The Christian's Only Comfort
Scripture: Romans 14:1-23
Text: Romans 14:7-9
Sermon by Rev. Claude D. DePrine, III
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Bowmanville, Ontario, 1998
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 17, No. 3
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
I suppose that this first question of our Heidelberg Catechism is the most beautiful statement of divine truth to be found in all of these fifty two Lord’s Days. It is certainly the best known statement, and the best loved. In these words we find a summary of the entire Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, one that touches upon the most fundamental aspects of His redemptive work with but one stroke of the pen. And yet, this being so, we need to remember at the outset that there is a terrible danger of simply clinging to a statement like this in a mere sentimental attachment, one which fails to honestly engage in a serious self-examination of ourselves with respect to this truth. Well, as we would think upon this question and answer, let us do so with two simple divisions of thought: the question raised; and the question answered.
A. First of all, this question pertains to the subject of comfort. The question raised is not, “What is your only joy in life and in death?” It is not, “What is your only goal in life and in death?” Rather it is this, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Now there is nothing wrong with posing the question before men’s minds of what their joy in life is or what their goal in life may be. Much can be learned about a man from that sort of inquiry. But the question raised here pertains to something even more basic. It supposes that something has been found in men’s lives which has disposed them to great discomfort. Indeed that discomfort is even introduced by the question itself when it asks not only what our comfort is in life but in death.
What do we mean by this word “comfort?” Ursinus defined it this way: “Comfort is a certain determination of the mind, whereby we posit some good thing over against a certain evil which we experience, by the contemplation of which we alleviate the grief and patiently bear the evil.” Now, you see, this very first question of our catechism proceeds upon the assumption that something is to be found in the experience of mankind that has placed man in a position of pain, suffering, sorrow, death, and misery; something for which there is needed a remedy to mitigate if not remove completely this discomfort. What that thing is we shall consider more particularly in Lord’s Days two through four, but suffice it to say here that it pertains to man’s sin and rebellion against God and all the effects of such under God’s wrath and judgment.
B. Second, I would have you notice that the question raised here is not concerned with the matter of comfort in general but rather with a singular answer or solution to man’s discomfort. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if modern science and medicine could come up with but one drug or pill that could answer to all the diseases and infirmities of mankind? (i.e. colds, flu, cancer, etc.). Better yet, suppose that some pill could be found which could satisfy all of man’s hunger and nutritional needs, a pill that could stop the aging process altogether or even reverse it. Suppose that same pill could cause people and nations to get along with each other and put an end to warfare. What a market would be found for such in our world today! And yet, the question before us in this Lord’s Day proposes just such a singular remedy, one that is able to answer to all of man’s discomforts and bring life that shall never end!! (Note: The question here is not, “What is your chief comfort?” It is rather, “What is your only comfort?”)
C. Third, I would call your attention to the personal nature of the question that is raised here. “What is your only comfort in life and death?” This is not an abstract question that is proposed to philosophers. This is not some sort of proxy question that is being posed. Every man, woman, boy, and girl present who is old enough to understand with some discernment what I say is confronted personally and individually with this question. What is your only comfort in life and death? This is not a question about what your wife’s comfort is, or what your husband’s comfort is. Boys and girls, this is not a question about what it is that gives comfort to your parents, or your friends. The question is addressed to each one of us personally. “What is my comfort?” And that is the most basic and important personal question you will ever have to answer in life. It is a question that no one else can or has a right to answer for you.
D. Fourth, consider the fact that this question pertains to every facet of a man’s temporal existence from the cradle to the grave (life, and death). The question proceeds from the assumption that if ever a man is going to find comfort that is real, it must be during the duration of that period of time in which his physical life is etched out in history. It is not a question that can be answered from the grave. If we are to find comfort, it must be discovered over the course of our present temporal existence.
