly, they complain in solitude and cry to God about the awful
decay of Zion. They hunger for a ministry of the Word by which "the
kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers."
Nevertheless, it remains a matter of duty, to seek out the preaching of
the Word and the administration of the sacraments, both baptism and the
Lord's Supper. A worldly life does not carry God's approval. However
far the church may fall away, the Lord will maintain it. His people are
in it and the truth still makes an impression upon the consciences of
many, so that we are not entirely without hope that the Lord will still
raise up His church out of the dust. So much for the first key.
    The second key the Lord has given is Christian censorship, or
excommunication out of the Christian church. Excommunication, the
application of which is described in Question 85, does not apply to the
inward state of the heart, but to the outward declension in doctrine
and life. After all, the preacher cannot judge the heart. Although the
preaching must provide the touchstone by which everyone can and must
examine himself, whether or not he is a partaker of that life which is
born of God, God alone knows the heart. By using the second key the
minister does judge the congregation, for it has to do with the
manifestation of life and doctrine. However piously men may talk,
excommunication must exclude without respect of persons, those who
despise God's Word, trample upon His Law, and despise His ordinances,
even though they may be counted among God's children; so that they may
be turned away from their errors. Since there are two keys to the
kingdom of heaven, the Catechism goes on to teach how these are to be
used; first in regard to the preaching of the Gospel and then with
reference to the application of Christian discipline. Let us now in the
second place hear
how the preaching of the Gospel shuts and opens.
    Question 84 discusses this, for we read: "How is the kingdom of
heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy Gospel?
    Thus: when according to the command of Christ, it is declared and
publicly testified to each and every believer, that, whenever they
receive the promise of the Gospel by a true faith, all their sins are
really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ's merits; and on
the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and
such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath
of God and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted;
according to which testimony of the Gospel, God will judge them, both
in this and in the life to come."
    The preaching of the Word then must open and shut. Each sermon must
present the well and the woe. The minister must make himself free from
the blood of his hearers; he must proclaim life and death. To that end
he is called by God, and woe to him if he is unfaithful in this
calling. With what deep, holy earnestness did the Lord describe this
calling in Ezekiel. In the 33rd chapter of his prophecy the Lord
testifies that He had set Ezekiel as a watchman unto the house of
Israel. The Lord's servant had to do the work of a watchman as the Lord
Himself describes. For a watchman, when he sees danger coming upon the
land, must blow the trumpet, so that everyone may seek shelter from the
approaching evil. If anyone gives no heed, takes no warning and is
destroyed, it is his own fault, his blood is on his own head; but he
who heeds the warning saves his soul. Woe, however, to the watchman
that does not blow the trumpet so that the people are not warned. The
blood of the slain shall be required at the watchman's hand. God had
set Ezekiel to be such a watchman upon the walls of Zion, and in like
manner, all God's servants. They must blow the trumpet and warn
faithfully. If not, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but his
blood shall be required from the watchman's hand. "Nevertheless, if
thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from
his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy
    Thus it is required of a servant of God that he shall warn
faithfully. Say to the righteous that it shall be well with him. Woe
unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him. The kingdom of heaven shall
be opened to the righteous and shut to the wicked. Oh what a weighty
ministry is laid upon God's servants! How greatly do they need the
grace of the Holy Spirit to keep them faithful, and self-denial, so
that they spare no man and fear no man. They need a soul-stirring
realization of the weight of eternity, so that they may admonish
solemnly in love and without ceasing. The day is coming when they with
their hearers will stand before God's judgment seat. How terrible will
it be when many will testify to their face, "You are not free of my
blood", because they built upon a sandy foundation, the sandy
foundation of assumed regeneration, of a supposed citizenship of
heaven, or of the theory that all who are baptized are given a right to
the promises of the Covenant of grace, and all that belong to the
visible church have a right to heaven. The key of God's Word must shut
as well as open. Every minister is called to tell his hearers that in
the church are both chaff and wheat, both wise and foolish virgins; so
that no sermon shall be preached in which the necessity of true
conversion is not urged upon the people. Also the common and the saving
