Posts Tagged ‘Heidelberg Catechism’

The first question (taken up last week) in the Heidelberg Catechism was: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

The second question regards how we come to that comfort. It asks: “How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?” And then it goes on to say there are “Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.”

Note for a moment how clear this teaching really is. It doesn’t say, “since there are many things to know, it is therefore unhelpful do delineate any universal principles true to everyone’s situation.” No, rather it lays out a very clear and concise summery of the basic ingredients of knowledge that are essential to Christian life.

First, the greatness of my sin and misery.

However unpopular talking about sin might be, the Reformed were clear on this point: nothing is more practical and indeed essential than that we understand the nature of man and his perilous predicament. Indeed, it is man’s nature as a sinner before the righteous judgment of a holy God this is particularly and perennially out of style.

But how to we come to know our misery? By the Law of God.

God gave the law first from Mount Sinai saying, “Love God, and Love your Neighbor.” Later Jesus further explicated the law on the Sermon on the Mount telling us how we love must from the heart and even love our enemies. Thus, the law gives us God’s righteous standards. In sum it commands us to “Be perfect.”

“Oh come on now,” someone might object. “It doesn’t actually mean ‘be perfect.’ Everybody knows we can’t be perfect. God wouldn’t be so unjust to require of people something impossible for them to perform.”  But would God really be unjust? Is God actually merely saying, “Oh, you can try hard enough, and if you’re basically a good person all-around, I’ll let you into my kingdom”? In effect, does God just wink at our sin?

Somehow, down deep inside, we all know this doesn’t ring true. We have a sneaky suspicion that God probably isn’t very happy with us, and is actually probably pretty mad at us. Furthermore, in the deeper recesses of our consciences, we also probably have a pretty good idea why God is angry with us and that he has good reason. We are all sinners and we know it. We are unrighteous and deserve to be punished one way or another. As Paul writes to the Romans:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin (Rom. 3:19-20).

But we’ll never come to this realization unless the law drives us there. Rather, we’ll ever end up stifling such contemplations and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.  Only the law of God in its pure, unadulterated intensity, can waken drunken sinners from their perilous stupor. Only the law of God can cut someone to the quick like is demonstrated by the tax collector  who “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13).

Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v. 24-25).

Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery.

That “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11) which sets the prisoners free is none other than that declarative message, indeed that announcement of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Paul called this of “first importance.” That which he received, he also delivered to others:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Notice the historic emphasis in all of this. Paul is not talking about a mere sentimental experience he had, but about what actually happened in space, time, and history. This stuff would have been on the evening news! And it was being announced all throughout “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This was a message, with a particular content. And it was essential that it be heralded to all the world. This is why Paul could cite the scripture, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15) and come to the conclusion, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

But what really is so good about this supposedly good news anyway?  Isn’t the gospel kind of like a ‘new law’ in the end anyway?

That’s a great question, and the answer is a big no. The gospel is not just a new law. In fact, the gospel is not the law, nor law at all. It is gospel! It is entirely and categorically distinct. The law commands, the gospel promises. The law says “do,” while the gospel says, “done.” In fact as one person put it, “the gospel gives what the law demands.”

“How does this happen?” one might justly ask? The answer comes through the doctrine of justification by faith alone: By believing upon Jesus Christ, God not only forgives one’s sins, but also imputes the righteousness and holiness of Christ unto the sinful believer. This means that not only are our sins taken care of at the cross, but Christ’s perfect obedience to the law is also credited to us who believe.

This means the gospel is not just a cosmic do-over where God presses the restart button and gives sinners a second chance: “Okay, I forgave your sins, try harder this time.” God isn’t just the God of second chances. Rather, God saves sinners, period!  He’s the God who kills and makes alive. He’s the God who saves to the uttermost, those who were dead in their trespasses. There is a profound sense in which God, by sending Christ into the world, was not merely rewinding the tape to give men another opportunity to save themselves.  He was not just putting man back in the garden with another try at resisting the forbidden fruit. Rather, he was putting Christ, the Son of God, in the garden. And this time, the second Adam would drive out the serpent, crushing its head, and earn the eternal inheritance for all his people . We must make no mistake, “salvation is of the Lord” and it is a gift. God is doing the saving — all of it. And he alone will get all the glory.

