Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 2
Lord's Day 2
From where do you know your sins and misery?
From the law of God.
What does God's law require of us?
Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22:
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it,
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
On these two commandments depend
all the law and the prophets.
Can you keep all this perfectly?
No, I am inclined by nature
to hate God and my neighbour.
Q. & A. 3 The Source of the Knowledge of Our Misery
- This Q&A is concerned with the knowledge of our sins and misery. Everyone has an awareness of and feeling about misery, about the fact that something is not right. That is why the Catechism does not ask whether there is misery, but “from where do you know” it. For sinful man lives and suffers without any understanding and awareness about how and why there is misery. One person may explain it from the fact of existence itself, another from the fact of some social regulation, a third regards it as belonging to a transitional period. But all of them lack the knowledge, the deep and correct insight of our sins and misery.
- The knowledge we seek is not merely a theoretical one. It does not concern knowledge about the, but about your sins and misery. Only the broken-hearted have such a knowledge. You can find an example in Paul: “Wretched man that I am. . . .” (Rom 7:24).
- A law is general in its application; it is a rule to live by. God instituted such a rule for each creature. He created it in such a way that it could only live in accordance with a particular law. Thus, a fish can only live in the water and the bird in the air. Just as the rails are designed to keep the train on track, so also the law is designed to keep each creature within the bounds set by for it. Ps 119:62 (rhymed version) says:
. . . Great peace is theirs who honour and obey
Thy precepts and who by Thy word are guided. . . .
- The word “law” in Scripture denotes everything whereby God communicates his demand to us and which tells us what we must do to be saved. The word “gospel” means everything in which he unfolds his promise and tells us what he did, does and will do to save us.
- The moral law is the law which God appointed for man's moral actions, i.e., those actions which are determined by man's will. Man already knew this law when he was created, but he withdrew himself from its control and lost his knowledge of it through sin. In his maintenance of the covenant, God continued to reveal his law. He summarized it for all time in the ten words which he wrote on two tables on Sinai and which Moses gave to Israel. Thus, the law is the same before and after the fall; only its publication differs. Also in the state of glory this same law will still apply.
- Rom 3:20 says: “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” For it is the yard stick against which the lives of all people are measured. It is acknowledged as such by those who are faithful to his covenant. They desire to do the law. Inwardly they delight to do their Father's will, but . . . they discover that they do not and cannot do his will. They learn not only that there is much evil around them, but that they themselves are by nature inclined to do just the opposite to what God wants them to do! Thus, they realize that their misery is their own corruption and that their corruption is total. They learn to confess that they are apt to fall because of their sinful nature (Ps 38:17, 18).
- Hence, the law, as rule of thankfulness, is the source of our knowledge of our sins and misery. If it is not a person's rule of thankfulness, then it is also not the source of knowledge of his sins and misery. Only the believer knows his misery through the law and learns to know it more deeply through the law. When we, who were instructed in the Word of God, do not know our misery, it is usually not because we do not know the law, but because we deny our faith to our covenant God and do not esteem his covenant. Thereby, even our lack of knowledge of our misery renders us guilty!
B. Cross References
- The law, given on Sinai, contains many rules which had significance for civil life in Israel. The Lord, as Israel's king (Israel was a theocracy), enacted them himself (Deut 17:14ff; Ex 22:26; Deut 22:8). The law also contained many provisions which regulated the OT (shadow and ceremonial) worship service. These speak of:
- The holy places (tabernacle, temple; now the Lord's congregation).
- The holy persons (high priest, priests and Levites; now Christ is our only high priest and all his believers are priests).
- The holy actions (purifications, offerings, prayers; now our entire lives are thank offerings).
- The holy times (sabbath and feast days; now our entire lives are a beginning of the eternal sabbath).
These ceremonial provisions were fulfilled in Christ and are no longer effective. But they remain useful to us for the better understanding of the gospel. The civil provisions are, since Israel's theocracy has ceased to exist, also usually no longer relevant in their literal meaning. However, they contain many directions which are of continuing significance for us. (BC, art. 25).
- In the CD III/IV, 5, we confess that the law “reveals the greatness of sin, and more and more convicts man of his guilt.” Why is this discussed again in such detail in the Canons? See III/IV, RE 5.
- Do all people have an awareness of misery? Also a knowledge of their sin and misery?
- Are we speaking of a theoretical knowledge? Who only has the knowledge referred to in this Question?
- What is a law? For which creatures did God appoint laws? What significance does the law have for the creature?
- What is the “law” in Scripture? What else does Scripture contain? What is it?
- What do we mean when we speak of man's moral actions? When did man already know the law? How did he lose this knowledge? Is the law today the same as that in paradise? Will this law also apply in the state of glory?
