The Heidelberg Catechism

Book Review
The Heidelberg Catechism

In the March issue of reformation21 magazine, Carl Trueman wrote an interesting article on the place of creeds in the church today. In his article, A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished, he writes,

“On the issue of creeds, the evangelical world often seems absolutely divided into two broad camps: There are those who are so passionately committed to a particularly narrow view of scripture’s sufficiency that they not only deny the need for creeds and confessions but regard them as actually wrong, an illegitimate attempt to supplement scripture or to narrow the Christian faith in doctrinal or cultural ways beyond the limits set by scripture itself. Then there are those whose view of creeds and confessions is so high that any other theological statement, and sometimes even the Bible itself, seems to be of secondary importance. Neither group, I believe, really does the creeds justice.”

I certainly fall into the category of non-denominationally, creedally-deficient. To rectify this, I’ve taken up the Heidelberg Catechism of late. It has been a wonderful boost to my study time, sometimes reading like a concise doctrinal statement, sometimes reading like a passage from The Valley of Vision, but always edifying.

What makes the Heidelberg Catechism unique is its subjective, experiential emphasis. Here is one example:

27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power,[1] whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures,[2] and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty,[3] indeed, all things, come not by chance[4] but by His fatherly hand.[5] … [1] Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28. [2] Heb. 1:3. [3] Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:15-17; John 9:3; Prov. 22:2. [4] Prov. 16:33. [5] Matt. 10:29.

As you can see the Heidelberg Catechism is unique in its ability to double as a devotional. Comparing the Belgic, Helvetic and Westminster Confessions, Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson write, “The [Heidelberg] catechism presents doctrines with clarity and warmth. Its content is more subjective than objective, more spiritual than dogmatic. Not surprisingly, this personal, devotional catechism, as exemplified by its use of the singular pronouns, has been called ‘the book of comfort’ for Christians” (Reformed Confessions Harmonized, p. x).

You can read the catechism for free here. An updated version of the catechism is available from Faith Alive Christian Resources. This version (used by the Christian Reformed Church) comes with the complete text of the biblical references printed from the NIV. Obviously some conclusions will be contentious (like infant baptism). But overall I highly recommend it if (like me) you find yourself creedally-deprived.

Title: The Heidelberg Catechism with Scripture Texts
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy
Boards: paperback
Pages: 181
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Faith Alive Christian Resources
Year: 1989
Price USD: $11.25
ISBNs: 093026567x

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World

Book announcement
The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
by Stephen J. Nichols

To be Cross-centered Christians we need to be historically aware Christians. When it comes to the gospel, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Protestant Reformation. Stephen J. Nichols new book from Crossway is an entertaining and easy-to-read survey of the important events and people of the 200-year span of the Reformation.

The book is filled with photos, charts, sidebars and humor. It will educate you as you laugh, blush and shake your head. But most importantly The Reformation will tighten your grip on the gospel.

“The things that matter most to us all center on the gospel. The church simply cannot afford to forget the lesson of the Reformation about the utter supremacy of the gospel in everything the church does … In studying the Reformation, we remember what the church is all about, and we remember how easy it is for the church to lose its grip on the gospel … And in this age of religious pluralism, theological laxity, and biblical illiteracy, perhaps the Reformation is needed more than ever before.”

Stephen J. Nichols, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World (Crossway: 2007) pp. 17, 21.

If you are looking for an accessible introduction to the events of the Reformation within the context of why the Reformation is important today, Nichols will prove very useful.

Title: The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
Author: Stephen J. Nichols
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy/popular
Boards: paperback
Pages: 159
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no (this would have been very helpful)
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect text
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $12.99 / $9.99 at CBD
ISBNs: 9781581348293, 1581348290

John Calvin > The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

John Calvin
The weight, beauty and comfort of the Gospel

Recently I came across a stunning preface John Calvin wrote for Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534). To my knowledge the01spurgeoncalvin4.jpg English translation of this preface is found only in Joseph Haroutunian’s work, Calvin: Commentaries [a strange place to find it since this preface is not part of the commentaries]. Anyways, in it Calvin traces out the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises throughout Scripture, shows the supernatural unity of the bible’s message and the significance of the gospel message revealed in Scripture. He writes,

“Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …” (66)

Because of the weight of this gospel revealed in Scripture, it’s no surprise that Calvin closes this preface with words for preachers: “O you who call yourselves bishops and pastors of the poor people, see to it that the sheep of Jesus Christ are not deprived of their proper pasture; and that it is not prohibited and forbidden that any Christian feely and in his own language to read, handle, and hear this holy gospel…” (72).

These two quotes – one on the centrality of the gospel and the second on the importance of preaching – really reveal the heart of John Calvin as a man riveted to the Cross.

But I was especially struck by the following section where Calvin shows us that all the Christian’s comfort and hope rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He writes,

“It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.” (69-70)

These are beautiful words! The introduction as a whole is a masterpiece, taking the reader from the biblical storyline and the Messianic promises to the gospel itself, showing that our eternal life and present comforts rest in Christ alone. Then he finishes with an exhortation that preachers be diligent to proclaim this Word.

