(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 7)

True Conversion

Lord's Day 33

Psalter No. 236 st. 1, 2
Read Jeremiah 31:1-20
Psalter No. 381 st. 1, 2
Psalter No. 217 st. 4
Psalter No. 428 st. 10


    What a striking example of the sovereign and unchangeable grace of
God is given us in the impressive Word of the Lord, spoken by the
prophet Jeremiah: "Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child?" Was
Ephraim, the son of Joseph and Asenath, later the mightiest of the ten
tribes that broke away from the house of David, God's dear son? His
pleasant child? Have the prophets ever complained about the iniquities
of any of the tribes as much as about Ephraim? Hear what Hosea
testifies of Ephraim! Ephraim is joined to idols. Hardened in his
iniquity, Ephraim is as a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt,
they go to Assyria. Because of their luxurious and dissolute lives, the
Lord complains about him, "Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and
loveth to tread out the corn, but I passed over upon her fair neck."
Referring to him as a real spend-thrift which no more keeps account of
his debts, whose creditor has become weary and has bound all the unpaid
bills together, the Lord says, "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up,
his sin is hid." Of such a prodigal the Lord now says, "Is Ephraim My
dear son? Is he a pleasant child?" Who can comprehend the sovereign,
unchangeable love of God? Truly Ephraim had not made himself worthy,
anymore than any of God's children. The Lord loves His people for His
own sake. God's chastisements came upon Ephraim, for by virtue of His
fatherly love He cannot abandon His people to sin, and God's heart is
not alienated from His people; therefore He says, "How shall I give
thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel?" The Lord loves His
people with an everlasting love.
    The sovereignty of God's pleasure in Ephraim was already expressed
in his blessing. For Jacob crossed his arms and laid his left hand upon
the head of Manasseh, the firstborn, and his right hand on the head of
Ephraim. Although Joseph said, "Not so, my father, for this (Manasseh)
is the firstborn, put thy right hand upon his head", Jacob refused.
According to His good pleasure, God would bless Ephraim more than
Manasseh, and crown him with His free grace. In that free favour that
moved God from eternity, lay the foundation of His love to Ephraim. For
that reason and that reason only would He have mercy upon him and not
cast him away. In spite of all his sins, the Lord testified: "He is My
dear son, a pleasant child", although God hates sin and will not allow
it to go unpunished, not even in His elect. He brings them back, even
though they jump about as a young bullock which is unaccustomed to the
yoke. He turns them and causes them to bear the grief of their sin. In
bitter grief over his iniquities Ephraim cried out, "Surely, after that
I was turned, I repented, and after that I was instructed, I smote upon
my thigh; I was ashamed, yea even confounded, because I did bear the
reproach of my youth."
    God's sovereign work of free grace is glorified in the conversion
of His people, and causes them to hate, bemoan and forsake sin, in
order that they may show the fruits of conversion in doing those good
works which please God in Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches
us so plainly in the thirty-third Lord's Day. I shall now consider this
Lord's Day, in which the instructor asks and answers the following

Q. 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?

A. Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of
    the new man.

Q. 89. What is the mortification of the old man?

A. It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our
    sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q. 90. What is the quickening of the new man?

A. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love
    and delight to live according to the will of God in all good

