This is a sermon on Lord’s Day 1 by Rev. Herman Hoeksema carefully transcribed by Mr. Martin Swart.
Preaching in connection with our Catechism and regularly following the line of doctrinal instruction contained therein are of great importance and significance.
In II Timothy 4 the apostle Paul charges his son Timothy. The content of his charge is that Timothy must preach the Word and maintain sound doctrine, for the time is coming when men will have itching ears and will despise sound doctrine. The beginning of that time Paul could already see. And it is not exaggerating when we say that these days are upon us. On a morning like this, in this city of ours, which is by no means the worst city in our country, there are many people gathered together with itching ears, and still calling themselves Christians. It is not surprising that many people do not even know the first principles of sound doctrine. We may therefore be thankful that we still have ears for sound doctrine. We may also be thankful that our fathers had ears for sound doctrine, and that they found a way to preserve this sound doctrine in our Heidelberg Catechism.
We must have sound doctrine, for without it we perish. The Catechism is sound doctrine, not because it is infallible, but because it is living doctrine. Therefore we must preach, not out of the Catechism, but with the Catechism as our guide. Preaching must always be a preaching of the Word. But that does not mean that it must be out of one single text. It may also be out of a group of texts. That is what we have in our Catechism.
We are about to start again with the discussion of that instruction as it was delivered to us by the fathers. Although the material contained in our instruction book is always the same, yet we can look at that material from different angles, and with a different application. This time it is our purpose to pass through the instruction of our Catechism from a practical point of view. The Catechism is easily applied practically, for it is practical. The Catechism is personal. It is a confession of what lives in the heart and mind of the church. In the Catechism the church confesses what it believes concerning the truth contained in the Word of God. And it does that in a personal way. You notice that at once. Already in the first Lord’s Day the instruction is of a personal, subjective nature. It does not ask: “What is the only comfort in life and death?”but it asks: “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” Therefore the instruction of our Catechism is easily applied.
When I say that we will discuss the Catechism from that practical, subjective point of view, I do not mean that we will ignore and discard the doctrinal contents. For practice without doctrine is impossible. But we wish to ask how this doctrinal content becomes real for us, and in how far is this doctrine reality for us personally? In the second place, if the doctrinal truth is real for us, what fruit ought it to bear in our life? It is from the point of view of these two questions that we wish to study our Catechism. So with this first Lord’s Day, the doctrinal subject of which is: Belonging to Christ.
Theme: Belonging to Christ. 1) The meaning of it. 2) The comfort of it. 3) The assurance of it. 4) The fruit of it.
The meaning of it
To belong to Christ is a thoroughly scriptural idea. The Catechism says: The only comfort of the Christian is that with body and soul he belongs to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. To belong to Christ is a thoroughly biblical idea. Jesus speaks of His sheep, which the Father has given Him. So also the apostles. They speak of the Lord, who purchased us, and of the fact that we are Christ’s. Frequently in the New Testament it is emphasized that the Christian belongs to Christ.
Now to belong to Christ is really a legal, judicial idea. It implies in the first place that Christ is my proprietor. He owns me. I am His property, of which He can dispose as He wills. In the second place it implies that He is my Lord. I belong to Him as a servant belongs to his master. His will is my law. In the third place it implies that He is my representative, and I am in Him. He represents me before the Father, and He is responsible for me. These three things are implied in the confession that we belong to Jesus.
This Lordship is unique, exclusive, and all-comprehensive. The Catechism asks: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” And it answers: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” That is unique, exclusive, all-comprehensive. I do not belong to Him just on Sunday, but every moment, in life and death. He is Lord of my body and soul. He is Lord of all that I am and have.
Now remember, we are looking at this Lordship of Jesus from the point of view of its being a profession. We do not speak of the truth that Jesus owns His people. It is true that He does. But we are looking at this Lordship from the subjective point of view, that I am His. We are speaking about the acknowledgment that I am His, that He is my proprietor, that He is my Lord, that He is my representative and is responsible for me.
How do we become His property? Not by giving ourselves to Him. Scripture teaches that we belong to Christ because of an act of God, by which He gives the church to Christ. Jesus says in John 10: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Now do not turn that around. Jesus does not say: “Ye are not of My sheep, because ye believe not.” He says: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” The sheep are Jesus’ sheep, in the first place, by an act of the triune God whereby He gave the sheep to Jesus. In the second place, they become His sheep by an act of Christ whereby He purchased the sheep. The sheep must be redeemed. By nature these sheep belong to another. These sheep had, through sin, given themselves unto another. But they have been redeemed. They became the property of Christ because God gave them to Him, and because Jesus purchased them. And in the third place they become His sheep by an act of the Holy Ghost whereby they are marked, branded as Jesus’ sheep. That is not our work, but the work of the triune God. The act of God by which He gave us to Jesus is not our act, but God’s act. The act of Christ whereby He purchased us is not our act, but is the act of God. And the act of the Holy Ghost whereby we are branded as Jesus’ sheep is not our act, but is the act of God. The whole process is of God. We do not give ourselves to Jesus. Oh yes, when Christ draws us unto Himself, we consecrate ourselves to Him. In that sense we can speak of giving ourselves to Jesus. But giving ourselves to Jesus in that sense is the fruit of the drawing of Christ by which He makes us His property.