So if this is true (which it is), how do we get all this benefit? How do receive all these blessings? This forgiveness of our sins? This righteousness imputed to us?  Oh, friend! Now we enter into the most important question of all. And the answer is by faith alone!

“[W]hat must I do to be saved?” asked the Phillippian jailor. And the Evangelists reply: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31).

“By faith alone?” someone might wonder. “Isn’t that too easy? What about obedience to the law, and overcoming our sin? Doesn’t it say somewhere that “only the doers of the law will be justified” (Rom 2:11) and that a person “is justified by works and not by faith alone: (Jas. 2:24).  Well, those are all good questions, and have been taken up in more detail elsewhere.  But in short, yes the “doers of the law” would be justified by the law — if in fact there were any such doers! But the clear witness from scripture is that there aren’t any such “doers of the law” except for Christ: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24). James’ point is that this faith (which alone justifies) will never itself be alone in the justified, but will ever be accompanied with good works. Just as it would be absurd to consider a new heart transplant (a heart of flesh) that didn’t begin pumping new blood through the veins (and would function just as the old heart of stone), so it would be absurd to say assume one has faith without works. We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Such a faith would be a dead faith, and indeed not true faith at all. But faith itself, not our works, is the alone instrument of our justification. And this must be so. For only faith can look away from our sinful, pitiful, selves and flee to Christ. Faith is my nature extra-spective and looks to Christ alone for righteousness and forgiveness. And “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Paul relates,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. … God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:21-26).

And as Christ our Lord has said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

So this is the doctrine of justification by faith alone and it is at the heart of the gospel. As the Reformed were fond of putting it, justification was the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. According to Calvin it was the hinge (or axis) upon which the whole Christian religion turned.

But we don’t understand the importance of justification apart from the law. In Romans 5, we read that “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” So the Law paves the way for the gospel. It brings men low so that they might first realize their need for the gospel and for Christ.  That is why it so important that we never divorce the law and the gospel. In fact, the gospel makes no sense apart from the law.  If people have a low view of the law, they will inevitably have a low view of the gospel. Invariably they will think themselves righteous and in no real need for the gospel.  Such a person will not find Christ glorious, nor the cross very important.  And for the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner? Who needs such a thing? What a stupid doctrine! They will say.

Thus, it is only those who have been humbled by the law, who have tasted something of the weight of their sins, and felt the guilt of their just condemnation, who are then ready (indeed made able) to receive the gospel. To them, then, the gospel of grace is the most beautiful, wonderful thing in the whole world. And oh how they or overcome by the sheer mercy and goodness of God in Christ.

Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

Paul says in Rom 12:1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Having been justified now we get to serve God and follow his ways and walk in his righteousness — not because we have to but because we want to. The law no longer has any condemning power over us. And what’s more, we’re no longer under the power and dominion of sin either.  Although we still struggle with indwelling vestiges of our old nature, our old heart of stone has been thrown out and a new heart of flesh put in. Thus it is impossible that we still want our old sin like we used to. In fact it is unavoidable: we will desire the things of God and want to honor Christ. For we have been regenerated, the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

But, how do we know what pleases God? Well we know it from the law of God, as mentioned before. But now, because of our justification, we can offer obedience without fear of punishment or reproach for sin-stained and imperfect works. And furthermore, we are motivated out of gratitude to God and a certain, sure, anticipation of the glory to come.

