(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 Beloved! 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 prophets. 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 answers: 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 unbelievers. 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 discipline? 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. I 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 II 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 soul." 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 discipline. Let us consider then in the third place: when Christian discipline is exercised. III 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 public." 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. Application 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...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-05.txt .