operation of the Holy Spirit must be distinguished from one another and
the Orpahs distinguishes from the Ruths. The weeping Esaus, and the
humbled Ahabs must be discovered. That is doubly necessary in times
when the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit is so little seen and
God's children remain in doubt for themselves. In such times many count
themselves to be no stranger of grace, who have never had anything more
than some legal stirrings of conscience or some mental concepts of
Christ in Whom they glory. In them there never was any true humiliation
under the justice of God, or the contrition of the publican. Apply the
touchstone of the Word of God and you will observe that all is not gold
that glitters. Instead of pronouncing one blessed because of an
external change, even though it be from the tavern to the church, or
from the Roman Catholic Church to the pure true doctrine (as I have
known some in my ministry) the minister of the Word of God must show
how far a change in life can go due to a stirring of conscience or an
illumination of the mind, when Psalm verses or precious promises occur
to the mind, without a true conversion. Our fathers did not lay their
hands on anyone hastily, but often said, "Let the winter pass over it
first." So much is frozen to death, and only that freezes to death
which was wrought by common grace. With such things we shall be
eternally lost and that is what the minister of the Word must preach.
He must blow the trumpet; he must shut the kingdom of heaven against
them and tell them publicly that their sandy foundation shall fail.
That must be done in every sermon. It might be that a certain hearer
would come to church only once - and the preacher must be free of him
also. He may never slacken. Let him press the point as a shepherd
drives his sheep.
    To that end it is very necessary that the scriptural marks of a
life of grace be distinguished from those that are similar and that
there be an insistence upon an experimental knowledge of Christ, whom
to know is life eternal. Let not the key of the Word become rusty, as
with sorrow we observe it happening too much in these days. Its
faithful use need not cause us to fear that the "little ones in grace"
will be grieved and cast down. On the contrary, the upright want no
other ministry than one which shows them the way of salvation in
Christ, and one under which they can confidently place themselves. If
anyone cannot bear this use of the key of the Word, let him go! It is
his own responsibility. Woe to them that stumble at the Word!
    Even in the conscience of the unconverted hearer, the shutting of
the kingdom of heaven works with such a persuasive power that he cannot
withdraw himself. God does what he pleases with His Word. If the
precious is taken from the vile, and the congregation is not sent away
with soothing, deceptive words, or set down upon shifting sands, the
preacher shall not only make himself free from his hearers, but also
his church shall not be empty. With that he need not concern himself.
Shall he not say with Paul, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I
seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the
servant of Christ." Let it be publicly declared and testified according
to the command of Christ to all unbelievers, and such as do not
sincerely repent (notice the distinction the Catechism makes here),
that they stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnation,
so long as they are unconverted. According to this testimony of the
Gospel, God will judge them both in this, and in the life to come. Such
language is different from the preaching that the promises are like
snowflakes falling all around us and we only have to take them. Yet the
pastor must remain a minister of the Gospel. Many seem to think it is
very orthodox to thunder with law and judgment and to insist upon a
legalistic life, without giving the comfort to God's people that lies
in the right use of the keys, as the kingdom of heaven is opened to
them that believe. This is not orthodox.
    The instructions given to Ezekiel are described thus: "Say unto
them: 'As I live,' saith the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death
of the wicked; but that the wicked should turn from his way and live.
Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of
Israel?'" No. God has no pleasure in man's perdition. He has never
hated His own creature, as Augustine writes. He does have pleasure in
glorifying His perfections, His righteousness as well as His mercy. Oh,
do not read in this instruction to Ezekiel that God wills that all men
shall be saved. If that were His immutable will from eternity and His
command, who would hinder Him from accomplishing His will? Although the
gnashing of teeth by the damned in hell shall be to the glory of God
and to His divine pleasure in His justice, nevertheless, He has no
pleasure in the death of the wicked. This is shown in His mercy as it
is glorified in the elect, and Ezekiel spoke of this to the people that
had forsaken God, calling them to salvation. That burden is also laid
upon all God's servants. They may not be silent about the sentence
which lies upon all men by nature, and yet they are no servants of
Moses. As though God did beseech the people by them, they are to pray
the unconverted hearers in Christ's stead, "Be ye reconciled to God."