Q. 91. But what are good works?

A. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according
    to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded
    on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
    I should like them to speak to you about true conversion,
      I. as a work of God,
     II. as a work of God's people,
    III. as a dying life,
     IV as a fruitful renewing.
    Already in Lord's Day 32 the instructor spoke about the necessity
of true conversion, saying that no one can be saved who is not
converted to God. How necessary it is then for the salvation of our
immortal souls that we give this matter our attention and consider
seriously how indispensable it is. John the Baptist included under the
wrath of God, all those who are strangers to true conversion. To the
Pharisees and Sadducees that came to his baptism, he spoke that
dreadful word, "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from
the wrath to come?" They did not come to be washed of their sins in the
blood of the Lamb, but to maintain their name and honour. They gloried
in being children of Abraham, but showed themselves to be children of
Satan. They were strangers to true conversion and John pleads with them
in genuine seriousness, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for
repentance, and think not to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham to
our father.'" Repentance or true conversion was indispensable for them,
and it is indispensable for us also if we are to flee from the wrath of
God which lies upon us by nature.
    Conversion is in the first place a work of God. Even though we may
glory in having Abraham to our father or in being his natural seed;
even though, in other words, we are baptized and live strictly
according to the law; even though we may have discontinued serving the
world openly, and broken with unbelief and superstition: if God does
not convert us, our conversion is not genuine. In His Word the Lord has
given us clear examples which are well-known to all of us and should be
considered at all times, so that we may distinguish between the true
and the almost Christian. I mention only the example of Orpah, who
accompanied her God fearing mother-in-law out of Moab, but took leave
of her again, although weeping, and returned to her people and her
idols, which in her heart she had never given up. Orpah went up to the
border, but no farther. We too may go up to the border with much
feeling and sympathy for God's children, but without the work of God
magnified in our hearts. Esau's tears, Saul's change, Ahab's humbling
himself, Judas' confession, and Demas' falling away, are further proof
that if God's work of grace is lacking, a conversion is not genuine.
There are common convictions, superficial impressions of the great
works of God, distressing fears of death and hell, and dreadful
convictions of conscience, which are experienced without true
conversion, because they lack the root of God's work of grace in us.
    When considered as a work of God, conversion is identified with
regeneration, as we understand with the Canons of Dort that it is "so
highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a
resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us
without our aid." (Heads III and IV, Article 12 of Canons of Dort.)
Thus it is a one-sided work of God. A person can be of no help toward
his natural birth, much less toward his rebirth. In regeneration God's
chosen one is entirely passive. The Lord works it "in us without our
aid", by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, not merely by means
of the external preaching of the Gospel, "by moral suasion, or such a
mode of operation, ... but it is evidently a supernatural work (of the
Holy Spirit), most powerful, and at the same time most delightful,
astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to
creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture ...
    Therefore, any kind of preparation of man for his regeneration is
out of the question. The Lord plucked the wicked Manasseh as a brand
out of the fire; He struck down the raging Saul on the way to Damascus,
and He opened the heart of a religious Lydia. Speaking of those who are
given by the Father to Christ, whatever may be their manner of life, in
the time of God's good pleasure, they are all called out of death unto
life by the irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit; they are
regenerated by Him, and truly converted to God. They are cut off from
Adam and incorporated in Christ; true faith is implanted in their soul
and they cannot be lost. It is obvious, therefore, that the Roman
Catholic Church understands nothing of regeneration when it teaches
that they can be lost again. Luther likewise departs from Scripture in
this matter. There is no apostasy of saints. The good work which the
Lord has begun in His people He will perform unto the day of Jesus
    We must also shun the error of those who say that regeneration does
not take place until the Holy Spirit assures God's people in their
heart of their state and reconciliation with God in Christ. Although
this assurance is often lacking in God's children for a long time, and
because of uncertainty in the conscious knowledge of their
regeneration, they are compared by Rev. Comrie to an embryo or unborn
fetus; there are only two states, namely of death and of life. We are
unregenerated and therefore dead, or regenerated and quickened by God;
there is no third state. Moreover, regeneration immediately causes its
life-functions to be experienced in the soul. A regeneration of which
one is not aware, one that is not noticed either by the quickened soul,
or by another person, does not exist. Regarding this matter, Calvin
observed that everyone is aware of the operation of sin, and would
God's people be unaware of the effectual and irresistible operation of
the Holy Spirit? Such a supposition is absurd. It is contrary to
Scripture, as some have contended, that one could be regenerated for