- What special provisions did the Sinaitic law contain? Which matters do the provisions governing the worship service deal with? Do these still apply to us without exception? What significance do they still have?
- How do we now learn to know our sins and misery from the law? Is it sufficient to know it by heart for this purpose? What does Rom 3:20 say?
Q. & A. 4 The Contents of the Law
- In the Compendium (written in 1611 by Hermannus Faukelius, minister of the Word of God in Middelburg)1 the question reads: “What did God command you in his law?” This makes it clearer that in the law we are concerned with God. He who violates the law, offends God, for it is “the law of God.” He also violates his own duty, for the law of God demands something of us. It applies to us and concerns us. Note further that it requires something of us. The law does not just counsel, but it commands (cf. Ps 81:4).
- Instead of listing each of the ten commandments one by one, the Catechism gives us the summary of the law instead. That is sufficient for the purpose envisaged by the question. For if we have broken the summary, then we have broken the whole law. By giving this summary, which illumines the deep sense of the law, the Catechism also precludes us from supposing that we have fulfilled the law through a superficial understanding of it. Compare the parable of the rich young ruler (Mt 19:16-30; Mk 10:17-31; Lk 18:18-30). A “summary” is a summing-up. Compare the concept of the “sum” in arithmetic and see Rom 13:9.
- Love. We should not also love God, or love him above all else, but we must love him. We love with our whole being. God does not desire merely a part of us, but our selves. More particularly, he wants us entirely, all of us, our heart, soul, mind and strength. For he is not just our Lord, he is also our Father! Kings do not demand love of their subjects, only obedience; love is what parents ask of their child and a husband of his wife. It is wonderful that God demands love of us! He demands love, because he demonstrated his love for us, having delivered us from bondage.
- This love for God is the first commandment. Where this love is missing there can be no fulfilling of the law. The first table precedes the second. Further, this love of God is the great commandment. This is what everything depends on!
- The second is like it. It is, indeed, the second, but it is like the first in origin and necessity. He who is not particular about obeying the second table of the law does not love God, despite all kinds of religiosity (1 Jn 3:17).
- Neighbour means “close to.” All people are my neighbours, for God created mankind out of one man. But some are closer to me than others. Those with whom I associate on a daily basis are closest to me. We must, indeed, love all men, for the Lord's sake. But the law is sensible and practical and demands that we begin at home.
- As yourself. We must love ourselves because and in so far as we are God's creatures. That is also how we must love the neighbour.
- On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. This means that whatever the law and the prophets command is summarized in these two commandments.
- Whom do we offend when we violate the law? What else do we violate when we break the law? What is a “summary”? Why does the Catechism give a summary of the law here, instead of the full text?
- What single word describes the demand of the law? How must we love God?
- What does it mean that the love of God is called the “first commandment”? Why is it called the great commandment?
- Is the second commandment less important than the first?
- Who is your neighbour? Why must we love him? May we love ourselves?
- What does “On these two commandments depend all the law and prophets” mean?
Q. & A. 5 Haters of God (Rom 1:30)
Can: the question is not whether you did, but whether you can keep the law;
you: note the second person singular; it concerns you;
keep all this perfectly: for God, who is perfect, has no pleasure in anything that is imperfect;
all this: for the law is one; he who stumbles in one commandment is guilty of transgressing all the commandments.
- No! The Arminian says this too. But then he continues: “However, I have the will to do it, even though I cannot.” But the Scriptural confession of the Catechism continues: “I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.”
- By nature. This means the state in which I was born and in which, if not renewed by God's Spirit, I live. The phrase “by nature” is added, because the bald statement that the believer hates God is false (see Ps 116:1).
- Inclined. Man does not always commit all kinds of sins. But the inclination of his heart is to do them. Hence, the word “inclined” is not an excuse! The inclination is kept in check for a variety of reasons (fear of punishment, desire for honour, etc.).
Hate. This is the opposite of love and it is as unbounded and insatiable as love. Whereas love is the impulse to seek what is good, hate is the urge to destroy. By nature man hates God. His heart says, in the words of Ps 2:3:
Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.
And Rom 8:7 says:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot.
In this context the word “flesh” connotes man in his depravity. Sometimes it connotes man in his frailty (cf. Isa 40:6: All flesh is grass).
- Why does the question ask whether you can keep “all this”? Further, why is perfect compliance required? Can we keep the law perfectly? Do we, of ourselves, have the will to keep it?
- What does “by nature” mean? Does the Christian also hate God?
- Does a person always commit all sins? Is his nature so good that he cannot commit all sins? If not, why does he not do them?
- What does “hate” mean? What does Rom 8:7 say?
- Which two connotations of the word “flesh” are found in Holy Scripture?