Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 1
Lord's Day 1
What is your only comfort
in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with His precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by His Holy Spirit
He also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for Him.
What do you need to know
in order to live and die
in the joy of this comfort?
how great my sins and misery are;
how I am delivered
from all my sins and misery;
how I am to be thankful to God
for such deliverance.
Q. & A. 1 Your Only Comfort
- In the Catechism the church teaches “the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, summarized in the confessions” (Form for the Baptism of Infants, Address to the Parents, Second Question). One might, therefore, expect that LD 1, which is an introduction to and brief summary of what follows, would ask: What is this doctrine? But the question reads: What is your only comfort? However, the word “comfort” in the Catechism has the same meaning as the word “doctrine.” To call this doctrine “comfort” is Biblical. When the Lord sends Isaiah to his people to preach his word to them, he does not say (in Isa 40:1): “Teach, teach my people,” but “Comfort, comfort my people.” For God's doctrine (teaching, revelation) is our comfort. The Bible is a book of comfort (cf. Rom 15:4: the “comfort of the scriptures,” KJV). Thus, the Catechism is not going to speak about us when it asks about our comfort, but about God's revelation, about his great works. But it also indicates at the outset what significance those have for us. They are our comfort!
- “Comfort is a deliberation of the heart whereby we juxtapose our misery and the grace which Christ earned, so that, in considering that grace, our grief is tempered.” (Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, LD 1, I). Comfort is, therefore, all that comforts us.
Let us take an example: A patient who has just undergone an operation suffers pain. The doctor tells him that the pain is temporary and will soon disappear. After the doctor leaves, the patient is still in pain, but he juxtaposes the doctor's reassurance and his pain, thereby meliorating his concern. In the same manner we place the misery of this life over against God's revelation of salvation. Then we are still subject to all manner of misery and adversity, but we are comforted.
- The Catechism speaks of the Only comfort. There is no other. Everything which man embraces for comfort disappoints. Only that which God (the “God of all comfort,” 2 Cor 1:3) gives as comfort is our comfort. That comfort is sufficient; it does not disappoint, neither in life, nor in death!
- What, then, is our comfort? That we belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to our Lord Jesus Christ.
That we “belong” to him means that we are his responsibility. We belong entirely to him, we are his and he cares for and protects us (Rom 14:8), and we may share in his glory.
- We became his property, because he ransomed us with his precious (i.e., expensive) blood. 1 Pet 1:18, 19 says:
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
1 Cor 6:20 says:
You were bought with a price.
We are Christ's lawful possession, his inviolable property.
Nothing can alter that. Our sins cannot change it, for he made full payment for our sins. He has paid all debts. 1 Jn 1:7 says:
. . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Nor can Satan change it. For Christ has redeemed us from all the dominion of the devil. The devil has no more jurisdiction over us. 1 Jn 3:8 says:
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
- Christ also preserves us as his possession. He exercises dominion over us on the basis of the right which he earned. He will not spare us all grief. Many calamities and vicissitudes are the lot of the believer. But no matter what may befall us, illness, imprisonment, or death, nothing can harm us unless our good Master permits it. He, the Saviour, will make all things serve for our salvation (Jn 10:28).
- Christ takes his responsibility as the Lord, who owns us, very seriously. He does, indeed, exercise his right of ownership. By his Holy Spirit he assures me of eternal life as Eph 1:13, 14 says:
In him you also, who . . . have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance. . . .
Further, he makes us heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Thus, to belong to Christ is a complete comfort in life and death. He is a Master who is able to provide complete deliverance. He is entitled and has the power to remove our guilt, grief and corruption, and he shall do it. For that is why he bought us and made us his possession. Tit 2:14 says that he:
. . . gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
- Do not overlook the fact that the Catechism asks: What is Your only comfort? This is a very personal question! It is significant for each of us where we look for comfort. Is it truly your comfort, and do you rejoice in what God graciously revealed to us? Question 1 requires a decisive choice, not just once, but time and time again!
- What does LD 1 provide with respect to the following Lord's Days? Is it Biblical to speak of “the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments” as “comfort”? How is that evident? When the Catechism speaks about our comfort, does it speak about us? What does it speak about?
- What is comfort? Give an example to illustrate its meaning.
- Why does the Catechism speak about the “only” comfort?
- What, then, is your comfort? What does it mean to “belong”? What do 1 Pet 1:18 and 19, and 1 Cor 6:20, respectively, say? How did we become Christ's possession?
- Can our sins negate the fact that we belong to Christ? Can Satan?
- Does Christ spare us from all grief? What does he do?
- What else does he do? What does Eph 1:14 say?
- Why does the Catechism ask about “your” only comfort?
Q. & A. 2 What We Need to Know
- The Catechism now explains how we may enjoy this comfort, not just once, but time and time again. For the believers are not perfect in this life. It is possible for them to stumble and fall (CD V, 4) and then they have to return to the only comfort. In order to enjoy this comfort, they must have knowledge! Thus, we must know, i.e., know in faith, so that we “accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word” (LD 7, Ans. 21).
- The substance of what we must know, i.e., the contents of Scripture, is summarized in three parts in this Answer:
first: how great my sin and misery are (we are miserable because we were driven out of paradise, out of communion with the Lord);
second: how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;
third: how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.
What is important is the How: how great my misery is, how I am delivered from it, and how I am to be thankful to God. The Bible reveals this to us. It teaches us in Eph 5:8:
. . . once you were darkness [misery], but now you are light in the Lord [deliverance]; walk as children of light [thankfulness].
These three parts also form the contents of the letter to the Romans: 1:1 -3:20 (sin and misery); 3:21 - 11:36 (deliverance); and 12:1 - 16:27 (thankfulness). (See also Ps 130:3, 4).
- We can distinguish between these three parts, but they always appear together. We can also distinguish the roots, trunk and crown of a tree, but none survives without the others. So also there is no true knowledge of thankfulness without knowledge of sin and redemption, etc. This knowledge grows according to the measure by which the Lord gives us insight into the Scriptures and impresses its truth on our hearts.
- The Catechism discusses the three parts in the following order:
LD 2 - 4: our sin and misery;
LD 5 - 31: our deliverance;
LD 32 - 52: our thankfulness.
B. Cross References
- The triad “misery – deliverance – thankfulness” is repeated throughout the liturgical forms. In the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and Adults, Doctrine of Baptism, they are summarized as follows: 1. we are children of wrath [misery]; 2. God seals the covenant of grace to us [deliverance]; and 3. we are called and obliged to a new obedience [thankfulness]. Also in the Forms for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper, Self-examination, we find these three parts. They also appear in the first of the prayers: A General Confession of Sins and Prayer before the Sermon and on Days of Fasting and Prayer. See also LD 30, Q&A 81
- Our Catechism discusses the three subjects which have always been considered the essentials in the instruction in faith, viz., the “Apostles' Creed,” the “Ten Words” and the Lord's prayer.
- What does the Catechism explain in this answer? What is necessary for the enjoyment of our only comfort? Is it sufficient if we know the contents of Scripture?
- What do we need to know? What does Eph 5:8 say? Of which book of the Bible do the three parts of our required knowledge form the contents?
- Do these three parts arise separately and consecutively in our lives?
- In which Lord's Days of the Catechism are each of the three parts discussed?