Lord's Day 35 (1944) - Lord's Day 35 (1944)
Note about the translator: Mr. Gilbert Zekveld was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He farmed for many years in the Bowmanville area of Ontario where he was actively involved with Christian Reformed and later Orthodox Christian Reformed church life.
This sermon was delivered Sunday, March 12, 1944
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Tonight we will disuss together the second commandment. I don't think you will find it strange that after my previous sermon about Lord's Day 32, that now with the second commandment I will emphasize the brilliant answer of Lord's Day 32. The second commandment of the law of the Lord; of the law. For we must not forget, that also in the second commandment we are dealing with the gospel of good works. Why must we do good works? Why must we keep the second commandment? Because, Christ having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image. That is also the gospel of the second commandment: that Christ indeed requires gratitude from us, but only because He Himself makes us thankful. In the second commandment Christ comes to us, now not in the first place as Master and Sovereign, but as the great Redeemer of our life. And He bears, when He places us before the second commandment, His name with honour; here too He is called Jesus, that is Saviour; for He renews us by His Spirit; He writes the law of the second commandment in our hearts! For us the second commandment is no more the iron law that compels; for us it is no more the letter that kills, for the Spirit makes us alive. No longer do we have a heart of stone that is unwilling and does not yield; for Christ created in us a heart of flesh and wrote this commandment in our hearts. We saw Him come along the great highway of redemption; He came from Calvary over Easter to Pentecost. He shed His blood for our sins against the second commandment, but then He arose, that herein we should also walk in newness of life; He sent us His Spirit that we should do the will of God from the heart. Christ led liberating grace to its ultimate heights; He brought me to the place where I could sing: O, how do I love Thy law. - How do I love the second commandment. And He fulfilled Good Friday's redeeming grace by the liberating power of Easter and Pentecost because He truly loved God and man and His neighbour, these three. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ I bring you tonight. Christ writes the second commandment in our hearts.
He does this that we:
1. should show gratitude to God for our redemption.
2. ourselves would be assured of our faith by the fruits.
3. should gain our fellowman to Christ.
1. We must begin with a simple remark from catechism classes: what is the difference between the first and second commandment? It happens at times that we confuse the two and no doubt there is a connection between these commandments. Yet, it is necessary that we sharply distinguish. The first commandment is directed against idolatry; it forbids to place our confidence in anything beside the one and true God. The second commandment is against images, i.e., against the sin of worshipping God through images and so seek fellowship with Him. He who sins against the second commandment does not serve another god, an idol; he wants to serve the only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. It is his sin that when serving the only God, he takes the wrong road, He seeks to honor God by making an image of Him, and bow before it.
And the serious import of this commandment appears from the sanctions wherewith it ends: for I the Lord your God am a jealous God... God is terribly jealous, especially concerning His worship service. This sin He avenges for generations to come and obedience to it He rewards by having mercy to thousands.
It is therefore strange that we do not take this commandment more serious. Happily, there still is a sense of guilt in the Church with respect to all commandments. Many humble themselves before the Lord like David in Psalm 51 with respect to sins of impurity and fornication; there are many who are very concerned about what is mine and what is thine; many also are very serious about the fourth commandment and going to Church on Sunday. But humility in connection with the second commandment is very scarce. Why is that so? Because almost no one understands the second commandment, almost no one thinks he is guilty in this area. For we make no more images! And did anyone of us kneel before them? If we were Roman Catholics! But we are Reformed!
Nevertheless, the threat is there, filled with darkness. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. That is serious: God's wrath for this sin is not quenched for a century. His wrath concerning this sin is related especially to this sin of serving images. Did you ever ask the question why God hates those images so much. Why is this sin so special that God's wrath is kindled and almost cannot be stilled?
Let us first ask the question what did the heathen aim at with their images. They did not know God. They honored the creature as God: the sun, the moon, the stars. But that did not suffice. They did not worship the sun as it was sending forth its rays from heaven; no, they made an image of their sungod and bowed down before it. Why? Well, the sun is high and the stars are far away; it is in the soul of all of us to have fellowship with God, to conquer the distance, to know Him near. They will make the invisible God visible, the far away God they would like to touch; how else can they know Him near to them?
In making these images there is the longing for fellowship with God; every heathen who forms an image confesses thereby his longing: we cannot miss Thee; without Thee we cannot live. Who do we have on earth beside Thee? "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down) (Is. 64: 1). Come down to us who live here on the earth.
And so they made themselves images to still the longing of their souls. God came down to them, He lives there in His temple, they see His image, they can take it with them in their processions, they can take it with them when they go out to war: now their God is always near them.