The ministry may not be a one-sided presentation of what awaits the
wicked, but must offer food for God's children for their edification in
faith and comfort in all adversities. The Catechism therefore says,
"According to the command of Christ, it is declared and publicly
testified to all and every believer, that whenever they receive the
promise of the Gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really
forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ's merits."
    "All and every believer". That means the beginners and the most
advanced. According to the command of Christ, it must be declared and
openly testified to all who have received faith implanted by the Holy
Spirit in their new birth, that all their sins are really forgiven them
of God for the sake of Christ's merits. The merits of Christ are the
only grounds upon which God has forgiven the sins of His people. In the
covenant of God before the foundation of the world and in the
resurrection of Christ, the remission of sins lies immovably firm as we
have learned, according to God's Word in Lord's Days 22 and 23.
    It is only by a true faith that an elect person, who by nature is
also a child of wrath, actually partakes of the remission of sins.
These matters are now clear to us. No one who lacks saving faith can
appropriate the remission of sins to himself. He cannot appeal to the
Lamb of God slain in eternity in the decrees of God, nor to Golgotha;
for even if he had been given to Christ by the Father, this benefit is
still hidden from him and he lies under the curse and wrath of God,
walking on in the way of destruction. To all such the judgment must be
pronounced of which the Lord Jesus spoke, namely, that the wrath of God
abides on them. By faith God's children are incorporated in Christ and
made partakers of all his benefits, including the remission of sins.
That is the great privilege of all who are born of God, however much
they are assailed. For what the upright in heart do receive is so much
greater than they expected! The Lord has taken away their sins. Those
benefits which the Lord grants them must be embraced by faith if the
soul is to have the comfort of it. The thunder of Sinai, the power of
sin, the troubled conscience and the assaults of Satan often cause such
a stir, that eye and ear are closed for Christ. Behold, now the Lord
reveals the salvation which is in Christ for His oppressed people by
the preaching of His Word. Unbelief with all other enemies must flee.
Oh, how amiable the tabernacles of the Lord become, how precious His
Word. The promises of the Gospel are opened and embraced, the burden of
guilt and sin fall from the shoulders of an oppressed people. Christ
becomes especially precious and necessary to them. He is the real
substance of the promises of God, and if those promises are received by
true faith, their guilt is covered, and the accuser is silenced. Yea,
the Holy Spirit assures His people of the remission of sins in Christ,
establishing them with God's promises that the Lord will not be wrath
with them nor rebuke them. When sin makes a separation and the Lord
hides His face from His people and makes them feel His wrath, then the
Lord raises them up out of the depth of their misery by opening the
promises and reviving their faith to believe that all their sins are
forgiven for Christ's sake. This the minister of the Word must publicly
declare to the comfort of the upright in Zion. His preaching is not
personal. In other words, he must not say that it is so for this one or
that one. Not he, but the Holy Spirit applies the Word, opening and
shutting the kingdom of heaven by the key of the Word.
    What an excellent ministry has been given to God's servants! The
Lord sent them with the Word spoken to Isaiah, "Comfort ye, comfort ye
my people, saith your God, Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry
unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is
pardoned, for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her
sins." To all and every believer small and great they must bring this
message. They must expound God's Word solely and entirely, for therein
God's people find life, and it is their food and drink. God in Christ
is glorified in them by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is present where
there is found that preaching of the Gospel, which lays Christ and Him
alone as the foundation for the redemption of lost sinners and which
proclaims Him, not only unto man but also as dwelling in man, namely:
as He by the Spirit dwells in His people and is known of them. He leads
them on the way of life and causes them to walk in His ways.