The comfort of it
That is my comfort. Why do we speak of belonging to Christ as a matter of comfort? Comfort presupposes some evil that threatens me. It presupposes some grief that overwhelms me. The positive idea of comfort is that I have knowledge of a great good that counteracts, that I can put over against, the evil that threatens me. That is why we cannot give comfort. If I am to be comforted, I must have something instead of the evil that threatens me. The Christian says, I have but one comfort, and that is that I belong to Christ.
I possess that comfort over against a threefold evil. That threefold evil is first of all the guilt of my sin. I am sinful. My sin makes me guilty before God. And my guilt makes me worthy of death and condemnation. There is my original sin. There are my actual sins. There are my sins of omission and commission. And they make me worthy of death and condemnation. Over against this death and condemnation, my comfort is that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. That is my only comfort. My only comfort is that I belong to Christ, and that He is my proprietor, my Lord, and my representative who is responsible for me. For He blotted out my sins, and wiped out my guilt. He blotted them out forever. And though my sins testify against me, and my conscience accuse me, I know that I am righteous before God.
In the second place, there is the corruption of my heart. There is the power of sin within me. And over against the knowledge of that corruption, I have only one comfort, namely, that I belong to Jesus, who delivers me from that power of sin and corruption.
And, finally, my only comfort over against the evil of death is that I belong to Christ. It is my only comfort over against death in all its fullness. That death threatens to swallow me up. I am afraid of death, even to the extent that I consider him a fool who says that he is not afraid of death. I am afraid of spiritual, temporal, eternal death. I am afraid of death that surrounds me and threatens to swallow me up. And over against that death it is my only comfort that I belong to Him. For He destroyed the power of death for me. And He merited eternal life for me.
The assurance of it
If that be true, we must have the assurance that we are personally the property of Christ. According as we know that we belong to Him we have the comfort of it. It is a personal assurance. Are we able to say this? Are we able to say: “I know that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, with body and soul, both in life and death, and that therefore I have comfort over against the guilt and corruption that make me worthy of death and condemnation”? How do we become assured that we belong to Him?
This assurance is necessary. But it is often lacking. With regard to this assurance, you may meet with two classes of people. There are some who frequently doubt, but who have no reason for doing so. And there are others who say they are always assured, but who have no reason to be so. You frequently find people who say that they often have moments of doubts. Not that they doubt as to the objective truth. They do not doubt that Christ’s sheep belong to Him. That kind of doubt we do not find in our midst. But there is that other peculiar doubt. If you ask these people if they belong to Christ, they say that they often doubt. And they doubt, when they should be sure. There is no reason why such moments of doubt should exist for them. If you ask them the reason for their doubt, they say: “If I look at myself, at my sin, at myself apart from Christ, I see so much sin that I doubt whether I belong to Christ.”
Now if that should be a legitimate reason for doubt, then none of us could say, “I belong to Christ.” We ought, surely, to see our sins. And we ought to examine ourselves daily, to find more sin. But there is a world of difference in who it is that reveals our sins to us. If the devil reveals our sins to us, he leads us away from Christ. But if God reveals our sins to us, He leads us to the cross, to the blood of atonement, and assures us that our sins are forgiven. In that forgiveness, we ought forever to fight to get rid of our sins.
On the other hand, if there is sin with our will in us, we may well doubt. That is the other class I referred to. They say that they are always sure that they belong to Christ. They boast of belonging to Christ. But you feel in your heart that they do not know what they are talking about. It is impossible to walk purposefully in the way of sin, and then say, “I belong to the Lord.” If you do not walk in the way of the Lord, you have no right to have the assurance that you belong to the Lord. Some people say they are sure, but they do not walk in the way of the Lord. Their mind is in the world six days of the week. On Sunday they belong to the Lord. But they live in the world all their life, and when they die they like to belong to Christ.
This is the confession of the Catechism: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” That is the confession of the Christian. All the rest is bunk. How do I know that I belong to Christ? By the Word of God and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Some say that you must only believe the Word. But that is not so. If my natural name was in the Bible, then everything would be plain. But that is not the case. The Bible does not say: Mr. So-and-so belongs to Christ. My natural name is not in the Bible. The Bible says that only the sheep belong to Jesus. And how am I to know that I belong to His people, that I belong to His sheep?
Others say that it is only by the testimony of the Spirit that we become assured that we belong to Jesus. But that is not so either. For how do I know that that testimony is not the testimony of the devil? There are some who say that they know that they belong to Christ because of what the Lord has done for them some twenty or thirty years ago. It may be true that the Lord has done something for you twenty or thirty years ago, but that cannot be the basis for your assurance now. The fundamental question is, am I Christ’s now? Not, did I belong to Christ twenty years ago. It is not a matter of memory. It is a matter of daily experience.
How do I know that I belong to Christ? This is the way. The Spirit of my Lord testifies in the Word of God. And although He does not write my natural name in that Word, He does draw my spiritual picture there. In the Word is a picture of the sheep of Christ. You must find your picture in that Word. That is not difficult. In the first place, do you know yourself in your sins? In the second place, do you put your confidence in Christ for time and eternity? And in the third place, do you desire to fight against sin and to overcome it? If you find that spiritual picture in the Word, then there is that other testimony of the Spirit assuring you that you belong to Christ.
The fruit of it
And then this is the fruit, that we become sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him. I know, we have this fruit only in small beginning. But there is the desire and will to live unto Him. In the light of that, can we say: I belong to Him?