An Invitation to the Heidelberg Catechism: Part Two
Let’s focus on the Heidelberg Catechism’s two opening programmatic questions and answers, Q&A 1 introduces the theme of the Catechism: Living and Dying in Comfort. Sometimes preachers come up with more alliterated, memorable outlines such as Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude; or Sin, Salvation, and Service. This “threefold knowledge” as one commentator called it, follows the big picture of Paul’s letter to the Romans. After his introductory greetings in Romans 1:1–17, Paul goes on to speak of worldwide judgment (1:18–3:20), salvation for the world of Jews and Gentiles (3:21–11:36), and how the saved are to live in sacrificial service to one another (chs. 12–16).
The Theme of the Heidelberg: Living and Dying in Comfort
Q&A 1, the theme, asks and answers:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has delivered me from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, also assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
What is “Comfort?”
Don’t impute an image of feeling “comfy” or being “comfortable” when you hear comfort (trost, German; consolatio, Latin). Ursinus wrote, “Comfort is that which results from a certain process of reasoning, in which we oppose something good to something evil, that by a proper consideration of this good, we may mitigate our grief, and patiently endure the evil.”
Comfort speaks of the assurance that I ultimately will be in the presence of God. Click To Tweet When I compare and contrast the good of Jesus Christ’s grace with the evil of my sins, I experience trost, consolatio, comfort; I experience certainty. Ursinus explained that comfort is “the assurance and confident expectation” that we will have a “full and perfect enjoyment” of our salvation “in the life to come, with a beginning and foretaste of it already, in this life.” Comfort speaks of the assurance that I ultimately will be in the presence of God.
Having comfort is so urgent and vital. Sudden and tragic deaths remind the world that life under the sun is fallen, fragile, fleeting, and feels futile. We’re all going to die. Karl Barth wrote, “Human life has an eschatological edge, a boundary line.” In the words of King Solomon, whether you’re righteous or wicked, good or evil, clean or unclean, make a sacrifice to God or not: “as the good one is, so is the sinner…the same event happens to all” (Ecc. 9:2, 3).
The Lord God told Adam after sinning: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). David memorably sung the Lord “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone” (Ps. 103:14–16). Job reflected on humanity: “He comes out [of the womb] like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not” (14:2). It’s urgent to have all-encompassing comfort body and soul, in life and in death.
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that our subjective comfort is rooted in and produced by what is objectively good. Comfort is Christological. Click To Tweet What is your only comfort…That I am not my own. This isn’t some frozen or static question. It’s personal; it’s passionate! Whenever you read question 1, you’re confronted with recommitting yourself to the Triune God. If you do not yet trust in Jesus, this question asks you to consider what you’re hoping in. This isn’t merely a head-knowledge kind of question and answer either. B.B. Warfield criticized this personalness saying the Heidelberg is overly subjective in contrast to the objective Westminster Catechisms. But the Heidelberg teaches that our subjective comfort is rooted in and produced by what is objectively good. Comfort is Christological. Heidelberg begins with who we are in Christ, while Westminster begins with what we ought to do.
The Christ of our Comfort
After we say what our only comfort is, we go on to express why Jesus is our only comfort: that I am not my own, but belong…to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7–8); “[Christ] gave himself for us” that we might be “a people for his own possession” (Tit. 2:14). I belong to Jesus Christ; this is the key to comfort. Belonging to Christ is “uniquely Christian comfort.” Why? Because it’s
. . . a comfort consisting in the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God, by and on account of Christ, and a certain expectation of eternal life, impressed upon the heart by the holy Spirit through the gospel, so that we have no doubt but that we are the property of Christ, and are beloved of God for his sake, and saved forever.
We belong to Christ; what’s he done to make us his own? The answer goes on to list theological descriptions of what Jesus did; but these aren’t merely theological words, they’re our responses to the devil’s accusations.
I belong to Jesus Christ; this is the key to comfort. Click To Tweet First, he has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. To say fully paid (plenissime satisfaciens) is a direct apologetic against Rome’s insistence on continual satisfaction. The debt I owe to God for all my sins (pro omnibus peccatis) has been paid in full by Jesus. How? With his “precious blood” and “not with perishable things such as silver and gold” (1 Peter 1:18, 19 cf. Heb. 1:3; 2:17; 5:9; 9:12, 26).
Second, he has delivered (liberavit) me from the tyranny of the devil. Because of Adam’s original sin and our actual sins, practically, we belonged to the devil. Jesus said, “Truly, truly…everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Because we all “share in [the] flesh and blood [of humanity], he himself likewise partook of the same…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Since the devil’s temptation and instigation led to Adam’s sin that led to death, Jesus died then rose again to crush the devil’s power! He entered the strong man’s house (Satan) to plunder his goods (us) by binding him! (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27). Contra Star Wars’s mythology, the world is not controlled by co-eternal principles of “the dark side” verses “the light side.”
Third, he also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Jesus not only purchased salvation for us, he preserves us in it. Ursinus said, “Our safety does not lie in our own hands, or strength; for if it did, we should lose it a thousand times every moment.” Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28–30). Jesus said don’t fear persecution by those who can kill your body; fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). Why not fear? Because you’re more valuable to him than the sparrows that live and die because of his will (Matt. 10:30, 31).
The Application of our Comfort
Now that I’m Christ’s, there are two practical aspects the Catechism brings up.
First, because I’m Christ’s by his Holy Spirit [he] also assures me of eternal life. Paul said that if we have the Spirit we have Christ. For this reason he calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Christ,” and he went on to say that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:9, 16).
Second, because I’m Christ’s by His Holy Spirit he makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. In Titus 2, Paul said Christ “gave himself for us” for two reasons: “to redeem us from all lawlessness” and “to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” He then described those people as those “who are zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14).
**This is part two of Daniel’s three-part post on the Heidelberg Catechism. To read part one, click here**