Furthermore, the question proceeds as well from the assumption that it is in the present existence of a person’s lifetime that he or she peculiarly needs comfort. (e.g. When does a person suffering from a headache take an aspirin for relief? Not after the headache has passed away, but during the present discomfort suffered by the headache.) Likewise the words “life” and “death” imply that comfort must be sought and found now if a man is to be sustained through his most dark and trying hours as he faces death, the grave, and eternity that lies beyond.
E. There is one other thing that we need to note about this question and that is that it presupposes that there is some one place, thing, or person in particular to which or to whom everyone of us is looking for relief from the discomforts and miseries associated with life and death. In other words, this question is one which pertains to matters of faith or trust. Whether that faith and trust is directed towards one’s possessions, position in life, his money, his parents, his doctor, or even himself, the implication of this question is that no man is able to live and die without faith’s being an integral part of his existence (not even the most avowed atheist).
Now before we move on to consider the answer to this searching question rooted in divine revelation, let me apply this matter to your conscience. Suppose you had never read or been exposed to the Christian faith or to the answer given here by our catechism to this question. Now someone comes up to you and asks you, “My friend, what is your only comfort in life and death?” How would you respond as a natural man totally ignorant of divine truth? Wouldn’t you answer that question, as most do, solely in terms of your present condition and circumstances, and what you are able to perceive with your five native senses? Of course, you would.
Here’s a young boy playing a game of street hockey.” You ask him this question and how does he answer you? “Why talk to me about death? I am only nine years old. I have my whole life before me. Comfort? Well, I suppose mom and dad supply that.” Here is a young woman to whom you ask the same question. And she answers, “Death? Why I am not even married yet. I am just beginning a career in life. Don’t talk to me about death. Comfort? Well, I have a nice apartment, nice clothes, and a good job.” Here is a young man, let us say that he is in his twenties or thirties. “Death? Listen, I have just started a new business and I am trying to sock away as much as I can for old age. Don’t talk to me about death. Comfort? Well, I have already got a good nest egg put away, and I find a great deal of comfort and relaxation from my hobbies and sports.”
But let us take a different sort of case now. Here is an old man who has just been told by his doctor that he has at best six months to live. “Death? O, please don’t talk to me about that. Let me live out what is left of my life as best as I can. Comfort? Well, the doctor has given me some pain killers which seem to help somewhat, and I have heard of a new drug that may be the very thing that will cure me. The doctor is putting me on it next week.”
Beloved, what is true in each of these cases I have mentioned? The answers given were formulated on the sole basis of each person’s present circumstances and with what can be measured by the five senses, things which only reflect the concerns of temporal issues. Well, let me ask you to answer this question honestly in your own heart, “Are you able to answer this searching question any differently than from the illustrations I have just given? Can you honestly give an answer that rises higher than your present circumstances and senses, one that comes not simply from having memorized Lord’s Day One, but rather one that comes from the inner experience of the power of divine truth in your heart? A more important question you will never face in life. Well, what is the only real and satisfying answer to this probing question?
A. First, notice how totally contrary this answer is to that of the natural man. It is seen in the concern for the soul as well as the body, and likewise in this matter of being the possession of another.
1. This answer speaks of that which pertains both to soul and body. Do you see, how unlike the thinking of the natural man this is? Everyone today is concerned about the body. We are concerned about how to dress it and care for it. We see men concerned to keep it physically fit. We see people trying to avoid certain foods and drugs that may be harmful to the body. We see people concerned about having enough food and water to sustain life on this earth. We see men working to eliminate every form of disease known to mankind. We see people making use of every thing supplied by the cosmetic industry to make the body beautiful. There is a concern for bringing to the body the sensual pleasures and delights that will make life as buoyant as possible. There is a concern to make this life free from all the effects of pollution, etc. But where do we find men and women concerned with matters of the soul, that thing which makes man unique from all the beasts of creation and which marks him as one who will live for eternity either in bliss or in torment?