years and still serve sin and the world, and that even Paul was such a
regenerated persecutor of the church of God. One who is regenerated
loves those who are born of God and does not persecute them. It is one
of the characteristics of those who are converted to God, that they
love God and His people, His Word and His ordinances; because the love
of God is shed abroad in their hearts. Lest we should mislead ourselves
and others, let us consider well that no servant of sin will inherit
the kingdom of God. God's Word excludes them, and who gives you the
right to say "You are still regenerated; you need only repent and
change your way of living"? Regeneration and true repentance cannot be
separated. Nevertheless our theologians, following A Lasco,
distinguished between the two in this sense, that repentance is the
fruit of regeneration. We have no objection to that distinction,
provided these two benefits are not separated. When the Lord called
Zacchaeus out of the sycomore tree, he immediately gave evidence of the
fruit saying, "The half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have
taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him
fourfold." The malefactor on the cross immediately reproved the other
malefactor; Paul immediately preached Christ whom he had persecuted
before. Everyone that is converted by God forsakes the sin in which he
lived, and the self righteousness upon which he built his hope of
salvation, while living in carnal security. It becomes evident in his
life, in his conversation, in secret and in public, that in
regeneration the Lord quickened and renewed the dead sinner, both in
mind and in will, and that the will, being renewed, "becomes itself
active." To this we will give further attention as we view true
conversion in the second place as a work of God's people.
    By this we do not mean to imply that the regenerated people of God
can do good works in their own strength, or in other words, bring forth
anything that is in keeping with the perfections of God. The Holy
Spirit dwelling in them is the source and strength of the good work
that the quickened soul performs, which being sanctified in Christ, is
well-pleasing to God. "Without Me", said Christ in John 15, "ye can do
nothing." We cannot breathe a sigh that ascends to God's throne, or
conquer a sinful thought, much less perform an act that is good in the
sight of God. All attempts on our part to become or do something for
God is a smoke of our own kindling and a stench in God's nostrils.
    As a fruit of the continuing work of God in His own, conversion is
a work of God's people. Their enlightened mind considers the things
above; their renewed will seeks after perfection; they bring forth
fruits worthy of repentance. From their conversion by God flows a
converting of themselves, of which the Bible speaks more than a hundred
times. When in John 8:39 the Jews contended that Abraham was their
father, Jesus said to them, "If ye were Abraham's children, you would
do the works of Abraham." Since they did not do so, they gave evidence
that they did not belong to the seed of promise. They did the deeds of
their father, the devil, and he was a murderer from the beginning. God
was not their Father, and love to the Lord Jesus was lacking in them.
In their works it became evident that they were not regenerated, nor
carried within them a seed of regeneration. Surely then they would have
repented immediately and would have loved the truth of God. They who
are always speaking of Abraham's natural seed, and ascribe to them the
promises which are yea and amen only in Christ, ought to consider the
words of the Lord Jesus as though spoken to them, that the seed of
Abraham is the spiritual seed, the regenerated, who do the works of
Abraham and are the children of promise. Those works are not only the
external obedience that is practiced in going up to God's house and in
withdrawing from the pleasures of the world, but as the Lord Himself
said, they consist in loving Him Who proceeded from the Father. "Unto
you which believe He is precious." Abraham's seed understands the
language of Christ and believes Him, which no one can or will do by
nature, even though he belongs to Abraham's natural seed. We must be
born again in order to turn to God and seek salvation in Christ,
according to the Father's good pleasure. In regeneration the elect
sinner is passive and inactive, but in subsequent conversion he does
not remain so, even though that conversion both in principle and in
practice takes place only by the ministration and awakening operation
of the Holy Spirit, who affects the will and the understanding, and
controls both body and soul. In this connection all works done in our
own strength, must also be denied as having any value, and yet we may
never lose sight of the fact that Scripture does not teach a passivity,
as some would have it, under which God's people are described as "dead
and putrid," (if I may be allowed the expression) and their calling to
an active sanctification for which God Himself renewed the mind and the
will, is nullified. Holy Writ speaks quite differently about the Lord's
people when it says, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal
priesthood, a 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." Our Reformed fathers also confessed, "Whereupon the
will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in
consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also,
man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that
grace received." The Canons of Dort declare first that regeneration is
solely the work of God preceding faith, and later that it is a fruit of
faith. This is true also of Article 24 of the Confession of faith,
which deals with sanctification and states that true faith regenerates
man. Hence in a narrower sense, regeneration precedes faith, but in a
broader sense, meaning conversion to God and keeping God's
commandments, it flows out of faith. In this last respect, conversion