    Consequently, it is essential that the commandments of the Lord be
kept, and that those who forsake God's law be excommunicated out of the
congregation. To that end God gave the second key, namely Christian
    Let us consider then in the third place: when Christian discipline
is exercised.
    The word excommunication can be used in a two-fold sense; in a
wider sense excommunication is used for the entire practice of
Christian discipline, or in a narrower sense it means the exclusion out
of the church, hence the final step of church discipline. Church
discipline has three steps, preceded by serious admonition by the
church when public sins are committed. There are also secret sins, or
sins not committed in public, but only in the presence of a single
church member, which have not given public offense. With secret sins
the rule which Christ has clearly laid down in Matth. 18 must be
followed: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him
his fault between thee and him alone." (Art. 72, Church Order) Do not
speak about it to others. The fact that men do not give heed to this
word, but rather tell secret sins to others, constitutes one of the
little foxes that spoil the vineyard. Even the circles of God's
children are often spoiled by it and too little do they understand the
lesson that we should consider one another. Christian discipline is the
duty of the entire church; all members must consider each other,
provoking each other unto love. But revealing secret sins is
destructive, ruins harmony between men and does not carry God's
approval. "Go," says the Lord, "and admonish him between thee and him
alone." We often reverse that word and say, "Let the transgressor come
to me", but the Lord says, "Go thou and admonish him", with two or
three witnesses if necessary who can keep silence, and if he shall hear
thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Only when he persists in the evil,
must we inform the consistory, which shall then deal further with them
as is done in the case of public sin. For in the case of public
transgression of God's commandment, the elders must act. Take, for
example, an intoxicated person walking down the street, or one who had
fallen into adultery, which naturally would become known. The
consistory must first seek by admonition to bring the offender to
confess his sin, and if those admonitions are of no avail, the
consistory must apply the first step of censure and subsequently, with
the approval of classis, the second and third step. This exercise of
censure always seeks to save the transgressor, whose sins are taken
away from the church by confession when there are sure signs of
contrition, that is, signs one can depend on. Smytegelt said it so
simply: "Secret sins must be confessed in secret, and public sins in
    If, however, there is no forsaking and confessing of sin, the
consistory must proceed to excommunicate the offender from the church.
Let him be shut out from the kingdom of heaven, and let him be to you
as a heathen man and a publican. Have no company with him. If the one
excommunicated does not come to himself, God will one day shut him out
eternally. The Catechism goes on to say, "he is excluded from the
kingdom of Christ by God Himself." He may act unconcerned as though he
cares for none of these things, but God's righteous judgment will fall
upon him. Would it not then be true, as one of the expositions of our
Catechism says, that you would prefer to die on the scaffold than be
excommunicated from the church?
    Nevertheless, the purpose of excommunication is also the salvation
of the obstinate sinner. May he come to repentance! In our Psalter,
following the Form of Excommunication, we find the Form of Readmitting
Excommunicated Persons. May the Lord keep us from sin, so that we need
never be subject to discipline; but on the other hand, the consistory
members must not be afraid to fulfill the duty to which God called
them, so that God's wrath may not be kindled over the whole church when
discipline is relaxed. "For there are set thrones of judgment, the
thrones of the house of David", so that also by this key the
righteousness of God may be maintained and the kingdom of heaven may be
opened and shut. Let us now sing of the righteousness of the Lord from
Psalter No. 338, stanzas 1 and 2.
    May the Lord graciously keep us and our children, that we walk not
in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit
in the seat of the scornful. Forsake not the Word of God, nor the
church; but ponder the admonitions and invitations which are brought to
you, calling you to salvation. Sin is a slippery slope, and once you
set your feet upon it, you will slide ever faster to your certain
destruction. Oh, boys and girls, be on your guard against the strong
temptations of the world. Today you will allow this, tomorrow there is
no wrong in that, and Satan draws the net closer and closer, until you
are hopelessly caught. Have respect for the service and the people of
God. There is more enjoyment and satisfaction in faithfully attending
God's house and Catechism, than in all the enjoyment the world offers.