In later times the longing to make the invisible God visible gradually received a more spiritual character. It is then no longer to see Him with the physical eye, but to view Him with the eye of the soul; they feel Him in themselves, they wallow in the ecstasy, they have the feeling that they are snatched away from this earth and time, they are lifted up in eternity, in the heavens, they lose themselves in God, they feel themselves one with Him, they have no words for so great a salvation; and when they fall back from this spell into raw reality, they complain that it is so dry and cold within. They would like nothing betterthan to be snatched from this earth and time; they would at all times like to be uplifted in the eternal world of enjoyment for the soul, in that rich feeling of ecstasy. In one word: gradually, those in the pagan world turned from a physical image that can be touched to a spiritual and a mystical awareness of their gods.
But it remains a longing to see God; they will conquer the distance and have fellowship with Him. Say to yourself: do you not understand that longing of the pagan? Do you not understand that when Moses was on the mountain, high up there with God, that the people felt forsaken, lonely, far from God, and that they forced Aaron to make an image of their God so they could see and touch Him? Do you not understand, they thought it was so lonely, they felt so forsaken in Israel. The pagans could see their god in their temple, but yes, their God lived in His temple at Jerusalem, but that was so far away; and in that sanctuary was not His image, just an ark; and they never saw that ark, the Highpriest came there once a year, the others never came to the place where God lived. They felt so poor and impoverished. What fellowship did they have with their God?
You understand why Hophni and Phinehas took the ark with them into the battle; how could they do battle without their God with them and behind them? You understand that Jeroboam gave in to the longing of the people and many were affected; he set up images in Bethel and Dan; that was much different than that temple in Jerusalem, where God remained hidden behind the curtains of the Holy of Holies.
And yet, the Lord comes with the second commandment, Hophni and Phinehas die. He is angry with Aaron. He cursed Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, he will not be worshipped in an image. Why not? May we not see God? O yes, but to see God is on the end of God's ways. We have the promise:
When I in righteousness at last
Thy glorious face shall see,
When all the weary night is past,
And I awake with Thee
To view the glories that abide,
Then, then I shall be satisfied.
But this comes only later; and He will, that we shall walk here by faith and not by sight. At one time He will live with us in the most intimate fellowship, where our eye can see Him. But that cannot be now. For He dwells in unapproachable light where no man can see Him and will live. To have a look at God here and now would be deadly. His eyes are like a flame of fire, consuming the wicked. In this sinful world, a view of God can only kill. Therefore the attempt of the pagan is sin; they walk in sin. They themselves want to bridge the distance. As if they could! That is why God curses every imitation of Himself by the Israelites. He will advance to the most intimate relationship of seeing, but that must wait untill sin has been completely conquered. But what does God do, He Who is seen by no man, for we cannot see Him? He speaks from His hidden sanctuary. He proclaims the word of reconciliation. In His temple He remains behind the veil, no one can see Him. But His will to bridge the distance becomes visible, He shows Israel not His own image, but the administration of reconciliation in sacrifices and incense. By the Word He will prepare us that we may behold Him. And He advances all the time, this God Who will have fellowship with man. Christ comes, and John sings: the Word has become flesh; the eternal God lives in tents among us. And when Philip can no longer suppress his longing, he says: Lord show us the Father and it suffices us, Christ answers: he who has seen Me has seen the Father. In Christ, in His Word, God came near us. And when Christ dies, the veil rents in two, God shows Himself from behind the veil, and with confidence we may come near Him. The distance shrinks.
But He goes still further, this God: He sheds forth His Spirit and lives within us. That is how near He is. But as yet, we cannot see Him. The Spirit must first completely sanctify us, conquer remaining sin, only after that we may see the Lord as He is. That is why the Spirit binds us to the Word. He does not enable us to see, but He moves us to faith.
If we would see the Lord, we may not negate the fact of sin. As long as sin is in the world, God can only speak; before that time He comes to us only in the Word. And he who will so serve and honour God in this world, O yes, he may rejoice, "I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psalm 17: 15). But he must walk one way, that is in the way of hearing and faith.
Now you can see, why Christ does not abrogate the second commandment. He Himself chose no other way than the way of the Word. All His days He lived by the Word. And now He renews us after His image. He says to us: hear the Word of the Lord. He loves the God Who looks for fellowship with people; the God who will bring us to the fellowship of seeing Him, but Who prepares that fellowship of seeing, in fellowship by speaking. Christ Himself was on that road, and He places our feet on it, and He says, the Word is near you. Christ does not obstruct the way of the Father to us, for only by faith the Father will bring us to sight. That is why He moves us by His Spirit, to desire no other way. He teaches us to love the Word that we should not think too little of God. He makes us say, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? Thou art highly exalted, Lord God; no-one has seen Thee, no-one can see Thee; but with the hearing of the ear have I heard of Thee, and I believed; Thou art indeed in the heavens, and I am here on earth, yet, I am always with Thee, for in the Word Thou art near me. It is good for me to be near unto the Lord; I have put my trust in the Thee, although I do not see Thee; it is good to be near unto God, walking by faith and not by sight. Later, Lord, I will be satisfied with Thy image, therefore I now love Thy Word, Thou didst already fellowship with me, Thou didst speak to me; with the hearing of the ear I have heard Thee, at one time my eye shall see Thee.