is a work of God's people, actuated and influenced by God. For that
reason true conversion is discussed in the Catechism under the heading
of gratitude. If conversion referred only to the sovereign work of God
unto salvation, and not to the revelation of life in God's children
which grows out of it, the discussion of this important doctrine would
have been placed in that part of the Heidelberg Catechism which speaks
of man's deliverance. Hence the place which is given to true conversion
is already a proof our fathers maintained, that the conversion of the
regenerated person flows out of the nature of the new life and is
practiced by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. All the good and
serious intentions of God's children to live perfectly before God
suffer shipwreck. They learn by experience that they are prone to rob
Christ of His crown and will never acknowledge, "By grace ye are
saved." As the Holy Spirit leads them, God's people become poorer, more
insignificant, and more unhappy in themselves, so that they may find in
Christ and draw from Him all their strength. A "discovery" which does
not lead to Christ is really a backsliding in grace, by which one
becomes self satisfied and feeds on previous frames or on the assurance
of the goodness of his state. A closer acquaintance with our state of
utter misery is a true discovery and it also leads to Christ. This
caused the spouse to cry out, "Draw me, we will run after Thee", and
again, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned." Paul did not finish with
a barren complaint about his wretchedness, but in a lively exercise of
faith he cried out, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me -
not out of - but from the body of this death?" Then as a fruit of this
discovery of his wretchedness he ends in Him Who saves His people, "I
thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord", and concludes: "So then with
the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of
    True conversion is therefore a work of God's people, but performed
only in the power of the Lord in which His strength is made perfect in
weakness. Therefore the Catechism describes true conversion as a dying
life which we shall now consider under our third main thought.
    True conversion as you know consists in two parts: the
mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man. Paul
writes this to the church at Ephesus: "That ye put off concerning the
former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the
deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye
put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and
true holiness." (Eph 4:22-24) In like manner the apostle calls the
Colossians to a holy life, saying, "Seeing that ye have put off the old
man with his deeds; and have put on the new man which is renewed in
knowledge after the image of Him that created him." Thus the Word of
God joins the two parts of true conversion together, therefore they are
not to be separated. It is not as though one part can be present, and
the other added later. No, conversion does not consist of, but in two
parts. It is the birth, growth, and maturing of one whole. Where the
quickening of the new man begins, there the mortification of the old
man also begins. One should not therefore speak of those who are
converted to God as if they were composed of two people; the flesh that
is fit only for corruption, and spirit which is meant to live. This is
the language of the antinomian. The old and the new man are not two
different persons in one regenerated individual enabling him to
attribute all sin and unrighteousness to the old man - not at all. The
old man is the principle of corruption that has spread itself over the
entire person, darkened the understanding and corrupted the will. In
Scripture the old man is called: the body of sin, our members which are
upon the earth, the law of sin. Because of our fall, we by nature are
ourselves the old man which is dead, spiritually dead, and all our
thoughts and works are evil. The Lord renews His people, and that
renewing is complete in all its parts, but not in degrees of growth.
Any of God's elect who is purchased by the blood of Christ is himself
renewed in his whole person. It is not true that God makes a soft spot
in the stony heart of His people, but He takes away the stony heart and
gives a heart of flesh in its place. "Old things are passed away;
behold, all things are become new." All things, the understanding, the
will and the affections, every part is renewed. They are new creatures
in Christ Jesus. But (and in this we see the sovereign and adorable
wisdom of God in the salvation of His people) at the same time there is
in every renewed part a remnant of the old man, that is to say, the
corruption of sin cleaves to God's people in their understanding, will
and affections, as long as they are in this life. Hence there is an
entirely renewed person, perfect in Christ his Head, bearing in all his
faculties the corruption of sin. This caused Paul to say, "Now then it
is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that
in me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing." It is not that the
apostle wished to deny responsibility for sin, for when God's children
are taken captive by the law of sin from which Christ has delivered
them, it is by their own fault; because they have left their first
love, and are lying on a bed of sloth, not waging the spiritual warfare
while a triple-headed enemy is busy day and night. But all this does
not change the fact that they are new creatures, redeemed from the
dominion of sin and being prepared for eternal glory. Then they who are
converted to God shall attain their full stature and wear the crown of
eternal victory. In this life, however, the flesh lusteth against the
spirit, and these are contrary the one to the other. For that reason
the Catechism teaches that true conversion is a dying life.
    The Lord Jesus once spoke in reference to Himself of the corn of