In conclusion, this threefold division of the things necessary to know are then explicated in the remainder of the Catechism under the categories, Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  For the Reformed, this threefold structure, provided not only a clear outline of basic doctrines but also a helpful theological instruction as to the order in which we come to them.  There must be a clear logical flow from the Law (showing us our sin and misery) and the Gospel (showing us how we are redeemed from all our sine and misery and enabled and energized to respond thankful obedience). We don’t find one doctrine irrespective of the other. We can’t come to the gospel, without the law first driving us to our knees. And likewise, we don’t ever bow before the law without immediately looking to the gospel to find forgiveness and grace. Similarly, we never grow tired of the gospel or outgrow its relevance in our lives without finding again our need for the law to show us again how much deeper our sin still lies and how much more we still depend upon the gospel. And finally, we never rest in the gospel without at the same time being renewed in the inner man so that we delight in the Law of God and seek wholeheartedly to please Christ our Savior and Lord.

Paul says as much when he writes to Titus in the wonderful little letter by that name:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,  5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone (Titus 3:3-8).

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What is your only comfort in life and in death? Thus opens the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism. And one must admit this is a pretty good question.

But is it too ‘man centered’ to be thinking about our own comfort, let alone thinking about it first? Shouldn’t we rather be thinking first about God and his glory? Well, the authors to the Heidelberg Catechism (Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus) didn’t think so. They understood that recognizing man’s abject and real need was not contrary to the glory of God, but rather tended toward it. God is glorified when we recognize our total dependance upon him for life and salvation.

But let’s dwell on this question a little more? What really is man’s only comfort?

In life, we might look to the various comfort we see around us: friends, family, jobs, cars, homes, sports, hobbies, etc.  And these surly can be comforts.  But what happens when these fail? What happens when our loved one dies, or our families let us down, or we loose our jobs.  More importantly, what happens when our life ebbs away and we approach death itself? What is our only comfort then — in life and in death? Even thinking about death (something us Americans are so good at avoiding) can be unnerving. It’s so final So dark. So unknown. So scary.

And, surely, death is all those things.  And that’s why this question is so helpful. Inevitably we’ll have to face times when our worldly comforts pass away, and we’re left with the question: what is our comfort?

The first part of the answer starts out: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own… Full stop! Wait a second! How can this be comforting? How can our not belonging to ourselves be comforting. Not to ourselves, but to somebody else!?!? Are you kidding me? These authors must have been in another world! How could that ever be more comfortable? Couldn’t they have come up with a better idea to start off with? Let’s think about it.

In our day, ownership of other individuals isn’t exactly culturally preferred.  In fact, there’s much controversy about people not being able to “own” their pets (dogs and cats and such) because it’s against animal rights. Yeah… Beneath all that, our culture still has some communal remembrance of the atrocities of slavery, which only further obscure the notion of ownership.  And yet the Bible tells us that we are not our own — that we belong to another, even to Jesus Christ. And furthermore, it tells us that we are not only his servants, but even his slaves.  How is that possible? More to the point, How is that comforting?

Well, in NT times, slaves were common.  And one of the things that kept slaves from being mistreated by other people was the fact that they belonged to another master. So, if someone, for any old reason, wanted to beat you up, they’d have to think twice before doing anything to you. Why? Because you were someone else’s servant. You belonged to another.  So you can imagine how it was a privilege to be the servant/slave of an important and respected master. People couldn’t just mess with you, they’d have to answer to your master. So you were relatively safe.  (Now, I suppose this depended also on the relative strength and power of one’s master as well.)

Interestingly, this idea of ownership is the one taken up by the Heidelberg Catechism. I am not my own… but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. See how this is comforting? We belong to the best, most powerful, most kind, most considerate, master in the world. And not only does he love us so much that he died for us, but he’s stronger than any other master in the world and can deliver and protect us from every enemy.

The Catechism continues: who with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and has redeemed me from all the power of the devil. Heb. 2:14-15 says,

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

And John says:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (Jn. 8:36).

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 Jn. 3:8)

So we see how this is tremendously comforting. What can man do to me? What can the devil and all his demons to? They have to answer to Christ. And all dominion over heaven and earth has been given unto him. He is Lord over all the universe.  And I am his servant, indeed his slave. What better place can there be? What safer place can their be? What greater comfort can there be in life and in death? And we see that the answer is, None at all.