2. But Christ loves us too. He renews us by His Spirit, that each by his good works would be assured of his faith. For that is the tragedy of all mysticism. Pagan mystery religions are full of it, so that at times they stand at the high points of ecstatic rejoicing. But it does not last, it was so fleeting, and then they have to go back to the lower ground, and complain that it is so dry, that everything is dormant; and they would rather escape from this life that they may always know this intimate rejoicing of the soul. It is at times as if you read one of the old writers. The latter must make us very careful. At times they speak of Christian mysticism; and they would agree there are many outgrowths here, they know of a false mysticism, but there is also a "true" mysticism, and the complaint is heard, that it is not heard in the preaching. The beauty of the Christian life is not preached. We don't have to quarrel about a word. Personally I rather would not speak of mysticism, for the joy of faith has nothing to do with mysticism. But leaving aside the word, it is a vague sign, for that what is said to be mysticism is like two drops of water to pagan mysticism.
These people experience a few moments of high-spiritual life and then all is dormant and dead; they cannot hold on to that joy day after day. They would like to depart from this world to be near unto God, they would relinquish natural life to taste unhindered of this spiritual joy. But they cannot remain at the mountaintops and communion with God is here a broken line. Why? Because they forget about the second commandment.
For the second commandment forbids us to pursue a spiritual vision of God, that intoxicating joy whereby the earth and this life are forgotten. The Lord says, "You must walk by faith and not by sight." That is not without joy, but that joy is always the joy of faith that meets God in the Word; that is not without experience, but that experience is not a being elevated in the spirit, but it is the experience of faith, the experience that God makes His Word come true, that He fulfills His promises, in the midst of this earth's reality. It is not without feeling as is claimed at times. But the big question is if that feeling takes wings and flies high and singes its wings, or that it is the feeling of faith, the feeling that binds itself to God's Word and therein meets God.
Is spiritual life the blessed joy of feeling oneself elevated above the current of time, above the noise of life? O no, it is in the midst of the confusion of time to have fellowship with God by faith, it is rejoicing in God in the midst of this world. He who is spiritually alive, rejoices as today the Word of promise comes to him; but tomorrow when the quiet of Sunday is past, tomorow he is in the working place, but by the Spirit he lives there to God's glory, and it is not without joy, for he says:
His statutes right and true,
Rejoice the heart anew
And show the Lord's salvation.
He knows himself to be near unto God when he prays, when in the office or when he plays with his children: God also prepares praise from the mouths of children. This spiritual man remains in the midst of every day life and in the Spirit he rejoices everywhere, for he sees life and the Word as one.
This man knows no other barrenness than sin, no other deadness than the desires of the old man. He does not climb from experience to faith, with as only result that he always lacks assurance; no, he feeds on the Word and it proves every day to him that it is true. He walks through this world, this spiritual man, he walks not by sight, and yet it is not a barren life, for he walks already by faith. This man's hope is in God, the hope that at one time he shall see Him like He is, but he does not attempt to run ahead and to leave this world; o no, He purifies himself as God is pure, he binds his life to the Word, for: everyone who has this hope that he shall see God, purifies himself and walks by faith. And walking in faith his feet are established on the way of salvation and so every day he is established in his faith that he shall see God. Faith shall never turn into sight here, but it makes him more certain all the time that at one time he shall see God's face in righteousness. He does not live by feeling, this man, for the flame of ecstasy is soon consumed, but faithfully he lives by the Word of the Lord, for it renews heart and soul, day by day and all his strength; it also stimulates the flame of feeling; his understanding, it is continually fueled by the Word in which he fellowships with the Lord. That is how he goes from strength to strength.
3. That is also how he gains the neighbour for Christ. Mysticism did so much harm already. The children discovered that father could speak spiritually in such a strange way and at the same time live like the world. That turned them off for good. But when he lives after the Spirit, and does not look for spiritual intoxication, but simply walks after the Word, he is a blessing for his children. He did not deceive them. He did not teach them to say big words, use special terms; but he has taught them to listen to the Word of God. The Lord will show mercy to those around him; mysticism poisons whole generations; they talk about a pious mother and a grandmother who was even more pious, but the faith of the fathers blesses children into the third and fourth generations, he taught his children to pray: "Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope" (Ps. 119: 49). He delivered them from the ban of self-willed piety which looks so well but is not what it is made out to be, but taught them simple every day piety. He does not cumber them with conversion stories and stories of pious people; He showed his children the Word of the Lord, Who is merciful unto thousands.
Generations live by the Word. When they go into the joy of the Lord, they say: See here, I, and the children which Thou hast given me. And when they awake, they will see Him as He is. And they will be satisfied with the image of Him Who spoke to them here.
Sunday, March 12, 1944.