wheat that dies in the ground, and dying brings forth fruit. He had to
die to obtain eternal life for His people. He also causes them to
follow in His steps for they, too, must die in order to live. In
conversion the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the
new man is a continual process. God's people have been planted together
in the likeness of His death, that they may also be planted together in
the likeness of His resurrection. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors,
not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the
flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds
of the body, ye shall live." Only when we experience our impotency do
we by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh. The sinew of Jacob's
thigh in which the strength of the wrestler lay, was out of joint in
the wrestling at Peniel and he became a victor in God's strength. Too
often, God's people remain erect, and do not halt upon their thigh.
Therefore there is so little actual mortification of the old man. The
sinew of our thigh must shrink, our strength must be broken. For "He
giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth
strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men
(who are in the prime of life) shall utterly fall, but they that wait
upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with
wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk
and not faint."
    The mortification of the old man, according to our instructor in
Question 89 is: a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by
our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them." Scripture
gives us clear examples of this. One of these is the publican in the
temple standing afar off ashamed before God and man, who dared not lift
up his eyes to heaven, fearing the judgment of God, acknowledging its
justice, and smiting upon his breast. Sin was a grief to him, and his
soul was full of godly sorrow, which works repentance unto salvation,
not to be repented of. For him mercy is the only way out and he cries,
"Oh God be merciful to me a sinner." Do we not see in that publican the
picture of a quickened sinner? In true conversion quickened sinners
come in contact with God. They have more than a tormenting conscience,
like many who are disquieted by common convictions and are afraid of
hell until they fall back into a deadly complacency. They are deeply
concerned that they have provoked and angered God by their sins. They
confess what neither Cain, nor Esau, nor Judas could do, namely that
God is just, even though He should condemn them forever. Already in
that acknowledgment of God's justice there is gladness, for one so
drawn by the Lord is made to cry, "I will make supplication to my
Judge", even with the cords of self-condemnation about his neck. True
sorrow fills their hearts because they have offended God, and have
violated His perfections. In their sincere sorrow of heart they
acknowledge, "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil
in Thy sight." In secret, in the quiet of the night a flood of tears
flows from their eyes. Their past life is brought back to memory. They
cannot go on as before. They begin to hate sin, and to flee from sin.
They bid farewell to their friends and companions who in turn forsake
them because of the reformation of their lives. Whether it be Paul or
Timothy, Lydia or the jailer, Ruth or the Canaanitish woman; all of
them come flying to their windows as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove
out of the land of Assyria. Do not think that the marks of conversion
differ principally from one person to another. Many who rest upon the
sandy ground of their intellectual knowledge say, "One need not
experience a conversion like that of Paul!" But I ask, what kind of
conversion then? However much God's ways with His people may differ, is
there another? The instructor therefore is not interested in "a" but in
"the" true conversion. There is only one true conversion and that is
characterized by a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by
our sins and a sincere joy of heart in God through Christ. They
experience a godly sorrow, and this sorrow causes them to long for
communion with God which was broken off by their sin. They want God for
their portion. For this reason it grieves them that they do not possess
Christ, Who alone is the way, the truth, and the life. As long as they
cannot claim Him as their Savior, such a sorrow often fills their
hearts that they could wish that cheek and bed were always wet and that
they would never tire of weeping. This sorrow also causes them to mourn
when God hides His kindly face, because they have experienced that it
is good for them to be near to God, and they grieve because of the
absence of the Lord. Their soul thirsts after eternal happiness, where
they shall be delivered from sin and misery to praise their God and
King perfectly and eternally.
    What a wonderful incomprehensible sorrow this is! The world has no
acquaintance with it. It knows only a sorrow that works death. But the
sorrow that is characteristic of true repentance conceals a happiness
already begun, even a sincere joy of heart in God. It is wrought by the
Holy Spirit on the grounds of Christ's satisfaction for sin. He fills
their souls with the love of God which causes them to say, "I love the
Lord." He opens His Word for them and the riches of His promises which
gives them a view of the salvation that is prepared for God's people in
Christ. When they can find no way of deliverance He opens the way for
them. O how easy it is then to be saved. With John they can say, "It
was the tenth hour," never to be forgotten. He seals to them the
promises which are never taken from the soul, however dark it may
become, and He gives them a ground to plead upon, so that they say with
        "Lord, Thy word to me remember,
        Thou hast made me hope in Thee."
    How much greater their joy in God becomes when the Holy Spirit
gives them assurance that they have not only become another person, but