I know that there is a real danger from the mentality among some to think that the only thing that matters is a man’s soul and getting men’s souls saved, but after all, that is to be the primary concern. To be sure there is the reality that men and women are body-soul beings, and that, as such, this life and its buoyancy are important matters. But we do a great disservice to the souls of men, if we simply coddle to their social and temporal needs and never press upon them their spiritual and eternal needs. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Well, our catechism sets before us here that the child of God is one who has been brought to answer the question of comfort in life and death with a balanced recognition of the importance of both the body and soul.
2. The other thing this answer sets forth which is contrary to the natural mind of man is this matter of one’s being the possession or property of another. (cf. vs. 7-8 of our text) What could be more opposite to the natural heart of man than this? By nature we do not like to think of ourselves as the possession of another, or anything that may hint that we are in some way under authority to others or dependent upon them. (e.g. the women’s movement; divorce; abortion; children’s rights; etc.) Belonging to someone else implies submission and dependence to that one who owns us, and the natural man wants nothing to do with any attachment that involves such or which presents itself as a hindrance to his doing his own thing. A man will gladly join himself to another if there is something that is to be gained by it for himself. But he wants all the privileges and benefits of belonging to another with none of the commitment and responsibility that goes along with it (e.g. marriage).
The Christian is one who has been brought by God’s grace to freely confess from the heart that he is not his own, that he has been bought with a price. And while that purchase of himself brings him great peace, comfort, and blessing in being made free from both the power and the penalty of sin, the Christian, nonetheless, freely and willingly acknowledges his submission to the yoke of the one Who has purchased him and his readiness to render to that one complete obedience in all that He commands him. (Romans 6:16)
B. The other thing to be observed in this answer to this question of our catechism is just this, the one to Whom the Christian belongs and Who brings him comfort in life and death. It is the “faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Now because this question and answer is just an introduction to the subsequent Lord’s Days, it is not my concern here at this time to answer at length how Christ brings men such comfort. I only wish to call your attention in closing to these basic facts:
1. Whatever comfort Christ brings to men in life and death, He brings in complete unanimity with the other persons of the godhead (the Triune God). (cf. Question #1) Therefore, to deny such a doctrine or to be indifferent to it is to strike a fatal blow to any true comfort for sinful men.
2. Whatever comfort Christ brings to men in life and death, He brings as the consequence of having shed His blood as a man, and in being raised up from the dead. (cf. Question #1, Romans 14:9) Therefore, to deny or to be indifferent to the doctrine of the atonement, and “blood theology” is to deny or be indifferent to the only way of one’s procuring true comfort that will sustain him both in life and in death.
3. Whatever comfort Christ brings to men in life and death, He brings in the character of one Who is absolutely faithful. As we read in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So then regardless of the changing circumstances in one’s life the attitude, provision, and care of Christ for those who are His never changes. Therefore, to deny or to remain indifferent to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is to trample under foot His deity and to rob oneself of the only assurance in life and death that all things are working together for his good both now and in the life that is yet to come.
4. Finally, whatever comfort Christ brings to men in life and death, He brings to those and only those who are united to Him in faith. If we miss this, we miss the whole point of the Lord’s Day before us. The comfort one received from all misery in life and death brought on because of sin comes from nothing more nor less than a believing saving attachment to Jesus Christ. I belong to Him. He has purchased me. All my hopes are in Him and Him alone. Without Him I can do nothing. With Him I can do all things. My trust rests nowhere else but in Jesus Christ, the faithful Savior.
Again I ask you, is this truly the confession of your heart? Can you say with all of your heart that the only real and lasting comfort you find from all the miseries brought on by sin are bound up in being united to Him by faith? If not, my friend, whatever comfort you may think that you possess, by that which has your heart and upon which you rely, is a damning delusive comfort that is doomed to pass away when you come to die and to stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12). O may God be pleased to press this truth home to the heart of anyone who may be here and whose comfort lies in anyone or anything else save Christ. Amen!