The Miracle of Personal Comfort
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40
Reading: Lordís Day 1, Q&A 1
233:1-3,6; 94:1-4; 458:1-3; 406:1-3; 224:1,2
Sermon by Rev. Harry Van Dyken
Minister in the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 21, No. 2
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
We have turned to the first question and answer of our confession, the Heidelberg Catechism. We do so remembering the beauty and the wonder of confession. The church in her history and, particularly the Reformed Churches in their history, have left us a rich confessional heritage. Of all the confessions of the Reformation, the Heidelberg Catechism is, without doubt, the most beautiful. And, in that catechism, there is no more beautiful and concise expression of the wonder of God’s grace and the believers’ assurance than in this first question and answer. As with the chapter we have read from the prophecy of Isaiah, the confession here speaks of comfort. As with Isaiah 40, it speaks of comfort as the work of God. As with Isaiah 40, it speaks of it as a miracle of grace, as that which is really an impossibility, made possible by the power and grace of Jehovah, the covenant God.
To stand before the living God and hear Him say that even "All the nations are as nothing before Him: they are accounted as less than nothing, and vanity", and still to speak of comfort can only be a miracle.
It is at this point that the matter of confession, of a confessing church, becomes so wonderful and meaningful. How can man, man who in aggregate is still less than nothing, ever find voice to speak of certainty and of life. How can man speak of God and truly speak of knowing Him?
Lord’s Day 1, question and answer 1, speaks of "The Miracle of Personal Comfort."
1. In the redemption of the Son;
2. In the sovereign love of the Father; and,
3. In the indwelling Word of the Holy Spirit.
One could well place an introduction to this beautiful statement of the completely sufficient work of the triune God and that introduction, included in this question and answer, contains two parts: it states first of all that I am desperately in need of comfort. This statement will be further expanded in the first section of the catechism, but it is clearly there. One does not ask concerning the source of one’s comfort without that comfort having been needed. One does not ask concerning a comfort which reaches to life and death, unless it is just this extensive comfort that is needed. Secondly, the confession hints strongly at the root of this need of comfort when it begins its answer by saying, "That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own." Obviously I have been operating under a strong delusion that I was independent and did belong to myself. And the worse my situation became, the more stridently did I proclaim and maintain that I was my own owner and the master of my own fate and destiny. History has made very clear the total need for comfort which such a situation demands. Man, as his self-proclaimed owner and lord, noisily catapults himself into death.
Into this terrible noise and tumult of death the question meaningfully rings out: "What is your only comfort in life and death?" And the church is able to answer that question because she has listened carefully to the Word of God. For that reason the answer can be sounded out clearly and confidently — an answer that meets the problem honestly and head on — "I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ." The beautiful and consistent refrain of the inspired Psalms is precisely that message — deliverance from the horror of presumed independence to simple and believing dependence on God in Christ. The very first words of the first Psalm make that comparison tellingly. It says that blessing rests where the sinner, the wicked and the scoffer are not in company. It says that life and fruitfulness are guaranteed where that life is drawing deep on the river of life, on the law of God and on His promises.
So with complete confidence, the believer, as a member of the confessing church of Jesus Christ, says that his sin and folly are all gone. He says with complete confidence that the redemptive work of Christ is for him! He does not look at the work of atonement as merely something objective, something out there which Christ accomplished way back in history and which is now simply there for me to take or to refuse. No, this confession speaks out clearly in a direct personal way. It says, in effect, that since Christ owns me, I own His work as my own. Therefore the very personal and confident affirmation, "He fully satisfied for my sin," but it puts it even more strongly than that. It says, "He has fully satisfied for all my sins."
The cross of Calvary is no half-way solution. The cross of Calvary does not leave a work in partial completion. The cross of Calvary does not help me part-way out of the depths of failure and death. He fully satisfies for all my sin, and delivers me from all the power of the devil. As one seeks to speak out from the Word of Gal on this matter, the number of references are simply overwhelming. As a matter of fact, this message is a constant theme in the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.
I suppose the most beautiful expression of this glorious truth of justification is stated in Jeremiah 31 and quoted again in Hebrews 8 and 10, which contains this glorious affirmation, "and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." And, if you desire the whole picture, you will see that the previous part of Hebrews 10 is an unconditional statement of the total effectiveness of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. "For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14).