now also belong to Another, the property of Christ and He theirs, by
Whom they are reconciled to God and by Whom they have received the
adoption of sons. They are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Beloved, the joy given to God's people in true repentance cannot be
expressed in words. They who know something of it must say, "And in His
service I delight." In the afflictions which the church of God suffers
the saints are so gladdened that in the midst of their tears they can
sing, "The Lord will command His loving kindness in the daytime, and in
the night His song shall be with me." Then there are also the
foretastes of eternal bliss that are given them. Paul was caught up to
the third heaven, and all God's people are given some taste of the
salvation which they shall one day enjoy perfectly, although they are
cast out and crucified by the world. This sincere joy of heart in God
draws them away from sin, causes them to despise the world, and works
in them a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all
good works. Their purpose however is not to seek salvation by their
works, nor to ascribe any merit to them, for good works are only those
which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of
God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations,
or the institutions of men.
    Thus the Catechism speaks in the last question which we will
consider for a few moments in the fourth place, as we consider true
conversion as a fruitful renewing.
    Already in the previous Lord's Day we made a few remarks about good
works, and when we consider the Law of God we shall discuss them more
broadly with each commandment. Therefore as we conclude our discussion
of this Lord's Day a few remarks will suffice. By good works we must
not understand what *we* call good. That is the first point to
consider. What we consider good in our social or church life is not
therefore good in God's sight. The Romish church may build up a system
of laws and commandments, and even ascribe merits to them to pay for
daily sins, but God's Word not only teaches us that our best works
merit nothing, but also testifies, "In vain do they worship me,
teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." In opposition to these
errors the Catechism speaks of good works as the fruit of true
conversion. It speaks of the root, the rule, and the purpose of good
    The root thereof is true faith; the rule is God's law and the
purpose is God's glory.
    "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." By faith God's people exercise
communion with Christ in Whom they are sanctified and in Whom all their
works are presented as perfect before God. The Lord has pleasure in His
people, only when He looks upon them in the sacrifice of Christ Who
stands before Him. Considered in themselves they are nothing but poor
sinners, and all of their works are polluted with sin. How then can
they be good before God? But in the perfect obedience of Christ they
are well pleasing to God, and it is therefore only by faith that they
who are converted to God do good works. Their walk is a walk of faith.
Their whole life is right only when they walk by faith in Christ. "I
know," says Paul, "that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good
thing"; and therefore God's people can never do any good work outside
of communion with Christ by faith. Good works then proceed from the
root of faith, by abiding in Christ as the branch in the vine.
Permeated with the life giving moisture of Christ, God's saints bear
the fruits of true conversion in producing good works. This will cause
them to die continually to all that they try to produce in their own
power, and to be disappointed again and again in all the expectations
they have of themselves. God's people become so emptied in self but
they are blessed when they may say with Paul, "Though I am nothing", in
order that they may be all in Him Who is their Head and Savior. "I am
black", the church testifies; but by faith she adds, "but comely", that
is "comely" only in Christ. That transition into Christ is necessary so
that we do not end in ourselves and perish in ourselves. God's people
walk by faith and not by sight, and their good works come forth only
out of the root of faith.
    They follow the rule of God's law as well. What value have the
Romish penances before God? Has He commanded them? What do our works
mean if they are not in accordance with the holy law of God proclaimed
from Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments? In His law God made His will
known to us. And what does the Lord require of us, but to do justly,
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? Israel might seek
to please God in his own ways and exclaim "wherewith shall I come
before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come
before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the
Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers
of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my
body for the sin of my soul?" As long as the people trampled upon God's
law and considered the Lord an Adversary, God cut everything off. God
wanted one thing: that His law should be their guide, and if His
children should forsake His law He would visit their transgressions
with His rod. The Lord judges according to His law, and our works are
good, only if they are done according to His law. They can answer to
God's law only when they are done by faith, sanctified by the sacrifice
of Christ, and directed to the glory of God.
    The Catechism therefore finally describes the purpose of good
works, that they be performed to God's glory. God works, therefore, are
not done to merit heaven - Christ has done that for His people - but to
glorify God, as we have already heard in the Thirty second Lord's Day.
God's people are committed to God's honour. His glorification is their
salvation; the violation of His perfections is a grief to them. Their
