“I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches”.
Hearers, have we also got a testimony? And is our testimony the testimony of the Lord? You may wish to say that you too believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. But do you hold the view, do you think, do you believe that the Lord Jesus would say the same to you now as He did when He was in Caesarea Philippi with His disciples: “Blessed art thou, A, B or C, or whatever your name may be, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven”? (Matt. 16:17). You cannot rely on your confession or testimony if you do not believe this. You are in need of assurance, the assurance of understanding, the assurance of faith, the assurance of hope. You have to be convinced that, if you stood alone in the whole world, the confession of your faith would be the same as it is now. We must reckon with difficult times, against which we have to arm ourselves.
The apostle Paul says: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). You are now here, sitting under the preaching, and we ask you: what could you tell of such word: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might”? This strength, have you ever been apprehended by it? And what happened as a result of this? We will never take hold of God’s strength. You know that in Isaiah 27 is spoken about this: “Or let him take hold of My strength” (verse 5). We will never take hold of the strength which if from Above, if the mighty God, “El gibbόr” (Isa. 9:5), has not apprehended us. And my question was not whether you agree with the confession of the Church of Christ, whether you defend this confession, but whether you have ever taken hold of the strength of God. The necessary things only take place by this, because faith – I mean true faith; saving, uniting and salvation-apprehending faith; justifying and sanctifying faith – is believing according to the faith of the operation of God, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20 and Col. 2:12). Do not regard faith as a common thing. Do not think that man could believe if not God enters his heart; you would find yourself deceived.
If you have the testimony of the Word and the Holy Spirit that your heart has been formed to accept Christ and the Father in Him, strive after more assurance. It is indeed great when man feels the freedom to come before the Lord with all his things, and to ask if it is not known to Him that these things have Him as Author. I say, this is great. But there is a thing which is greater, namely being built up on one’s most holy faith.
First faith is created, but then this faith is still weak. It needs strengthening, and the Holy Spirit has undertaken to carry out this work. And He does this by means of the preaching, if to be had, and by the ministry of the sacrament, if this is possible.
Do you have the witness of the Holy Spirit in your heart that your faith is the faith of the elect? Then, confess your faith, confess it, confess it in plain words. To this end is needed: in the first place, that you have been taught of God to know the grounds of Christian religion, and secondly, that you have an uncomplicated mind; no pious mind, but a Christian mind; such a mind is simple, must be uncomplicated. For he who truly has the testimony of the Spirit and the Word in him, does know that it is not his vocation to maintain God’s truth in his own strength and by his own light – the truth maintains itself – but that it is merely his duty to follow after, and to speak if it pleases God to enable to speak. Man is living under the law and not with the gospel, if this is not borne in mind.
Well, this is our duty if we are Christians. So then, it is necessary that we let ourselves bring deeper into the truth. The Church prays for this, Psalm 25:5: “Lead us in Thine truth” – to be led deeper in the truth. The creation of faith, and repentance as a fruit thereof, are the fundamentals. Although it has always to be the same in the preaching, namely “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), yet it would not be good if you always heard me preach these things without deepening and expansion. For it is written: “We shall know, if we follow on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). However, when it is always the same with you, it is no good either. You should be able to bring forth out of your treasure things new and old (Matt. 13:52). If you do not do this, you have to keep watch, and the risk of self-deceit is by no means imaginary. You must be able to touch the one with whom you come into contact. Contend then for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude :3), and do this by the light and through the strength of the Holy Spirit. Begin by recognizing your calling, and believe then the word: “Faithful is he that calleth you, Who also will do it” (1 Thes. 5:24).
And now it is not enough when you say: “Yes, but everything is in such a backslidden condition and things look so gloomy everywhere.” For if you think that herewith the issue is settled, then the discerning listener might well perceive that things look so gloomy for you personally and that you are such a backslidden person. No, no, recognize you calling! Learn to become acquainted with it and recognize it, and look then unto the quoted word: “Faithful is he that calleth you, Who also will do it.”