And [He] so  preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily reading and willing to live unto Him.
(Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 1: Question 1)

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How important, really, are Christian creeds?  How important, for that matter, is church history? J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett observe in their book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashoned Way (see earlier post here),

It is not uncommon… to see on a church signboard a slogan something like this: “No book but the Bible; no creed but Christ; no law but love.” This captures the mindset of many in free church movements (p. 123).

These statements sound pithy (and pious), but in the end, in fact, they are actually quite self-contradicting. As the authors note: “such a pithy slogans are themselves creedal confessions and are part of significant traditions that have been handed down and embraced by others” (p. 123). So, “No Creed but Christ” is itself a creed.

All throughout history the church has always understood and taught the faith through creedal and confessional formula. Even in the epistles, Paul emphasizes doctrine and the traditions handed down by the apostles to be taught in local churches.  So the Christian faith is a faith to be believed. There’s just no getting around it. And anybody who wants to be a Christian without wanting to believe anything actually doesn’t want to be a Christian. They want to have their cake and eat it to.

“Well,” someone might object, “Won’t that make Christians overly ‘heady’ and focussed on intellectual questions? Won’t that keep them from ever getting around to ‘doing’ christianity? We got to get practical somewhere along the line right?”

Absolutely! Although, Christianity always will be lived out in loving action and obedience, it must first be believed. In other words, there’s no getting to second base while skipping first. And believe it or not, the christian church throughout history has approached that question too! (You knew I was going to go there!)

Three Facets of the Faith

Packer and Parrett describe how the church has historically related the various aspects of faith and life (belief and action). They point out a three-fold distinction they call the “Facets of the Faith.” Roughly categorized, these three facets of the faith corispond to the biblical distincitives of faith, hope, and love (p. 88).

During the Reformation, this three-fold division was taken up in various catechisms. For example, the Heidleberg Catechism articulates the faith through expositing the Apostles Creed (faith), the Lord’s Prayer (hope) and the Ten Commandments (love). Other important sections of instruction historically for the church has been the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper)(p. 121).

Other representations were found in the Latin expression, lex orandi, lex credeni, lex vivendi (as we pray, so we believe, so we do). Throughout church history, this threefold distinction has proved a common thread, structuring and defining the “facets of the faith” (p. 123-124). Not that this was a hard and fast distinction, but rather a helpful tool in ordering Christian instruction.

Now, why should we want to learn from the past? Why would it be a good idea to at least have some understanding of how the Church has taught her disciples in centuries gone by? Or do we (along with the rest of the word) merely assume that the latest is greatest, new is improved, and we can get along quite well without history (“thank you very much!”)?  After all, “history is bunk,” according to Henry Ford.

It is encouraging and helpful to read Packer and Parrett stress the great “wisdom” to be found in “historical precedent.” They write:

This argument may seem the least compelling to many evangelical believers today. We are, after all, “Bible people,” always demanding in the end, “Where stands it written?” Such concern for biblical fidelity is absolutely essential and praiseworthy. But a flippant dismissal of our own Christian history is not praiseworthy in any respect. It is rather a willful refusal to adopt a biblical sprit. The fact is that we are not the first Christians to wonder about how to make disciples for Jesus. Wisdom and humility demand that we consider what our brothers and sister through the ages have done by way of catechizing and discipling, and test the merit of these efforts by consideration of biblical data. We are most unwise to try to continually reinvent the cetechetical wheel or to assume that we are more likely that our forebears to be faithful to Scripture.

Our antipathy toward philosophies and practices that emerged throughout church history (particularly with regard to pre-Reformation history) also betrays either a willful ignorance or profound naivete about the proper role of the historic church in shaping who we are as Bible people today. Whether we are speaking of the canon of Scripture, what constitutes biblical orthodoxy, what a Judeo-Christain ethic looks like, or why we worship in the ways that we do, there is almost no aspect of what we prize as biblical Christianity that has not been deeply affected by the centuries of church history that have preceded us. Indeed it may well be argued that purposeful inattention to the history of the church makes us far more likely to become unbiblical in some significant way (122).