good works have only one purpose: to glorify the Father which is in
heaven. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do
all to the glory of God." Who then will not agree that by grace God's
people desire to do good, but evil is present with them, and that
performing good works is possible only in communion with Christ by
faith through the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost. By His grace
they shall bear fruit pleasing to the Lord, as we sing from Psalter No.
217 st 4:
        "Then, safe within Thy fold,
        We will exalt Thy Name;
        Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
        Thy goodness will proclaim."
    Is this true conversion wrought in you also? The eyes of the Lord
see what is within us. To others we may appear to be respectable, we
can mislead and deceive ourselves, but we can never deceive God.
Examine yourselves, my fellow-traveler to eternity. Without
regeneration no one can see or enter the kingdom of God. And when God
regenerates us, we are conscious of it and it is revealed in the
fruits. Do not presume within yourselves that you are regenerated, even
though you still live as you were born. God Himself shuts you out of
the Kingdom of heaven, and with an imagined heaven you will be lost
unless you are regenerated and experience a true conversion. Even
though you live under the Word of God as Nicodemus, you need no less
than he. The Lord proclaimed it with a solemn oath, saying, "Verily,
verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
Kingdom of God." This true conversion does not take place without some
conscious knowledge of it either by yourself or by another. Reject the
deceptive teaching of regeneration devoid of personal knowledge. If God
works in us, we become aware of it in the effectual renewing work of
His Holy Spirit. Examine yourself according to the marks of true
conversion. O, there is so much counterfeit conversion! Such things as
a godly sorrow, grief because of sin, and a true love to God and His
commandments are lacking in the almost-Christian. Have we not reason to
fear that many who follow the truth and have had many conscience
convictions have never learned to bow under the justice of God? They
never crossed the border of Moab! I do not mean to be severe but to
express concern for the welfare of your immortal soul, when I say that
the ground of your confidence will give way when you appear before the
judgment seat of God. Soon you will stand at the brink of death. How
dreadful it will be for you to discover then, when it is too late,
forever too late, that your foundation is crumbling, like that of the
foolish builder. "Examine yourself, yea examine yourself very closely,
before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before
the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the
Lord's anger come upon you."
    How often do the righteous fear that their conversion is not
genuine. They who should fear are tragically at ease, while the upright
are beset with fears, because they are aware that much can happen which
is insufficient to make one acceptable before God. Tell us then whether
the marks of true conversion are lacking. The Lord knows the heart and
tries the reins. Are you a stranger to godly sorrow, a sincere sorrow
of heart that we have provoked God by our sins? Did you not confess His
judgment just, and did not sin become a heartfelt grief to you so that
you would gladly destroy it, root and branch? Do take a little courage!
Would you exchange your sorrow for all the pleasures of the world?
Certainly not. There is more joy in weeping over sin than in all the
entertainment found in the world. May the Lord encourage and comfort
you, and grant that sorrow after God which seeks to know Him as
reconciled in Christ. Make known to Him your wants and needs, the
emptiness of your soul and the unfulfilled promises. You will not
remain empty, or unfruitful. The wrestlings of faith at God's throne of
grace do bear precious fruit and may lead to the deliverance out of all
your troubles. How your soul would rejoice if you should obtain your
desire. How necessary it is then to die to self! The life of true
conversion is a dying life. The way to heaven is a way of reverses; we
become less in self that we may become more in Christ; grieving about
ourselves, and rejoicing in God. They are paradoxes, enigmas for our
understanding; for the natural man does not receive the things of the
Spirit of God, and the more the mysteries of true conversion are
revealed to us, the greater wonder it becomes. May the fear of the Lord
lead us to a holy walk. The exercise of communion with Christ causes
one to bear rich fruits in doing those works which proceed from a true
faith, are done according to God's Law, and redown to His glory. Oh,
what a cloud hovers over the people of God! How is the gold become dim!
All because they have forsaken the Lord and become conformed to the
world. May the Lord lift Zion out of the dust; may He set our hearts
upon His commandments.
    Although the conflict will continue until the last breath, some day
the people that have fought the good fight will receive the crown that
is laid up for them. At first the soul, and later also the body without
sin, shall praise the triune God and the Lamb day and night forever and
ever. Here in this life the chastisements of the Lord are upon His
people who have forsaken Him, so that they must confess, "It is good
for me that I have been afflicted", but in the end these chastisements
will cease, and the redeemed shall enjoy forever that heavenly joy of
which they had a foretaste in their true conversion. May the Lord be
the strength of His weak and halting people. May He keep us in all our
ways, cover us with His wings, and cause us, both in sorrow and joy, to
reveal the marks of true conversion to the glory of His Name, Who
formed a people for Himself to show forth His praise. Amen.

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 8...)

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