It is good for us to remember the grace of God in revealing His Word to ungrateful truth-suppressors and and illuminating His Word to blind sinners. Let us remember that, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain” and let us study Scripture seeking to “truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.”

So how do you persuade the French people towards Reformation theology? You point them to Scripture and specifically to the complete and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Calvin persuaded masses because his message was Scripture-saturated, grace-filled, and Cross-centered. The gospel was everything! With this in mind, French readers could read right into Matthew and the rest of the New Testament on a quest to see Christ’s glory for themselves.

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Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.

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Disputations on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker, 1573580902

Disputations on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker [1588]

After rebuking the false Roman Catholic notion that Scripture cannot be understood by the common man and reinforcing the Reformers insistence that every truth sinners must know to be saved can be gleaned by the simple from reading Scripture, William Whitaker next continued to explain that there are difficult passages in God’s Word. Why? This is his answer …

First, God would have us to be constant in prayer, and hath scattered many obscurities up and down through the scriptures, in order that we should seek his help in interpreting them and discovering their true meaning.

Secondly, he wished thereby to excite our diligence in reading, meditating upon, searching and comparing the scriptures; for, if every thing had been plain, we should have been entirely slothful and negligent.

Thirdly, he designed to prevent our losing interest in them; for we are ready to grow weary of easy things: God, therefore, would have our interest kept up by difficulties.

Fourthly, God willed to have that truth, so sublime, so heavenly, sought and found with so much labor, the more esteemed by us on that account. For we generally despise and contemn [scorn] whatever is easily acquired, near at hand, and costs small or no labor. But these things which we find with great toil and much exertion, those, when once we have found them out, we esteem highly and consider their value proportionally greater.

Fifthly, God wished by this means to subdue our pride and arrogance, and to expose to us our ignorance. We are apt to think too honorably of ourselves, and to rate our genius and acuteness more highly than is fitting, and to promise ourselves too much from our science and knowledge.

Sixthly, God willed that the sacred mysteries of his word should be opened freely to pure and holy minds, not exposed to dogs and swine. Hence those things which are easy to holy persons, appear so many parables to the profane. For the mysteries of scripture are like gems, which only he that knows them values; while the rest, like the cock in Æsop, despise them, and prefer the most worthless objects to what is most beautiful and excellent.

Seventhly, God designed to call off our minds from the pursuit of external things and our daily occupations, and transfer them to the study of the scriptures. Hence it is now necessary to give time to their perusal and study; which we certainly should not bestow upon them, if we found every thing plain and open.

Eighthly, God desired thus to accustom us to a certain internal purity and sanctity of thought and feeling. For they who bring with them profane minds to the reading of scripture, lose their trouble and oil: those only read with advantage, who bring with them pure and holy minds.

Ninthly, God willed that in his church some should be teachers, and some disciples; some more learned, to give instruction; others less skillful, to receive it; so as that the honor of the sacred scriptures and the divinely instituted ministry might, in this manner, be maintained.”

Disputations on Holy Scripture [1588/1849], by William Whitaker [1547-1595], pp. 365-366. Reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria, 2005.

Reformation day idea: Martin Luther DVD [1953]

Reformation day idea:

Martin Luther, DVD [1953]

How will you be celebrating Reformation Day (Oct. 31st)? A game of pin the 95 theses on the door? Munching on gummy worms (aka Diet of Worms)? Grilling hamburgers (aka a Papal Bull BBQ)? Well this year my family and I will celebrate the day with a movie night.

Although there is a more recent movie on the great reformer, in my opinion nothing beats the movie Martin Luther. Released in 1953, Martin Luther is a black-and-white classic, unsurpassed in depicting both the boldness of Luther and the doctrinal divisions at stake. It depicts Luther wrestling with Paul and the ever-important phrase, “the just shall live by faith.”

One of my favorite scenes is from the debate at Leipzig where Luther says,

“I have the right to believe freely, to be a slave to no man’s authority, to confess what appears to be true whether it is proved or disproved, whether it is spoken by Catholic or by heretic… In matters of faith I think that neither counsel nor Pope nor any man has the power over my conscience. And where they disagree with Scripture, I deny Pope and council and all. A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest Pope without it.”

Luther was bold and strong. The writing of this movie and the acting of Niall MacGinnis bring these characteristics out clearly.

Though it is an older movie, technological upgrades have been introduced to the DVD version. Especially helpful are the subtitles (as the audio can be a bit unclear at times) and the photographic tour of locations and characters. Before watching the movie (especially with kids) it’s great to become familiar with the characters and locations. The DVD also includes a documentary on the making of the film and actor/actress biographies.

So to go along with the Papal Bull BBQ and a Diet of Worms, consider sanctifying October 31st with the classic movie, Martin Luther.