Powerful and probing words. [The banner above is for the Heidelberg Catechism. For more information visit here.]

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That’s not a bad question. And yet I wonder how often it is that we may continue in our particular pattern of prayer without really having a strong understanding of this essential Christian practice. Why do we pray? What’s the purpose? What’s going on? What should we pray? How should we pray? Certainly there are many opinions and books on the topic.

However, I’ve been continuing my reading through the Heidleberg Catechism and have come to the section on prayer which I think is particularly enlightening and helpful.

When we find ourselves not sure what to pray (or even how), it’s comforting to be reminded that Christ, our Great High Priest, has already been asked this question while he was on earth, and has himself provided us with an explicit example. This is how far our Savior has condescended to anticipate our weakness and meet us in our very real need.

The Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Day 45
116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us,1 and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing ask them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.2

1 Ps 50:14-15, 116:12-19; 1 Thes 5:16-18; 2 Mt 7:7-8, 13:12; Lk 11:9-13; Eph 6:18

117. What belongs to such prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?
First, that with our whole heart1 we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word,2 for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him;3 second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery,4 so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty;5 third, that we be firmly assured6that notwithstanding our unworthiness He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,7 as He has promised us in His Word.8

1 Jn 4:22-24; 2 Rom 8:26; 1 Jn 5:14; 3 Ps 27:8; 4 2 Chron 20:12; 5 Ps 2:10, 34:18; Isa 66:2; 6 Rom 10:14; Jas 1:6; 7 Dan 9:17-18; Jn 14:13-16; 8 Ps 143:1; Mt 7:8; Lk 18:13

118. What has God commanded us to ask of Him?
All things necessary for soul and body,1 which Christ our Lord comprised in the prayer which He Himself taught us.

1 Mt 6:33; Php 4:6; Jas 1:17; 1 Pt 5:7

119. What is the Lord’s Prayer?
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.1

1 Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4

Lord’s Day 46
120. Why did Christ command us to address God thus: “Our Father?”
To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.1

1 Isa 63:16; Mt 7:9-11; Lk 11:11-13; 1 Pt 1:17

121. Why is it added: “Who art in heaven?”
That we might have no earthly thought of the heavenly majesty of God,1 and from His almighty power expect all things necessary for body and soul.2

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-27; 2 1 Kgs 8:28; Ps 115:3; Mt 6:25-34; Rom 8:10:12, 31-32

Lord’s Day 47
122. What is the first petition?
“Hallowed be Thy name;” that is, grant us, first, rightly to know You, 1 and to hallow, magnify, and praise You in all Your works, in which Your power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth;2 and further, that we so order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds, that Your name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.3

1 Ps 119:105; Jer 9:23-24, 31:33-34; Mt 16:17; Jn 17:3; Jas 1:5; 2 Ex 34:5-8; Ps 119:137, Ps 145; Jer 32:16-20; Lk 1:46-55, 68-75; Rom 11:33-36; 3 Ps 71:8, 16, 92:1-2, 100:3-4, 115:1; Mt 5:16; Eph 1:16-17

Lord’s Day 48
123. What is the second petition?
“Thy kingdom come;” that is, so govern us by Your Word and Spirit, that we submit ourselves to You always more and more;1 preserve and increase Your Church;2destroy the works of the devil, every power that exalts itself against You, and all wicked devices formed against Your Holy Word,3 until the fullness of Your kingdom come,4 wherein You shall be all in all.5

1 Ps 119:5, 105, 143:10; Mt 6:33; 2 Ps 51:18, 122:6-7; Mt 16:18; Acts 2:42-47; 3 Rom 16:20; 1 Jn 3:8; 4 Rom 8:22-23; Rev 22:17, 20; 5 Ps 102:12-13; 1 Cor 15:24, 28; Heb 12:28; Rev 11:15

Lord’s Day 49
124. What is the third petition?
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, grant that we and all men renounce our own will,1 and without gainsaying obey Your will, which alone is good;2so that every one may fulfill his office and calling as willingly and faithfully 3 as the angels do in heaven.4