"He has delivered me from all the power of the devil." This speaks directly to the heart of the child of God in the midst of his temptations and life’s situations. The devil is so powerful. Temptations are so real and often so severe. I am so weak in myself. What a tremendous comfort to know that I am delivered from the power of the devil. He has lost his power. Compare Revelation 7 with Revelation 13. In chapter 7 you see God graciously place His seal on His own, and covenantally guarantees that they will be kept through all of the trials of life and death and into eternity. On the other hand, in Revelation 13 we see those who receive the mark of the beast and are thus left in the power of the devil.
Yes, church of Jesus Christ, we may confidently confess that the work of Jesus Christ not only includes this, but that it includes it for me and guarantees it to me forever.
It is well to consider and be reminded of the beautiful and full statement of the wonder of substitutionary atonement as God gave it in Isaiah 53. That is why Isaiah 40 can speak of comfort and say that God’s people have already received the double for all their sin. Her warfare is accomplished — accomplished in the promises of God and on the cross of Calvary. That is why the Word of God can speak comfort to man — to God’s people. That is why, when the preacher seems uncertain and says, "What shall I cry?", that the message that is given to him in the light of man’s being as grass, is a message of good tidings. "Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come as a mighty One, and His arm will rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him."
And we are absolutely sure that this belongs to us, for "He so preserves me that without the will of my Heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head..." It is affirmed and assured in the sovereign love of the Father.
Without the will of my heavenly father not one hair can fail from my head. We cannot fail to remember Christ’s wonderful words in the sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 6, "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on... for your heavenly father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matthew 6:25,33,34). If my Father in heaven is concerned for the hairs of my head, surely my whole life is of tremendous importance!
And notice that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my heavenly Father. The catechism confesses that it must be a decision on the part of God the Father for even one hair to fall out. How wonderfully the confession has caught the biblical message of the sovereign power of God in His love and in His grace to His children.
"Yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation." Romans 8:28 tells us that "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose." Further in that same chapter we are assured that the risen Christ is praying for us constantly. So we are assured by the sovereign love of God that in the redemption of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are not merely kept from eternal tragedy, the tragedy of hell, but that already now, each and every day, everything that happens, no matter where or when, God has made it serve our salvation. It is God saying that everything, every circumstance of history has been turned into a servant, serving the purpose of our salvation. It reminds us of the last part of Psalm 23, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…" God will use anything and everything that happens to make my salvation more real, more rich, more all-inclusive, more consciously mine, more day-by-day enjoyable.
Did you lose a loved one and find that the loss is almost beyond your ability to bear? Have you suffered sickness and pain so constant and gnawing that it is hard to imagine life without it? Have you experienced disappointment in work and business, in family or social life? Your Father, our Father, has promised with covenantal sureness that it will serve our salvation. It will be good for us. Is that hard to accept and to understand? Yes, but absolutely and unconditionally true.
And the miracle of personal comfort is made consciously and personally our possession by the indwelling Holy Spirit. First of all, He assures me of eternal life. He does this by His Holy Spirit. Please note that this means that the Holy Spirit has been given to Christ, my Savior, to be sent into my heart so that a sinner such as I am may be absolutely certain of eternal life. Yes, there will be times when I doubt myself. But then the Lord graciously turns my eyes away from the failure that is myself and fixes them on my gracious Lord who never fails.
It is important to realize that this assuring work of the Spirit is not merely a subjective something, a feeling that I have. If my assurance depends on a feeling that I have, it would be subject to my moods and feelings. No, thank God, the Spirit does not work that way. He brings that precious Word of God home to my heart and it is there that I find it. Then I know that I can say with Paul, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." Then I know that the words of that closing part of Romans 8 is emphatically for me, "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord."
And finally we see that He turns my life for Him into joy. He "makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him." Yes, there are times when I find that it is not a joy to obey the law of God. There are times when I find that it is not joy to resist the temptations of the evil one. But when I turn to Him in prayer, when I plead with Him for that mighty Spirit, then again I am brought from the wretchedness and crying of Romans 7 to the cry of victory and assurance of Romans 8, even as I find true joy in seeking to do the will of my heavenly Father.
Then I learn with the Psalmist to shout out my love of the law of God. Then I learn to know its beauty as the pattern that God gave for a life which He purchased, for a home which He cleaned and in which He moved to dwell.
This is my only comfort in life and death. This does mean that there is nothing else which can give me comfort. This does mean that even my own failure and the sometimes pressing testimony of my conscience that it is almost hopeless to try to live for Him, cannot take away from me this glorious comfort which is the gift of the grace of the triune God: the redeeming Son; the sovereign loving Father; the mighty indwelling Holy Spirit.
If God be for us, who can be against us? Amen.