What is more, the Lord may sanctify His Word to your heart to true
conversion. Then you would inherit substance that is durable. But the
world passes away and the lusts thereof.
    Let the elders of the church be faithful. They must maintain both
keys of the kingdom of heaven. Tell us if you can how many baptized
members there are in the register of your church who are no longer seen
in God's house. Do you visit them? Are they removed if they are
obstinate? Do you apply censure to those who in doctrine and life
depart from God's testimony and from His law? One Achan caused the Lord
to forsake the army of Israel. How many Achans are in our midst? Let
elders as well as pastors take heed to the flock which is committed to
them. I do not say that you should injure or destroy the church, but
that you should safeguard it by the exercise of discipline. A rigid,
heartless and haughty action can destroy so much, while a loving
admonition will not fail to awaken impressions in the conscience, that
will make you feel more free in regard to those who harden themselves.
    Above all, the high calling to open and shut the kingdom of heaven
with the Word of God rests upon the ministers. Oh beloved, give your
attention to the preaching which is brought to you and do not deem it
severity when you are faithfully warned about your approaching
destruction. Paul told his readers, even weeping, that they who were
seeking to find life in their own righteousness, were enemies of the
cross of Christ. May the tears of ministers who are weeping about your
hardness of heart, under the preaching of God's Word and about your
resting upon false grounds that shall certainly fall away at death, -
may they break your heart, so that through the operation of the Holy
Spirit, you may say with a man who had to surrender to God, "The tears
of Paul have led me to conversion."
    The kingdom of heaven is shut to you as long as you continue to
live as you were born. The Lord Jesus Himself said, "Verily, verily I
say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the
kingdom of God." Oh my dear fellow-traveler to eternity, my Catechism
pupils, as well as the aged ones, I can give you no other message. May
God cause an arrow to pierce your heart before the door of grace is
shut forever. Shun those who speak smooth things to you and sew pillows
under your arm holes. Would any minister who feels the weight of
eternity upon his soul, fail to use the keys given him by God to show
you the woe that awaits you outside of Christ? Churches today are
filled with converts who have never learned to seek refuge with God in
Christ as totally lost sinners. But the key of God's Word shuts them
out, and declares to them that eternal condemnation rests upon them as
well as upon the hypocrites, who, knowingly make themselves appear
different from what they are; and upon all who do not turn to God
uprightly, but know only an external change or a few impressions of the
law in their consciences. May the Lord reveal this to them before the
day of salvation is past.
    On the other hand, the keys of the kingdom open to those who are
not strangers to a true faith, by which they embraced the promises of
the Gospel and found rest for their guilt- and sin burdened souls. Oh
yes, observe well, however God's people may be condemned while here on
the earth, yet those genuine exercises of faith are not strange to
them. Under the preaching of the Word they are called, as it were by
name; their faith is strengthened, and the desires of their souls are
revived. God includes them. They cannot always deny what the Lord has
done to their soul. Oh, sorrowing souls, the Lord grant you to know
Christ in the promises and cause you to plead earnestly upon the Word
spoken to you, so that you may constrain Him to fulfill to you that
which He has spoken. Because God cannot lie, He will not forsake the
work of His hands, no matter how impossible the way becomes for you.
May He strengthen you and cause the preaching of His Word at all times
to be of service to you, as also to the more advanced, so that we may
say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me." May He cause us continually to
experience the fruit of the propitiation of our sins and to walk in
filial fear. Do not despise the ordinances of the Lord. Pray for God's
servants; pray them full and they will preach you full. Do not condemn
the church of God for every cause which in your opinion, or even in
reality, should be different. In this life both the visible and the
invisible church remain full of faults, but if the Lord gives more
knowledge of self, truly we will not judge so harshly. He, the faithful
Jehovah, still dwells where His Word is proclaimed. May he set the
thrones of judgment in His Zion and cause us to watch upon the walls of
Zion, so that there may be meat in His house and His people may glory
in Him. Amen.

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 6...)

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