1 Mt 16:24; 2 Mt 7:21, 16:24-26; Lk 22:42; Rom 12:1-2; Tit 2:11-12; 3 1 Cor 7:17-24; Eph 6:5-9; 4 Ps 103:20-21; Rom 12:2; Heb 13:21

Lord’s Day 50
125. What is the fourth petition?
“Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide for all our bodily need,1 so that we may thereby acknowledge that You are the only fountain of all good,2 and that without Your blessing neither our care and labor, nor You gifts, can profit us;3 that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in You.4

1 Ps 104:27-30, 145:15-16; Mt 6:25-34; 2 Acts 14:17, 17:25-28; Jas 1:17; 3 Deut 8:3; Ps 37:3-7, 16-17, 127:1-2; 1 Cor 15:58; 4 Ps 55:22, Ps 62, Ps 146; Jer 17:1-8; Heb 13:5-6

Lord’s Day 51
126. What is the fifth petition?
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased, for the sake of Christ’s blood, not to impute to us miserable sinners our manifold transgressions, nor the evil which always cleaves to us;1 as we also find this witness of Your grace in us, that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.2

1 Ps 51:1-7, 143:2; Rom 8:1; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 2 Ps 51:5-7; Mt 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Eph 1:7

Lord’s Day 52
127. What is the sixth petition?
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,1 and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil,2 the world,3 and our own flesh,4 assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare,5 until finally complete victory is ours.6

1 Ps 103:14-16; Jn 15:1-5; 2 2 Cor 11:14; Eph 6:10-13; 1 Pt 5:8-9; 3 Jn 15:18-21; 4Rom 7:23; Gal 5:17; 5 Mt 10:19-20, 26:41; Mk 13:33; Rom 5:3-5; 6 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thes 3:13, 5:23-24

128. How do you close this prayer?
“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” that is, all this we ask of You, because as our King, having power over all things, You are willing and able to give us all good;1 and that thereby not we, but Your holy name may be glorified for ever.2

1 Rom 10:11-13; 2 Pt 2:9; 2 Ps 115:1; Jer 33:8-9; Jn 14:13

129. What is the meaning of the word “Amen?”
“Amen” means: so shall it truly and surely be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him.1

1 Ps 145:18-19; Isa 65:24; 2 Cor 1:20; 2 Tim 2:13

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Continuing on this topic of the Lord’s Table, I’ve copied here several more questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. These are succinct, and yet I think very helpful for us. How else to better understand what the Reformed faith has taught about this sacrament than by reading through these confessional statements of faith? What’s more, if we come to realize that our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is different (perhaps very much so) than what the Reformed Church has confessed over the centuries, then this presses us to reckon with why that is so.

What do we believe about the Lord’s Supper? Is this even an important question? Is Communion just a memorial service? Is it merely about “remembering” Christ’s death? And is it something we can do individually, when we’re ready to go up and partake?  Would a “glorified quite time” best describe what is going on?

The Reformed Church has confessed clearly that she believes otherwise.  The Lord’s Supper is not just a “memorial” service. It’s not merely about remembering what Christ has done. That’s important to be sure, but there’s more (a lot more) going on. And it’s for our own good as Christians who desire to grow stronger in our faiths and deeper in our sanctification that we value a greater appreciation of this reality.

The Holy Supper

Lord’s Day 28

75. How is it signified and sealed to you in the Holy Supper that you partake of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross and all His benefits?

Thus: that Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and to drink of this cup in remembrance of Him, and has joined therewith these promises:[1] first, that His body was offered and broken on the cross for me and His blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup communicated to me; and further, that with His crucified body and shed blood He Himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, as certainly as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, which are given me as certain tokens of the body and blood of Christ.