Prepare yourself in such a manner for the evil day. Will the evil come tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or not until after many years? But it will come, it will be coming! And man need not be a prophet to be able to pronounce this, because it is felt everywhere. At this moment there is no pondering person who does not feel, consider and state the distressfulness of our time. What will you do against this? I know what you will be doing. You will act as if it had not been announced to you. You bury your head in the sand like the ostrich. And you continue, because this is what you like to do. Even if it is true that so many and so great dangers are threatening, you do not wish to give up the piece of the world you are looking for. That is what you are doing! Well, proceed then with doing so; nothing else than eternal damnation is prepared for you!
But no, do not continue with this! Elderly people, stop at last with it; stand still, elderly people! Is it this for which you have your experience, still to go on and on in the same way? Stop this wicked work, you who are in the full bloom of your life! Youngsters and children, forsake this way!
“Ah, what must I do then?” is perhaps someone’s question. It could be of significance if there would be such a person here. This question is sometimes raised, but not seriously; it is no heartfelt question. But let us assume that there is really somebody here for whom this question has become a question of life and death. Then my answer is as follows.
Believe your fall (in Adam)! And look straight in the eye the sins committed in your own person! When they are coming straight at you – and they do this with everybody – then do not try to ward off the nasty thought which arises as a result of this, but give way to it, give way to it, and say: “Yes, I am guilty of this sin, I am guilty of that sin, I am guilty of that sin, I am guilty of that sin.” Continue in this way, go on with doing so. Do not spare yourself, but give way to the charge, and go on in this way – hurtful, but necessary!
Then, believe that you are a deeply miserable person that in the whole universe there is nothing which can be called as miserable as you are. Believe this, and believe in addition to this, that you would be eternally lost if today or tomorrow you were summoned before the Lord. Do not sidestep this thought, but let it be a clear warning to you. Listen to it and do this continually.
Thirdly, confess that of which you are being convinced. It is bitter and hard, but necessary, absolutely necessary. Confess and seek an opportunity to do this. Withdraw yourself into solitude. And insofar there is no need for being at work, spend this time, if in any way possible, in solitude in order to confess. Are you accustomed to walk – I advise you strongly to do it – go there where the least coming and going is, and give yourself to meditation, accusatory meditation. You must not seek so often the company of people. When you are on a quiet road, there should be no desire in you to start a discussion with whichever person you meet. On the contrary, you must flee from this as much as you can. You must give yourself over to loneliness in order that meditations should arise, accusatory meditations. Be occupied herein.
Furthermore, believe the gospel. It is preached to you. By means of the gospel the Lord Jesus is presented and offered to us. Be sure that you are called to accept the gospel, to take Christ into your heart. Be sure that this is your duty, a duty of which you cannot say: “I am unable to do this.” Being able or unable, it is a must for you. You must accept this to be said to you. You must accept that you are commanded to believe, and that is that! And also that you are damned if you do not believe, like Christ Jesus has taught: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).
If you now say: “But all the same it is true that I cannot believe of my own accord”, then my answer is: “It is fully true”, and nevertheless I say to you that you have to recognize the calling and the duty to believe. And if you do this, if you recognize the duty and the calling to believe, then no day will pass for you, and perhaps no night either, that you have not struggled to believe, and not tried to accept Jesus Christ. And then one can never know what unexpectedly might come unto us and might take place.
This is what I have to say to you. And then you must never rest before you have come to the exclamation: “I have found it; I am found and I have found!”
Follow your nearest light (the conviction of conscience). This is a gift of common grace, but it is a gift from Above. Follow your nearest light, and do pay attention to it whether this light was extinguished in you as a result of the shining light of which is spoken in the prophecies of Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee” (Isa. 60:1).
(From: Sermon on Psalm 119:14, 2 November 1952 in The Hague.)