[1] Mt 26:26-28Mk 14:22-24Lk 22:19-201 Cor 10:16-17, 11:23-25, 12:13

76. What does it mean to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?

It means not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal;[1] but moreover, also, to be so united more and more to His sacred body by the Holy Spirit,[2] who dwells both in Christ and in us, that, although He is in heaven[3] and we on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone,[4] and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are governed by one soul.[5]

[1] Jn 6:35, 40, 47-48, 50-54; [2] Jn 6:55-561 Cor 12:13; [3] Acts 1:9-11, 3:211 Cor 11:26Col 3:1; [4] 1 Cor 6:15, 17, 19Eph 3:16-19, 5:29-30, 321 Jn 4:13; [5] Jn 6:56-58, 63, 14:23, 15:1-6Eph 4:15-161 Jn 3:24

77. Where has Christ promised that He will thus feed and nourish believers with His body and blood as certainly as they eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup?

In the institution of the Supper, which says: “The Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had eaten, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”[1] And this promise is also repeated by the Apostle Paul, where he says: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, so we being many are one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.”[2]

[1] 1 Cor 11:23-25; [2] 1 Cor 10:16-17

Lord’s Day 29

78. Do, then, the bread and the wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

No, but as the water in Baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof,[1] so also in the Lord’s Supper the sacred bread[2] does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.[3]

[1] Mt 26:29Eph 5:26Tit 3:5; [2] Mt 26:26-291 Cor 11:26-28; [3] Gen 17:10-11Ex 12:11, 13, 26-27, 43, 481 Cor 10:1-4, 16-17, 26-28

79. Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new covenant in His blood; and the apostle Paul, the communion of the body and the blood of Christ?

Christ speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby, that like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal;[1] but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him;[2]and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.[3]

[1] Jn 6:51-55; [2] 1 Cor 5:16-17, 10:16-17, 11:26; [3] Rom 6:5-11

Lord’s Day 30

80. What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the Pope’s Mass?

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have full forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself once accomplished on the cross;[1] and that by the Holy Spirit we are ingrafted into Christ,[2] who, with His true body, is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father,[3] and is there to be worshipped.[4] But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is still daily offered for them by the priests, and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. And thus the Mass at bottom is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ,[5]and an accursed idolatry.

[1] Mt 26:28Jn 19:30Heb 7:27, 9:12, 25-28, 10:10-12, 14; [2] 1 Cor 6:17, 10:16-17; [3] Jn 20:17;Acts 7:55-56Heb 1:3, 8:1; [4] Lk 24:52Jn 4:21-24, 20:17Acts 7:55Php 3:20-21Col 3:11 Thes 1:9-10; [5] Mt 4:10Heb 9, 10

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I’m sure many of you have thought about this. I know I have. What really is the point of the Lord’s Table?  What does it mean to participate in the body and blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:15-16)? What is it all about? Why do we do this?

The Belgic Confession puts it this way.

Article 35: Of the Lord’s Supper

We believe and confess that our Saviour Jesus Christ has instituted the sacrament of the holy supper[1] to nourish and sustain those whom He has already regenerated and incorporated into His family, which is His church.

Those who are born anew have a twofold life.[2] One is physical and temporal, which they received in their first birth and is common to all men. The other is spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their second birth and is effected by the word of the gospel[3] in the communion of the body of Christ. This life is not common to all but only to the elect of God.

For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all. For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51), namely, Jesus Christ,[4]who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers[5] when He is eaten by them, that is, spiritually appropriated and received by faith.[6]

To represent to us the spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ has instituted earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body and wine as a sacrament of His blood.[7] He testifies to us that as certainly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our physical life is then sustained, so certainly do we receive by faith,[8] as the hand and mouth of our soul, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Saviour, in our souls for our spiritual life.

The Heidelberg Catechism is also helpful.

81. Who are to come to the table of the Lord?

Those who are displeased with themselves for their sins, yet trust that these are forgiven them, and that their remaining infirmity is covered by the suffering and death of Christ; who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to amend their life. But the impenitent and hypocrites eat and drink judgment to themselves.[1]

[1] Ps 51:3, 103:1-4Mt 5:6Jn 7:37-381 Cor 10:19-22, 11:26-32

82. Are they, then, also to be admitted to this Supper who show themselves by their confession and life to be unbelieving and ungodly?

No, for thereby the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation;[1] therefore, the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, to exclude such persons by the Office of the Keys until they amend their lives.

[1] Ps 50:16-17Isa 1:11-17, 66:3Jer 7:21-23Mt 7:61 Cor 11:17-342 Thes 3:6Tit 3:10-11

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Is faith something that is merely ‘passive’ in nature? Or does it have an ‘active’ principle as well? What is the nature of saving faith itself? Is it something passive, where we merely receive the benefits of Christ gifted to us and poured out for our sakes? Or is it something more active, where we obediently, or faithfully, bring something to the table or add something to the mix?

Some might wonder whether this is even a valid distinction. “Why do you want to dig into this so bad?” one might ask.   I hear you. But first let’s look at the issue a little more.

I’ve recently read something by Mark Garcia where he gives a description of what he believes Calvin taught regarding the nature of faith. Here’s a quote from his book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology.

“Unlike his Lutheran counterparts, Calvin did not ground good works in imputation or justification but in union with Christ. In contradistinction with Melanchthon, for example, Calvin argued a positive, soteric value of good works as the ordinary prerequisite for receiving eternal life. It appears that basic differences exist in their respective understandings of justifying faith: at the heart of the inseparability in Calvin’s unio Christi-duplex gratia formulation is a justifying faith defined not only passively, as resting on Christ alone, but actively, as an obedient faith that, resting on Christ alone, perseveres in the pursuit of holiness” (p. 260).
So, faith is (according to Garcia) defined not merely “passively,” but also “actively, as an obedient faith” (emphasis mine).
Now let us look at some passages from Calvin himself to see whether this is congruent with what the theologian actually taught. Timothy Massaro at Water is Thicker than Blood has compiled some quotes here, and here, from the French Reformer. Calvin writes:

“How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God.” (Institutes, 3.11.18)

“But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith.” (Institutes, 3.11.14)

And for Calvin’s short definition, he puts it very simply.

“Faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack.” (Institutes 3.13.5)

There it is: “Merely passive”. Those are Calvin’s own words.  For it was his view.  One might think this sounds awful suspect, and like free-grace antinomianism.  But it’s not. This is the heart of the Gospel and the Reformed faith; by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  And what’s more, we see this same theology reflected in the different Reformed confessions as well.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 14.2

“…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace”

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 21. What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Belgic Confession of Faith: Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith

We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.

For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”

However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Now. What do we see in these definitions?  Do we see even an ounce of this ‘active’ principle or idea? No! In fact there is no concept whatsoever of obedience being intrinsic to faith whatsoever. And while we recognize that wherever there is true and vital (living) faith there will also be all other fruit of spiritual life as well (eg. repentance, obedience, good works etc), but faith by definition is something which receives. Faith apprehends. It in and of itself is the conduit by which the benefits of Christ are applied to the sinning soul.  It’s like pouring water from a pitcher through a funnel into our hearts. That funnel is our faith.  It doesn’t work.  For there’d be nothing left for it to do. Indeed, work adds nothing to our justification. Only Christ’s perfect merit means anything for justification; and it can only be applied by/though faith.  And therefor, necessarily, obedience is not in view. It is not the issue.

So this begs the question how and why could we ever be entertaining such notions which go contrary to the reformed faith.  There’s various reasons for this I’m sure.  One is that we (rightly) don’t want to fall into a ‘cheap grace’ antinomianism.  And that would be certainly bad, I agree.  But the answer isn’t in changing the message of the gospel.

In Romans 6, Paul didn’t change the message of the gospel when some people slandered him about how he was teaching it. He just told them they didn’t get it — they didn’t understand. Because if they had understood, they wouldn’t be asking the question: “should we sin more that grace may increase?”)

Finally, let us look at a one more confession — this time from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

143. By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”

The Obedience of Faith

144. To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

This “obedience of faith” sounds an awful lot like the “obedient faith” described above by Garcia.

Which leads me to my conclusion: Either (1) Calvin was a Catholic, or (2) Garcia is confusing things more than is necessary.

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